Just as everything else in life, wine is all about perception. There’s a fine line that runs between what’s subjective and what’s objective. The subjective side of us may find “flaw” in a wine that’s not big and bold and tannic the way we like them, but the objective side of us needs to ask: Is this wine supposed to be big and bold and tannic? Just because we don’t care for a certain style or certain atypical wine doesn’t mean it’s not a good one.
Aromas found in wine are a source of subjectivity. Of course, there are aromas and flavors considered to be common to certain wines (i.e. cherry, cranberry and mushroom in Pinot Noir), and professional training and ongoing experience allows us to train our noses to recognize these aromas in a more systematic way; however, it’s ultimately up to the taster to determine what he/she smells based on their own life experiences. I recall a time in wine class at my university when we were learning about the “cat pee” quality found in many New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs (which is often described as “herbaceous” or “black currant bud” to sound more appealing). Observing the wine with my classmates, I made a comment on how I couldn’t believe how intense the cat pee smell was in the wine. One classmate told me I was exaggerating and that he didn’t pick up on that note as much as I did. To which I responded: “Have you ever owned a cat?” He hadn’t. If you haven’t experienced it, you won’t pick up on it, and everyone has different life experiences that contribute to their scent memory profile. It’s why I remember my driveway/neighborhood when I smell a Nebbiolo, a grape considered to have a distinct “tar and roses” quality. Your scent memory is powerful and individualistic.
Indeed, the magical beauty of wine is that it can offer all of these aromas and flavors without actually adding those ingredients into the wine. It’s surprisingly not uncommon for someone to think that there’s actual chocolate or baking spices in a wine because the flavors are so pronounced. Additionally, what you might find to be very spicy might not be very spicy at all to me. Again, it’s all about perception.
No matter the price point, flavor profile, or sweetness level, wine choice and wine enjoyment is completely personal. Our job, as wine professionals, is to keep things objective in order to suggest wines that you will like even if we don’t care for that style ourselves. Recognizing quality and perceived value is one of our biggest responsibilities. Thus, my answer to the question “What’s your best wine?” will always be “It depends, what do you like?”
Janessa Schuster, Assistant Wine & Spirits Specialist – Wesley Chapel