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stressed wine drinkerMore drivel about wine and subjectivity, in this case, from a Professor of Oenology no less. In an article for US News and World Report entitled “You Aren’t Wrong About Wine” Anna Katherine Mansfield writes:

There’s no denying that sommeliers and and their ilk go through extensive training in order to match descriptive words to wine qualities, but that doesn’t mean that their description of a wine is right for you, or that you’re wrong if you don’t agree with it.

And after detailing the litany of reasons why people differ in what they taste and can describe in a wine, she offers balm to stressed out consumers worried about their tasting deficiencies:

This Valentine’s Day, pick a wine you already know you like, or one that you can taste at the store or winery before you buy, because all you really need to enjoy a glass is your own nose, your own palate, and good company to share it with.

Up to a point, this is good advice. Obviously you can enjoy a wine without analyzing it, and if you’re buying a wine for Valentine’s Day, wine appreciation probably isn’t the main thing you’ll have on your mind.

But the entire thrust of the article is that there are no standards by which to judge wine and everyone’s opinion is equally valid regardless of experience.

The problem is that if how a wine seems to you is your only consideration in judging wine quality, and there is nothing independent of your current opinion that your judgment must answer to—in other words if there is nothing to get right or wrong about a wine—you have no reason to explore wine further. You already know everything there is to know since there is nothing beyond your current sensations to discover.

Obviously this is a recipe for boredom and ignorance. The very idea of growth and development assumes that there is something you don’t know that requires further inquiry. (One would expect a university professor to know this. Go figure)

The article begins with a complaint about how often the taste of the wine does not conform to the tasting notes on wine bottles, which she argues are presumably written by experts. Well no. Tasting notes on wine bottles are written or at least vetted by marketing departments interested in selling wine. They use whatever descriptors will convince you to buy. So I wouldn’t take them as the standard.

But when you find that a tasting note by an independent critic does not conform to what you taste in a wine, the best thing to do is taste again and again in order to taste what the critic does. In the end you might not succeed because as individuals we sometimes do differ in what we can taste. But more often than not you will discover something about the wine that you didn’t taste before investigating.

The point of this is not that you want to train to be a sommelier but that you want to maximize your enjoyment of the wine. Quality wine always has more to give than what we are aware of in the present moment. The point of wine education is to enhance experience, not to diminish it.

This tendency, when writing for the public, to flatter everyone’s untutored opinion is neither good for the consumer nor good for the wine industry. It encourages the industry to produce mediocre wine and the public to accept it without question.

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