I recently came across this exchange between Wine Wonkette (Amy Corron-Power) and 1 Wine Dude (Joe Roberts) on Amy’s “Another Wine Blog” (which is up for a 2011 Wine Blogger Award–and BTW so is Joe’s blog).

  • Joe: “Do critics give decent ratings to wines that they don’t personally like but otherwise are made well, just in a style that they personally do not prefer? I know I do – and have been taken to task for it several times on-line, but have always come back to the fact that I try very hard to minimize (NOT exclude!) my personal preferences when it comes to coming up with a firm rating / recommendation.”
  • Amy: “I admire your ability to judge the wine on its merits versus simply your own personal taste.”

Interesting concept, but…

I don’t think there is any such thing as “judging” a wine on its merits.

No disrespect to Joe or Amy, but in my opinion the idea is an oxymoron on its face; it begs the question of the standard that is being used to judge. Judgements based on sensory evaluation by can never be completely objective, because individual taste will ALWAYS play a role.

That’s not to say there aren’t objective standards–there are. But these standards are based on laboratory analysis. The only objective standards that can be used to judge wine are based on quantitation of the levels of compounds related to universally-recognized wine flaws: things like TCA and acetic acid, or more exotic and uncommon things like geosmin and ochratoxin. Note I did NOT include things like levels of ethanol and 4-ethylphenol (Brettanomyces marker) as different people have different opinions as to how much there can/should be in a wine.

I could go so far as to say that if someone gave me enough money, I could develop an analytical program targeting compounds produced by molds (Aspergillis, Penicillium, Botrytis), spoilage bacteria (Lactobacillus, Pediococcus), yeasts (Pichia, Kloeckera, Brettanomyces, Schizosaccharomyces, and yes even Saccharomyces), insects such as multi-colored Asian ladybeetle, even smoke from fires–and predict from those results what fraction of the population would find a particular wine objectionable; sort of a reverse of the service provided by Enologix.

On the other hand, someone could just hand me a glass and ask me what I think. I will tell you my opinion. With more authority than 99% of the wine “reviewers” out there. I have the résumé to back this up, and it does not include any letters such as “CMS” or “WSET”.