A few months ago Jamie Goode published his Wine Manifesto. It did a good job of encapsulating a lot of current thinking about wine. On the other hand I did not think it would stand the test of time and, more importantly for me, it was very different from the manifesto I would come up with. So here is my shot at one. At some point in the future, I might rework it, and it could find its way to my About page. Or I might just let it slip into obscurity, to be discovered and praised by the historians of the future.
If you don’t like the word manifesto, just think of it as an itemised summary of stuff I have been banging on about in my blog over the last 3 years or so.
1) Wine is fermented grape juice
You might fairly object that there is more to wine is than just fermented grape juice. Certainly, there is a lot of skill that goes in making good wine, and various cultures have layered meaning and symbolism on top. But fundamentally it is still a fermented agricultural product, and sometimes it is good to remind ourselves of that fact, and even celebrate its simplicity.
2) Flavour is not a property of wine
Wine comprises a mixture of chemicals that we sense in our nose and mouth, and the perception of flavour is created in our brains. Flavour is not a property of wine itself. There is nothing unusual about this; it is the way all our senses work. To say that a wine is sweet, bitter or sour is nothing more than a useful shorthand to describe our perception of it.
3) Different people perceive the same wine differently
The sensitivity to various aromas varies greatly from person to person, as does the degree to which we find them pleasant. Research is increasingly showing that these differences can be due to physiological differences that are determined by specific genes. This means that few people experience the same perception when they taste the same wine. Genetic differences also affect other senses; in vision they cause what we call colour blindness, but it seems that genetic variation in how we smell is a lot more varied and widespread. In addition to these physiological differences, perception of aromas is also affected by culture and historical exposure to smells and flavours.
4) At different times, the same person perceives the same wine differently
Perception depends on mood, the environment, the glass, what is believed about the wine, and what has been eaten or drunk immediately beforehand. There may also be variation from bottle to bottle, and the contents of the same bottle may change with time after it has been opened. Under normal circumstances is often difficult to distinguish between variation in the wine itself and variation in our perception of it.
5) Wine is regarded and judged according to cultural norms and fashions
Despite tendencies towards globalisation in wine taste, the value placed on various wine styles varies from culture to culture. For example oxidised wines are much more likely to be regarded as acceptable in Georgia. Also brett, and petrol notes in Riesling, are more likely to be regarded as faults in new world wine growing countries than Europe. As for fashion, a lot of us have witnessed the rise and fall of Chardonnay and Merlot in the early 21st century. But the fall from grace of sweet German wines in the late 20th century was a lot more significant.
6) Wine tasting notes are not objective or definitive
It follows from items 2) to 5) above, that objectivity cannot be summoned up by particularly skilled and ethical wine critics. It simply does not exist, as flavour is essentially a subjective experience. The best you can hope for in a critic is that they try to be commercially unbiased, and that they are aware that not everyone perceives wine the same way as they do.
7) Wine tasting notes are useful as a personal record, and as the starting point for discussion
Just because tasting notes and scores are subjective, does not mean to say that they are totally without value. As a personal record I find them useful for jogging my memory. They can also act as the starting point for a discussion, and can lead to interesting and useful insights.
8) Wine is interesting
There are many different aspect to wine that can be explored, e.g. geography, history, culture, viticulture, winemaking, gastronomy, philosophy, science. These can add significantly to the enjoyment of wine.
9) Wine is fun, and tastes nice
This is what wine is mainly about, though it is easy for wine geeks to forget.