Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

by Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)

jeff-sm A few weeks ago I was a judge at a blind tasting of 89 rosés from California, a subject of a recent post.

Saturday was the public event that followed on to the tasting, and it took place somewhat as scheduled at the Meritage Resort in Napa.  I think the plan had been to have it outside in the courtyard, but it was moved indoors, wisely in my view, since it was a real scorcher of a day.

I’m always curious whether my reaction to the winning wines will be pretty much the same as when I picked them.  And I’m happy to say that they were.  All of the gold award winners at the event were truly excellent wines, at least in my opinion.

That said, it was hard not to be impressed with the spectrum of reactions of others to the wines.  My wife loved one of the wines, one that I wasn’t that blown away by.  It was a very good wine, to be sure, but clearly inferior to others at the tasting, at least in my view.

I clearly preferred one of the wines over all the others.  My wife dismissed it out of hand.  Too acidic.

What about the racy perfumed nose?  What about the purity of the fruit?  Didn’t matter.  Too acidic.

I have to admit that my tastes when it comes to acidity aren’t middle of the road.  I like acidity.  I like a whole bunch of acidity.  So what many (including my wife) find to be just too much, too over the top, doesn’t faze me in the least.  That wine did win the overall competition, so it obviously didn’t faze the other judges either.  But it clearly fazed my wife and, I’m sure, many others.

I’d like to say that I’m right, and those who disagree with me are wrong.  But that just isn’t the case.  No one would insist that their preference of apples over oranges is the “right” preference, and that those who prefer oranges have it all screwed up.  But when it comes to wine there’s still this belief that wines can be judged objectively.  Except for flaws (and even this is the subject of a lot of disagreement), there is nothing approaching objective assessment of quality.  It’s all in the eye of the beholder (or more accurately the nose of the beholder).

Which, of course, means that my favorite of the tasting is not necessarily going to be yours.  In fact, it’s pretty unlikely that it will be.  So what is the value to you of my assessment?

The simple answer is “not much”.  There’s a complex answer, but it’s really just BS.    But millions of dollars in sales turn on some judge’s assessment of a wine as being a little better or a little worse.  Never mind that that judge’s assessment may (and probably is) irrelevant to how much you’ll like the wine.

This strikes me as a pretty dumb state of affairs.  But it is the state of affairs, dumb or not.  And I don’t see any reason to think it’s going to change.

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