Go Ahead…Persuade Me This Wine Is Better Than That Wine

DelishIs it possible to make a persuasive intellectual case for one style of wine being more delicious than a different style of wine, that also does not involve tasting the two different styles of wine?

I’ve never thought this is possible for the simple reason that direct experience nearly always trumps reason when it comes to discovering aesthetic truth. However, if anyone can turn this trick it’s Paul Lukacs who takes a whack at it in his recent article at Wine Reviews Online.

In this well argued piece, Lukacs, one of our finest wine writers, attempts to make the case that wines produced based on the pursuit of “physiological ripeness” are not nearly as delicious as wines made with grapes grown to ripeness based on the idea that “ripeness meant sweetness, and sweetness was determined by measuring the sugar content in the grapes.”

Allow me to quote from his article:

Think back to that summer peach.  At its best, it’s not just sweet.  The skin provides a hint of astringency or tartness; the flesh is soft and sugary on the outside but firm and not as sweet close to the pit; the juice has a tangy quality that prevents it from seeming sappy.  It’s delicious precisely because it’s not monolithic.  If, however, the peach is entirely soft, with no hint of sharpness, it will taste sweet but simple.  And, of course, if it is over-ripe, it will feel mushy and taste so sweet as to become unpleasant because cloying.

“A great many contemporary wines, including many expensive so-called “fine wines,” are like that overly soft peach, and some even resemble the mushy over-ripe one.  They sport high alcohol levels, have soft tannins, lack acidity (unless the winemaker has added acid, which invariably leaves the wine seeming disjointed), and taste primarily if not exclusively of sweet, ripe fruit.  Though they may be tasty, they also are one dimensional and so ultimately dull.”

The analogy that Lukacs used to take on “overripe” wine is among the best I’ve seen deployed to make this case. But the problem is that this argument strikes me the same way nearly all articles and arguments do that try to persuade that wine isn’t as good today (or isn’t as good as it could be) because vintners have produced wines that are too big for their britches in order to garner great ratings from the critics: The problems is that I’m supposed to take Lukacs’ word for it rather than trusting my own taste buds.

There are really only two things that his and other similarly reasoned arguments can accomplish: 1) to embarrass someone into stopping defending the bigger, richer, more alcoholic wines they prefer in favor of the more “balanced” wines. Or, 2) get the reader to rethink and doubt the reliability of the connection between their taste buds and their brain. I don’t see any problem with the second possibility as it’s never a bad idea to question the way one experiences the world. The first accomplishment, however, only happens when writer is addressing a weak mind. That sort of thing ought to be left to politicians and talking heads, if you ask me.

But here’s the thing. Despite Lukacs’ outstanding and thought-provoking argument, there really is no rational or objective case that can be made that one style of wine is better or more delicious than another. In fact, the only truth statement that can be made about the relative deliciousness of any style of wine is the one that a single individuals makes: “I find this style of wine delicious!”

Tom Wark is a veteran public and media relations professional who has served the wine industry since 1990. He is a founder of the American Wine Blog Awards and the Wine Bloggers Conference and serves as the Executive Director of the American Wine Consumer Coalition. Wark has written for numerous industry publications and regularly appears as a speaker and on panels at wine industry events across the country. FERMENTATION: The Daily Wine Blog began publishing in 2004.



4 Responses

  1. Dwight Furrow - January 13, 2014

    Hi Tom,

    I agree that there is no particular style of wine that is inherently better than another. It is a widely held view in aesthetics that there are no set of properties that always add up to “deliciousness” or “beauty”. Aesthetic judgment is not rule-guided. So there are many balanced wines that are not very interesting and some fruit-bombs that are intriguing–you have to taste them to know. But I think we can make reasonable statements about tendencies. Excessive physiological ripeness tends to lead to flabby, dull wines; too little physiological ripeness tends to make wines that are inexpressive or need to be cellared for years, etc. Much will depend on the individual vineyard, vintage variables, oak program and other elements of winemaking. Winemakers are like Goldilocks looking for what is “just right”. I doubt we will discover there is a formula for it.

  2. John Kelly - January 13, 2014

    There are no such things as “excessive ripeness” or “too little ripeness” – there is only RIPENESS. Every winemaker I have spoken with regarding Lukacs’ piece has said more or less the same thing – he doesn’t know diddly about what “physiological ripeness” means.

    You want to base picking decisions just on sugar level? Then buy some land, plant a vineyard, build a winery, and just GO DO IT. Good luck with that. There are very few places in the world where this approach will give you wines where you don’t have to screw around to get the tannins right, much less where you will produce the most palatable wine.

    Tom Wark is absolutely right about experiential esthetics. I can tell you from 30 years experience that the vast majority of wine-knowledgeable consumers will always prefer a wine made from grapes grown to have reasonable sugars when the rest of the grape is showing all the other proper ripeness parameters, over wines made from grapes picked at some arbitrary and ideologically-driven sugar level.

    Paul Lukacs is certainly an accomplished writer, but his piece on ripeness suggests that he is not even a callow amateur in the real world of grape growing and winemaking.

  3. Thomas Pellechia - January 13, 2014

    Here’s an example of a two-word oxymoron:

    Expert Opinion.

  4. Burberry Bolsos - January 23, 2014

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