personal preference vs. inherent quality

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personal preference vs. inherent quality

Postby Lizbeth S » Fri Jul 14, 2006 12:11 pm

I've been keeping up with Eric Asimov's blog on the NY Times site, and I've notice that though he writes about the benefits of subtle and nuanced wines, he usually recommends tannic fruit bombs. Which got me to thinking: Can a taster/rater ever really take out all personal preference? Do you think that most modern, "big name" raters accede to personal preference or do they solely look for the inherent quality of a wine?
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Re: personal preference vs. inherent quality

Postby wrcstl » Fri Jul 14, 2006 12:25 pm

I think that is an excellent question, one I do not have to worry about. I like aged wines with subtle nuances but these usually don't drink well early. Most wines are drank early so a bigger fruitier wine usually works. A professional taster would have to rate both of these wines and ignore personal preferences and most do or try to IMHO. I have heard that RP drinks different wines than the ones he rates with 95+ but not sure if that is true. In the middle of summer even he may find it difficult to drink a 16% fruit bomb.

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Re: personal preference vs. inherent quality

Postby Bob Cohen » Fri Jul 14, 2006 12:28 pm

Lizbeth wrote: Can a taster/rater ever really take out all personal preference? Do you think that most modern, "big name" raters accede to personal preference or do they solely look for the inherent quality of a wine?


I think this is a philosophical question sort of like asking about objective truth. I think that it's in the eye (palate) of the beholder. Even if you try to be objective, you've got personal biases and preferences. What is the inherent quality of a wine? One that is cleanly made without obvious flaws and representative of the grapes and region that it is made from? That sounds sort of like a textbook exercise rather than the individualistic, nuanced wines that most people seem to prefer once they have some experience. Such wines might have some technical faults but be more enjoyable than a wine without faults but without character either.
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Re: personal preference vs. inherent quality

Postby Jenise » Fri Jul 14, 2006 1:03 pm

got me to thinking: Can a taster/rater ever really take out all personal preference?


Great question, should mine some very interesting answers because I think the answer is no, and furthermore I don't think we can even take personal preference out of the way we answer your question! Some people want complete objectivity to be possible, and some of us don't believe it is. Were it, we'd all agree that chevre tastes like urine and cilantro tastes like soap, like one well-informed wine person I know claims. Clearly our human receptors are not built alike, we simply don't like the same things or receive the same signals identically--I adore chevre and cilantro. So can someone who thinks both taste of rather disgusting things be objective about, and recommend to others, a good sauv blanc (which is a classic match for both chevre and cilantro)? I think not!

With the best will in the world, I just don't think objectivity is possible. It is, certain biases like the one above aside, to recognize why someone else with different preferences than yours likes a wine better than you do, but to rate wines numerically and compare your ratings to others you have to accept as universal truths that overt ripeness is desirable (or not), that color has point value, that lots of oak is worth +3 pts and not -3 points, and the like.

A few weeks ago I had a 95 Bordeaux that Parker only gave 87 points to (way back when, of course), that right now, at this moment in time, was flawlessly expressive and en pointe. I could not imagine it being better than it was, so it was by definition for me a 100 pt wine experience. A year ago it might not have been, a year from now it might not be, and someone else sitting there might have found it too earthy, or detected a note of brett that they did not like. How can you numerically account for this kind of difference? You can't. There is no way to make it more objective by giving it a number or deducting points because Parker would have wanted more this or less that. I'm not Parker.

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Re: personal preference vs. inherent quality

Postby David Creighton » Fri Jul 14, 2006 4:25 pm

one way to frisk this issue is to consider actual tasting notes and evaluations and consider what parts of them focus on 'inherent quality' and what show 'preferences'. so, if you have a few examples.....

sometimes the actual description is more helpful than the score if any. 'powerful, oaky, plummy' is a dead giveaway - you'll either love it or hate it probably - it doesn't matter what the reviewer's score was - you know whether you want it or not.

descriptions like 'absolutely typical xxxx' - well, that is either true or it isn't. if the writer has the requisite level of experience, it can probably be taken to the bank.

an article in the latest wines and vines does some dissecting of scores - you might be interested.

if someone praises a napa cabernet in terms that are more appropriate to vintage port, i guess we can chalk it up to personal preference - that, or else the winery is an advertiser.

as i say, i think this whole discussion works better if someone will come up with examples that seem to exemplify 'objectivity' and 'personal preference'. personally, i don't mind a tasting note that starts 'i love this wine - it is so.....' at least we know what page that person is on.
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Re: personal preference vs. inherent quality

Postby Gary Barlettano » Fri Jul 14, 2006 4:51 pm

Lizbeth wrote: Can a taster/rater ever really take out all personal preference? Do you think that most modern, "big name" raters accede to personal preference or do they solely look for the inherent quality of a wine?


I don't think preference can be taken out of evaluation because even though we all make pretty much the same "measurements" when we taste anything, our "measuring instruments" are calibrated differently from both the nature and nurture perspectives. (For instance, I am colorblind (nature) and was brought up with ice cubes in my Hearty Burgundy (nurture).) And this is a good thing ... not the ice cubes or the Hearty Burgundy, but the personal differences. I believe that the evaluation by any rater based on personal preferences is more important than our attempting to hold that rater to some conventional norm. The value in the rater comes from 1) our knowledge of whether we agree or disagree with his/her particular taste and 2) how well he/she articulates the taste experience. Whether or not the rater even knows that Paris is in France or that wine is made from grapes is really of lesser importance than our using his/her taste as a benchmark for our making informed decisions. Wouldn't it just be awful if we really could quantify our wine experiences 100%!?
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Re: personal preference vs. inherent quality

Postby Oliver McCrum » Fri Jul 14, 2006 5:02 pm

Defining 'inherent quality' in wine is extremely difficult, particularly with fine wine. I think wine writers who have a bias and are clear about it are much more honest than those who act like they don't .
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Re: personal preference vs. inherent quality

Postby Sam Platt » Fri Jul 14, 2006 6:05 pm

Preference for anything is, by its nature, subjective. Objectivity in wine evaluation is akin to the "standard of the breed" in a dog show. I would hope that professional critics attempt to evaluate a specific wine in comparison to the accepted standard (whatever that means) for that grape/region/vintage even if they may not care for the style. It is apparent that some critics do that better than others.
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Re: personal preference vs. inherent quality

Postby Florida Jim » Fri Jul 14, 2006 6:34 pm

Oliver McCrum wrote:Defining 'inherent quality' in wine is extremely difficult, particularly with fine wine. I think wine writers who have a bias and are clear about it are much more honest than those who act like they don't .


That is the term that drew my attention in the original post.
As far as I am concerned, the best wine in the world is the wine you like best. Whether its Clos St. Hune or white zinfandel makes no difference whatever - one is not inherently better than the other.
Better, quality, preference; its all cut from the same cloth and, most importantly, its all subjective.
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Re: personal preference vs. inherent quality

Postby Dave Erickson » Fri Jul 14, 2006 6:36 pm

If you haven't read it, I urge you to read Adam Gopnik's http://www.newyorker.com/critics/atlarge/?040906crat_atlarge "Through A Glass Darkly: What We Talk About When We Talk About Wine." Here's a sample from the text:

The real question is not whether wine snobs and wine writers are big phonies but whether they are any bigger phonies than, say, book reviewers or art critics. For with those things, too, context effects are overwhelming. All description is impressionistic, and all impressions are interpretive. Colors and shapes don’t emerge from pictures in neat, particulate packages to strike the eye, either, any more than plots and themes come direct to the mind from the pages of books. Everything is framed by something.

Anyway, no elaborate rhetoric of compliments is meant to be “accurate”; it is meant to be complimentary. When Shakespeare compares his lover to a summer’s day, he doesn’t really mean that she (or he) is like a summer’s day in that she is hotter in the middle and cooler in the end—though, then again, he might. Wine writing is of the same type: a series of elaborately plausible compliments paid to wines. When the French wine writer Eric Glatre declares, say, that in the aroma of a bottle of Krug “intense empyreumatic fragrances of toasted milk bread, fresh butter, café au lait, and afterthoughts of linden join in a harmonious chorus with generous notes of acacia honey, mocha, and vanilla,” he is suggesting that, of all the analogies out there, this might be one that expands our minds, opens our horizons, delights our imaginations. He is offering a metaphor, not an account book.

In this way, the intersection of French sensibility and modern science suggests not so much the limits of Parker as the limits of naïve American empiricism: numbers and honesty and transparency only get you so far in the world. Our experiences of everything are too mediated—by contexts and intentions and likeness—to be summed up in a number. It is exactly the disputable quality of the compliments we pay to wine that makes them touch the lower edge of art. De gustibus solum est disputandum. Only matters of taste are worth arguing over.


If you enjoyed this, you'll enjoy the rest of it. Since you asked, I loved it--it has helped me at once be clearer about my thinking about wine and also less embarrassed at my attempts at high-falutin' wine notes.
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Re: personal preference vs. inherent quality

Postby Ian Sutton » Fri Jul 14, 2006 7:47 pm

I'm happy with consistency - at least then over a cross-section of wines that I've tasted myself I can get a feel for the critics preferences.
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Re: personal preference vs. inherent quality

Postby Thomas » Fri Jul 14, 2006 8:47 pm

This discussion comes up in many forms at least a few dozen times a year on each wine specific bulletin board.

Objectivity is measurable; subjectivity is not. So, objectivity in wine evaluation is technical; any other evaluation is subjective.

A lot of wine critics have not undergone technical wine training, so how could their observations be anything but subjective?
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Re: personal preference vs. inherent quality

Postby David M. Bueker » Fri Jul 14, 2006 9:04 pm

The problem is not objectivity versus subjectivity, it's people who profess objectivity while clearly displaying subjective bias. If someone says they don't like big fruit bomb wines then at least I know where they stand. If they say that the duty of a wine is to beat you over the head then similarly I know where they stand. But for those who say they appreciate all styles of wine, while those who don't have "closed minds" (guess who I am quoting) I just cannot believe it. There has to be a personal prefernce/taste bias in there somewhere, or the person is a hopeless fence straddling taster.

There's not a lot (comparitively speaking from prior days) of inherently flawed wine that hits the shelves anymore. So in fact all we are really dealing with is personal preferences, and some limited quality judgement based on those preferences. I don't like 2003 Troplong Mondot. Is it a properly and well made wine? Yes it is. It's a 92.4598768324945609 point wine, but I still don't like it. But still my point score and my note (written back in January...) reflect my taste bias, and if people use that information then they are using biased information.

Bias and variation are the two constants (heh, heh) in life beyond death and taxes.
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Re: personal preference vs. inherent quality

Postby Thomas » Fri Jul 14, 2006 9:39 pm

I agree David. But if people could only understand the difference between "objective" and "subjective" there would be no way that critics could hide behind objectivity.

I'll bet that most critics think they are being objective, mainly because critics often think that they know what others should know or don't know at all. Certitude is the necessary ingredient in criticism, which is why I generally devalue the exercise.
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Re: personal preference vs. inherent quality

Postby Paul B. » Fri Jul 14, 2006 9:52 pm

Our experiences of everything are too mediated—by contexts and intentions and likeness—to be summed up in a number.

I think that this itself is absolute truth. I've never taken well to attempts to quantify enjoyment universally - it just ain't doable. You will always get people arguing their respective points, each in all sincerity, and there will always be diametrically opposite tastes, viewpoints, directions, etc. - whether it's wine, music, art or politics. That's just the way it is.
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Re: personal preference vs. inherent quality

Postby Bob Ross » Fri Jul 14, 2006 10:36 pm

I've been struggling with these concepts for several months, ever since reading a very controversial thread on the Netscape version of WLDG. One article I've read made a very serious impression; Wine Descriptive Language Supports Cognitive Specificity of Chemical Senses, Frédéric Brochet and Denis Dubourdieu. http://dx.doi.org/10.1006/brln.2000.2428

Abstract

In order to understand wine perception we analyzed tasting notes of four expert wine tasters. The analysis is based on co-occurrence calculations of words within the tasting notes using ALCESTE software. The results of such an analysis of one subject's notes give us word classes reflecting main text ideas and organization of the text. In the present paper we interpret these "results" as follows: (1) Class number and organization are different among experts so that each expert has his own discourse strategy. (2) Wine language is based on prototypes and not on detailed analytical description. (3) Prototypes include not only sensory but also idealistic and hedonistic information. These results are in agreement with recent neurophysiological data.

Brochet and Dubourdieu claim a sort of "indeterminacy of radical translation" for winetalk, based not only on the idea that different individuals connect words to experience differently, but also on the idea that the underlying sensory apparatus is not really shared:

...the number of classes and their nature are broadly different among subjects. Lawless (1984) demonstrated that experts were not significantly able to recognize wines based on a description given by others, even when they were experts. Given the small number of terms common to the several authors studied here, it seems clear that wine descriptions are deeply individual and that they make sense mainly to the taster him- or herself. The results confirm that a consensual language for the description of wine does not exist and that only ‘‘individual’’ languages appear in published works. The analysis of the compiled corpus showed only convergence through color. Category divergence was confirmed by Berglund (1973), who demonstrated with basic odorants that flavor categories do not exist at an interindividual level but that they were accurate for individuals. These differences in language used to describe taste sensations may arise from genetic differences among individuals (Buck, 1993). Olfactory receptors may be encoded by a very large multigene family, so the probability that two individuals will possess the same receptors is very low. This diversity is enhanced by the diversity of learning associated to chemical senses. Individuals do not learn to designate odors in the same way so that a same sensation, a same signal, will be categorized differently, which will lead to different denomination, i.e., different languages. This shows that communication of wine sensory properties is not accurate (Lehrer, 1975).

I'm putting together a series of wine tasting notes written by a number of different people I consider to be wine experts. In due course I'll post them as a test so that wine lovers can see if they can identify the wines that the experts are describing. If this study is correct, it will be very difficult for people to do so.

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Re: personal preference vs. inherent quality

Postby Thomas » Fri Jul 14, 2006 10:43 pm

Paul, I agree with you also. All of what you say has --again--to do with subjectivity and nothing to do with measurable objectivity.

The fact that any critic has either a blind spot to or a prediliction for a flaw with regard to objective measures validates only the critic's preference, which means absolutely nothing to the wine and probably should mean less to the wine consumer. A rating without an objective standard is about as valid as a wish list.
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Re: personal preference vs. inherent quality

Postby Thomas » Fri Jul 14, 2006 10:50 pm

Bob,

To me, the subject is this simple: winemakers strive to create a product that is not flawed technically; wine critics strive to evaluate wines that strike their asthetic sensibilities; between the two interests lies a continent of possibilites and variabilities plus very little probability of agreement.
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Re: personal preference vs. inherent quality

Postby Victorwine » Sat Jul 15, 2006 1:04 am

Experiencing wine is not only subjective but also variable. Wine is a” living thing” and among the same wine one can experience bottle variation. (Each and every bottle of wine will have its own “history”). Depending upon how and where the bottle was stored and transported, (temperature, vibration, exposure to light, humidity, type of enclosure (function and performance of enclosure) etc), the season (environment), altitude, mood, of the taster, accompanying food etc, can alter one’s perception of a given wine.
Then another thing to think of (in line with what Oliver has posted) is one’s definition of “quality”. There is no real fixed definition. Yes we can agree on a “fixed standard” for a “quality” wine, but the way one interprets it might be different or even varied from time to time (depending upon one’s mood). “Old World” (or “traditional”) types might consider a quality wine, in which the terroir of the vineyard is expressed. As Thomas has suggested the “modern” type might consider a “quality” wine, which is correct from a “technical aspect” (free of faults and microbiological stable). Others might consider a “quality” wine that is ”true” to the grape variety or varieties from which it is produced. Still others (similar to what Walt has posted) might consider a “quality” wine, one in which is capable of evolving and gracefully aging into something magnificent or subtle and complex.
In line with what David C has posted, the critic’s score that he/she assigns a wine only has a meaning to him/her. The number is more or less meaningless to anyone else. More important is the written descriptive tasting note.

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Re: personal preference vs. inherent quality

Postby Dave Erickson » Sat Jul 15, 2006 10:13 am

Victorwine wrote:Experiencing wine is not only subjective but also variable. Wine is a” living thing” and among the same wine one can experience bottle variation. (Each and every bottle of wine will have its own “history”). Depending upon how and where the bottle was stored and transported, (temperature, vibration, exposure to light, humidity, type of enclosure (function and performance of enclosure) etc), the season (environment), altitude, mood, of the taster, accompanying food etc, can alter one’s perception of a given wine.


That's an important point that "objectivity" discussions seldom raise. Thanks for raising it! As somebody said, "There are no great wines, only great bottles."
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Re: personal preference vs. inherent quality

Postby Thomas » Sat Jul 15, 2006 10:21 am

I suppose I should not have buried the point in my post above to Bob Ross:

"...between the two interests (winemakers and wine critics) lies a continent of possibilites and variabilities plus very little probability of agreement."

As an aside, a discussion about volatile acidity is taking place on eBob, the premise being that many "cult" wines seem to deliver high v.a., etc.

The feds have established a v.a. threshold per 100 ml. separate for whites and reds. That is measurable; that is objective. Within or above that established value are the variables--and people who will or won't like particular levels of v.a.

Of course, there is an outside limit for v.a. which speaks to the health of the wine--that, too is measurable, but based on a few cult classics on the market that I have encountered, there appears to be subjective acceptance of that unhealthiness in the wines.
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Re: personal preference vs. inherent quality

Postby Howie Hart » Sat Jul 15, 2006 11:16 am

Thomas wrote:Bob,

To me, the subject is this simple: winemakers strive to create a product that is not flawed technically; wine critics strive to evaluate wines that strike their asthetic sensibilities; between the two interests lies a continent of possibilites and variabilities plus very little probability of agreement.


I agree. This is the simple extremes. However, a winemaker is his/her own first critic. Give two winemakers identical batches of grapes and the resulting products will be different - not unlike Iron Chef, where the chefs start with the same ingredients, but make very different dishes.
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