Not a matter of taste

I host weekly wine tastings in Birmingham. These are good fun both for me, and, I hope, the attendees. As part of the evening’s format, the customers vote for their favourite wines from the selection tasted and this blog is a thought on a style of red wine that seems ‘hit the spot’ with most customers – and male customers particularly.

I’m referring to the full bodied and high alcohol reds, as manifested in Primitivo (AKA Zinfandel), Shiraz, Pinotage and Valpolicella – Ripasso or Amarone styles. I am sure there are others, but you get the idea. It’s not that I deny that customers can vote them as their favourite wines but I am aiming the question back at myself. Why can’t I appreciate them? Likewise, why can’t I appreciate a good malt whisky, different gins, refined tea flavours or distinctive beers.

Is it just a matter of taste or is there more going on?

I think I have a good palate and appreciate the effects of flavour combinations. However, I believe there is a mental side to this as well. Rather like a Shakespeare play, the more you learn, the more you appreciate, therefore it’s not just the senses but also the mind that is involved in the process. There is not such a thing as pure aesthetics. The extension to this argument is that we can be conditioned – or condition ourselves – to appreciate, or not appreciate, something. Or, even worse, to be bothered to appreciate something or not.

This can be experienced at tastings when group appreciation occurs. Someone says they like something or can detect something and there are noddings of heads. Suddenly, everyone appreciates it.

So, to return to those heavier reds, so liked by my customers. How far have I set my mind against their perceived powerful black fruit flavours, the unrefined jamminess and the dollop of sweetness at the finish?

Maybe it’s not just a matter of taste, after all.



Filed under posted by Geoff

2 responses to “Not a matter of taste

  1. Good question. Probably the answer is, (as you suggest) that it has a lot to do with experience, knowledge and the level at which you’re tasting. That’s to say that, at one end of the spectrum you have a “I know what I like” approach and, on the other, tasters who judge wine on their merits – probably in a professional environment. For example when I do tastings here in the Loire opinions are all over the place, formulated on preconceptions like “I like reds” or “I don’t like sweet wine”. On the other hand I am privlleged to be invited to judge at various wine shows and competitions and the format is normally a panel of 6 blind-tasting about 30 wines and you would not normally know which appellation it will be until you arrive. It is very rare indeed that any one taster produces a list which is vastly different than the others. (the first selection is done individually). Which I suppose is proof that their is a certain mental disipline and logic which goes into the conclusions and which is based on experience and a clear understand of what the appellation demandes. Whether this approach is as much fun I doubt!

    • Hi Brian and Sheila – it’s comforting to know that someone reads these, and an international audience to boot! Hope you’re both well.
      Your argument suggests both ends of the spectrum involve some thought process, as in ‘preconceptions’ at one end and, at the other, ‘demands of the appellation’ and ‘experience’. So does anyone taste purely on what’s presented? Geoff