Are there objectively good and bad wines?

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Mark Golodetz
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Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#1 Post by Mark Golodetz » November 16th, 2019, 8:51 am

Part of the Burgundy 2018 thread, I think it deserves a wider audience.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#2 Post by Michael S. Monie » November 16th, 2019, 9:02 am

Unless a wine is defective, I would say no. It's the "if a tree falls in the forest" thing.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#3 Post by Mattstolz » November 16th, 2019, 9:03 am

i dont think there can ever be objectivity in something where everyone perceives it differently.


except for the wine that my wifes distant uncle makes and brings to thanksgiving each year. we can all agree that is terrible stuff.

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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#4 Post by Subu Ramachandran » November 16th, 2019, 9:26 am

Other than wine faults, good and bad wine is entirely subjective.

Just like in music some prefer western classical music, some prefer rock, younger generation might prefer k-pop...

DRINK what you like and LISTEN to what you want to!

There are some wines are like Mozart's music that many like and are more "popular" than others...

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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#5 Post by Scott G r u n e r » November 16th, 2019, 9:29 am

In my opinion, yes.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#6 Post by Sarah Kirschbaum » November 16th, 2019, 9:49 am

Yes.

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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#7 Post by AlexS » November 16th, 2019, 9:57 am

Unfortunately (or fortunately?), the concept of "wine flaws" can be very subjective as well - for instance, while I consider a wine like Meiomi to be flawed, I'm sure plenty of people on here will tell me exactly why it isn't and make very convincing arguments in doing so.

They won't ever change my mind.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#8 Post by Sarah Kirschbaum » November 16th, 2019, 9:59 am

I'd probably phrase the question "are there objective standards of quality in wine," thouhh, because the words good and bad become problematic in that they carry a lot of baggage.

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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#9 Post by Henry Kiichli » November 16th, 2019, 10:01 am

I tend to not shit on other's opinions, but...

Yes.

Think of food. Is a microwaved HotPocket covered in LuckyCharms and CaptnCrunch just as viable as "good food" if someone likes it?
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#10 Post by AlexS » November 16th, 2019, 10:17 am

Sarah Kirschbaum wrote:
November 16th, 2019, 9:59 am
I'd probably phrase the question "are there objective standards of quality in wine," thouhh, because the words good and bad become problematic in that they carry a lot of baggage.
Upon reading the thread title, my first thought was OP's going for a soft troll. I mean, phrasing this question so broadly on a highly opinionated wine board...the semantics wars alone could last for pages lol.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#11 Post by Mattstolz » November 16th, 2019, 10:40 am

Henry Kiichli wrote:
November 16th, 2019, 10:01 am
I tend to not shit on other's opinions, but...

Yes.

Think of food. Is a microwaved HotPocket covered in LuckyCharms and CaptnCrunch just as viable as "good food" if someone likes it?
i can think of several people I know who would choose the hot pocket over Alinea.

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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#12 Post by GregT » November 16th, 2019, 10:45 am

I would say yes there are objectively good and bad wines. First, as mentioned, flaws. If the wine has bacteria problems, is re-fermenting, has TCA, is cooked, etc.

Second there are wines that are just bad, as there is food that is just bad. Henry mentioned it. But I made cookies the other day. Butter, flour, etc. Some people will buy things like Oreos that are disgusting. It's not a personal preference, it's the entire goal of the product.

Oreos are dark to connote chocolate, but there isn't any, they have some kind of lard-based or hydrogenated shortening mix that they add sugar and starch to and the entire product was designed to be garbage from the get go. They can be clean, made in a clinical environment, meet all kinds of objective standards, but the end goal is to produce crap. The idea is to get sugar and fat into consumers as cheaply as possible.

Same with wine. A wine like Meiomi comes to mind, as do the oceans of Gallo products and the peach and mango flavored concoctions you see in supermarkets.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#13 Post by Kevin Porter » November 16th, 2019, 10:58 am

Terry Theise wrote a book arguing “yes”. Seems a syllogism to me. I want to say yes but can’t see how either side of the argument can be proven (or is it “proved”?).

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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#14 Post by Michael S. Monie » November 16th, 2019, 11:04 am

Even defective wine is subjective to degree of defect. For me, there is no such thing as a little corked. But I know those who can find enough redeeming value in a corked wine to continue drinking. People have varying degrees of acceptable levels of VA and Brett. Extraction in wine can be compared to butterfat in ice cream. For some, the more the better. For others, they would find the same to be disgustingly rich. It's all on the palate of the imbiber.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#15 Post by Chris Seiber » November 16th, 2019, 11:13 am

I think wine, like art, movies, food, they have both objective and subjective natures.

There are objective differences between a Rembrandt painting and something your kid draws for art class. Skill, difficulty of composition. But there is a subjective dimension at the same time - maybe you just don’t like Rembrandt paintings, maybe the humble art of children deeply moves you. Maybe you like Monet or Warhol better.

I think there are objective measures of wine. The skill of the winemaker, the quality of the vineyard sources, the absence of flaws, things like purity and concentration and intensity of flavors.

And then there is a lot of room for subjectivity. Maybe you prefer a Beaujolais Nouveau to Harlan. Maybe you prefer Apothic to Cheval Blanc.

But I think you can say there are objective differences in quality between Red Bicyclette and DRC. I’m comfortable saying that, even at the same time that it’s fine if you prefer the former.

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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#16 Post by Kelly Walker » November 16th, 2019, 11:26 am

No, just some peoples tastes are better educated and refined than others.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#17 Post by Mattstolz » November 16th, 2019, 12:14 pm

GregT wrote:
November 16th, 2019, 10:45 am
I would say yes there are objectively good and bad wines. First, as mentioned, flaws. If the wine has bacteria problems, is re-fermenting, has TCA, is cooked, etc.

Second there are wines that are just bad, as there is food that is just bad. Henry mentioned it. But I made cookies the other day. Butter, flour, etc. Some people will buy things like Oreos that are disgusting. It's not a personal preference, it's the entire goal of the product.

Oreos are dark to connote chocolate, but there isn't any, they have some kind of lard-based or hydrogenated shortening mix that they add sugar and starch to and the entire product was designed to be garbage from the get go. They can be clean, made in a clinical environment, meet all kinds of objective standards, but the end goal is to produce crap. The idea is to get sugar and fat into consumers as cheaply as possible.

Same with wine. A wine like Meiomi comes to mind, as do the oceans of Gallo products and the peach and mango flavored concoctions you see in supermarkets.
editing for a realization:
Theres a difference between UNIVERSALLY accepted as bad and objectively bad. i got to thinking about this when thinking about current politics/world situations and realized there are some objective truths that are not accepted by everyone. an oreo or a wine could absolutely be the same way. but who sets the standard for an objective good wine?

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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#18 Post by MitchTallan » November 16th, 2019, 1:43 pm

Yes.
Like Matt's comment above, we must have some undeniable truths or life loses a compass.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#19 Post by C Chen » November 16th, 2019, 4:08 pm

Yes.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#20 Post by Tom Reddick » November 16th, 2019, 8:57 pm

There is a great deal of objectivity in the evaluation of wine. The unpleasant reality is that many people within the world of wine collecting and most people outside of it do not have the experience or the innate palate sensitivity to properly detect all of the elements of the more subtle wines of the world.

Historically, with the 1855 Classification being a key example, complexity and nuance are key- or what one might broadly refer to more generally as breed. Terroir comes into that as well, with a great wine having the capacity to render a more detailed outcome that- via general knowledge of other wines of the region and nearby regions- can be identified to a particular site. And beyond that an especially unique or all-encompassing (or spherical if you will) presentation can result in a wine that is truly prized, such as Romanee-Conti.

The notion of Leoville Las Cases, Leoville Barton or Lynch Bages being elevated in the 1855 Classification makes no sense to me. Sure they have all made some great wines, but they lack the breed and full potential of what the firsts offer. There have been times in history when the firsts were lesser wines in terms of overall quality due to a lack of care in the vineyard and in elevage- but the breed of a first growth is always there, even if only barely visible, and its hallmark of greatness. I do by the way agree with the elevation of Mouton FWIW.

Winemaking technique, cleanliness of the facilities, grape choices, oak treatments etc. of course all have their influence for better or for worse, and of course different wines will deliver greatness in very different ways as a result of all these factors- but greatness is always evident.

It is a touchy subject because the reality is that one cannot really begin to separate the objective from the subjective- and consider it in the light of both current and long-held human aesthetic tendencies when evaluating the "goodness" of anything- until one has a lot of experience in tasting wine. I think 15-20 years is a good benchmark. And of course said person needs to also have a good palate and the ability to discern between what one likes and what is great. One of the greatest things Matt Kramer has ever said (and I am paraphrasing here since I do not have the book handy) is that a true wine connoisseur is someone who can taste a wine and say, "[this is a great wine, but I personally can't stand it]."

Will be interesting to see where this thread goes. One thing I do know after 20 years on various wine boards is the number one way to get booted is to call someone out for not having a good palate. At a time when the hobby has become a status symbol, many participants take great false comfort in thinking that what they spend on wine somehow conveys a certain expertise and automatically commands a certain respect. But the reality has not changed that talent and a great many years of experience are the only way to truly understand this.

Incidentally, a really good book to read that is not wine related but very informative on this very topic is "The Art Instinct" by Denis Dutton. On the wine side, I would recommend "Wine Snobbery" by Andrew Barr and "Making Sense of Wine" by Matt Kramer.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#21 Post by Jim Anderson » November 16th, 2019, 10:09 pm

Easy YES. Applies to many things beyond wine as well.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#22 Post by Rudi Finkler » November 17th, 2019, 1:08 am

There is no question that there are good and bad things to be said about everyone and everything on earth -you and me included. However, the definition of good and bad, right and wrong, true and false, desirable and undesirable is always an agreement or a convention and entirely subjective –depending on culture, religion, gender, age, intellect, preferences, taste, time, etc. Therefore, I think, it is impossible to answer this question unambiguously, unless you are capable of squaring a circle...
So, if you ask me whether the 1994 Pichon-Comtesse is a good wine, the answer is a definite no, because this wine is undrinkable for me‚ but if you ask me whether this is ojectively a bad wine, i couldn’t answer that.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#23 Post by Robert Sand » November 17th, 2019, 1:45 am

As I wrote in the other thread: it needs an expert to determine if something is good/bad/better/worse - but that´s what experts are for!

I once again use the comparison with music: nobody (I hope so) will deny that Mozart wrote "good" music, and many might say he´s been one of the best composers of all times. The same with Bach, Beethoven etc.

There are still a lot of people stating "I don´t like Mozart, Bach, Schubert etc." - but that comes down to simple personal taste - and doesn´t turn their music into something bad.
One of the major criteria is the judgement of time ... music that is still estimated highly after centuries has a certain quality.

Back to wine: close to all experts would say that a top-Bordeaux, a top-Burgundy, a Hermitage etc. is usually a good, often a great wine ...
more specific: Haut-Brion, Pichon-Lalande, Cheval blanc usually make good, often great wines. Why?
Many experts (and in addition many consumers) over a long time have liked the wines and paid quite high prices for them.
It has nothing to do with the opinion (just for instance) of my neighbour who only likes and drinks off-dry Riesling, and sometimes Müller-Thurgau - he´s no expert.

Experts and other people can argue if Las Cases is better than Ducru - or Chambertin better than Richebourg, or Barolo superior to Cote-Rotie, but that doesn´t mean that the mentioned wines are usually not superior to the mean Chianti or Trollinger.
Still one might prefer drinking Trollinger to Richebourg - however I don´t know and expert stating this.

Time will tell if Pavie 2003 or Cos 2009 are good wines, but in the majority of cases experts can distinguish good from bad wines - apart from the single argument about a single product.

So – YES – there are objectively good and bad wines ... and that can be determined (by experts) up to a certain degree. Not 100 %, but quite accurat.

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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#24 Post by Kevin Porter » November 17th, 2019, 3:56 am

So to touch on another thread, does faith to the grape play in? Can a Pinot that drinks as the world’s greatest Syrah be a good wine? I imagine that the answers will be “ no” and “perhaps, if it is not manipulated to do so” but I am curious.

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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#25 Post by Mark Golodetz » November 17th, 2019, 5:51 am

Interesting, I thought it would be a lot more even. I am firmly in the no camp, because for me, and a good or great wine is determined by a lot of subjective notes, usually by experts. The problem is that there is little if any universal agreement.

Critics bring to the table their prejudices, baggage, breakfasts and tastes. Experts disagree; contrast the scores of John Gilman and James Suckling. Then there are whole categories of wine that are controversial, Jura for example, and have you seen the threads on natural wines? Then there are wines which are considered great by some and problematic by others. High alcohol Cabernets is a good example of this, I would also add Madeira, where the volatile acidity can put off drinkers.

Can you tell me what is a good wine? Yes of course you can. Chateau Margaux 1985 is a good wine right? It has got high scores from almost every critic. Yet I sat at a table with a dozen empty bottles of different 1985/Bordeaux and the Margaux was put in last place by a dozen serious and experienced tasters. A few months later, I tasted it again. Different cellar, brought in from the England. Same dismal result. And of course, you can have a lot of fun with Cos 2009 and Pavie 2003, both controversial and loved or hated by those same critics who establish what is good and bad.

Another example, Kosta Brown. Worst California Pinot I have ever tasted. Horrific wine, alcoholic, sweet and imprecise. Could easily have been a Syrah. Tasted blind. You like it? No, you love it, And you think the wine is utterly profound. I have different likes and dislikes. I like my coffee with cream and sugar, my wife’s likes hers twice as strong as mine and black.

Ultimately wine is just a bottle in a cellar neither good nor bad, like a Schrodinger cat. Only when it has been opened, can we determine the quality, and that is a subjective exercise with little or no universal agreement.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#26 Post by Howard Cooper » November 17th, 2019, 6:11 am

Henry Kiichli wrote:
November 16th, 2019, 10:01 am
I tend to not shit on other's opinions, but...

Yes.

Think of food. Is a microwaved HotPocket covered in LuckyCharms and CaptnCrunch just as viable as "good food" if someone likes it?
Hard question to answer? I like a good hot fudge sundae as much as any other deserts I have had, even expensive desserts at top restaurants. I am not alone, which one can tell at virtually any Bar Mitzvah where parents leave their desserts alone and go line-up at the kids' sundae bar.

I tend to think there are objective reasons why some wines are "better" than other wines (even putting flaws aside) but does this matter if I like the flavors of a lesser wine more. For example, I love Burgundy and may enjoy a Hudelot-Noellat villages wine better than a really top Brunello. Probably does not make the HN a "better" wine, but should I care?
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#27 Post by Robert Sand » November 17th, 2019, 6:12 am

Kevin Porter wrote:
November 17th, 2019, 3:56 am
So to touch on another thread, does faith to the grape play in? Can a Pinot that drinks as the world’s greatest Syrah be a good wine? I imagine that the answers will be “ no” and “perhaps, if it is not manipulated to do so” but I am curious.
>Can a Pinot that drinks as the world’s greatest Syrah be a good wine?

Yes, imo it can be (maybe a less good Pinot) ...
Is a GC by Trapet, Meo-Camuzet or Leroy a less good Pinot than Dujac, Mugnier or Hudelot-Noellat? Just because the colour is initially much darker?
Was 1982 in Bordeaux not true to the grape(s) - being completely different to anything produced before?

How will Cos 2009 taste when it´s 35 years old? Maybe like a typical fine but a bit modern Bordeaux!

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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#28 Post by Michael S. Monie » November 17th, 2019, 6:22 am

I would guess that 99% of the world's wine drinkers (including the French) don''t care what a 2009 Cos will taste like 35 years down the road, as long as it taste "good" for at least 5 years after release.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#29 Post by Howard Cooper » November 17th, 2019, 6:26 am

Tom Reddick wrote:
November 16th, 2019, 8:57 pm
There is a great deal of objectivity in the evaluation of wine.

***

The notion of Leoville Las Cases, Leoville Barton or Lynch Bages being elevated in the 1855 Classification makes no sense to me. Sure they have all made some great wines, but they lack the breed and full potential of what the firsts offer. There have been times in history when the firsts were lesser wines in terms of overall quality due to a lack of care in the vineyard and in elevage- but the breed of a first growth is always there, even if only barely visible, and its hallmark of greatness. I do by the way agree with the elevation of Mouton FWIW.

***
1. I agree that their is a great deal of objectivity in the evaluation of a wine. But, I don't drink wine solely with objectivity. I like to drink "better" wines but only when they conform with my subjective preferences. Shouldn't subjective preferences be more important in buying wines than some objective standard. I always think of the ultimate in this - the wine that somehow is objectively perfect, only nobody likes it. What good is this wine?

As to your discussion of the 1855 classification, I think it has a few flaws. First, you seem to assume that the 1855 classification was objective and absolutely "correct." As I understand it, it was largely based on prices at the time, which deal with terroir but also with care in the vineyard and in elevage AT THAT TIME. Why is it absolutely "correct" that Lynch Bages should not have been say a second growth because for longer periods of time (most of the 20th century and what we have seen of the 21st century) it has performed at this level? Similarly, Margaux performed very poorly in much of the 1960s and 1970s. If that had happened in 1855, it might not have been classified as a first growth. Does that mean that the classification should not have been "corrected"?

Second, unlike in Burgundy, estates were classified, NOT terroir. As I understand it, part of the reason Palmer is better than it was classified in 1855 is because of parcels bought and sold. Shouldn't that be reflected by reclassifications? Wouldn't it be a better system if the classification was done by specific parcels, as it is in most places in the world?
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#30 Post by Howard Cooper » November 17th, 2019, 6:27 am

Michael S. Monie wrote:
November 17th, 2019, 6:22 am
I would guess that 99% of the world's wine drinkers (including the French) don''t care what a 2009 Cos will taste like 35 years down the road, as long as it taste "good" for at least 5 years after release.
I would guess that 99% of the world's wine drinkers don't buy a wine as expensive as 2009 Cos. My guess is that a much higher percentage of people who buy classified Bordeaux on a regular basis don't drink all of the wine within 5 years.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#31 Post by Howard Cooper » November 17th, 2019, 6:29 am

Mark Golodetz wrote:
November 17th, 2019, 5:51 am
Interesting, I thought it would be a lot more even. I am firmly in the no camp, because for me, and a good or great wine is determined by a lot of subjective notes, usually by experts. The problem is that there is little if any universal agreement.

Critics bring to the table their prejudices, baggage, breakfasts and tastes. Experts disagree; contrast the scores of John Gilman and James Suckling. Then there are whole categories of wine that are controversial, Jura for example, and have you seen the threads on natural wines? Then there are wines which are considered great by some and problematic by others. High alcohol Cabernets is a good example of this, I would also add Madeira, where the volatile acidity can put off drinkers.

Can you tell me what is a good wine? Yes of course you can. Chateau Margaux 1985 is a good wine right? It has got high scores from almost every critic. Yet I sat at a table with a dozen empty bottles of different 1985/Bordeaux and the Margaux was put in last place by a dozen serious and experienced tasters. A few months later, I tasted it again. Different cellar, brought in from the England. Same dismal result. And of course, you can have a lot of fun with Cos 2009 and Pavie 2003, both controversial and loved or hated by those same critics who establish what is good and bad.

Another example, Kosta Brown. Worst California Pinot I have ever tasted. Horrific wine, alcoholic, sweet and imprecise. Could easily have been a Syrah. Tasted blind. You like it? No, you love it, And you think the wine is utterly profound. I have different likes and dislikes. I like my coffee with cream and sugar, my wife’s likes hers twice as strong as mine and black.

Ultimately wine is just a bottle in a cellar neither good nor bad, like a Schrodinger cat. Only when it has been opened, can we determine the quality, and that is a subjective exercise with little or no universal agreement.
Mark, my biggest point of disagreement with this is that I think there clearly are objectively bad wines.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#32 Post by Michael S. Monie » November 17th, 2019, 6:37 am

The problem with us "1 percenters" is that we tend to see the wine world in terms of our own priorities. I've heard for a long time that the French generally drink Bordeaux on the younger side. How much young Bordeaux is consumed in restaurants worldwide every year?
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#33 Post by RyanC » November 17th, 2019, 6:38 am

Yes, absolutely. Same with music and art.

It seems obvious, in fact. Skilled and experienced tasters don't all agree precisely on what the best wines are. But I suspect 100% of them would agree--blind or not--that La Tache/Petrus/Chambertin is superior to Yellowtail. And I think this is also true if you compare, for instance, Drouhin Chambolle-Musigny with Drouhin Musigny--or similar comparisons taking superior and inferior sites. And that has been the case for hundreds of years. This is not random: better wines are indeed better in an objective sense.

That's also true with music, for instance. Scholars endlessly study Bach/Beethoven/Wagner/etc. There's an astonishing depth of material that makes studying the greats rewarding and enlightening. The same could never be said of Britney Spears.

Wine has been important for hundreds or thousands of years because there is a certain depth and interest to it not present in, say, Vodka. And that depth and interest inspires classification and criticism that is not totally random.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#34 Post by Mark Golodetz » November 17th, 2019, 7:08 am

Howard Cooper wrote:
November 17th, 2019, 6:29 am
Mark Golodetz wrote:
November 17th, 2019, 5:51 am
Interesting, I thought it would be a lot more even. I am firmly in the no camp, because for me, and a good or great wine is determined by a lot of subjective notes, usually by experts. The problem is that there is little if any universal agreement.

Critics bring to the table their prejudices, baggage, breakfasts and tastes. Experts disagree; contrast the scores of John Gilman and James Suckling. Then there are whole categories of wine that are controversial, Jura for example, and have you seen the threads on natural wines? Then there are wines which are considered great by some and problematic by others. High alcohol Cabernets is a good example of this, I would also add Madeira, where the volatile acidity can put off drinkers.

Can you tell me what is a good wine? Yes of course you can. Chateau Margaux 1985 is a good wine right? It has got high scores from almost every critic. Yet I sat at a table with a dozen empty bottles of different 1985/Bordeaux and the Margaux was put in last place by a dozen serious and experienced tasters. A few months later, I tasted it again. Different cellar, brought in from the England. Same dismal result. And of course, you can have a lot of fun with Cos 2009 and Pavie 2003, both controversial and loved or hated by those same critics who establish what is good and bad.

Another example, Kosta Brown. Worst California Pinot I have ever tasted. Horrific wine, alcoholic, sweet and imprecise. Could easily have been a Syrah. Tasted blind. You like it? No, you love it, And you think the wine is utterly profound. I have different likes and dislikes. I like my coffee with cream and sugar, my wife’s likes hers twice as strong as mine and black.

Ultimately wine is just a bottle in a cellar neither good nor bad, like a Schrodinger cat. Only when it has been opened, can we determine the quality, and that is a subjective exercise with little or no universal agreement.
Mark, my biggest point of disagreement with this is that I think there clearly are objectively bad wines.
I think there are flawed wines, but amazingly not everybody agrees. I have seen owners happily consume corked wines. And I have seen a wine jury, where professionals were screaming at each other as to whether the wine was flawed or not.

I hope you have never had Maotai a Chinese liquor made from Sourgum which I mentioned in the other thread. Easily the most repulsive thing I have ever tasted, and I still have nightmares about the 20 samples I had to taste just after breakfast for a competition. (The Europeans voted the one that came in a can as the best, as the flavor of tin slightly obscured the more horrid ones of the beverage) Yet examples have changed hands for well over a million dollars, so somebody likes them.

We have spent centuries trying to categorize the quality of wine into some kind of objective hierarchy. The most effective way is to do something like the 1855 one, which has been basically immutable since its inception, rather than say the Saint Emilion version, which has been an unmitigated disaster from the beginning. And the reason why it has been a disaster, is that wine cannot be labeled objectively; it is subject to all the human frailties, baggage etc that comes with individual and group subjectivity.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#35 Post by Sarah Kirschbaum » November 17th, 2019, 7:24 am

Howard Cooper wrote:
November 17th, 2019, 6:29 am
Mark Golodetz wrote:
November 17th, 2019, 5:51 am
Interesting, I thought it would be a lot more even. I am firmly in the no camp, because for me, and a good or great wine is determined by a lot of subjective notes, usually by experts. The problem is that there is little if any universal agreement. .....

Another example, Kosta Brown. Worst California Pinot I have ever tasted. Horrific wine, alcoholic, sweet and imprecise. Could easily have been a Syrah. Tasted blind. You like it? No, you love it, And you think the wine is utterly profound. I have different likes and dislikes. I like my coffee with cream and sugar, my wife’s likes hers twice as strong as mine and black.

Ultimately wine is just a bottle in a cellar neither good nor bad, like a Schrodinger cat. Only when it has been opened, can we determine the quality, and that is a subjective exercise with little or no universal agreement.
Mark, my biggest point of disagreement with this is that I think there clearly are objectively bad wines.
Mark, respectfully, you are conflating two different notions, using the one to disprove the other. In the paragraph I've highlighted above, you switch mid-stride from the language of quality ("worst," "horrific") to the language of taste ("like," "love") You seem to be using the fact that tastes differ to show that there are no objective standards of quality, when in fact he two concepts are not interchangeable, though they are indeed very, very difficult to separate. Your example of how you and your wife take your coffee doesn't have anything to do with the quality of the beans. This kind of conflation is natural, because we tend to view absolutely everything through the lens of our own eyes and egos and belief that we are the center of reality. I don't mean that in an insulting way - since we live only inside our own heads and bodies, that's necessarily how we view the world. The camera resides behind our eyes. We can't easily shift the perspective, the camera angle, as it were. So the shift that you make from one set of judgement to another is natural - if I hate a wine, that means it's a bad wine.

I would argue, though (and have many times on this board) that if we are painting with a pretty broad brush, there are absolutely objective standards of quality in wine, just like in food, or art, or toasters. Care was taken, both in the vineyards and the winery; soil and drainage are conducive to healthy grapes; grapes reached a carefully monitored ripeness level....there are lots of things that separate a well-made wine from a poorly made wine, even if we might quibble over some of the specifics. At this level, it's relatively easy to keep our own tastes out of the discussion. When we bring the general down to the very specific, a particular wine or bottle of wine, that separation is much more difficult. Our personal venn diagrams get in the way.

I also don't believe that there must be inarguable standards in order for standards to exist. This isn't math or physics. But not everything that is real needs to be universally agreed upon. Take morality, for instance - I think most people would agree that morality, right and wrong, exists. We don't always agree to what constitutes right and wrong in every situation. I don't mean that as a direct analogy to the wine debate, just as a way of supporting my argument that all philosophical concepts have nebulous qualities, so we humans will necessarily disagree. And that disagreement on specifics doesn't negate the original concept.

Back to wine...when having this discussion, an example I sometimes use from my own experience is amarone. I hate amarone. I do not like the taste of raisins in wine. But I've had some Quintarellis in the past that I could absolutely say were great wines. I still didn't like them. Same thing with eucalyptus. Can't stand the smell in wine. That doesn't mean I think Heitz Martha's Vineyard is bad. Again, the separation isn't always so easy.

Think about a related topic - is there such a thing as a good vintage, or is it just a matter of taste? I think most winemakers and most wine lovers would say there are certainly better vintages and worse vintages. That does not mean that all wines from a vintage are of equal quality, or that you will love every wine from a good vintage. But there are certainly elements of yields and weather and other characteristics that can lead us to generalize in a useful way. If these questions of quality are intrinsically meaningless, there's a lot of time being wasted here and in every single place where groups of people talk about shared hobbies.

Finally, as I mentioned earlier, I think the words "good" and "bad" themselves interfere with the discussion. Egos enter even more when there seems to be judgment involved. If bad wine exists objectively, what does it mean if I like that "bad" wine? Does that mean my palate is bad? Does that mean I'm bad? I think sometimes hackles go up and folks get defensive when we feel even a vague sense of judgement. In the end, I totally agree that you and everyone should drink what you like. The question of whether objective standards exist is fun to debate (I find it fun, anyway), but it's head fun, and is only tangentially related to what I choose to pull from my cellar today.

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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#36 Post by Henry Kiichli » November 17th, 2019, 7:40 am

Howard Cooper wrote:
November 17th, 2019, 6:11 am
Henry Kiichli wrote:
November 16th, 2019, 10:01 am
I tend to not shit on other's opinions, but...

Yes.

Think of food. Is a microwaved HotPocket covered in LuckyCharms and CaptnCrunch just as viable as "good food" if someone likes it?
Hard question to answer? I like a good hot fudge sundae as much as any other deserts I have had, even expensive desserts at top restaurants. I am not alone, which one can tell at virtually any Bar Mitzvah where parents leave their desserts alone and go line-up at the kids' sundae bar.

I tend to think there are objective reasons why some wines are "better" than other wines (even putting flaws aside) but does this matter if I like the flavors of a lesser wine more. For example, I love Burgundy and may enjoy a Hudelot-Noellat villages wine better than a really top Brunello. Probably does not make the HN a "better" wine, but should I care?

Hi Howard,

I was thinking more of highly processed, industrial frankenfood.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#37 Post by SOvery » November 17th, 2019, 7:51 am

The answer to this question requires us to untangle at least three other set of questions:

1) Sorites-type problems about the universal wine, and what falls under it. To put it another way, is the thing that can be judged negatively actually a wine. The answer to this is probably going to rely on some set of properties that wine needs to exhibit.

2) Questions regarding the techne of wine making (and appreciating) and if it can be regarded as a craft. If so, a set of rules and practices could be determined by consensus. However, though very useful in providing means for evaluation, consensus is not sufficient for objectivity. Many of the arguments in this thread, appealing to expertise or to consensus are not properly objective.

3) Questions regarding the aesthetics of wine and the possibility of deriving a set of properties [or intuitions, or relations] comprising beauty (‘goodness’) in wine. Again, the difficulty would be finding objective properties rather than a set of commonly held subjective ones.

My default position would be a kind of Pyrronian skepticism by which one is still obliged to judge wine, but with the knowledge that any set of criteria used for such judgements is temporary and subject to possible revision. Interesting thread.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#38 Post by Mark Golodetz » November 17th, 2019, 8:00 am

I think it is fun too, and an interesting way to pass a Sunday when you can’t bear to watch another Giants or Jets debacle.

Perhaps we should get rid of the toaster analogy quickly. It has a very specific purpose, and toasters either do it well or badly. Everything about the toaster can be broken down, and in the end, I think it is pretty easy to see which is the best. (A little harder with a car though.)


The conflation argument is interesting, but I would argue that the idea of an objectively good and bad wine is the result of an accumulation of likes and dislikes, and the two are not different but can thought of as components leading to valued judgements.

We have gotten to the point where good and bad were quantified, perhaps the most ludicrous of all exercises. If you put enough of these scores together, you get some kind of consensus, but is it objectivity? I score wines too, but know that is purely for my own use and to communicate to others what I feel about a wine. But again, I make no claim that this is an objective score, just an opinion.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#39 Post by Howard Cooper » November 17th, 2019, 8:05 am

Mark Golodetz wrote:
November 17th, 2019, 7:08 am
Howard Cooper wrote:
November 17th, 2019, 6:29 am
Mark Golodetz wrote:
November 17th, 2019, 5:51 am
Interesting, I thought it would be a lot more even. I am firmly in the no camp, because for me, and a good or great wine is determined by a lot of subjective notes, usually by experts. The problem is that there is little if any universal agreement.

Critics bring to the table their prejudices, baggage, breakfasts and tastes. Experts disagree; contrast the scores of John Gilman and James Suckling. Then there are whole categories of wine that are controversial, Jura for example, and have you seen the threads on natural wines? Then there are wines which are considered great by some and problematic by others. High alcohol Cabernets is a good example of this, I would also add Madeira, where the volatile acidity can put off drinkers.

Can you tell me what is a good wine? Yes of course you can. Chateau Margaux 1985 is a good wine right? It has got high scores from almost every critic. Yet I sat at a table with a dozen empty bottles of different 1985/Bordeaux and the Margaux was put in last place by a dozen serious and experienced tasters. A few months later, I tasted it again. Different cellar, brought in from the England. Same dismal result. And of course, you can have a lot of fun with Cos 2009 and Pavie 2003, both controversial and loved or hated by those same critics who establish what is good and bad.

Another example, Kosta Brown. Worst California Pinot I have ever tasted. Horrific wine, alcoholic, sweet and imprecise. Could easily have been a Syrah. Tasted blind. You like it? No, you love it, And you think the wine is utterly profound. I have different likes and dislikes. I like my coffee with cream and sugar, my wife’s likes hers twice as strong as mine and black.

Ultimately wine is just a bottle in a cellar neither good nor bad, like a Schrodinger cat. Only when it has been opened, can we determine the quality, and that is a subjective exercise with little or no universal agreement.
Mark, my biggest point of disagreement with this is that I think there clearly are objectively bad wines.
I think there are flawed wines, but amazingly not everybody agrees. I have seen owners happily consume corked wines. And I have seen a wine jury, where professionals were screaming at each other as to whether the wine was flawed or not.

I hope you have never had Maotai a Chinese liquor made from Sourgum which I mentioned in the other thread. Easily the most repulsive thing I have ever tasted, and I still have nightmares about the 20 samples I had to taste just after breakfast for a competition. (The Europeans voted the one that came in a can as the best, as the flavor of tin slightly obscured the more horrid ones of the beverage) Yet examples have changed hands for well over a million dollars, so somebody likes them.

We have spent centuries trying to categorize the quality of wine into some kind of objective hierarchy. The most effective way is to do something like the 1855 one, which has been basically immutable since its inception, rather than say the Saint Emilion version, which has been an unmitigated disaster from the beginning. And the reason why it has been a disaster, is that wine cannot be labeled objectively; it is subject to all the human frailties, baggage etc that comes with individual and group subjectivity.
I am not thinking of things you or I find repulsive. You and I are old enough to remember when there were a lot of truly flawed wines - wines with rot, wines with all types of flaws. There are many fewer wines of this type today, but they are still there. And corked wines are still bad wines whether you and I can tell they are flawed or not. If I cannot really tell that a wine is flawed, it may mean that I like or dislike the wine (subjective) not whether the wine is good or bad (objective). I am not sure that objective views of wine are relevant in discussing whether say Bordeaux is better or worse than Burgundy, but I do think there are objectively bad wines when it comes to flaws like rot, TCA, etc., etc. I do realize there is the possibility that in some cases somebody (including me) may like a bad wine.
Howard

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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#40 Post by Howard Cooper » November 17th, 2019, 8:10 am

Mark, do note that I find wine writers who attempt to rate wines objectively to be useless - in fact, I don't think this is possible. We all taste wines subjectively. The closest a wine writer can come to truly being objective is to point out flaws.

Besides, what good is it to me if a wine somehow "objectively" is a 95 point wine and I think subjectively it deserves 75 points. For example, how does one rate SQN or Truchot objectively? Say there is a wine from both that somehow are objectively rated 92.5. Many, many tasters will find that one deserves a 95 rating and the other a 75 rating.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#41 Post by Michael Feldman » November 17th, 2019, 8:15 am

Looking at both sides of the argument the answer is not clear cut. The side of objectivity in wine (in my mind) rests with the idea that for whatever reason, a wine is made that the winemaker feels does not taste like the wines he has made in the past (with vintage variation expected) or like the wine he expects to make in the future.
The side of subjectivity rests with the idea that someone out there will love the wine that the winemaker feels does not live up to his standards.
When an object has a function and that function cannot be performed it is easy objectively to say that it is bad (e.g. a toaster that is broken and cannot brown toast or it only can burn toast).
When an “expert” sets a standard whether it is regarding a wine (or morality for that matter) it can only be subjective.
We can go around in circles regarding this topic but the answer to this question is subjective! [snort.gif]

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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#42 Post by Sarah Kirschbaum » November 17th, 2019, 8:23 am

Mark Golodetz wrote:
November 17th, 2019, 8:00 am


Perhaps we should get rid of the toaster analogy quickly. It has a very specific purpose, and toasters either do it well or badly. Everything about the toaster can be broken down, and in the end, I think it is pretty easy to see which is the best. (A little harder with a car though.)

On the contrary. The point was that all things which are made can be made well or not. A toaster's set of criteria is much simpler than wine or a car, but it is still a valid example of a thing being well or poorly made. Having a simplistic item on the list helps to define the basic argument. I don't think the validiry of the premise (things can be made well or not) suddenly disappears at some point along the complexity scale.

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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#43 Post by Mark Golodetz » November 17th, 2019, 8:42 am

Sarah Kirschbaum wrote:
November 17th, 2019, 8:23 am
Mark Golodetz wrote:
November 17th, 2019, 8:00 am


Perhaps we should get rid of the toaster analogy quickly. It has a very specific purpose, and toasters either do it well or badly. Everything about the toaster can be broken down, and in the end, I think it is pretty easy to see which is the best. (A little harder with a car though.)

On the contrary. The point was that all things which are made can be made well or not. A toaster's set of criteria is much simpler than wine or a car, but it is still a valid example of a thing being well or poorly made. Having a simplistic item on the list helps to define the basic argument. I don't think the validiry of the premise (things can be made well or not) suddenly disappears at some point along the complexity scale.
Not complexity, but the objective of wine is much more nebulous than a toaster, hence the problem of labeling it good or bad.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#44 Post by SOvery » November 17th, 2019, 9:07 am

A toaster is perhaps more apt to be compared to a winemaker, as both are responsible for a process of crafting.
Wine as good or bad is more like the toast as good or bad.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#45 Post by Marcu$ Stanley » November 17th, 2019, 9:24 am

GregT wrote:
November 16th, 2019, 10:45 am
I would say yes there are objectively good and bad wines. First, as mentioned, flaws. If the wine has bacteria problems, is re-fermenting, has TCA, is cooked, etc.

Second there are wines that are just bad, as there is food that is just bad. Henry mentioned it. But I made cookies the other day. Butter, flour, etc. Some people will buy things like Oreos that are disgusting. It's not a personal preference, it's the entire goal of the product.

Oreos are dark to connote chocolate, but there isn't any, they have some kind of lard-based or hydrogenated shortening mix that they add sugar and starch to and the entire product was designed to be garbage from the get go. They can be clean, made in a clinical environment, meet all kinds of objective standards, but the end goal is to produce crap. The idea is to get sugar and fat into consumers as cheaply as possible.

Same with wine. A wine like Meiomi comes to mind, as do the oceans of Gallo products and the peach and mango flavored concoctions you see in supermarkets.
I theoretically agree completely with this post, yet I still love Oreos. Especially double stuff (maximum lard) [wow.gif]

P.S. the fact that oreos are bad yet yummy/delicious offers insight into the reasons why assessing wine by categories like "deliciousness" can be a problem

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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#46 Post by Marcu$ Stanley » November 17th, 2019, 9:26 am

Is there any contradiction in doubting whether wine can be "objectively" good or bad (outside of obvious flaws), but still thinking that people can have good or bad taste when it comes to wine?

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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#47 Post by Michael S. Monie » November 17th, 2019, 10:16 am

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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#48 Post by Rauno E (NZ) » November 17th, 2019, 10:52 am

Yes. And part of understanding wine is to learn the difference between what might be objectively good vs what you like to drink. It's similar to recognising a Rousseau Chambertin 2018 drunk now is a great wine (objectively) but actually you'd get more pleasure right now from a '99 or '02 Roumier Villages.
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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#49 Post by Philip G » November 17th, 2019, 10:56 am

Father-in-law had a Trader Joe's blind wine tasting with a group of 30 or so his retiree friends. Varying degree of wine experience from none to 1000 bottles in the cellar. 3 bottles all bought from TJ: 2 Buck Chuck ($2.99 I believe), a Trader Joe label ~$8 wine and a ~$20 wine sold at TJ. The 2BC to me was undrinkable but was picked as the favorite among 30 or so people.

Go figure.

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Re: Are there objectively good and bad wines?

#50 Post by mattbillet » November 17th, 2019, 11:13 am

My first observation is that there is no requirement of an educated palate in discerning good/bad wines objectively or subjectively (if that is even a major thing... subjective/objective dichotomy). Years of drinking wine amongst highly trained and novice palates has taught me that if we taste wine in blind lots (without placing a thumb on the scale by serving wines that clearly are not within a drinking window or of dramatically different varietals/profiles within that lot)... making the assumption that the group generally likes red or white wine depending on the flight... the majority of the people tasting the wines will pick out the best bottle. Whether you are observing subjective or objective factors... I find that there are undeniable aspects of a good wine that are equally perceivable to both trained and untrained palates.

I have put this theory to the test so many different times with the same results. Some may prefer Pinot over Cabernet... or Syrah etc. Some may be wowed by higher residual sugar.. although these people when tasting say Cabernet with reasonable or lower residual sugars still can identify the best cabernet in a flight (assuming that you can structure a flight where there is a perceivable best bottle). If the flight is five extremely premium great bottles with distinctions such as bench land vs. mountain vs. Beckstoffer vs. Stags Leap ... now you are really getting a better fix on personal palate. Similarly, if the flight is Pinot vs. Cab. vs. Syrah vs. Barolo vs. Sangiovese ... now you are determining personal taste.

I often find people bashful to discuss wine because they don't feel they have the training or vocabulary to discern... but good wine is actually broadly identifiable as good... bad wine is equally easily identified... without going into specific identifiable reasoning or details. It is simply how we identify what is in the glass in front of us!

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