With the professional wine press filled with awards earned in recent international competitions such as those just completed in Indianapolis and San Francisco, it may be helpful to review a few basic principles of wine judging, principles that apply just as well to consumers evaluating wines they are considering buying.
For a judge, merely saying “I don’t like it” is not professional. Judges must judge on the merits of the wine, not on personal taste. While a consumer must consider personal taste, it is very helpful to understand why he or she doesn’t like it — or on the contrary, why he or she likes it.
Can you judge or evaulate a wine you’ve never experienced? Judges have enough experience to understand where a wine is coming from, what its flavors are all about. That’s not the case with an inexperienced c0nsumer, but consumers can sense the quality of a wine, even if its particular grape or region is new to them. They should focus on the “mouth feel” and the lingering sensation on the palate and in the throat.
Judges in just about every competition consider appearance, aroma, taste, and aftertaste in each wine. Prospective buyers would do well to follow that lead. Take a good look at the wine in a clear glass. Note its color, its density, its hue. Take strong whiffs in rapid succession, noting suggestions of flavors. Swirl the wine around the mouth to feel it on every taste center, and finally, heed its “length,” the time it sensates as it leaves the mouth.
In the end, judges look for clear flavors, for distinguishing qualities. There is a tendency, for lack of a better way, to ascribe points to the focus categories. Point systems vary from a hundred to just seven, but the principles remain the same.
Judges also tend to rate wines of similar origin. Head-to-head judgments between a Pinot Noir and a Cabernet Sauvignon may be a bit unfair, but quality or lack of it asserts itself fairly quickly no matter the sourcing of the wine.
In summary, judgments are opinions. Unlike a race, there is no finish line to be crossed ahead of every other competitor. Judges are charged with rating merit; consumers are concerned with taste. Both can come to their own conclusions by following the same basic principles.