26 May 2015
BLIND LEADING THE BLIND
Masked wine and vintner gender:
the pits of anthropomorphism,
presumption and paranoia
by PHILIP WHITE
Pay a moment to a geniune winetaster's dilemma.
We have a lot of discussion about the ethics of tasting wines unmasked and whether such products can be professionally and fairly appraised by a taster who knows their identity.
Those who insist all wine should be evaluated blind seem to expect that even a wine judge worth their salt can get right down to describing the size of the tannin in the tail of a drink without once suspecting what it was or who made it. That's like taking all the badges off, say, a new Jaguar before delivering it to the motoring writer who's then expected to drive it around for a week and appraise it without once suspecting it's a Jaguar.
Lack of badging does nothing to obscure a very strong brand: obviously Kombi
But as if to test my theory to the limit, here I have a bottle of red wine with no identifying feature at all. Inside the bottle or out. Which is making me reconsider the templates folks like me apply when we analyse and describe.
Like where do you start?
First, I find myself wondering what sort of car he drives. I'm being gender specific, because I'm confident that this wine was made by a male person. It's about the way their blend of hormones and their environment influence their very own aroma and flavour receptors and what they're gonna pay the workers ... all things which inevitably have their influence over what ends up in the bottle.
Then they wallow awhile in the shiny gastroporn of their industry and the confidence gene goes up a bit higher and suddenly they've perished but we're all expected to pay $179.99-$403:99 a bottle.
Or, you know. Something reasonable above $450 but you fully appreciate the effort we go to Philip.
Like these are wines of place.
There are lot of these wines out there. Dial up the oak; pay. Dial up the fruit: try not to pay until just after you're dead; dial up the designer. Dial up the designer. Dial up the designer.
It's cold outside on this ironstone shoulder but at least I live in a place I revere. I get ironstorms. Go design an ironstorm. Kerrannngkt-shooooosh! There are wines made in this. And then there are wines made like this. Without any this.
Wines like this make me think of men who drive Rolls Royces with bald tyres. Porsches with Volksy engines. Porsches with their own pet men.
It has sophistry, which means its vendors are polishing their rocket. Or their Bentley, or whatever it is. Motorsport. All that frockin' up.
There are a lot of these wines out there.
Then the guilts spill in and I start wondering if it was made by a female person. I'm not a reliable mathematical model but I reckon about half the people out there fit this template and quite a lot of 'em make wine.
At the watershed of the 'seventies and 'eighties, when women began to graduate from Roseworthy with winemaking tickets, editors would send the young White out to interview them as if the flavours would be different. They also liked the photographs of the young lady winemaker on the gantry, or halfway up the ladder.
Like when you photograph a male winemaker you make him stand there holding a glass at the end of his arm's reach and stare at it, transfixed like a zombie. But female winemakers need to pose like Betty Grable on the aluminium ladder or lean deep and low over a bunghole.
Maybe the person who made this tragic compromise of a drink is indeed a female but one who did it to the orders of a male boss. I try to keep up with my industrial psychology papers and I've been chewing up every morsel published about Imposter's Syndrome for forty years and I reckon that amongst the winemakers this disease is much more intensively spread through the males who pump out wines like this.
So this wine could have been made like this by a person without a penis and no particular interest in having one but a firmly vested interest in pleasing a person who pretty obviously has one but deserves no special attention at all for fitting that appellation. And thus quite deservedly suffers Imposter's Syndrome.
Sometimes during the last five glasses - big ones; one left - I thought this might have been made in or from Langhorne Creek. It has that typical Langhorne Creek Wolf Blass Bilyara Nuriootpa regionality about it. Don't ask me what it is: it could be Cabernet. It could be Shiraz. It could be a blend of the two. It might have some Merlot in it. How could anybody tell?
Go back Philip. You'd better write some descriptors. But the damn bottle has no label.
Now let's think about this a minute. On the one hand, you got a bloke worrying about whether this ordinary booze was made by a male or a female. Something he doesn't usually think about.
Old shibboleths. Fading phantoms. Legals.
Then he's worried about how many decades of expediture and heartbreak it took to get the thing into bottle like this.
And then they send it to the very bloke they're hoping will lift their poor arse somehow and get them through all this with a bit of a write-up and they don't put a label on the bottle. No trade mark; nothing. Not even a scrawl of white texta.
I get these a lot. Like not every day but two or three a month. And somehow the Stalinist blank of the unbranded bottle seems more powerful than most wines of similar quality which have been blessed with that other equally restrictive luxury of labels.
Which leads us the quality of the drink. Can we talk?
Why do so many of these unlabelled tasting samples taste the same. Like same maker. Same publisher. Similar quality. Same amount of product in the sales manager's hair. And there you are, wondering that if you review it harshly you might be sexist.
Or worse, you have a crush on the maker who's not permitted to fraternise lest her afterhours racket is exposed and you go round to her joint unannounced to clear the air and you discover her girlfriend calls her Brad.
I dunno. They probly got a Fiano, people like that.
And now I'm the one with the Imposter's Syndrome.