Experts aren’t working in a vacuum

Scientific “studies” are a little like the Bible: You can find one that will “prove” anything, and another that will “prove” the exact opposite.

Take this “finding” from “a team of international researchers”: that since wine experts have different tasting skills, why should “average wine consumers” listen to them?

The natural response from folks such as myself is to get our backs up and snarkily answer: “Uh, because they’re experts?” But maybe that’s not enough in an era where much of society has gotten markedly anti-elite/expert.

I actually consider myself an “average wine consumer” who happens to taste a buttload of wines (200 a month, give or take) and kisses a lot of frogs in search of the good stuff. I’m not looking for kaffir lime or pencil shavings when I sample wines “”probably couldn’t find them if I were “” but rather for balance, focus and (the first job of any wine) deliciousness.

I’m not about to say that everyone should like any and every wine I like, since I know that people’s palates vary, often wildly. But when recommending wines for readers, I’m comfortable claiming that they are well made and tasty.

That’s my job, just as it is the task of people in the commercial end of the biz to find fermented grape juice that people will buy, preferably more than once. I tend to gravitate towards wholesalers and retailers who are passionate about wine (even if our palates often diverge) rather than the ones who might as well be selling widgets.

But their first task is to sell wine, and to use their expertise to find products that offer good quality for the price. I asked a few of them to respond to the article, and got very interesting responses from two folks who travel widely to find wines worth importing and distributing.

Annette Peters: “If I may include myself in that group, I’d say that most tasters I know look for the big stuff, balance, correct varietal character, tipicity, freshness, no flaws. It’s rare that I really ‘dissect’ a wine; the flaws, when present, are usually pretty big.

“I never tell someone that they are definitively tasting a blackberry or pepper or whatever. But if it’s a strong easily identifiable thing like Brett [a yeast contamination that can affect wines to varying degrees] well, then it can be their barnyard or earth or whatever, but it will always be my Brett. It is what it is, whether you like it or you don’t. But if you ask me to tell you if it’s a well-made wine, I will; that’s my job.

“Frankly, I don’t think anyone really is listening to [wine critics] anymore. Impartial reviews are just not there. There is too much money involved. It’s far too easy to take a ‘speaking fee’ type bribe, or spend $895+ to get your review published (I was recently asked to pay this for a wine I import). Best to drink whatever you like!”

Larry Colbeck: “Should people take the wine advice of “˜expert tasters’? The premise vastly understates what a wine professional does; what she or he provides to the wine lover.

“I offer this anecdote from my recent trip to France. Two handsome, young winemakers, cousins, fourth generation on the property; very photogenic, biodynamic growers, great story. Usually the wines are among the best of the appellation. Seems like a slam dunk.

“But I know that we will taste a vintage where the weather in this particular appellation was conducive to rot. I know these are biodynamic growers, which limits their options to respond. Does that matter to the person who might buy this wine in a restaurant or retail shop? Absolutely not, but in my job it matters.

“We taste. When you put the wine to your nose do you smell rot, no! When you sip the wine do you taste rot, no! So everything is hunky-dory, no! Experience informs me that the lack of any yellow in the hue of the wine, the lack of brightness on the palate and the simple vinous aromas evading any varietal definition suggest this wine was indeed treated, probably with charcoal, for rot. Does this matter to the person who might buy this wine in a restaurant or retail shop? Nope, because I’m paying attention for them.

“If I chose to offer a wine for sale, it must smell and taste of the appellation stated on the label. Yes, even if the customers doesn’t know what that is supposed to be. I know from years of tasting in this appellation and at this specific property that this bottling is not up to snuff. We won’t be buying this wine this year. That, my friend, constitutes expert advice.

“We taste for tipicity when we buy wine but then we sell on its hedonistic charms, including the story. But even before a wine professional makes a recommendation, the good ones have brought an awful lot to the table. 

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