Friday, July 29, 2005

Why no ratings?

My regular readers (Hi Mom!) may be wondering why my wine reviews have not been accompanied by numerical ratings of the kind used by Parker, Spectator, etc. I have decided to forego the use of such ratings for a variety of reasons related to my situation vis a vis the wine industry and my particlar wine philosophy.

Numerical wine ratings can be a tremendously useful method for wine critics to quickly and easily articulate their general opinions of a wine. They are especially useful in situations such as Mr. Parker's, where the ratings reflect the opinions of a single palate (ignoring his assistants) and are thus more consistent over time and across regions. Although I imagine that my palate is very different from Mr. Parker's, or Mr. Suckling's or Mr. Laube's, for that matter, their wine ratings are useful to me when I want to get the general sense of a wine's quality relative to its competitors. They are also useful to many wine buyers who simply want to know that they are getting a decent bottle, because they make for attractive Point-of-Sale references. My goal, however, is not to create easy to use P.o.S. or to rank an entire vintage of Bordeaux based on relative quality. I am not a professional member of the wine industry, and I don't need to write as if I am. Instead, I want to give readers some thoughtful comments about a wine's characteristics and quality when consumed in a specific context, i.e. as a part of a meal.

This brings me to the second point about why I have eschewed numerical ratings. Stephanie and I consume almost all of our wine as an accompaniment to the meals we cook. For us, as for many people, wine is most valuable not as an abstract flavor conveyancer but as a meal-specific accoutrement to general gustatory pleasure. It is in this meal-specific context that I buy wines, and it is in this context that I want to write about them. Most often, when I go to the wine shop, I have some idea of the meal or meals that I will be cooking, and I search for bottles that will pair best with them. Or, if I buy a variety of wines for the cellar, I do so anticipating their suitability for potential dishes. Accordingly, the most important aspect of a particular wine is not its abstractly measured quality in comparison with other wines, but rather its potential to match the foods that I am cooking. While a particular bottle of 1er cru burgundy might provide gobs of abstractly measured pleasure in Mr. Parker's tasting room, I am most interested in whether it will taste like what I think burgundy should taste like. It does me no good to bring home a 96 point burgundy to match with simply cooked veal if the wine actually tastes like Australian shiraz.

Given the above mentioned considerations, I have decided to produce reviews that I hope will be useful to people in the situation I most often find myself in - on the way to the wine shop or facing the cellar with a particular meal in mind. Thus, my reviews will generally consist of a short statement of a wine's general characteristics - its color, body, aroma, and taste - as well as a few more particular notes about certain aroma or flavor components that might be useful when considering whether the wine will match certain dishes. In addition, I will almost always include the meal that I served the wine with and my opinion of its suitability for that or other meals. Lastly, I will try to give an overall sense of whether the wine met my expectations. Accordingly, the best wines will often be described as "classic" or "typical" this or that, because if a wine tastes like a what it is supposed to taste like, I will be more successful with my wine and food pairings. After all, that's what all of this is really about.

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