I’ve never been much for top wine lists – although I will admit to having been impressed by them, sometimes. Though they can be good for helping you spot wome great bottles you don’t know about, they also tend to work on a simplistic, linear principle of best to worst. Which has little to do with the way we taste wine, it seems to me.
What set me off on this train of thought is the October 15 issue of Wine Spectator, which features a cover story on “Australia’s Best Wines: 25 Benchmarks every wine lover should taste”. (You can read it here, if you’re a WS subscriber). The introduction shows the kind of hubris and trophy-hunting spirit that presides over so many of these lists: “The following pages identify the 25 wines you should know if you’re serious about Australia.”
Problem is, a lot of those wines cost over 200, even 300$ a bottle: excuse me while I take out a second mortgage, to avoid looking un-serious about Australia. Good grief.
Since I’m in a sarcastic mood, I feel like saying that the best way to know what Australian wine is all about could be to taste Yellow Tail and Wolf Blass Yellow Label. (Although that says more about the industry than about wine and the vineyard’s actual character). But beyond silly jokes, I think you should be able to be “serious about Australia” or anywhere else, for that matter, without having to drink a series of trophy wines. Can you “be serious about Bordeaux” without drinking all the first growths? Of course. So why create this kind of supposedly definite and absolute list in a if-you-haven’t-done-this-you’re-just-not-with-it-dude spirit?
In that sense, I have more appreciation for the approach found in Decanter’s World Wine Awards, who concentrate on creating standards and seeing how many wines submitted actually fit the standards for a bronze, silver or gold medal. Then, of course, you get regional and international trophy winners, which get top scores in their categories, but even those are elected through group tastings and consensus: the top 25 Aussie wines list was drawn up by one guy. And the word “best” is generally replaced by the word “favorite”. Which is really more relevant – to me at least.
No single palate, no matter how well trained, no matter how exhaustively it has tasted wines from a particular place, can draw up such a list and call it “definite”. It can be an enlightened list, including lots of fantastic wines. But THE list? No way. When it’s a matter of taste, who says my tasting impressions aren’t as “definite” as the next guy’s?
I’m reminded of a quote attributed to Keith Richards, about the Rolling Stones being the greatest rock and roll band in the world. Sometimes we are, he said (I’m paraphrasing, obviously), but other times, the best rock band in the world may be these unknown kids playing in a garage somewhere.
Translate that back into wine, and it means that a cool glass of light, slightly fizzy vinho verde might be the absolute best thing you could drink on a hot July evening where a glass of Château Latour would feel heavy and unpleasant. There are wines for every occasion, and there is a time and a place for everything. So what’s your favorite wine today?