I have been tasting today. I spent a good portion of the afternoon at two tastings of Italian wines: the first, the Armit tasting; the second, a preview of the Lay & Wheeler consumer Piemonte tasting.
I have got to the stage with tastings where I am happy not to taste everything. Even though there are almost always lots and lots of worthy wines that I should really taste, I exercise restraint.
The temptation is to gather as many data points as possible, but the real issue is the trade-off between the number of wines tasted and the accuracy of perception.
For show judging you can taste 100 wines in a day without a problem, if you take time, have breaks, and don’t retaste too many times. If you are experienced and accurate, your verdicts will be quite reliable.
But for the purposes of discriminating among fine wines and writing useful notes about them, you have to trade number of wines tasted against palate fatigue. And because it is quite hard to concentrate in a busy tasting, you need to deliberately slow down and focus on the wine.
So today, I tasted just 40 wines. I tried to give each the attention and time it deserved. Because I was tasting a lot of Piemonte Nebbiolos, including some very young Barolos, the tannin load had quite an effect on my palate. Once you get past a certain point with very tannic wines, they strip the mucins (proteins which act as lubricants in the mouth) from your oral cavity at a deep level, which impairs your ability to assess the mouthfeel of the wine. Mouthfeel is so important, yet in big tastings we end up flying blind – if we are not careful – when it comes to the textural aspects of red wines.
So I have learnt to taste as much as I can, but not try to taste everything, and to try to be honest about how reliable the data points I am gathering are. The pressure among critics is to try to be the ultimate authority, tasting everything. I would be very happy just being an authority in a small domain. I don’t need to conquer the world; I’m never going to be the best, the number one. I’m just lucky to be able to make a living writing about wine.