Over at Vinography, there is a fantastic discussion about the places of objectivity and subjectivity in wine critiques. There are a lot of great points made in both the article and the comments. Writing like this combined with the great reader comments is what makes Vinography one of the best wine blogs around.
The appreciation of beauty is ultimately an emotional, subjective act, but the detailed and complete apprehension of beauty, especially in its complex forms such as music, art, and wine requires a body of knowledge and a set of objective observations. The two go hand in hand. Appreciation without knowledge may be pleasurable, but it is shallow. Apprehension without appreciation may be detailed, but it ignores our humanity and the truth of emotion.
We look to critics not just to analyze, but to make aesthetic judgments, and their assessments are necessarily born of the human condition: we have both perceptions and emotions, and we can no more divorce the two than we can give up our humanity. The real question is whose perceptions and emotions do we trust?
For what it is worth, I agree with Alder. Without the subjective opinions of critics there really is no criticism. The trick is to find critics that are both knowledgeable and whose opinions run along the same lines as yours. Not a good way to pick your news sources, but imperative with critiques.
With wine, I know that Andrea Robinson thinks that Riesling is the greatest white grape there is, and while a lot of wine people look down on it, I agree with Ms. Robinson. I also know that Robert Parker loves clean, big, very high alcohol wines, and while I do too sometimes, I also love old-style “funky” Old World wines, so I take his reviews of those for what they are.
As a story I posted a while back shows, despite the subjectivity of the biggest wine critics out there, they still manage to be very consistent when compared to one another. If they only stuck to quantifiable facts, what would be the point of having more than one of them, much less the thousands of dorks like me babbling about wine all over these Interwebs?