The awaited 2017 Report on Cape Wine by Tim Atkin was released yesterday. The opinions and assessment by the British journalist, Master of Wine and wine judge apparently hold great influence. The industry nervously awaits scores for their wines that can make or break commercial success. There is nothing wrong in that, whether rating by Platter’s Guide or national or international competition. International exposure and assessment can surely only be a good thing? To raise standards. To benchmark our quality against the best wines in the World. The results reflect and influence future styles and developments. But what if the opinion is wrong? Or what if one individual or judging panel (whoever that may be) has too much influence? Or has preference for a particular wine characteristic or area?
I reflected on this dilemma having recently read an article by a South African wine judge. He wrote of his preference for wines of a certain style and region. It was an honest and open piece in which he mused how preference might affect his judging and scoring. Should he declare his preference? Should he avoid rating wines of that style or particular region? Does it matter?
I regularly score the wines I drink, almost daily. I do so for my benefit and learning. Lately, I completed the Wine Evaluation Course at Stellenbosch University and so qualify to become a wine judge. Objectivity does start to matter. I know better my preferences and favourites as my experience increases. I use the 20 point system to score Appearance, Nose and Palate. I add another score (10 points) for ‘Likeability’. I use this to record how much I enjoyed the wine. The approach allows me to separate personal preference from objective assessment.
I like to think I am entirely objective in my scoring analysis. But can I ever be totally objective? Do I too have preferences that inform my opinion? Is that just wine realpolitik? It is something I increasingly reflect on. I believe I am ‘objectively’ objective. That surely is the best place to be? But am I fooling myself? I prefer wines with luscious fruit aromas and full of flavour. I know that. They are the characteristics too of wines that score highly. See the difficulty? I consider my awareness a first step to becoming at least ‘subjectively’ objective. It is better to know than not to know what one doesn’t know. How potent is my partiality? I consider it slight so do not feel ‘objectively’ subjective in my assessment.
In truth, I don’t believe anyone can be completely objective. Or, when applying a set of assessment criteria, be totally subjective. Even familiarity can affect. Subconscious factors one may not even know of can also influence. I try to be ‘objectively’ objective. Awareness of favour is a great aid. Meanwhile, I achieve what I know I can – and that is to be fair and consistent in my ratings and scores.