chasing the elusive butterfly of wine love

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Throughout my quarter century of writing about wine, I have been fortunate to be a member of several different tasting groups. All have been built around industry veterans – winemakers, distributors, retailers, media and a smattering of very knowledgeable consumers. And in every single encounter, with every single group, consensus about what wines are best has been rare to the point of non-existent.

We always taste blind. There is always a focused topic – generally a grape, a region, or both. And once the wines have been sniffed and swoozled and (occasionally) swallowed, the debate begins.

Last night the topic was Sancerre/Pouilly Fumé. There were 11 carefully-wrapped bottles, including one ringer, tasted in three flights of 4 – 4 – 3. After each flight a vote was taken, and the wines were ranked, the votes tallied, and the wines revealed.

In the first flight, no one guessed – though everyone really liked – the ringer, which was a Cadaretta 2010 sbs. I loved this wine when I reviewed it over a year ago (gave it a 92/Editors’ Choice) and I liked it last night, though it was not my favorite of the flight. That wine was a Boulay 2010 Comtesse Sancerre, which, to my amazement, finished rather far down in the voting.

In the second flight, I loved a 2010 Lucien Crochet Le Chêne Sancerre, while a majority favored a 2000 LaDoucette Baron L Pouilly Fumé that seemed flat and tired to me. In the last flight, given that there were just three wines, it was easier to find consensus. In fact, it led me to suggest that if we just did more flights of two bottles each, we might actually begin to agree more often!

Just kidding of course. The debate and discourse is for me the most fun part of these tastings. Opinions are rarely changed, but they are influenced. Some comments resonate in unexpected ways. One taster, upon returning to a wine that most of us had declared flawed, noted that suddenly the aroma had changed to ketchup, and by God, it had! What that actually meant in terms of quality was less important than the interesting notion that a white wine could smell, and even taste, a bit like ketchup.

The larger question, of course, is that if select and experienced groups of wine professionals cannot agree on matters of quality, what does that portend for the average consumer? Well, in one direction, it leads to the concept that whatever you taste is what you taste, whatever you like is what you like, and all opinions are equal. I do not subscribe to that belief.

For me, wine debates are a bit like politics. If you enjoy the discourse, and are open to differences of opinion, you might actually learn something. Just don’t expect anyone to agree with you. Most of the time, most people will stubbornly see things their own way, no matter how passionately and persistently you point out to them that in fact, you are right.

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