The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ Buying premium wine – just a harmless discussion ~ Saturday, November 12th, 2011
For most wine lovers, and especially collectors, the urge to purchase wines based on the scores they receive—such as from yours truly—sometimes has a tendency to eclipse personal tastes. I’ll put it another way. Say you, as a collector, are interested in buying a case of premium Napa Cabernet, and you like to follow the scores of a particular wine critic. You go the store and spot a premium Napa Cabernet you have tasted (i.e. from another vintage) in the past, one that you very much enjoyed. But still, you take out your smartphone just to check how your favourite critic rated it. To your surprise, the critic awarded it a low score. But you personally liked what you’d tasted from this specific winery in the past. What do you do? Do you still buy the wine, or do you select something else?
An unending quandary with wine evaluation. We all have different opinions, from amateur wine lovers and serious collectors to professional wine instructors and their more critique-oriented counterparts. But whose opinion is the right one? In the above scenario, is the critics’ greater than the collector? Hard to tell. Personally, I have most often deferred to the competency of the critic, assuming he or she knows how to taste wine, for there are a host of ‘critics’ who haven’t the slightest clue. A growing concern with Internet blogs and smartphone apps. Everyone’s a critic, and most of them are not very competent, it seems.
But collectors tend to be of a different breed when compared to the more causal wine shopper. Chances are, they’ve tasted many fine wines in their time, and have developed a reasonable idea as to which wines suit their palate and which ones do not. That is why, in the scenario mentioned above, a low score from a wine critic—even a seasoned professional—should not prevent the collector from purchasing a case of a specific premium Napa Cabernet. Granted, it might be wise to purchase just a single bottle before committing to an entire box; but the argument still stands. In this situation, what need is there of a professional critic, let alone an incompetent one, if the collector is comfortable with what he or she wants?
And no, I’m not trying to put my self out of business. But I do strongly believe in the notion of flexibility when it comes to collectors’ adherence of the opinions of experienced wine commentators. Sometimes, a low score should not simply mean, “don’t buy this wine.” Alternatively, it can simply mean, “not to my taste,” or “overpriced for its type.” Of course, I am not including wines that I have scored low on account of a specific fault I might have detected when tasting it. Those types of wines I would advise collectors to never buy! So there, I might be dictating tastes, but at least I’m aware that they’re one in seven billion … and counting.