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The Challenge Continues


It was another time when wines changed over the days, and so I found myself thinking – yet again – of the way we taste and the judgments we let ourselves make. Do I talk about this too much? There is sentiment to that effect (even within these walls) and I can see how the subject could become tiresome, because on its face it seems self-evident. Duh, right: wines taste different at different times! This isn’t news.


Maybe because it seems so elemental, everyone ignores it – at least other tasters seem to ignore it. For me it reduces to two questions. For any given wine, what can we know and how do we know that we know enough to judge it?



One morning in Champagne we’d had snow the night before, and my hotel’s parking lot was on a hill and they needed time to clear it. So I was around a half-hour late for my appointment at Vilmart, which coincided with the appointment of a wine writer, so it was efficient for Laurent to open one bottle for two tasters. The problem was, he didn’t want to begin the tasting until both of us visitors were there, and the other guy got miffed because he had a full day of visits and he didn’t want to run behind. So he powered through the samples and took his leave as cordially as possible, but afterwards I was bemused.


I mean, really? Can you truly blast through the range of Vilmart in a little over an hour and not only write intelligible (let alone insightful or elegant) notes but also give scores purporting to depict absolute quality? I know (and like and respect) that writer, but he isn’t a better taster than I am. I also know that one can get skilled at snapshot-tasting, an attribute we refer to as “professional,” and which I was good at, when my schedule, too, was sometimes overloaded. But I must argue for us to view this accurately, as a contrivance tasters have created to permit them to cram ten pounds of tasting into a five pound bag. And there is a risk, as one spends day after day skimming the surfaces of hundreds of wines, deciding that you know exactlyhow good they are based on five minutes with them, that one begins to feel like a little tin god. Humility? Who has time for it? Let it in, and it upends the affect of omniscience you sell as an opinion leader.


Theirs is one world – not an invalid world, if we see its actual parameters – and mine is another. Mine isn’t “better” except insofar as it’s deeper and more deliberate, but you have to agree those are useful values, and maybe you don’t. But when I taste a group of wines, many of which shape-shift over 4-5 days, I grow painfully aware how easy it is to be glib about ones flash impressions. I may be tendentious (“may” be??) and I may be ponderous and I definitely am repetitive – but I am not glib.


Not any more.


Read my tasting notes on 2020 Weingut Goldatzel.

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