I taste our wines frequently, often three or more times every week. More often then not they taste slightly different to me each time. Actually that's not correct, so let me rephrase that. It's actually me that's tasting them slightly differently each time. I know these wines in a way no one outside the winery could. This kind of repeated exposure to the same wine is something only someone who makes them experiences.
That's the reality of the situation. We are not tasting machines pumping out precise data to a perfectly calibrated computer. The world we live in changes our ability to taste. The time of day, environment, who we are with, our mood, health, food, temperature and an endless array of variables impacts the way we perceive a wine. Most of the time, unless a wine has been damaged, the variations winemakers see as they taste and re-taste their own wines is not any change in the wine itself, but a change in the taster.
So taste and wine is moving target. Someone who assigns a score to a wine after just a quick tasting reflects more the momentary situation of the taster than the true state of the wine. When you see only one frame of a movie you can never hope to understand the whole story.
What this means for a winery is that getting scores from critics is a crap shoot unless you make them in a big, sweet, fat oaky, high alcohol style, which is the only thing that they can taste when hammering through dozens if not hundreds of samples. Obviously the public's bullshit meter is not very sensitive because they continue to buy this obvious manipulation of the system. Hey buddy, would you like to buy a bridge....
Any taste scientist will tell you that those that claim they can taste and accurately rank to the precise point are just fooling themselves. It is simply not possible for humans to taste at this level - and they can prove it. You can bet that Robert Parker, James Laube and their like will never let the accuracy of their palates be put to a scientific test. Would you? Having to focus an a few key points is the only way to pump scores out when tasting dozens or even hundreds of wines. This dumbs wine down.
The 20th Anniversary of The French Laundry here in Yountville was a big event bringing in culinary luminaries from around the globe. As part of the celebration Thomas Keller teamed up with Mast Brothers Chocolates to produce a special dark chocolate bar to celebrate the anniversary. In four of the bars are "Golden Tickets", a la Willy Wonka, which entitle the winner to a dinner for two at The French Laundry. The only restriction is that you have to live in Yountville to buy one of these potentially golden bars, as you might expect from Thomas Keller, all the proceeds go to charity. As a Yountville resident I could not pass up that chance. I did not win the dinner, but that first taste of this amazing chocolate was almost knee-buckling in the intensity of the taste experience. Each time over the last few days I have returned to that bar of Mast Brothers chocolate for my daily ration and each bite has been a delight, even a revelation, but the mind expanding intensity of that first taste is gone, never to be repeated. That is the fleeting nature of the tasting experience, there is that one brief moment to experience something in a totally new way and then that opportunity is gone forever. Our taste experience moves forward in perfect rhythm with our environment, our knowledge and expectations. We have as much impact on our perception of taste as the product we are actually tasting.
The only way to take the true measure of a wine with any complexity is to spend time with it. Conveniently this is actually what wine is made for - taking time.