It appears that in almost every class at the university I am asked one overriding question: "How can I tell a good from bad bottle of wine?"




This is a question that any wine person who has been selling wine, like myself, for more than 40 years has a tough time answering. It might, on the surface, seem like a pretty easy question to answer, but I do have a tough time answering this single question and here is why: Wines are tasted in an individual manner. This means that wines are so subjective in taste, they are almost impossible to qualify.




At the Newport Seafood and Wine Festival, arguably one of the nation's top commercial wine judgings, we judges can sometimes never agree on a glass of wine sitting in front of us. I might think the wine too fruity and the next judge might find the wine not fruity enough! Not enough oak, too much oak, too light on the palate, too heavy &

the disagreements can go on and on. The question of good and bad is relative, for sure, but there are some sound guidelines to think about.




1. Pathogenic problems &

Just like a plate of seafood placed in front of us that might smell suspect, the same goes with wine. I use the same criteria with wine as I do food. If the wine has an "off"




flavor or a set (more than one) of "off" flavors, this can signal that the wine is going "off."




Vinegar smell, sulfur smells or a bacterial smell can toss up as red flags. If this happens, we should taste the wine again to see if maybe it might not be our snooter or palate that just is not working well.




Many times, if fighting a cold or virus, our physiological balance may be a bit tweaked and it might be the taster, not the vino. Emotional problems can also change our palate receptors and this can be a huge problem. I remember a judge at a very prestigious wine judging fair who was having boyfriend problems and everything she tasted ended up "bitter" to her, regardless what she was tasting. This judging was very tough for me to get through.




2. Try consensus &

Sometimes, it helps to get another person's opinion if the wine seems not to be up to par. I do this quite a bit at the Wine Cellar, especially if I feel that my tasting tools just aren't there. Deferring to another taster sometimes is very special for guidance in wine tasting.




I know that I have been sometimes very wrong on a wine and been put back on the track by three or four other folks who have it right. This is sometimes ego shattering for a supposed Wine Guy, but it works and ends up a very fine tool for evaluation. In fact, last week I tasted a wine that I thought was pretty "off," but after being asked by the supplier to taste the wine again after it had been open for a few hours, I got the point.




3. Individuality &

If you really like a wine or do not like a wine, this is really okay! There are wines out there, even very expensive wines, that are simply not very tasty. Some wines need more age, others have been aged too long and yet others might be too sweet or too dry for you.




Remember, taste preferences are never about bad wine. A wine can be perfectly fine and well-made, but not to one's liking. We sometimes equate bad or good because of preference; this is cheating your own palate as well as the winemaker's skill. We have to make a clear distinction between what we like and what appears to be bad wine. I know this seems like splitting hairs, but it really is not. I like seafood, you may not, but this never indicates that seafood, however prepared, is bad!




Well, that's about the only way I can answer this tough one! See you next week!