We’ve all said it, in our heads or out loud – I’m guilty too. “This wine is terrible!” But is it really? Is it bad wine or is it just not suiting to your taste buds or the situation you may be in?
Wine is so incredibly subjective but there is some objectivity that is involved, which often gets overlooked. It is very possible, and common for you to enjoy a wine (whether it be the producer, the varietal, the use of oak or non-use of it, etc.) when your best bud can’t stand the very same wine. Obviously the wine isn’t bad if you enjoy it but why doesn’t the other person like it? Well, the detailed version of that answer is very long but I’m going to sum it up rather abruptly – it all boils down to taste. So where does this objectivity that I speak of enter the equation when tastes are subjective?
Objectivity comes into the wine equation when you are comparing and analyzing wines. You need to examine each wine on the same scale so you have a benchmark (the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, aka WSET, calls this the systematic approach to tasting). If we ALL used the same scale we’d be much more likely to stay on the same page with wine reviews, preferences and consumer demand but where’s the diversity in that? Like so many other things in wine there are many different ways to assess it but by and large it boils down to a few good points to look for in every glass:
- Colour – Is your wine clear? Or is it hazy? What colour is it? Ruby or purple? Lemony-green or gold? How does that colour compare to other wines made from the same grape? Is it consistently a similar colour like a deep purple or does it vary like and unoaked Chardonnay compared to an oaked Chardonnay? Colour can indicate many things from grapes variety to viticulture and wine-making techniques through to the age of the wine.
- Smell – What does it smell like? Take a small sniff at first in case it is off and truly bad – not an aroma you wish to inhale deeply. Then give it a swirl and stick your sniffer right in there. Is it floral? Fruits? Vegetal? How does it compare to other wines or the same or similar variety?
- Taste – Is it dry or sweet? How’s the acidity – does your mouth water a lot after a sip? What about tannins – are your gums dry? How does it feel in your mouth – is it thick and heavy like a glass of milk or light bodied like water? Does it taste like it smells? Does it taste like the other wines you’ve had from the same grape?
- Conclusions – What do you think the quality of this wine is? If it is not faulted, it is at least an acceptable or good quality – even if you don’t care for it. If the structure and tastes are well balanced along with the nose, acidity and tannin levels then that conclusion can go up from good to very good or excellent or even outstanding, particularly if the wine is more complex (meaning you could spend hours tasting and sniffing and smell something different each time.) Take notes if you wish, it helps for future buying and comparing!
One of the most important wine lessons I’ve ever learned from Master of
Wine, Rhys Pender: At the end of the day quality is unrelated to preference. You can not like a wine. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, it is such a personal, subjective subject. A handy lesson about quality – it can be measured by evaluating the balance, intensity, length and complexity of the wine. I’m keeping this very 101 for the sake of the blog entry but some winos take this very seriously and to many deeper levels than what I’m mentioning here. I know many of you just drink what you enjoy and there’s definitely nothing wrong with that – keep it up. But think about those wines you’ve passed off as being bad or maybe you’ve even thought of them as lesser grapes and so on. Perhaps now you’ll consider reassessing how you discuss these wines with others as they may be that person’s favourite. Now you know they don’t have poor taste or lack in the palate department, they just have different taste buds and preferences than you do.
My sister-in-law isn’t a fan of one of my favourite grapes, Pinot Noir. But I know she has amazing taste and drinks lots of great wines that I also enjoy. Chatting (not judging) with her about it made me realize that what I love about Pinot Noir is exactly what her palate doesn’t love about Pinot Noir. Now I am able to make better wine recommendations to her based on this knowledge. Plus, it makes for interesting conversation with your local wino! Having a conversation about why your buddy enjoys, or doesn’t enjoy what you do will open your eyes to this objectivity in wine subjectivity. I suspect there’s an important life lesson in this as well…wine is oh-so-knowledgeable in it’s bringing us together and splitting us apart but let’s not get too philosophical!
Happy drinking, whatever may be in your glass! Cheers.