“What’s your favourite wine fault?” was the question put to me in my capacity as one of the judges of at the recent Vinovarsity 2011 by master of ceremonies and Backsberg marketing coordinator Harry Haddon. I think he meant to ask “What’s the fault that gets you most riled up?” and was expecting me to say spoilage yeast Brettanomyces.
For a while, I was known in judging circles as a member of the “Brett Police” but my position on the effect of Brett in wines has softened – I think it can add interest at low levels. Same goes for volatile acidity.
I’m increasingly inclined to opt for the quirky and idiosyncratic over the technically correct but ultimately sterile. As Hermit on the Hill winemaker and regular interlocutor of mine Pieter de Waal put it to me recently “I’ve realised that my palate has evolved to the point where I would rather have wines that offer something new and different than wines that are supposedly better along some kind of linearly defined progression path.”
The thing is that there are too many wines made according to “international best practices” which end up being hard to criticise intellectually but fail to stir the soul. We have to find a way to celebrate the wines which in deviating from the norm provide real satisfaction. I witnessed one such a wine sacrificed on the altar of technical correctness at the recent tasting of candidates for 5 Stars in the 2012 edition of Platter’s. It was a white blend made in an oxidative style which showed obvious volatile acidity but had plenty of other positive attributes to recommend it, or at least so I thought.
However, final ratings in this tasting are determined according to a panel tasting blind, and when this wine with its obvious VA was encountered by some of my colleagues, much consternation was expressed, leading to a second bottle being called for, and much as I was initially inclined to endorse the wine being rated 5 Stars, I could not help being influenced by the controversy and eventually voted against it.
To add insult to injury, I subsequently learnt that it was a wine that I had nominated myself – I’d been aware of the VA character from the outset but there was so much else I liked about it that I’d put it forward anyway.
The above anecdote does pose the question as to how much of a fault, if any, a wine in the running for a perfect score should manifest. What happens in a blind tasting is that for reasons of expediency judges quickly dispense with a wine showing fault rather than trying to look past whatever that fault might be. This applies not only to Platter’s but all competition tastings and perpetuates a narrow definition of what constitutes “wine excellence”. It’s been said before but bears repeating: if you’re looking for wines outside the mainstream, then scour those that came in just behind the very top performers.