“Can you recommend a wine to me?” says my friend.
“Of course.” I say.
Mufasa’s death scene then figuratively takes place in my head, the buffalo being the torrent of inflective questions; And Mufasa, of course, is my sense of reasoning.
It is a surprisingly difficult question to answer (correctly), much akin to recommending a movie: one point in the wrong direction and offense might be round the corner. I consider The Lion King a classic, but I wouldn’t recommend it to a zoologist or my boss. You respond to the person, and what you assume their interests are, and, with wine this can be trickier. Usually, the deduction takes place over a series of questions: Red or white? Price range? Refreshing or viscous? At the end of numerous questions, and heightened emotional exchanges, the interviewee has answered the question for themselves, and made my advisory role redundant. I think the police use similar techniques.
So we turn to our higher advisers – the Überweinmensch – which, we should never, ever call them! Yes, you guessed it … ‘the professional wine critics’. That elite bunch of men and women, who advise all of us on wine, and tread the perilous line between hatred and adoration of the subjects they judge. And certainly a line in their own mind’s as well, in case the old beast ‘narcissism’ takes over and convinces them that their opinion is now objective and not simply subjective.
Despite all the processes and mediums for quantification, we always revert back to that human default: numbers. That’s what we get off on. Give me a number rating for this wine and I’ll compare it to another (low) number (my bank balance) and see if the numbers work out.
After all, all our review systems are just numbers: The celebrated 5 star system is simply a score out of ten with pictures for the numerically inept; The 20 point system not so frequently seen since the rise of Parker is a 40 point score system once people start whipping out the decimal points; and the 100 point system, which thankfully has no decimal points, although now that the whole range of scores only really lies with the 8796 range they’re gonna have to sort something out.
Personally, I prefer the 5 star system. It seems to grasp the differing experience one wine taster may have with another with a wine of certain tier. Trying to ascertain whether to buy a 92 point wine versus a 93 point is much like sorting the deck chairs on the Titanic: the deal is done, the wine IS good, the precision of exactly how good it is surely pertains only to the wine taster, his/her mood on the day, the environment they were in etc. A 93 may have been a 92 the day before. Best not to take it too literally.
Perhaps one day we might commercialise. Get some sponsors in and pit the critics against each other in direct competition. Get them to form teams, with mascots, theme music and corporate sponsorship. Put them in a steel cage and have them judge the hell out of wine WWE style. Hold a wine tasting Olympics, preceded by the ceremonial drunk stumbling along the street, Olympic Torch (zippo lighter) in hand.
When the dust has settled, and the victor has emerged drenched in the blood toil of countless olfactory battles, hands calloused by the twist of a thousand corkscrews, we can finally listen to their opinion and take it seriously without doubt or pretence. Or not. Or we just get on with our lives and let them do the same and buy and drink wine as we always have done, hopefully turning our attention to real problems.