Sunday Read: Re: Wine Tasting is Bullshit

The other day, I came across the blog post I am linking to at the end of this article. I had not seen the post that triggered this response, but it made me read the initial post as well. You can find the initial post here, in which a Robert T. Gonzalez explains why, in his opinion, wine tasting is BS. I guess the title ensured that the hits on his blog increased a lot…hell, I even helped him if you clicked the link.

Here is Gonzalez’ premise (roughly and subjectively summarized): Wine tasting produces different results according to the taster, tasters are stupid, and wine critics know that tasting is BS.

I read Gonzalez’ article and just thought: Yeah, pretty much everyone knows these issues. But that is not what it is about. Tasting is not about reaching scientific results. And we all know what we do has to be taken with a grain of salt (or residual sugar, in my case!). The article was self-righteous and sensational, when there was really nothing to be self-righteous about or sensational about the issue…I just found it petulant.

And then I read The Gray Report’s response to Gonzalez’ rant. It is thoughtful and measured. And he said something that made sense to me: Gonzalez’ critique applies to all critics, be they movie, theatre, food or literary critics. If you believe there is a place for that art form, then Gonzalez’ article seems banal and mewh, or blurgh. But when you think there is no place for it, that critique is just a sucking parasite, then I guess Gonzalez’ article made you nod a lot…

I am with The Gray Report and that is why I want you to read his response! Well written, witty, but clear to the point. Just right for a Sunday Read. Happy Sunday!!

The Gray Report: Re: Wine Tasting is Bullshit

Gonzalez’ initial post can be found following this link, in case you want to form your own opinion.

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17 thoughts on “Sunday Read: Re: Wine Tasting is Bullshit

  1. Blake Rax says:

    Oh I just hate it whenever someone starts a rant over ‘wine tasting’!
    I’ve found even wine drinkers don’t understand the premise of tasting themselves- they tend to see it as an imaginative exercise, rather than what you could describe as a methodical exercise.
    It’s fair enough when people dont agree if the wine is good or bad or ‘balanced’ or its very ‘rustic’ or ‘leathery’ etc etc- like what’s been said- taste, preferences, even what time of the day it is or whether you’d had a few coffees earlier can affect this!
    But apart from this there are so many things a few good drinkers can agree on when tasting- how much acidity? is it sweet? whats the body like? clean on the nose? fruit driven? (what fruits are subect to interpretation) long finish? intense flavour? Etc, etc, etc. During four months studying for my WSET with a group of six drinkers- these were things almost ALWAYS agreed on.

    Wine making is a science- things can be measured- things can be tasted (or smelt, or observed)It just takes some self righteous, self proclaimed ‘know-it-all’ to be narrow minded and critical towards the science, and the artform of tasting.

    This gets me a little wound up! (as you can probably tell)- but great links, great insights all over, great discussions!

    • Thanks for your rant back. Loved it! And you make a great point which adds to this discussion. As in other forms of critique, there are some standard rules that can help guide you, and people that are trained for the job, or have a lot of experience, know how to apply these. It reminds me of my days grading or supervising the grading of legal papers: It was always insanely difficult and virtually impossible to predict which exact grade would result from a paper because different graders value different things. But there was always consensus on which papers did not make the cut, and which papers where top of the heap because they met certain criteria, or didn’t. In between, it was a lot about personal taste…Thanks for sharing!! And good luck with the WSET!

  2. Although I do not agree with Gonzalez, I also find the Gray Report’s retort lacking. Wine critique is not like food since frankly, you do not bottle the food and keep it for varying periods of time. Nor do you taste the food blind or even out of context–when is the last time that a restaurant critic ever go and review 12 restaurants one after the other at 11 in the morning? Similarly with theater–it is impossible to remove the context from the review. With wine, for some reason, wine reviews are given with an attempt to remove all context–THAT is the problem I have with wine reviews–it is impossible to eliminate context or bias, but that is what the “professional” wine critics claim they do. That is a bunch of crap, if you ask me. Are wine reviews useless or “bullshit”? No, I see them as a useful starting point, and a guide to help purchases. But it is up to the individual to provide context….

    • Jeff, thanks for weighing in!!

      You certainly have a point when you say wine writing or critique is different from food or theatre critique. Although I do think there might be some similarities to theatre critcique: the circumstances are always unique, atmosphere and mood matters (context).

      I think all forms of critique have their own sets of special circumstances, so none are exactly alike, but they do share a place in that they help guide and understand what is going on.

      I am completely with you on that wine critique is anything but subjective. That has always been my mantra. Total crap. We’re all bringing our own likes and dislikes etc. to the table. Wine reviews can never be objective, because they deal with taste, which is always subjective. Our job is to make clear what our biases are (I hope I made my Riesling and residual sugar bias abundantly clear!). You are absolutely right about that.

      But under your premise, Gonzalez’ rant makes more sense. In my head, I had just taken this subjectivity for granted anyway, and then Gonzalez arguments really are not very helpful. But in order to go after those that claim to be “objective”, then it makes more sense. Thanks for making that clearer for me!!

  3. Duff's Wines says:

    Reblogged this on Duff's Wines and commented:
    Great discussion in the links provided. Thanks.

  4. Re Tracy: I do believe America (or Americans) shouldn’t be singled out for this criticism. It is a very common feature, at least I do know it from German discussions, to feel like one has to put the other one down in order to raise one’s own status. It is a quite common phenomenon, I fear…

    Re Stefano: I admire your stoicism regarding this (are you sure you are Italian?). It actually did enrage me quite a bit because I just thought it was so petulent and self-righteous. But I do know what you mean: There comes a point where one should not be bothered with this….I guess mine has not come yet! :)

  5. foxress says:

    Thanks for posting this controversial topic. I whole-heartedly agree with the Gray Report. One thing he doesn’t mention is that while we all experience aromas differently, the experts can give us a lot of guidance on things like the balance of the elements and the typicity of the wine and terroir. So, yes, their professional judgment of quality does mean something and is not completely subjective. Further, once found, a professional whose subjective judgment on aroma is in sync with one’s own subjective experience can be priceless. And don’t even get me started on the value of the writing itself when it comes to tasting notes. Oz Clark is the David Sedaris of the wine world. His observations are witty and delightful, as well as being informed, experienced and professional. It’s sad to think some people don’t see the value in wine tasting. But then, there are people who don’t see the value in literature, poetry, art, dance, music…don’t get me started.

    • I think you are spot on to something there, Linda. That is a great point: I feel like we all, at one point or another in our lives, appreciate guidance from people we trust. Be they friends, acquaintances, role models or professionals. Disparaging them for giving differing advice is like scolding someone for being who they are.

      I also like Oz Clarke’s writing, but am a bit more familiar with Jancis Robinson, who for me, is one of the best wine writers around…

      Thank you for sharing!!

  6. Stefano says:

    Sorry, Oliver, I am not going to bite and give that post any more hits. I could have understood a little more sophisticated of an argument, like for example, tasting is by definition subjective so I like taster x better than taster y because his/her tastes are closer to mine. But such a blanket statement really has no appeal to me and sounds more like an exercise to generate a heated argument (= more clicks) over nothing. So, I guess his bottom line is, just gulp any bottle of wine down like a Bud light and don’t think about it? I mean, if that’s what HE wants to do with HIS OWN wine, then knock yourself out man, but I think that making a serious argument out of it, one that would apply to the majority of those who actually appreciate wine and find pleasure in its sensory nuances sounds very much like a cheap trick to improve his blog’s stats more than anything else.

    • Stefano, I think you misunderstood Oliver (although I agree that you understood the Gonzalez premise correctly and I wholeheartedly agree with you wrote above, about that).

      But Oliver is not asking us to read the dumb b.s. article, instead, he’s recommending the quite sane rebuttal, at The Gray report. I also, did NOT give any more hits to vitriolic Gonzalez. I read the Gray report that O. linked to at the end of his post.

      Gray speculates about why it seems that so many people were sucked into the vortex of the cesspit, in other words, why so many seem fond of wallowing in b.s.. (to me, the obvious answer is that Gonzalez used the full muck-baiting b.s. word, and some animals can’t seem to resist naughty words).

      Gray’s answer is: “In the US, because we’re so competitive, we can’t be fully comfortable doing the right thing unless [we openly state that] others are doing the wrong thing [and openly attack them for doing what we think is dumb, silly, or just different].”

      There’s some truth in that, in my opinion. People in the U.S. tend to be rather excessive in habit and opinion. (I almost said “we” in the U.S., but realized that I consider myself very European-moderate; probably because I was educated at the right age in Europe–and then chose to hang around the more quiet moderate people who live in the U.S. alongside the ranters. Unfortunately, it’s the ranters who tend to draw crowds and get attention).

      Oliver, just for clarity’s sake, I’d suggest linking to Gray both at the top of your article (in the first sentence “this blog post”) as well as at the bottom. And in the sentence that links to Gonzalez, perhaps change “it” to “that.”

      Using “this” and “that” makes clear you are distinguishing between two posts, while “this” and “it” could be the same post.

      • We’re heading out to the movies in a minute, but I still wanted to thank you for your comment, Tracy! Will make a broader statement after we return. But so much for now: I clarified the article to make clearer which post I am talking about. Thank you for that!

      • Stefano says:

        Thank you, Tracy! I guess what I meant (or was trying to say) was that, in order to appreciate Gray’s comment, one should also read the post that prompted it, and that was where I had a problem.
        I am happy to read any good, well thought out apology of wine tasting, but to be honest to me personally it would be like having to read a well written post about all the good reasons why we should not stop breathing as instead some other guy on the blogosphere is suggesting we do… I mean, I guess I am at a point where there’s instances when enough is enough – as much as I like reading about constructive, intelligent arguments. Some just sound lame to me, and I prefer to “invest” my time reading things that stimulate my brain cells in a more positive way :-)
        And I agree wholeheartedly on your point re moderation and testosterone reduction in arguments and discussions in general! :-)

    • Thanks for that post, Stefano! I completely agree with you (as, it should be noted, happens far too often!! – hehehehe). There is a space for wine tasting, and just disparaging it for reasons that are inherent to any other form of critique without looking at the benefits there are is cheap…

      Having seen Tracy’s comment let me just get this clear: I assumed you were talking about Gonzalez’ initial blog post in your comment, not the response by The Gray Report.

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