Up to this point I have presented all Halter Ranch blog posts from a pleasant distance as the universal ‘we’. Today rampant opinion has led this particular blogger to forge ahead into unknown territory, presenting his own thoughts on a particular aspect of the wine industry from the excitingly dangerous perspective of ‘I’.
So, I, Lindsey Burrell, today’s composer of the Halter Ranch blog, have conflict with a certain observed pattern in the presentation, tasting, and understanding of wine. I will refer to this pattern under the general heading of ‘rampant opinion’ and more particularly as an attitude of yes or no, white or black, up or down, extreme or extreme, in the context of drinking, enjoying, and analyzing wine.
My objection stems from an experience I had tasting an army of Roses among a group of wine oriented people, but the overall drive behind these thoughts may apply to anyone interested in the subject or consumption of fermented grape juice. During the tasting mentioned, I heard incessantly the statement ‘I like this’ or ‘I don’t like this’ from a huge percentage of imbibing lips. Variation occurred only with regard to the particular words chosen, the overall feeling was the same. In reflection, I arrived at the realization that I have a problem with such statements.
Let me be clear: I do not have a problem with opinion or personal taste. I believe both are fundamental to definition of self and the journey derived therefrom. My issue with opinion in the context of presenting, and often, in experiencing new wines is that I believe simple and polarized terms such as ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ detract from the newness and potential development of the experience.
A more important question from my perspective as a professional is: What aspect of this wine makes it interesting to someone, anyone, a demographic, an entire country? Further: In what niche was this wine meant to fit? What was the intention behind its creation? Finally: Why it is interesting? I begin these musings from the humble standpoint of: nearly every wine (excluding those that have overt flaws) is interesting in some way or to someone. The (exciting!) challenge is unearthing, why, how, and to whom.
The reason I believe an open perspective is more pragmatic, prudent, productive than a simple yes or no is that as wine professionals our job is to provide information, and not just opinion. Information sells wine. Wine is alive, but our words give life to wine before it even touches the glass. Thus it is prudent to approach the subject of our commentary with open minds, seeking attributes, eccentricities, particularities, developments, progressions, notes, tones, colors from the perspective of discovery. Wine is simply alcohol when it is deprived of the story and history behind its creation and the general accoutrement of wonder in experiencing it.
Any given variety of wine, style of blend, or overall archetype is prone to infinite variation. Thus, within each category be it Cabernet Sauvignon, Rosé, Madeira, Grenache, Rhone Blends, Chianti, Dessert Wine and on, there is likely something that will appeal to the particulars of your palate. Initial impressions with regard to a particular wine can be quite deceptive, a reduced or closed bottle may take hours in the presence of oxygen before truly coming out of its skin (or skins as you like…) so it is prudent to take note of and remember your initial reaction but important to revisit the wine over time to observe changes and developments.
Palate identity adds further complexity to the equation. While it is possible, even likely, to share preferences with others, it is very unlikely that those preferences will line up precisely or for the same reasons. This is the joy and deception of wine. It is an argument for trusting your own taste and formulating your own experiences as opposed to relying purely on the recommendations of an alien palate or upon your own preconceived biases.
Further, it is an argument for those of us in the industry to present wine from the perspective of ‘this is interesting because…’ as opposed to ‘this is what I like…’ given that personal preference as a pourer, while significant, is likely different to varying degrees than the person or people we pour for under a given circumstance.
This subject is applicable to my approach in general, but to Halter Ranch in particular given that we cultivate a wide range of varieties (19) and produce a multitude of (12 or more in a given vintage) varietal and blended wines. I am of the opinion that all of our wines are appealing and proper in their own way and I fervently apply myself toward sharing how. It is exhausting to hear: ‘Can I have more of that Chardonnay’ at pouring events when a) we don’t grow or produce Chardonnay, and b) I have just explained to the questioning party what our White Rhone Blend is composed of. And so I argue here for open senses, a desire to learn, and a perspective of interest with regard to the wine world, I assure you, it will not disappoint.
In the words of Wine Guru Eric Asimov:
“The world is dominated by the ordinary and the mass market. Most Restaurants, even in New York City, conform to a mainstream vision of food and wine. For that reason alone we should celebrate the departures, not feel threatened by them.”
-From Should a Wine List Educate or Merely Flatter You? in the New York Times