I really don’t care much for the opinions of most wine critics. They are often too wrapped up in themselves. They fail to understand that wine reviewing is not about them. Or, they come up with absurd ideas like eliminating descriptors from reviews. Sort of “feeling the wine, rather than understanding it” – which is fine if you are not a person whose job it is to professionally evaluate, judge and recommend wines.
Perhaps this is why more than one winemaker has told me that there is nothing that a wine critic can contribute to their understanding of a wine. Which is a sad commentary, since an external evaluator should be able to feedback to a producer on the quality of their product…
So, in this aspect, when critics prattle on about what is and is not possible in wine assessment (without truly understanding wine or human sensory physiology) they are just chasing their own tails. When they regurgitate whatever superficial, simplified nonsense they received from the wineries, they are mouthpieces. Lapdogs.
This canine theme, above, is not coincidental.
Steve Heimoff wrote a blog piece today that tried to use one of those cutesy literary devices to link his observations of his new dog to his philosophy of wine reviewing.
I was appalled at the banality of it all. But I was more disgusted with his attempt to rationalize his poor evaluation methodology with the idea that that he is just too busy and has insufficient time to really give the wines he reviews a thorough evaluation.
In a past conversation, Heimoff has told me that he lines up a row of wines in the morning and tastes from one pour from each bottle. I don’t recall if he said he lingers on a wine that “speaks to him” (whatever that means) as he said in today’s post. He does not decant. He puts the corks back in the bottles and then saves what he liked the most for his dinner.
I’m not suggesting he abuses his position to get free wine, although there have been reviewers exposed for more scandalous practices. I’m saying he’s not even trying to do his job right.
I called Heimoff out on some of the things he said (which, I believe, a professional critic should never say – let alone think). Steve Heimoff deleted my comments (which challenged and criticized him) from his blog today. It’s not the first time he has done something like that.
I had a feeling he may do that, so I saved them. Here they are:
4 Responses to “What a little dog is teaching me about tasting wine”
“My job as a wine critic is to taste through a bunch of wines and give my immediate impressions.” – no, your job is to EVALUATE the wine and assess it and then make a thoughtful insightful recommendation for the consumer who will pay for the stuff (which you didn’t have to do).
“we don’t have the time to spend a vast amount of time with a wine.” – why? are you on call for neurosurgery? trauma? do you have diaper duty every day? is wine reviewing a part time gig for you? Do you get paid more to write than to assess wines? This is your job. Take it seriously. If you are proud of your position, carry out your tasks seriously with the understanding that your product (review) carries real (tiny and large) repercussions for people.
oh, and keep your dog off my lawn!
In medicine, we say: “If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’ll never find it”. In real, professional sensory assessment of a product the things to look for are determined by the product at hand, not by the evaluator’s preferences.
By your own admission on this very blog you said that you personally accurately identify aromas and varieties about 50% of the time.
Is that not an argument for reevaluating how you assess wines – including what you look for, how long you do it, etc
I say, take a cue from your dog: he’s not “deciding if he likes a spot” he’s sorting through all the different aromas and making sense of them, getting to know the dogs that have passed by the spot.
My pet peeve with Heimoff (and many critics, for that matter) has not been his pretentiousness, nor his hypocrisy or his intolerance of being challenged, but the fact that the guy cannot discern basic varieties ( I saw him confuse a viognier for a chardonnay at the first wine bloggers’ conference) – while others can – and then takes this personal experience and extrapolates it to all of wine assessment, asserting that varietal, regional, or vintage characteristics cannot be discerned (presumably by anyone), but then, a few months later, says they can. It’s not that he does not try to put a wine through its paces. It’s not that he says asinine things in his reviews (like saying “this wine shows the vintage’s heat” about a cool-climate Pinot Gris from a cool and wet year…but made by a winemaker with a tendency for riper, hotter wines).
He’s phoning it in, giving the definitive part of his job a half-assed effort and then shrugging it off with lame excuses. He’s effectively justifying his inability or unwillingness to develop his sensory skills for consumers benefit – with “Oh, I’d really like to but I’m just so busy”.
As to the apparent limitations of his sensory skills: If he has a 50% success rate of identifying varietal aromas (he stated it either in a post about the first wine bloggers conference or in comments to a post on his log or 1WineDude.com around that time when Joe Roberts had posted this), he needs to train himself better. If this proves unsuccessful, then he needs to get out of the wine reviewing/rating business because he does not have the fundamental skill set necessary for the job.