Monday, May 24, 2010
Everybody wants to be a wine tasting critic.
My introduction to wine—actually a seduction—occurred in the 1980’s. Our daughter’s pediatrician lived down the street from us, and it was he who was instrumental in introducing me to wine, particularly French wine. When we shared wine at dinner, I noticed he was particularly adept at assessing its qualities and underlying characteristics, especially those that were crucial to its appearance, aroma and flavor. It was obvious his level of enjoyment was different from mine. He knew it was a good (or not so good) wine and, more importantly, could explain why. I liked the way it tasted (or not), but could not articulate why. I wanted to develop that ability.
While Parker is famous for creating the 100-point wine rating system, it was not his scoring method that snared me, it was the detailed nature of his tasting notes. He brought wines to life for me, and he described them with evocative words, phrases and metaphorical descriptors that veritably dripped with sensuality. I swear I could smell and taste them, and if they were THAT good, I simply had to experience them. I became a Parker subscriber, as did thousands of other eager wine enthusiasts. He became so influential that his tasting notes and ratings became standard postings on the shelves of wine retailers. All other wine publications and critics subsequently adopted his system.
Fast-forward to the 21st Century. Parker has competition, and lots of it. Not only from wine-oriented publications, but also from numerous Internet sites and forums that are flooded with postings from “tasting wannabes.” Pick virtually any wine-related site, and chances are that someone is expounding his or her opinion with colorful prose and arithmetic precision. Everyone’s a tasting expert now, and nothing reveals it more than Cellar Tracker, a Zagat-like Internet site on which thousands of wine enthusiasts are posting their opinions—mostly amateurs, but under special arrangements, a few professionals.
There are well over one million postings at this writing. Reading one’s opinion is one thing—relying on it, however, is quite another. Calibrating one’s palate, I believe, against a reliable single source is infinitely more accurate and consistent than arriving at an assessment from, say, twenty widely varied opinions from anonymous hopefuls with unknown skills and/or track records. However, having said that, I also recall saying that Zagat’s method for rating restaurants would never succeed.