The Old and Male ran a column by its wine reviewer Beppi Crosariol [aka in my house "The Beppster" aka "Beppi-bepp-meister" aka... it goes on and on.] I have asked "WHY!!!!" when it comes to Beppi's beer reviews - but that was a long time ago and I was so taken by the headline "Why Wine Reviews Are Irrelevant For Most Drinkers" that I had to comment. Consider this:
This doesn’t come easy, but I’ll say it anyway: For much of the population, professional wine recommendations are irrelevant. Yes, there will be ungracious attacks from online readers who sense they knew as much already, but at least now the wisecrack brigade can cite science in its defence. Many nuances in wine – say, the vanilla richness of an oak-aged chardonnay or the astringent grip of a Barolo packed with the bitter tannins found in grape skins – are simply lost on many tongues. A sensory study by Canadian and American researchers reveals that wine professionals, including critics, tend to possess acute tasting powers not as widely shared by the general population.
That was so important to stress I gave it its own paragraph. So what? There. I wrote it again. First of all, a review is not a taste. Let's just think about that for a moment. Some where Hemingway wrote something to the effect that a good writer has two roles: observe and express. They are separate things. A very good writer or artist of any kind realizes that the observation and expression creates an opportunity to circle back and observe on the expression and then express about that observation. It's complicated but, if you are dealing with a very good writer, they may it simple.
Nuances are not lost on most drinkers... or venison newbies... or cheese 'fraidy cats. They have not had them explained during the moment. I can't count the number of times I have sat with pals and used words to describe the flow of the experience of taste as it occurs when we are having a good beer. Wine, too. Salad even. The whole "supertasting" thing is not so much a red herring as a mis-description. People are not deaf or blind to tastes so much as have the volume low. You can coax it out. While the column goes on to say there are non-tasters I have never met one in 30 years of life in the legal drinking age zone. My studies indicate this research hasn't got the whole story. And it does not even take into account what I have heard as well about how chefs and experts are actually the opposite, weak tasters, who need strong flavours to encourage their palates.
But this is actually a side story. Let's get back to Hemingway. I have never hunted Ahab's whale. I have not walked with the Lord by the Sea of Galilee. I have not had most wines tasted by the Beppster. Yet, I rely upon him to make a good recommendation - and not because I confirm his findings every time. That is the skill of writing not tasting. What I get from a good wine, beer, food or music reviewer is their accumulated experience over time as well as their superior understanding of the implications of context. Context may bore the hell out of me - as it does with most beery discussion about who is a friend of which brewer and who got what sample as a result. But what I do want to know is what that leads to. I want to know what it means. I don't care if I agree with half of something and sometimes who could? In the case of Beppi it has told me that there are very many decent white bubbly wines under $20 bucks, that I can trust this red Chilean to be better than that one and that a wine of this year from a certain region is better on average that another. That is information I can use.
The same applies to beer and beer writing. I don't care if I have ever had or will ever have the one being reviewed - I may not understand it if I did - but how it is reviewed may tell me volumes. That's just good writing.