Wine terms: Good and bad and why they don’t matter

If you like chardonnay, it's good wine. If you don't like it, it's bad. So what's the middle ground? Regular visitors here may have noticed that the Wine Curmudgeon doesn ?t label wines as good or bad. Instead, I try to describe the flavors and suggest pairings. The adjectives I use, like well-made or professionally made or classic, are objective – ? they should be accurate regardless of who is writing them.

This doesn ?t mean that I don ?t have opinions, of course (in what may be the wine understatement of the year). Rather, it ?s that good and bad are subjective, and don ?t help anyone understand wine. What I think of as good ?- a subtle yet powerful Puligny Montrachet from Sauzet, for example – ? others might consider bad. They might prefer the oak and vanilla flavors of classic Napa chardonnay, which I think tastes like drinking a baseball bat.

This is also why scores are so useless; they ?re just extensions of good and bad. The writer who gives an octopus inky, 16.5 percent alcohol shiraz a 93 says more about his or her palate than the quality of the wine. If I did scores, the same wine could get a 78 for the same reasons.

After the jump, a look at why good and bad don ?t apply to wine, using one of the best-made wines I ?ve ever had as an example.

The Chalk Hill Pinot Gris North Slope 2006 (about $40), from a winery with an excellent reputation, is one of the most impressively made wines I ?ve ever tasted. There is not a note out of place. Winemaker Jordan Fiorentini apparently made this wine exactly as she wanted ? a rich, concentrated, oaky, alcoholic pinot gris that has almost nothing in common with any other style of pinot gris or pinot grigio. One of the wine magazines, in fact, called a previous vintage the ?future of upscale California PG. ?

And it didn ?t do anything for me. I thought it was too heavy and too difficult to drink. I missed the apricot fruit, which shows up when you smell the wine and then vanishes beneath all of the other stuff. The wine was too full-bodied to drink by itself, and it needed a cream-based sauce that could stand up to it. And I don ?t eat that kind of food much any more.

Yet it ?s not ?bad. ? There are no discernable flaws, no mistakes that mar the wine. It ?s not oxidized or out of balance or reeking of volatile acidity. So how can I review the wine — or give it a score — that implies it ?s bad? I can ?t. In fact, if I gave scores, it would be in the low 90s, and this for a wine I didn ?t enjoy. If that doesn ?t point out the fallacy of scores, I don ?t know what does.

So all I can do is explain what I tasted, and offer my thoughts, and let you make up your own mind. In fact, when I tasted this wine last week, there were several other people there who wondered what I was carrying on about. One person even ventured that it was good, and she particularly liked the rich, concentrated, oaky style.

Which is, of course, what makes wine so much fun.

For more on wine scores, wine reviewing, and wine criticism, see these posts: