Judge not lest ye be judged

It’s a valid question, especially for someone starting out on the wine learning path. One of the stated goals of the WSET courses is to learn how to judge the quality of a wine by tasting it. By definition this means ridding oneself of personal tastes and preferences to give a dispassionate opinion of a wine. A wine could be of good quality and yet depending on personal taste, some people might not like it. I think that is one of the great challenges facing me.

For a long time I had an purely hedonistic approach to wine, simply trying to judge what I drank by whether I liked it, whether I enjoyed it or not. It’s not a bad approach, it’s open-minded, it’s simple and it makes wine drinking accessible for the profane. Gone are those days! I now must drink seriously, furrow my brow and take inspired and intense poses as I ponder the deep mysteries of the wine in my glass.

Appropriately furrowed brow

Appropriately furrowed brow

Nah, just kidding, that sounds like too much work… I still try to ask myself whether I enjoy a wine or not. The difference is that I should make myself form an objective opinion first. I hope the brow furrowing will be kept at minimal levels, it sounds painful. Plus I’m not sure I can pull off the inspired, focused look for extended periods of time… I’m not really sure it’s in my nature.

It remains hard to separate taste and quality, especially since I’m really a beginner. What is quality? I tend to think that a wine tastes like a wine from its region/variety/style should taste, then a certain standard is reached. Granted this is more like judging the representativity of a wine than its quality, but I think it’s a start. Of course it’s possible for an outlier of a wine to be of good quality while not being a good example of its style of region.

I really believe this is just a first step in the right direction. Eventually I’ll learn to be more specific about the quality of the wines I taste, judging, for instance, the aging potential for a young wine. But the road is long, and it’s a good thing. I mean it’s a good thing if tasting wine remains enjoyable; I never want it to become a chore, just an exercise of my taste buds and my wine knowledge. There is the intellectual thrill of learning and expanding your knowledge of course, but wine, by itself, has a thrill of its own that I do not want to lose along the way.

8 thoughts on “Judge not lest ye be judged

  1. Forgive me if your tutor has already mentioned this, but when I am teaching about quality my students often struggle too! Of course, whether you like a wine or not is the ultimate question, but in order to taste objectively here are my tips:
    B: Balance – If your wine is well balanced (e.g. the alcohol doesn’t burn too much) this indicates good quality.
    L: Length – If your wine has a decent length then it is likely to be of better quality
    I: Intensity – Does your wine have a good concentration of flavour? If so then that’s another indication of quality.
    C: Complexity – Does your wine have layers of primary, secondary and tertiary aromas? If so then it’s a good sign.
    Finally there is Expressiveness – i.e. does it taste like where it comes from – but you already referred to this in your post.

    If you can happily tick all the boxes then you’re looking at an outstanding wine. You can remember it as BLICE.

    I hope you continue to enjoy wine along your journey!

  2. I struggle with that a lot as well. I certainly do have preferences, and I also feel like not being in the wine business, and at this point also not aspiring to be, gives me more leeway to put my own preferences ahead. Naturally, there are objective criteria, but they are assessed by a subjective person. I have a legal background and it always struck me when judges claim that they only apply the law. That is true for easy cases where the law is unambiguous, but difficult cases, where you have to weigh different sides or approaches virtually make it impossible to be impartial. Add in that we are talking about taste as well…sigh.

    That said, I try to explain what I taste, and then assess whether I like that or not. That seems at this point as far as I can go. And it seems like that is a step in the right direction. I just always try to stay very much conscious that it is me forming impressions, and not an objective body (if ever they exist).

    Also, I really like Julia’s tips for assessing quality!

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