Guilty pleasures and objectivity in tastings

There are wines that have more interest than their score indicates. These will be wines with a story.

The story could be

  • Some personal relationship with the winemaker, or winery
  • A purchase from a special place, or time, or price, including wines from overseas that went into the luggage
  • Some rarity from mailing lists,  or a peculiar bargain, perhaps trying some barrels at a winery, or something from “under the counter”
  • Some revisiting of an earlier experience

My guilty pleasures include

Baileys of Glenrowan. We always seemed to visit when it was searingly hot, so we’d welcome a break from the non-air-conditioned car, and the old tasting room was refreshingly cool. Alternately, the days would be wintry, and the log fire inside was very inviting.

Later I remember tasting the Founder Liqueur wines, and the “HJT” fortifieds and heroic red wines – wines that had the ferrous “iron filings” profile. The 1992 Shiraz wines are still going strong, with the ripe blackberry fruit winning the battle with the typically deep tannins – something that could not always be relied on. 1975 was another year with this fruit power

Petaluma Riesling. The 1980 Petaluma Riesling was a wine where I have consumed far more than my fair share. This was because a nearby wine shop (long closed) had the wine for sale for around $10 per bottle. My partner and I would drink a bottle, marvel at it, then return at some stage to buy a further bottle or two for drinking. Our usual “budget” drinking white wine at the time was the Wynns “high Eden” Riesling.

Leo Buring. At an early Expovin in Melbourne’s Exhibition buildings, John Vickery politely asked if I wanted to try some Rieslings. I jumped at this opportunity and recall trying some wines from early 1970’s including some  ”show” wines.

Brown Brothers. Again at Expovin, I think Huon Hooke showed a range of perhaps 6 different Noble Rieslings. A fantastic insight into cellaring capabilities and vintage variation, and a tremendous exercise in brand building by Brown Brothers.

Chambers (Rutherglen). Another winery we visited when I was young, with the red wines often stored in an old fridge, with the instruction from Bill Chambers to “help yourselves”. Again I can only remember visiting on stinking hot days. It turned out that my father had worked as a labourer at the winery in the 1940’s as a recent migrant with rudimentary English.

And of course there were the visits to the original Dan Murphy cellars in Prahran (its now a JB Hi-fi store).

There are also  wines where we have a negative perception; the cellar doors that treated people rudely, served derisory samples, or only showed their basic wines, or where their prices heavily exceeded retail.  And those that had dire levels of TCA and made refunds difficult – or impossible. Or the wines that have had rave reviews and been disappointing, where the hype exceeded the experience.

These all colour our attempts at objectivity.

The impact is that the nostalgia confounds “objective” scoring to a considerable degree.  I carry around some affections for these wines named above, and other wines  – from the places where I have picked grapes, cleaned (lots and lots of cleaning) , filled barrels, foot-trod grapes, and so on. And then consider that I selected these places based on something, and they put up with my efforts.

For those other scribblers that are awash with samples, and assess them in a masked format – there is a further challenge to demonstrate objectivity in what is chosen for weekly, or irregular articles. It cannot be achieved- we are creatures surrounded by our history and habits, that influence what we taste, what we buy, and what we write.


2 thoughts on “Guilty pleasures and objectivity in tastings

  1. Hi Richard,

    A nice article and I agree that there are so many connections to times, places, occasions and events that significantly increase the anticipatory pleasures of many wines and lend a wistfulness as you drink them.

    I continue to taste the majority of my wines (for the paper) masked, but the issue of context (or indeed, the lack of in a blind tasting format) is one that I do grapple with. There are wines that are produced to be show ponies; to stand out in a blind line up, and others that are made to be consumed with good food and good friends after time has worked its wonderful alchemy. Is it fair to taste them together masked? Is it any fairer to taste them together unmasked and can we truly do so without preconceptions, without bias or affection, and with unswerving objectivity? This wine tasting business is imperfect science, so we all must do the best we can, and remain honest to ourselves and the wine.

    I don’t purport to be, nor ever aspire to be, infallible, and I think that our little foibles, idiosyncrasies and quirks can make our reviews (both yours and mine) personable and readable.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s