Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Pregnant Palate Pause Leads one to Conclude that Wine Ratings are Useless to the Average Consumer

As you may have noticed, I've taken a pregnant pause from tasting wine for a very good reason. In that period my husband and I got to meet the most wonderful person; our daughter. As we've gotten the hang of parenting, I've managed to dabble again in wine tasting with some surprising thoughts. When you take a break from tasting wine and return, it becomes apparent that a certain amount of group think has besieged the wine critiquing populace. It appears that when some taste and rate many wines for a living, their heavily used palate develops blind spots to certain characteristics of wine. This then encourages bad behavior in winemaking that has led to some Pinot Noir become almost indistinguishable from Syrah because some critics seem to enjoy this type of flavor profile.

My return to tasting was a bit of a shock as it was marked by many wines that seemed polluted by heavy oak influence that to the frequent imbiber most likely is perceived as a hint of vanilla, but to my reborn palate felt as if the heavy toast barrel had come to punch out any enjoyment from the moment. Taking a "pregnant" pause from wine reaffirmed my fervent belief that winemakers should allow the wine to reflect its roots with as little intervention as possible. Great wine is truly made in the vineyard.

In this vein, I have found myself migrating to less trendy varietals in new world wines where critics ratings bear less weight and thus allow winemakers more freedom. Food friendly wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Pinot Gris, California & French Sparkling, Sangiovese, Cab Franc, and Grenache strike me as the value and excitement in this current market and where I think the average wine drinker will find the most interesting offerings at bargain prices. So many flagship varietals such as syrah, cabernet, and pinot noir have become hard to gauge in value and often taste little like the actual grape and more like a heavy toast 2 year old oak french barrel. The average wine consumer looking for guidance cannot be well served or may well be turned off by wines rated highly by critics who through frequent tasting, have formed blind spots to some heavy handed interventionist techniques. It then appears logical that wine ratings and wine critics are perhaps not the best source of information for the general wine consumer.

So what is the best source of guidance for the average consumer? The best advice remains that one should always drink what they enjoy and if they do not like what is in their glass, try something else. Branch out past your cabernets and your pinots and try some less known varietals. Continue the hunt for what makes you raise an eyebrow and finally pay attention to what is in your glass. You will learn best through your own adventures. Life is too short to drink bad wine. Cheers!

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1WineDude said...

Welcome back!

SB Wine Advocate said...

Thanks, its baby steps...literally :)

Fred Nunes said...

" fervent belief that winemakers should allow the wine to reflect its roots with as little intervention as possible. Great wine is truly made in the vineyard."
I think a lot of winemakers would like to trend in the direction you suggest, however, the "market" is a cruel mistress and expectations rule the day.
Also, a certain concentration of the barrel phenolics plays significantly in the final balance, ie., alcohol (sweet)= ((acid(sour)+tannin(bitter)). I guess the artistry is in achieving that balance with the flavors..
Agreed, the vineyard rules. Encouraging phenolic development while limiting sugar is difficult.

Natalie - Turkish Wine said...

I love having a break from drinking wine. The taste when you return seems to be more powerful. Having said that I am still very much a novice when it comes to wine and in Turkey there are certain wine producers that should be forced to drink their own wine!!

sewa mobil said...

Nice article, thanks for the information.

Cheryl said...

A break from wine tasting for babies is never wrong! Love wine tasting in Santa Barbara so that must of been hard to give up for a good year! Hopefully when you are feeling up to it again you'll be right back out there drinking the best. I remember when I was pregnant and man the cravings were all wine! I cannot wait to go back this upcoming summer and enjoy the fresh air of the hills and barrels of wine! Planning on staying at the South Coast Inn ( One of the best places to stay if you are planning on wine tasting in the area.

Mark said...

Welcome back! It's interesting, my wife reports her palate having changed a bit since the birth of our son (14 months old) making her palate more in line with mine. I think she is still getting used to the change which I think she likely considers largely unwelcome!

The whole issue of scores is an interesting one, as much as they really don't help consumers make educated decisions.....consumers definitely use them as part of their buying process (ok, probably not those who take the time to write a wine blog, but others). For a retailer, it is a frustrating situation!

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