synchrodan wrote:I know we’ve already “turned the page” on this whole silly RP vs WD discussion, but one pseudo-related comment about critics, and one amusing observation.
Every ccritic has some bias, because every ccritic is human. We all have personal preferences. Certain characteristics or attributes might be more preferable to one person to another. Do I believe that objectivism is possible in something like wine? Not any more than I think that there is objectivism in art. After all, I think it would be quite easy to argue that wine making is something of an art. With that said, I think that there may be some consensus on certain aspects of wine that makes it objectively BAD, but I think it is much harder to agree on which good wine is BEST. For example, if Robert Parker had choked on a #2 pencil when he was a child, he may have an aversion to the oakiness he instead embraces. But it didn’t happen that way. His preferences are not invalid, but neither are the preferences of RPM, SB, etc. (Okay, who can tell that philosophy was one of my majors in college??)
And now for the amusing observation – one can draw an interesting contrast between RP and WD. RP’s life has been spent engaging in activities (his reviews, rating scale, etc.) which led to the price of good wine to INCREASE for consumers. WD’s life (at least the wine.woot aspect of it) is spent trying to get the price of good wine (on Woot, in particular) to DECREASE for consumers (Wooters, in particular). While I can’t say one is “greater than” the other, because I am not (yet) rich, my personal preference is for the latter!
Note: I say "ccritic" to get past the Woot filter!
I suppose I'm laying down a marker with synchrodan when I start off by saying I'm not a philosophical relativist and that I believe in the existence of (though not necessarily our ability to accurately discern) absolute truth and so I reject his position that all preferences are equally valid (and not just for the holder of them). As more of an historian than a philosopher, I understand that all of us bring our biases to bear on our work, but I also would argue strongly for the need for making as strenuous an effort as possible towards objectivity. Perhaps we can approach objectivity only asymptotically, but the impossibility of ever knowing we can achieve it does not mean we should not even make the attempt.
While we may not be able to ever achieve an absolute understanding or objective evaluation of wine, I think that there is something that approaches being an objective standard, which is the collective judgment of serious wine professionals (and their dedicated amateur colleagues who collect and taste serious wine, but do not make a living from it) over the past 150-200 years that we have reasonable records and writing about wine that is recognizable and intelligible. By that I mean, wines made in essentially similar ways from vineyards that are still producing in climates that are essentially the same subject to seasonal and reasonable annual variations -- it's my firm view that an astute, well-trained wine maker from, say, 1800, would be able to come into a modern winery working with similar varietals and (other than purely technological innovations that essentially give the wine maker more control over what's going on) understand what a modern wine maker was doing, and could meaningfully discuss and contribute to the decision-making in the production of a modern wine. And vice versa.
Of course, that level of knowledge is the result of a combination of some talent, a lot of training over many years. And, it's a kind of judgment that may differ from the everyday appreciation of wine. It's rather like understanding fine art -- most of us are not connoisseurs of art and do not have a deep understanding of art, but we know and appreciate that there is art that is generally considered great for articulable reasons, and that there are people who are devoted to understanding great art, either as a business or an avocation. With art, most of us know what we like and don't like when we see it. Sometimes, we like great art and sometimes we don't. Similarly, many of us are fond of works or styles of art that would be considered inferior or commercial. Which is fine, as long as we understand there's a difference, and don't try to change the standards by which great art is judged.
I think wine is similar. Those of us who have been fortunate to learn about, taste, and appreciate wines generally considered great probably do consider those wines to set the standards by which we judge wine, and to in some (perhaps fleeting) sense embody a reasonably objective standard of greatness. That does not mean that we like only great wines -- I've known people who profess to drink only the highest quality of wine and they often have more money than taste or knowledge -- or that we don't value wines that doe not meet those exalted standards.
In fact most of what even professionals drink would not count as "great" wine and would include a surprising amount of pretty ordinary or 'standard' wine. Those wines need to be appreciated for what they are and should not be directly compared to great wine. When a professional or serious amateur tastes a lovely wine that's enjoyable now, he or she does not say that should be the standard for all wine, but accepts it on its own terms.
Therein lies the heart of my beef with Parker: with little understanding and no training, but a newly discovered love of wine, lawyer Parker set himself up as a wine c.ritic and began to rate wines based on is own palate. Which, as I have written often over the years, in large measure because it was untrained, was biased in favor of easily approachable and fruit forward wines that immediately delighted his senses. Of course, that is an approach that appeals to a lot of people, especially those who are not experienced, and as a result, he was tremendously commercially successful.
The problem, from my perspective, is that lots of wine drinkers, instead of taking the trouble to learn about wine (and so have their palates progress from approachable wines to those which require more understanding, but which, over time, greatly repay the effort and are the 'change your life' wines of yesteryear) continue in more or less a rut of increasingly expensive approachable, fruit forward, bold (and often heavily oaked) wines which are often not especially well balanced. Wine makers and marketers, who want to sell wine after all, have in large measure responded to the increase in demand for this sort of wine by making more of it. Initially, that occurred in the middle market, but there has been increasing pressure over the past 25 years on the high end to change the methods of vinification to produce (especially in Bordeaux, Burgundy and in California) to produce wines that will obtain high Parker ratings and hence sales. What we don't know is whether those new style wines will age well and develop in ways similar to the great wines of the past. What I suspect based on limited evidence (and I'm not the only one of this view) is that these wines will not hold up and will fade away about the time the great red (and white) wines of the past 200 years would have just been coming into their primes. And, that upsets me, I confess. I want my children and grandchildren to be able to join the great conversation of wine and experience some of the same heights I have been lucky enough to.
Now, all of that said, I do believe that most of us, most of the time, taste wines simply to find what we like and, perhaps learn a bit more in the process. And, I would agree that if you're buying wine you should buy wines that you and those you drink with will actually enjoy. I'd never counsel someone who likes sweetish, fresh tasting wine (say a NZ Sauvignon Blanc or a Mosel Riesling) to buy a bone dry Chablis or Muscadet. I think people should experiment, because I think they may discover interesting new things, but there's no obligation to experiment -- if you know just what you like, and don't want to change, that's fine. NO ONE should ever drink wine he or she doesn't like.
But, let's not pretend that whatever you or I may like is objectively as good as wines that are acknowledged by expert consensus over the past 100 years as great, or that there are no standards in wine other than our personal, totally subjective standards.
whew. end rant.