I read reviews of wine all the time, because I am interested in what the experts think about the new releases, and I admit that my purchasing is influenced by these eminent scribes. However, I rarely find that I am able to smell or taste what they have described in their reviews. Some people are blessed with a higher level and refinement of olfactory powers than others, and perhaps they have more taste buds in their mouth and each one is more sensitive. And perhaps advanced age means that some of the powers we are born with diminish as we get older. Whatever the explanation is I wonder if it worthwhile for a person as bereft of talent as myself worrying about the finer points, especially if it costs a lot more to purchase the better reviewed bottle. What is the point of having the best TV if you are blind is one way of looking at the problem.
My readers will know that I am a member of a wine club, and the recent theme was Northern Sth Australia, which includes the Barossa, Clare, Riverland, and Adelaide Hills. Wines from these areas are mainstream and commonly available, so you would expect most of us to be able to pick the grape varieties easily. But, this was not the case, with the winner doing very well picking 6 from 9, but the loser picking none from 9. Many of us, including myself, only scored 2 or less, and failed to pick a Semillon, Pinot Noir, and a Merlot. Admittedly, we don’t help ourselves by having food on the table with cheese and spicy nibbles, but the fact is we fail to pick up the fine nuances that would give us a definitive clue to the identity of the grape. We have been doing this testing of our palates each month for over 30 years, but we don’t seem to be getting any better at it.
But back to my original theme, I will give you an example of a review, where I failed to be able to identify even half what the reviewer sensed. It is a Shiraz/ Cabernet blend and the review comes from the Gourmet Traveller Wine Magazine:
“A stylish, smooth and gentle blend that’s spicy, faintly dusty fragrance of violets, cassis, blackberries and fresh chocolate, cedar and vanilla oak reveals nuances of musk, menthol and white pepper. Finely crafted, it’s long and polished, presenting a seamless and elegant marriage of briary, small black and red berries, cedary oak, and a fine, pliant, loose-knit extract.”
Now, apart from not really being able to make sense of what was written, when I tasted that wine I couldn’t really match what I tasted to the words above. But the strange thing is that the review made the wine sound so good, I went out and got a bottle. And even though I couldn’t say I was able to taste exactly what was described, it was a wonderful wine, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think the key to deciphering reviews is to read between the lines and selectively pick the attributes that appeal to your taste. For example, in the wine above I picked up, blackberries, chocolate, oak, long, polished, seamless and elegant, and this closely matches what I like to taste in my red wines, and I wasn’t disappointed in this case.