The Dumbing Down of Wine Reviewing
I take from Dan Berger’s latest article at Appellation America ("Why Terroir is Essential to Wine Evaluation") that it is becoming easier and easier to be a highly competant judge of wine or wine reviewer.
As Dan points out:
not automatically a part of most American wine judges’ psyche. Weight,
richness, and “hedonistic” appreciation of a wine’s flavors seem far
more the dominant aspects of most evaluations we see or read about."
Dan’s point is a fairly simple one: the degree to which a wine displays a regionality in its aroma, taste and character should be an important factor in how we judge a wine or review a wine. A Riesling from Anderson Valley should taste like a Riesling from Anderson Valley. A Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley should taste like a Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley.
Dan’s right, clearly. But it occurs to me, isn’t it much much easier to be a wine reviewer if all you really need to be concerned with is the weight and intesity of the wine; the hedonistic value?
Sure seems that way to me. Heck, if all you have to judge is the degree to which a wine is more intense than another or how dark it is relative to others or how intense it is to others then frankly it doens’t take to much to be a qualified judge of wine.
On the one hand this dumbing down of wine judging strikes me as odd, given that our society seems to be continuing down the road of specialization that began at the beginning of the industrial age, a trend that has not abated as we can see from the development of academic disciplines such as "Late 20th Century Women’s Business History" or the rise of a professional class of publicists that specialize in small to medium sized winery promotion.
On the other hand, wine judgement has been a specialized area of concern for a very very long time, at least since the dawn of the industrial age. So perhaps it’s dumbing down is a natural progression.
Berger opens his article by stating:
wine rating numbers game has blinded reviewers and consumers who don’t
consider the unique influences of taste which are contributed by where
the grapes were grown. It is time to take terroir into consideration."
While I think he’s right about the impact of the "numbers game" on the dumbing down of wine, what want to take note of is his call to a return to rigorous evaluation that takes into account the various elements that it takes to describe a wine. This of course would take some considerable training on the part of those who review wines. It would not be enough to simply write, "This wine is big and rich and laden with intense blueberry and cherry flavors tha saturate the palate."
In Dan’s world that would be shorthand for, "I’m not much of a wine reviewer…but I can detect weight..so listen to me."
I like Dan’s world.