~When someone starts a statement with the words, “I think, I believe, I feel,” be warned that what follows will be merely an opinion.
~There is nothing wrong with an opinion—provided the person subjecting us to the opinion at least knows the subject he or she is waxing over. And when I say knows the subject, I don’t mean knows that it exists—I mean knows what’s behind, in front, and around the subject.
~That someone may have been drinking wine for years, and spending a lot of money on the best names, is absolutely a qualification for issuing an opinion on what he or she does or does not like. But is it qualification for issuing an opinion on a wine flaw?
Rather than being subject to an opinion, a wine flaw is measurable, and so it is subject to the lab. That’s why even the government sets parameters for certain potential problems that can develop in wine production.
Exceed the boundaries and you have produced a wine with a flaw.
With this fact in mind, it is completely fatuous for someone to identify a flaw in wine without having it analyzed. But don’t worry, most people who identify a flaw in wine are issuing an opinion and not a fact.
~I was reminded of this flaw-opinion relationship a few days ago on two separate wine forum sites. As usual, wine geeks were picking nits over whether or not this guy liked that smell or that guy could handle this level of alcohol and on and on. Most of these conversations begin with the tip off words, “I think, I believe, I feel.”
~One of the threads was about TCA in a certain producer’s wine and the other was about volatile acidity.
TCA is the shortened version of a chemical reaction that causes cork taint—that wet cardboard smell that signifies a dead wine.
Volatile acidity is when acetobacteria have flourished to the point where the wine smells like strong vinegar or maybe nail polish.
~The TCA discussion got started because a particular wine critic mentioned that wines from one producer seemed to lately suffer from TCA taint. To his credit, the critic didn’t just ask readers to believe him—he sent the wine for lab analysis to confirm that what he smelled was TCA. Few critics bother to do something so basic and necessary—few critics think they can be wrong.
~Of course, the wine geeks have to pipe up questioning the critic, the producer, the potential TCA, and anything else they can think of questioning, but few truly contributed anything to the conversation save their often misguided opinions. Few hadn’t even tasted the wine in question.
~The volatile acidity thread was more reasonable. Most who posted in it talked about the specifics of what the term means and smells like. But a few people were not sure if volatile acidity is a flaw or not.
~Volatile acidity at a certain level in wine is a flaw. That is not an opinion; it is a fact. It is a fact because the government says that a wine cannot exceed a certain grams per liter of acetic acid—that is called an objective measurement.
~Yet, a couple of people could not get it through their heads that their opinion on volatile acidity reflects only their ability to accept or reject the smell at whatever perceived level. That is not the same thing as identifying an objective flaw.
~The trouble with all this is that people in the wine business who make the mistake of getting into discussions with people who have mountains of opinions but molehills of technical knowledge about wine wind up, as we say, pissing in the wind (and if your wine smells like piss my opinion is that it is likely Sauvignon Blanc).
March, 2007. All Rights Reserved.