My training is in literature. Without even thinking about it, I tend to use literature and literary methodology to probe, dissect, and make sense of the things around me. Wine has proven to be no exception. Often I keep these musings to myself, as they are usually unhelpful, slightly absurd, and tend to elicit weird looks and judgments of eccentricity (at the more generous end of the spectrum).* But I think the following is actually useful in thinking about wine criticism, so bear with me.
I recently read an article on Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s blog about double blind tastings, and how many people consider this the only way a wine can really be judged fairly. (Glossary time: Double blind tasting – tasting with no knowledge of the wine whatsoever, just the liquid, the glass, and you. Single blind tasting – you’re thrown a bone, i.e. “This is a 2005 Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre blend from the Southern Rhone,” but you still don’t know the name of the producer.)
This got me thinking — in no other artistic medium is the critic expected to judge a work without knowing its source (I am working under the premise that winemaking is an artistic medium, though I’m sure many would contest me on that). This is, in some respect, due to the impossibility of “blind” reviews in other mediums: unless he lives underground (which is probably undesirable), the movie critic will know who directed the new Batman movie; the literary critic will know that it’s the new Jose Saramago book she holds in her hands. Nothing can be disassociated from its source the way wine can.
But more to the point – in these mediums, it is considered valuable that a critic judge a work based on its context and its author/auteur/creator. What may be a pretty crappy poem for Ezra Pound would be an outstanding effort from a first-year creative writing student. A piece of art is always judged within theoeuvreof its author, but this same courtesy (or curse) is not applied to wine. Double blind tastings are designed to be fair to the wine: the idea is that everyone gets a clean slate, and critics are not swayed – either way – based on the name of the producer. But is this more fair? Or does this really just handicap everyone?
Post script. In case you were wondering, Harold Bloom would say that the wine is really a secondary concern. The winemaker is the genius, the creator, and we should only care about the wine insomuch as it can tell us about the person who made it. Hmmmm.
* Take, for example, when I said in complete sincerity that I thought the 2003 Paolo Bea Montefalco Rosso was the Hamlet of wines – complex, difficult to pin down, different on each revisit, yet it betrays its own brilliance every step of the way. It sort of makes sense, right?
Posted by Jane