Saturday, October 30, 2010

Rant: Screw Scores, Context Is King

A rant on Saturday?  What's up with that?  Well, on Monday I will not be in the mood for a rant because I will be receiving a couple boxes of sherry, the sherries I bought while I was in Spain. That will put me in a great mood and it wouldn't feel appropriate to rant on such a happy day.

But I do have a little bit of trepidation about the sherries, and I think many people have been in a similar situation.  Think back to your last vacation where you drank a killer bottle of wine, an exceptional wine which garnered your highest recommendation.  If it had to be scored, you might have even given it 100 points.  It was so good, that you either bought it and brought it home, or tracked it down locally once you returned from your vacation.  

At home though, the wine didn't taste as good.  You might still enjoy it, but it no longer was exceptional.  Its wine score might have dropped by 10 points, or even more.  What happened? Why did the wine taste so different?  Were they exporting their lesser wines, keeping the best for themselves?

The key is context, and it is also an important reason why wine scores are inadequate.  Wine will taste differently to you dependent on the context: where and when you drink it, who you drink it with, why you drink it, etc.  On vacation, when you enjoying yourself immensely, a wine might taste better to you because you are already in such a good mood.  Tasting a wine with the wine maker, in his cellar, might also make the wine taste better.  When you return home, out of that context, the wine may very well taste differently. You might not appreciate it as much, unless you can replicate a great experience.  The experience does not have to be the same, just equally as compelling.

While in the Jerez region, I tasted some amazing sherries and bought a number of them.  I got to taste sherries out of the barrel, with bodegas owners and employees.  I drank sherry with new friends, at a flamenco show and at some top notch restaurants.  It was quite a fascinating trip, and obviously the very positive context had an effect on the sherries I tasted. 

What will I think of those sherries now that I am home?  Will they still taste as amazing, or will I be disappointed?  We shall see but there are ways that I can try to make them taste better.  I might be able to enhance their taste by creating a positive context, such as sharing them with good friends.  Wine usually tastes better when shared with good people.  That is probably something you have experienced though you might not have considered it much.

Wine scores, often given in very sterile tasting conditions, lack any sense of context.  A score cannot tell you how a wine will taste under different circumstances so they are largely useless for most people.  As the context is so important to your experience of a wine, then forget about scores or other rating systems.  Instead, when drinking a wine, exert your efforts in enhancing the experience, in creating a more positive context.   

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