So the other day I’m walking along East Street on the way to the station. It’s cold, dark and it’s 6.35am or so. And I look round, quite deliberately, to the main door of a converted church – it’s split into flats – and see a bloke just standing there outside the door. If the hour were not so early he would have been menacing (menaces don’t get up in the morning; the menaces are all in bed at 6.35am)… As it stood, it was just something that impressed itself onto the thoughts of my day. Which then elaborated. Why did I turn round? I almost had to look behind me. Why did I turn? What did I sense?
I think I smelled him.
Just under a year ago my friend and employer Nice Guy Eddie rather brilliantly dug himself into a hole with the Far Eastern representative of one of Bordeaux’s most important estates. In relating the story of Nice Guy Eddie’s crash and burn I bettered –spectacularly so – this hole-digging with an Australian wine critic/expert/consultant who, whilst putting me firmly in my place, explained that much of racism is about fear of the unfamiliar and, much as you and I might not think so, humans can smell fear.
Friends, relatives, acquaintances often say to me: “Well, I couldn’t tell the difference, could I?”
So what’s the point here?
I tasted pretty much all of the 2011 Bordeaux vintage last week. The official write up is here (and there is more to come on this and these). I had to score the wines out of twenty. I struggle with scoring but can do it once I’m calibrated.
Now I, of course, know exactly what I’m doing and when I give 2011 Pichon-Baron 17 points then 17 points is the correct score. And yes: it’s better than 2011 Grand-Puy-Lacoste, which is better than 2011 Lynch-Bages. Because I say so. And I’m right. Which is the first rule of tasting: trust your judgement.
But my scores don’t really, as far as I’m aware, sell much wine.
My mother’s dog is called Basil. Aged, and not the sharpest tool in the box in the first place, his nose nonetheless works better than mine, partly on account of his willingness to put it into places that I wouldn’t. In theory, Basil can or could pick out the pencil-lead nose of Lafite better than me. And he’ll have lots more registered smells to compare it with.
And, I think this is the point of this wandering drabble: the elite of this business and many of the followers and collectors and connoisseurs and press et cetera et cetera still attempt, successfully or otherwise, to define a wine by a number. A ****ing number.
Here’s my note on 2005 Margaux from barrel. This might be the greatest wine I’ve ever tasted: