I’m at the Dookie Agricultural College at the moment, enjoying a week-long residential session as part of my studies. As with the last session, I’ve had ample opportunity to taste many average wines and indulge in some navel gazing. There are certainly some very experienced palates amongst my fellow students, which is both enlightening and enjoyable. Several group tastings, and more than a few conversations, lead me to make the following random observations.
Palate variation is astonishing. We often talk about bottle variation and, as real as that is, I’ve been more interested this week in how different people perceive wine so very differently. On several occasions, I’ve been struck by how differently I have seen a wine from some, and how similarly to others. This certainly gives credence to the idea that one ought to align to critics whose palates are sympathetic to one’s own, but more interestingly it highlights both the (perhaps beautiful) futility of writing tasting notes altogether, and the uselessness of blood sport tasting.
On blood sport tasting — by this I mean an attitude to wine tasting characterised by a repellent competitiveness at the expense of almost everything else (enjoyment, propriety, humanity) — I find my tolerance to have diminished to almost zero. I like to think I’m fairly accommodating of others’ views, but on this topic I am satisfyingly inflexible. As a lover of wine, to me wine is about enjoyment, quality of life, beauty, generosity. Anything else is just missing the point.
Which leads me to average wines. I realise that many, if not all, of our tastings this week were pedagogical in intent, and that great wines don’t necessarily assist with learning. As a selective taster who generally chooses wines I actually want to drink, however, it has been rather soul-destroying. I don’t know how wine judges do it.
A parade of average wines also raises the question of benchmarking. It’s clear that, amongst my fellow students, there’s a large range of tasting experiences, some at the lower end and some at the extreme high end. I find I sit somewhere in the middle, having regularly tasted local premium and decent international wines, without often having scaled the heights of vinous stardom. This would be neither here nor there, except that my fellow students and I are, in theory at least, studying to become vignerons. I suggest in this case that exposure to top wines becomes of critical importance, and wonder what might happen if we collectively fail to benchmark our palates and winemaking efforts in a meaningful way.