An imaginary conversation between a critic (me) and a cult winemaker
The critic: But why will you not submit your wine to my blind tasting?
The winemaker: Because I don’t believe in the “beauty contest” of a blind tasting. The only way to properly appreciate my wine is to taste it at the estate, with me the winemaker, and with a full understanding of what we are trying to accomplish.
I understand your point of view. But can’t you see that the sole objective of wine reviewing is to actually taste the wine in and of itself, without the distorting effects of environment and knowing what the label is?
Perhaps that is true for others, but not for me. That is not why I make wine, nor is it how I wish for critics to taste my wine.
So you’re saying the only way to properly appreciate your wine is to do so in the full knowledge of what it is.
Can you concede that, under such circumstances as you propose, the wine would probably strike the critic as better, than if he tasted the wine under blind conditions?
Possibly. But you overlook another point: Let’s say that the critic has high expectations on visiting the property, which is very famous and has a long history of producing great wine. Then the opposite of what you fear might occur–namely, that the wine failed to live up to his high expectation, and the review therefore would suffer.
I can see your point. But it strikes me as extremely unlikely. A great winery always makes great wines. Except in the event of a catastrophe, it seems impossible for a critic to visit a great winery and fail to give the wine a glowing review, especially if he knows what it is.
I think you still fail to see my point. We put everything we possibly can into creating our wine. It is the product of many years of labor, on the part of the most talented team I’ve been able to assemble. The wine is a work of art–not simply a liquid inside a bottle. Besides, no normal person drinks wine the way you propose–from a paper bag with no knowledge or understanding of what it is. That is counter to the entire concept of a great wine.
And yet, suppose the wine has certain minor flaws: maybe it’s a bit thin, or too sharp, or too fruity. Maybe the oak has been applied with a heavy hand. Maybe the tannins are hard and will never resolve. These things all are important to point out to consumers, but if the critic tastes the wine openly, with you, at the estate, then what we call “tasting room bias” will occur. These relatively minor flaws, which would instantly be apparent under blind conditions, run the risk of being undetected, with the glamor and psychological perturbations of tasting at the winery.
That may be true, but consider this: If I send you my wine and you taste it blind, in a flight of its peers, it will no doubt achieve a respectable score. Let’s say in the mid-90s. Do I really need yet another 95-point wine? All the other critics, who come here and taste it openly with me, will give it 95 points, maybe even 97 or 98 points. Therefore, I have absolutely nothing to gain by sending you the wine.
That is not true. It’s better for you to have more high scores, not fewer. After all, some of those critics who visit with you may someday turn against you and give your wine 87 points. Wouldn’t it be better from a marketing point of view to have a 95 point score to tell people about?
The people who buy my wine don’t care about scores. They’re on my mailing list because they love my wine. We would never use a critic’s score to promote our wine. That would demean everything we’re trying to do.
I don’t believe that. There’s a reason why your wine is in high demand, and that’s because certain critics gave it high scores. You can’t have it both ways.
Well, I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree. However, I do respect your ability as a wine critic, and I’d be happy to host you at the winery anytime you want. We can taste whatever you want: current releases, barrel constituents, older wines. Even if you’re not able to review them in your magazine, at least you’ll have the opportunity to understand what it is we’re trying to do.
Thank you. I’d like that. And perhaps, someday, you’ll change your mind, if for no other reason than out of sheer curiosity.
Maybe! But I doubt it.