Every industry has their own methods for defining and measuring quality. Watch enthusiasts talk about the accuracy of their time-pieces, the materials used and the sort of movement that acts as the beating heart of the instrument. Bespoke clothes are highly valued for the quality of the material, the cut, the fit and the finishing touches which vary from tailor to tailor.
The famous BLIC method
Wine is a little different, as we analyse quality based on what we can smell and taste; there´s an element of human fallibility in every assessment. That assessment is focused around BLIC; Balance, Length, Intensity and Complexity. Whilst an important consideration, and the bedrock of qualitative assessment, it´s also vastly over emphasised when it comes to our enjoyment of wine.
Did it BLIC or did it move you?
Have a think about the last wine that you really enjoyed. Did it have all the attributes described above? Was it impeccably balanced? Was the finish effortlessly long? Did the flavours practically explode on your palate? Was it a shifting, complex experience? Perhaps it was; after all, many of the world’s great wines are also objectively very high quality. However, many of the greatest drinking experiences come from wines that are a little less polished, a little rougher around the edges. Often they come bundled with other non-tangible concepts; production size, specific ways of managing viticulture, stories that help us relate to the finished product. This is the aesthetic appreciation of wine and, I would argue, the most important consideration when it comes to enjoying the glass in front of you.
Easing into time
Unlike quality, aesthetics are mostly subjective; they ultimately boil down to an appreciation of beauty in the world. Last week I opened a bottle of wine that had been given to me as a present from a friend returning from a visit to Italy; a simple, inexpensive Bardolino Classico. It was a warm, humid day and the working schedule had far outstretched my patience. By the time it came to easing myself into a sliver of “me” time, the glass of wine was long overdue and I didn´t even wait for the cherry-coloured, transparent liquid in front of me to warm up.
Balm for the soul
The first sip was a balm for the soul; all zippy acidity, earthy raspberries, violets and touches of something sappy and herbal. A wine that whispers to you instead of shouts, so no intensity to speak of, no mind-bending complexity, and not even a particularly long finish. Yet in that moment, I don´t think that another wine could have made me happier; this beautiful little Bardolino was so comfortably itself, it instantly put me at ease with the world.
In a competition, particularly if judged against neighbouring juggernauts from Valpolicella, this would have scored rather poorly. Yet given its own time and space, this pure-fruited little gem lit up the room. Objectively, I would have struggled to give it much more than an 88/100, which in modern systems places it firmly in the “average” camp. Aesthetically, I adored it. It spoke to me in a way that many grander and more expensive wines simply don´t.
Happiness instead of scores
That´s not to say quality isn´t important, it absolutely is, but should it be the first consideration as a consumer? I´d say no; finding a wine that puts a smile on your face is far more important, regardless of its quality. It doesn´t matter if that´s a ripe, powerful, oaky Cabernet Sauvignon from the sun-soaked vineyards of Napa Valley or a spicy, herbal Cabernet Franc from Saumur-Champigny. Finding wines that make you happy is what it´s all about. Prioritise that ahead of chasing scores and your wine world will instantly be a far brighter, more delicious place.