Are we evaluating wines all wrong?

The following statement and subsequent questions were posed to me a couple weeks back:

Any time folks are tasting wines, blind or not, we always are looking for the flaws. Why don’t we look for what is great about them first? Do you think we enjoy wine, in general, less than we should because we are always looking for what is missing?

Anyone in this industry will probably acknowledge that you want to sample a bottle before you pour yourself a full glass. You never know when TCA, Brett (if you consider small doses a flaw), heat damage, etc etc will kick in. For the moment I would like to sidebar those flaws because they are usually accepted as flaws that could lead to spoilage. So bag those up, set them aside and lets pretend we are talking about wines that haven’t spoiled.

So you have that wine in front of you that tastes good. Maybe the finish is a little thin and you feel the heat of the alcohol a bit indicating the wine might be served too warm or it isn’t that well integrated with the rest of the characteristics around it. There are some things you like but those “flaws” stand out and tarnish your opinion of how much you really like this wine.

Why wouldn’t you search for those characteristics you like first rather than what you don’t like?

Over the course of a few tastings I tried to do just that and it wasn’t easy. In evaluating the wines I immediately gravitated towards what I didn’t necessarily like about them rather than the characteristics that I did like. I would say that the vast majority of wines have some sort of flaw when it comes to the subjectivity of an individual’s tastebuds. There is no such thing as a “perfect” wine. Why do we constantly look for wines that are to that perfect standard? It makes no sense.

I’ve posed the question to a few other friends and colleagues and the usual response is:

We are wine geeks, we know too much to just sit back and enjoy wine.

I’d say that is a fair point. If the mid-palate isn’t rounded out or the tannins are far too pronounced or the sweetness is awfully cloying it is easy for us to pick that out as a flaw and not enjoy what the wine does have to offer.

For some of those more prominent and detrimental flaws the reason we cannot enjoy the wine is obvious. Some of us can pick up that TCA at 1 part per trillion. Others can pick out a Brett-y bottle from a mile away or are more sensitive to bitter characteristics. We have to be good wine tasters for the sake of our profession. Otherwise shopping for wine would be a total crap-shoot.

I suppose that this comes back to the subjectivity that wine provides. If there is a certain characteristic you don’t enjoy you are probably pretty likely to pick that up sooner rather than later. Why would we want to drink something that we don’t necessarily enjoy all that much? Or can we learn to appreciate wine that isn’t flawed but just has a characteristic that we don’t particularly enjoy?

There have been plenty of wines that I have not enjoyed but that I appreciate. There isn’t anything flawed about them. Personally they aren’t wines that I would buy or consume if I had a choice.

So is this an issue or is it just they way the world of wine works? It would be great if I could enjoy more wine by learning to find what I appreciate about a particular bottle rather than rushing to point out the flaws. I am not sure that wine or us humans are programed to achieve that.


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