Don’t get me wrong. I love big tastings where you get a chance to taste lots of wine. It’s an incredible opportunity for a wine writer to be able to taste, in the space of one day, perhaps 80 different wines. You rapidly build up quite a stock of tasting notes.
But there are severe problems for those whose professional life consists solely of quick tasting samples like this.
First of all, while this approach is fine for quick rough-and-ready assessments of commercial wines, it doesn’t serve serious wines well. In a tasting like this, I can spot the duffers from the good bottles, and it flags up potentially very good bottles. But it doesn’t tell me just how good those very good bottles are.
Perhaps this is why the besetting sin of winewriters seems to be that they aren’t very good (generally) at distinguishing among high-quality commercial wines and serious fine wines. And this might be why many of them fail to get really serious natural wines, for example: these are wines you have to have a relationship with, not a one-night stand.
Secondly, the most serious wines tend to have a temporal dynamic to them. They are alive, and change with time. If you taste a sample, you don’t spot this. If you sit down with a bottle, you have a chance of catching it. Great wines demand a response from the drinker. It is almost as if there is a dialogue taking place. We have a conversation with the wine that can last an evening.
Finally, palate fatigue can prevent even the best taster from making the fine discriminations that are the difference between top quality commercial wines and serious fine wines. And there is a very real difference, in my opinion.
The sorts of wines that really thrill me don’t reveal themselves straight away. You get a sense that they are serious; that there is more than meets the eye. But this takes some teasing out, glass in hand.