WTN /WineAdvisor: Power of suggestion (Gobelsburger 2004 GV)

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WTN /WineAdvisor: Power of suggestion (Gobelsburger 2004 GV)

Postby Robin Garr » Mon Aug 21, 2006 2:44 pm

Power of suggestion

We've all been there and done that, or at least most of us have: You're just about to take your first sniff of a wine you haven't tried before, and your eyes fall on the advertising copy printed on the back label: "This wine's naturally sweet flavor reminds me of wild hickory nuts."

<I>Now</I> they've done it! Suddenly your brain fills up and overflows, and everything you taste reminds you of hickory.

Or you're at a tasting, sniffing Glass No. 3 and trying to parse out that elusive scent, when one of your peers yells out, "I get licorice and Vaseline in it!" You don't think that's right, not really, but now, suddenly, no matter how hard you fight it, you're picking up licorice and Vaseline, too.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Wine, for most of us, is a social beverage, and when we're enjoying wine with fellow enthusiasts, the back-and-forth that accompanies tasting in a group becomes part of the fun of it. It doesn't really matter who first named the descriptive term that wins.

Things get a little more iffy in formal competition or trade tasting, though, where a blue ribbon - or a merchant's buying decision - may hang in the balance. Judges in wine competitions are usually discouraged (indeed, in some cases, flatly forbidden) to compare notes, at least during the early stages of judging.

Wine-buying sessions can get even more complicated, with wine sales representatives doing all they can to plant their own glowing descriptions (or raves from the Usual Suspects), in the mind of the buyer, who may do everything short of putting his fingers in his ears and humming "<i>neener, neener, neener</i>" in an effort to resist.

This issue came to mind over the weekend when I picked up a good, moderately priced Austrian Grüner Veltliner for tasting. Unfamiliar with the producer (<b>Schloss Gobelsburg</b> in Langenlois, on the Danube west of Vienna), I Googled merrily, browsing an importer's Website, and ... ack! A tasting report! I saw a tasting report!

For all the reasons covered above, I try not to read other people's tasting notes before tasting a wine for review, fearing that my perceptions might be subtly influenced. But it was too late: The review was not only clear and precise, it was written by a taster for whom I have serious respect, David Schildknecht of the regional importer Vintner Select, a guy with whom I've often tasted wine and who was recently tapped by none other than Robert M. Parker Jr. himself to write about German and Austrian wines for Parker's <I>Wine Advocate</i>.

How could I possibly read a Schildknecht review of a wine I was about to taste without being influenced by it? It wouldn't be easy, but I would have to try.

Luckily, David made it easy for me: I won't give away the details of his note - you can look it up, if you like - but suffice it to say that it typified his legendary lapidary precision, using no less than 15 very specific descriptors in a one-paragraph report. Chances are that many readers will skip the words and go straight to David's 90-point rating; but I read them all, and fixated on one term, a descriptor so odd and so specific, so quintessentially Schildknecht, that it made me laugh: "roasted lentils."

Roasted lentils? Now, there's a term that I doubt I'll ever find in wine, and sure enough, I didn't find it in this one, although such is the power of suggestion that I had to sniff it long and hard before reassuring myself that I just didn't get it.

The lesson here is a useful one, though: If you want to evaluate a wine with your own taste buds and your own brain, and you're confronted with another taster's opinion that wants to lock itself in, laugh it off. Focus on something else, then come back to the wine.

I'd love to hear your stories about wine descriptors you've had foisted on you by your tasting companions, and any successful strategies you've come up with to fight 'em off. You're also invited to participate in this week's Netscape WineLovers poll, inviting you to tell us where you stand in terms of wine-tasting suggestibility.

<table border="0" align="right" width="170"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/gobe0820.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>Schloss Gobelsburg 2004 "Gobelsburger" Grüner Veltliner ($13.49)

Straw color, transparent but bright. Intriguing scent: Wine scribe David Schildknecht wrote "roasted lentils" - an aroma that I have never found in a wine - and now I can't get the idea out of my head. I'm not sure I find it here, though; but there's fragrant white pepper for sure, green garden peas, and more than a hint of something peachy. The aromatics almost lead me to expect light sweetness, but it's bone-dry and crisply acidic, delicate and light-bodied, yet there's steel in there, and rocky Austrian minerality. An outstanding wine at quite a fair price. U.S. importer: Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, NY; a Terry Theise Estate Selection. (Aug. 20, 2006)

<B>FOOD MATCH:</b> GV is gaining attention as a "utility infielder" wine that can play well at many positions. It was fine with a summer dinner of fresh tomatoes lined with pistachio-studded mortadella and filled with fromage blanc, tomato concasse and Greek green olives.

<B>VALUE:</B> One of the summer's great white-wine values at this price.

<B>WHEN TO DRINK:</B> Crisp and fresh and ready to enjoy, and it will hold up well and perhaps gain richness with several years under proper storage conditions.

<B>WEB LINK:</B>
The winery Website is published in German and English. Click the language of your choice from the home page.

Here's the importer's fact sheet on the Schloss Gobelsburg winery, from which you can click to details about each specific wine.

<B>FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:</B>
Find vendors and check prices for Gobelsburger Grüner Veltliner on Wine-Searcher.com.
(Note that Wine-Searcher.com also returns some hits on more pricey Gobelsburg bottlings.)
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Power of suggestion (Gobelsburger 2004 GV)

Postby Gary Barlettano » Mon Aug 21, 2006 3:13 pm

Robin Garr wrote:I'd love to hear your stories about wine descriptors you've had foisted on you by your tasting companions, and any successful strategies you've come up with to fight 'em off.


Sometimes the exception confirms the rule. During my recent visit to Bouchaine I couldn't put my finger on the flavors coming off of their dessert wine, Bouche d'Or. The pourer just grinned and said that there was some debate within the winery about the descriptors. But I'll be hornswaggled if he would share the ideas which had come up. And I believe he left me on my own so that I could form an independent opinion. He never did suggest anything.

On the other hand, I don't know how different euphemisms I've heard for "chicken poop" when being confronted by salesmen who were peddling some truly ripe Pinot Noir.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Power of suggestion (Gobelsburger 2004 GV)

Postby Remo Perriello » Mon Aug 21, 2006 11:00 pm

Robin,

Great article and insight. Being a Wine Shop Owner, for almost a year now, (yeah!), I came across this dilema often. Mainly, during my free , weekend wine tastings. If I gave a wine descriptor too early, I felt they would almost always agree, if I gave one too late, they appeared a bit awkward, but still agreed.

So, I suppose adding to Robin's point on the "power of suggestion; "timing", WHEN the wine descriptor was used. Now, I bite my tongue when I offer wine tastings and have a customer taste our wines. I want to hear what they have to say. Although, many people appear awkward and can not find certain words to describe what they are tasting.

But, "Please don't just tell me the wine tastes sweet..."

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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Power of suggestion (Gobelsburger 2004 GV)

Postby Robin Garr » Mon Aug 21, 2006 11:05 pm

Thanks for the comments, Remo! I think your approach makes abundant sense. Our mutual friend John Given is very good at this, by the way, at least in my experience. He'll taste with you and watch your reactions, but he won't tell you what he sees in the wine <i>unless you ask him to</i>. That's a very pretty way to solve the problem, it seems to me.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Power of suggestion (Gobelsburger 2004 GV)

Postby Remo Perriello » Mon Aug 21, 2006 11:42 pm

Right on , Robin. I often joke with the customers now, because before I pour them a glass, there are already asking me what it tastes like... I tell them, "It's a surprise, and it costs 50 dollars...!)

Great insight into John, I think his Sales Rep, Maria, does the same thing. I have to watch them closely next time.. LOL...
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Power of suggestion (Gobelsburger 2004 GV)

Postby James Roscoe » Tue Aug 22, 2006 12:23 am

Remo, welcome to the site. Great gig! I hope all is well

Robin, interesting article. As I said, i'm afraid I am all too easily swayed by other comments.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Power of suggestion (Gobelsburger 2004 GV)

Postby Rahsaan » Tue Aug 22, 2006 8:15 am

People often talk about lentils for GV don't they? And while I don't drink much GV, I can see the roasted lentils much in the same way I see a toasty nutty flavor in Muscadet which I often call barley kasha. Whatever the particular descriptor, I think the generic toasty nutty part is quite understandable.

So should we go for the generics? Or liven up the notes with specifics?
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Power of suggestion (Gobelsburger 2004 GV)

Postby Robin Garr » Tue Aug 22, 2006 9:45 am

Rahsaan wrote:People often talk about lentils for GV don't they?


Maybe I'm just clueless, Rahsaan, but this was the first time I recall seeing "lentils" in a TN. If it's a common descriptor for GV, that would explain David's casual use of it, although the "Roasted" adjective adds a nice nuance.

So should we go for the generics? Or liven up the notes with specifics?


Gee, that's a toughie, isn't it? Does it absolutely have to be either-or? Personally, I try to stay generic most of the time, with the idea of fostering communication by using a fairly basic vocabulary for published notes. But every now and then an offbeat descriptor jumps out with an intensity and (to me) clarity that demands its use. I do think that the Speck, considerably, and Parker, to some extent, incline to use specifics in the intest of avoiding boredom when they publish hundreds of TNs in an issue, but an awful lot of those specifics invite parody.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Power of suggestion (Gobelsburger 2004 GV)

Postby Rahsaan » Tue Aug 22, 2006 10:49 am

Personally, I try to stay generic most of the time, with the idea of fostering communication by using a fairly basic vocabulary for published notes. But every now and then an offbeat descriptor jumps out with an intensity and (to me) clarity that demands its use.


I agree, obfuscation helps no one, but at the same time there is lots to be said for the colorful terms that make some notes so enjoyable to read. i guess everyone has their style.

Now to go home and roast some lentils for dinner..
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Power of suggestion (Gobelsburger 2004 GV)

Postby Robin Garr » Tue Aug 22, 2006 11:28 am

Rahsaan wrote:Now to go home and roast some lentils for dinner..


Hey, you're a vegetarian ... you know your lentils.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Power of suggestion (Gobelsburger 2004 GV)

Postby Ruth B » Tue Aug 22, 2006 11:43 am

Oh, Oh, Oh!

I remember tasting a vertical of mid to late 1980's Pichon Lalande when one of the tasters piped up with 'bubble gum'-- now I would SWEAR there was no smell of bubble gum on that wine, but at least one other person said YES.
I think what happens is that we are having a tough time putting a name on a particular aroma--when someone supplies a descriptor our mind grabs it.

This is why I love Tom Hill's notes. I have no idea what 'Dolly Parton under the front porch' or 'belly button lint' smells like so I am not influenced except to smile when I stick my nose in the glass.

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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Power of suggestion (Gobelsburger 2004 GV)

Postby Bob Parsons Alberta » Tue Aug 22, 2006 11:47 am

Ruth, have you tried the Gobelsburger? Its on the shelves in DeVines. It was our reception wine at last weeks tasting.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Power of suggestion (Gobelsburger 2004 GV)

Postby Jim Lizon » Tue Aug 22, 2006 12:02 pm

This article is right on target. Taking it a step further, the "power of suggestion" is formidable when people simply see a wine bottle's label. They tend to have favorable comments about wines from prestigious wineries but are not as complimentary about wines from "lesser" producers. Tasting "blind" neutralizes the "power of suggestion." I have conducted 3 red wine "blind" tastings in recent months for wine lovers with different tasting skill levels. The results in all 3 tastings were the same. Only a couple tasters could correctly distinguish an expensive (i.e., $50 to $75) wine from a "cheapo" (i.e., $5 to $6). The groups' favorite wines were usually in the $10 to $15 range, with one tasting group favoring a $6 bottle. In the case of labels, a picture IS worth a thousand (favorable) words.

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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Power of suggestion (Gobelsburger 2004 GV)

Postby Robin Garr » Tue Aug 22, 2006 12:15 pm

Ruth B wrote:This is why I love Tom Hill's notes.


<I>Everybody</I> loves TomHill's notes! They're so ... so ... agglutinative!

Thanks, Ruth, Good comments. :)
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Power of suggestion (Gobelsburger 2004 GV)

Postby Robin Garr » Tue Aug 22, 2006 12:17 pm

Jim Lizon wrote:This article is right on target. Taking it a step further, the "power of suggestion" is formidable when people simply see a wine bottle's label. ... In the case of labels, a picture IS worth a thousand (favorable) words.


Jim, welcome to our forum! Glad you found your way here, and hope you'll hang around.

You're exactly right, of course, and this point raises the whole separate but related issue of blind tasting: There's NO way to keep wine enthusiasts more honest than to cover the bottles.
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