Anthony Rose: Why tasting is an art rather than a science

Click to follow
The Independent Online

I often wonder what will become of us wine writers when the boffins in white coats finally come up with a Cybernose capable of accurately scoring every wine out of 100 to two decimal points. Some might say it exists already in the body of an American wine taster called Robert Parker, on whose every word (no, make that score) the wine world hangs like a subservient butler. There's only one problem: Robert Parker is human, and like all human beings, has his enthusiasms and blind spots.

One man's drink is another woman's poison. In a grand row last year between Parker and Britain's Jancis Robinson, two of the world's leading wine critics, they clashed so publicly over the style and taste of the 2003 Château Pavie that the fallout led to a lengthy debate over the subjective nature of wine tasting.

Wine is less easily pigeon-holed than many of the so-called experts like to let on. How often have you sung the praises of a wine on holiday that doesn't look quite so smart back in Chipping Sodbury? Wine is constantly changing in the bottle and once it's exposed to the air after pouring. Mood, food, atmosphere and company all have a bearing.

The flowering of wine-tasting language, as it were, is a relatively recent phenomenon that's grown in line with the mushrooming of interest in wine itself. The more you shell out for a wine, the more you want to know what it tastes like and if it's good value. Wine writers may sometimes be accused of making it up as we go along, but applying our faculties to devising suitable words is what the language of wine tasting is all about.

So we use what hooks are available and whatever best communicates the essence of the wine and its value, whether prosaic or fruit salad-laden, offensive or lyrical. We don't know yet to which school Cybernose will attach itself, but no doubt it can be programmed to meet the need for a suitable approbatory puff at all times.

The author is wine critic of "The Independent"