Expert Wine Evaluations – Should you Believe them or rely on your Palate?

Expert wine

Literally, thousands of wine enthusiasts read specialized magazines, subscribe to wine letters (i.e. Robert Parker Jr.’s Wine Advocate or Stephen Tanzer’s Wine Bulletin), and read, religiously, the weekly column of the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star or the National Post..

There are many wine magazines (Wine Spectator, Wine Access, Decanter, Wine Tidings and more) that are published in wine producing countries such as France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Portugal in a range of languages. While some subsidized publications are used as promotional vehicles, others claim to be impartial and give advice with regard to vintage quality and quantity.

Because of its importance as a wine consuming country, the UK, although though not a significant wine producer, is the home of many wine publications and books

After all the English made Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Madeira, Sherry, Port and Marsala famous, not to speak of Scotch whisky, gin and rum !

Some wine enthusiasts buy wine according to the evaluations of wine critiques and on occasion disappointed. Some find a particularly recommended wine or wines incompatible with their palates.

Those who disagree with the evaluation of a critique need not  “ recalibrate “ their palate to match that of the critique. First, consider when and where the critique tasted the wine. If he/she tasted the wine six months ago in a sterile- looking laboratory, the ambience might have had an effect, and in six months a wine may change for better or for worse.

Then you must consider at what stage of production the wine was tasted, from the barrel or shortly after bottling. The thorny question of the integrity of the wine maker must also be taken into consideration. There have been cases where wineries submitted a different wine for the tasting and bottled another, lower quality with the same label. Transportation and storage also affect wine. If the tasting occurred say in France, and you are tasting the same wine in San Francisco one year after the review of the critique, there are bound to be differences.

Consider also that all bottles of the same barrel show differences pending on the part of the barrel from which the wine came. For this reason wineries with exquisite products number each bottle; this allows management to trace a faulty bottle to the barrel. Of course, the size and shape of the glass change both the appearance and taste of the wine as does the setting. Also, consider whether or not your tasting occurred with or without food. Wine critiques taste without food.

I, along with well-known wine writers, taste thousands of wines every year. In addition, I have met consumers, wine makers in a number of European countries, and concluded that taste perception changes by continent, country and region. Educational background in vinous matters most definitely applies to most North Americans.

Clearly Europeans prefer more acid-driven, lighter, balanced, and delicate wines, whereas North Americans in general prefer fruit-driven alcoholic, heavily-extracted and oaked wines which captivate at first blush, but quickly lose their appeal. An acid-driven wine with food is always more appealing over a longer period, whereas fruit-driven wines fade in short order.

Although French and Italian per capita wine consumption is very high, most people tend to gravitate towards local wines and know very little or nothing about products from even 100 miles away. Alsatian wines sell better in export markets than in France.

Europeans in general like moderately oaky wine, whereas most North American palates seem to value heavily oaked products. The English gentry brought up on red Bordeaux, white and red Burgundy and Champagne like older wines, that are fading or have faded. This is so because of the preferences of their parents. The younger generations of British wine consumers enjoy Australian, New Zealand, South African, Argentine, Chilean and American wines, no to speak of wines from Languedoc in France and which now produced by young Australian wine makers, or in the New World style.

German predilection of old, sweet, white Rhine or Moselle wines is well known. However, less well known is the fact that new generations like only dry, almost excessively acid wines.

Ultimately, in matters of wine taste, is the wine education, the cultural background and upbringing that count most. Once the foundations of taste perception are anchored within a palate, refinements may and do take place, but not always.

Also of importance to consider is age. As people grow older their papillae (taste buds) tend to get dull and thus require bolder tastes to be satisfied. For this reason older people consume more salt than younger generations.

Ultimately, if you want to buy your wines according to the evaluations of critiques, select the one or a few whose palates seem to be more in sync with yours.

Consider also that today most wine makers have at their disposal technology and knowledge that allow them to produce wine anywhere to please the average consumer and to tailor products to fit their taste profile.

It is highly educational and revealing to observe wine writers from different countries taste and describe the same set of wines.

You should approach wine from your perspective with a good knowledge of what to look for, and that comes from a solid wine education.

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