How do you know if a wine is good?

While on my daily walk yesterday, I couldn't help but over hear a conversation of some passers-by:

"What was that really good wine your girlfriend brought last weekend....Apothic?"

You can envision my eye rolling I'm sure.

I do my best not to cast judgment on those who drink Apothic - truthfully. (aside from the fact that it carries the same amount of sugar as a can of Coke, and doesn't resemble anything close to wine - sigh - I digress).

I once remember reading a wine critic's take (I think it was Jamie Goode) on Apothic years ago, describing it as a "bridge" - if we're getting people away from drinking shitty rum and coke - it means we're making progress (allegedly).

I'll tell you why taste matters to me. As in having *good* taste. In the film and writing world, people talk a big game, and make a living at it. But, ask them what movies they watch or books they read, and suddenly the image they worked so hard to curate all but falls apart. Instead of placing themselves at the feet of masters to learn from (like we all must), they were starting their foundation on sand.

There is an objective element with respect to quality, and maybe subjectivity for mediocre examples is simply due to a lack of exposure. There are plenty of incredibly talented artists producing work that likely wouldn't appeal to you - does that mean their work is bad simply because the style isn't to your liking?

Don't confuse my example above with me saying this applies across the board. It simply brings it to mind. It's like when I ask my peers what they consider "the best wines", and I ask why they think a certain grape is best for a specific region, only to go on and cite a bunch of mediocre wines. Even if these people feel like they have to cite specific examples to remain in the good graces of the local industry, then I have to take everything they say with a giant grain of salt, and speaking to them becomes far less interesting.

In other words: if all you do is sample very average, readily available wine, then very occasionally drink some other slightly better than average wine from elsewhere (and probably a few totally mediocre versions from other regions floating around), then all I am really getting is a recommendation on who the best players are who couldn't make the starting team.

Book and lab learning is one thing, but if you aren't sharpening the sword of tasting constantly from the best of the best (that is available), then who cares? It's like taking writing advice from a novelist who thinks that some freshman studying literature is on the same level as Dostoevsky -- insanity.

Now, I discuss avoiding being overly dogmatic and I too have my concerns with obsessive spirit quests for finding "THE BEST". The problem is that it becomes a little too ideological and narrow minded, and fails to approach finding the best without bias.

A lot of the wines we claim to like are because we tasted them a few years ago. Many wineries change ownership and winemakers throughout their lifetime. I like to revisit wineries every few years for this reason, as an exercise of recalibration.

But back to dogma: while I strive to be less dogmatic, there are many (especially in the wine industry) who strive to be MORE dogmatic. How I feel about an open mind is that I will try most things (within reason and time restraints) at least once (often twice if a trustworthy source vouches for it), but that doesn't mean I can't conclude it is shit.

Or as Theodore Dalrymple eloquently puts it, "It is always necessary to keep an open mind; but not a mind that is open in the sense that a dam that has collapsed is open."

About artists that don't appeal: a connoisseur of aesthetics should aim to judge on two levels - personal appeal and overall craft. All creative endeavors are ultimately an exercise in craft, and can be soberly assessed as such. And turnabout is fair play: the assessor's criteria and communication skills can also be assessed. Some trees only produce rotten fruit.

I'll leave you with the wise words of Laurent Fadanni, winemaker and proprietor of Whispering Horse in the Fraser Valley, BC.

"A lot of our taste is manufactured by what we hear, what we see on tv, not by what we actually try. Often the audience doesn't know exactly what they want.

I take a simple approach: what would grow well on this soil, with this climate. Regardless if it was vinifera, hybrid, or what. Because if I planted something fashionable that people are used to from the other regions, I'd have to constantly fight. Fight by spraying, fight to get the grapes ripe. And at the end, the wine simply would not be good.

So we go by what makes sense from a viticulture standpoint. To create an honest wine. I mean, it may sound cliche but when I say terroir, I really mean it.

When you taste our wines you get a feel of the Fraser Valley.

So really, in a way I'm making it EASY on myself.

When you are in a marginal growing region like us, on paper maybe it seems more difficult but on the other hand it's easier because you go with your only real option. Similar to Champagne. On paper, Champagne is not a great place to grow grapes at all. But they were able to turn that disadvantage into an advantage (of course with a little marketing)."

If you're interested in trying Laurent's wine, you can purchase them here.

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