Although the subject of my writing today is on whisky, the same thoughts apply to wine reviews as well. The beverage is different but the prejudices, influences and considerations remain the same; food for thought.
Taste is subjective; remember the saying “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure”? My own opinions as to preference will vary within reason depending on my mood. I suggest treating these articles as a curiosity and entertainment, not as gospel. I read some of the reviews to see how the writer’s opinions may compare to my own. For the article to have any kind of validity, the author needs to reveal what selections were sampled and how that list was determined.
Before assessing the writer’s results, you need to be aware of any bias the person may have. If comparing peated whisky with non-peated whisky, the writer may allow a personal bias of whether they are a fan of the smokiness of peat be an influence. On the other hand, if a group of whiskies were being ranked based on the sweetness and/or peatiness, without comment as to personal preference, that can be valuable to a reader in matching their personal preferences.
Double-blind tastings where the reviewer is unaware of what whiskies are being sampled, as well as the order in which they are presented is best. That way personal prejudice may be better avoided. For example, Zach Johnston of uproxx.com was quoted during his review, Scotch Whiskies Tasted ‘Double-Blind’ And Power Ranked, “I had no idea what this was (Johnnie Walker Blue Label). I do feel that had I known it was in the lineup, I’d had sussed it out and ranked it higher. So, this is a pretty good example of how double blinds really push the envelope.” This is a good example of how a whisky’s reputation or price point can bias opinion on how good a whisky is.
Should price be a consideration? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. In the example above, Johnnie Walker Blue was ranked 6th of the 8 whiskies tasted. It carries a price tag in excess of $300. The 5 whiskies ranked higher ranged from $100 to slightly under $300. However, the whisky that ranked last was also by far the least expensive, priced at under $85.
It is important to make sure that the reviewer is comparing apples to apples. It hardly seems fair to compare a simple 10-year-old malt with a price point in the $80 range with a 25-year-old that was aged in an ex-bourbon or ex-sherry cask, in the $250 and up price range. After all, for a difference of $200 or more, there should be a differentiating factor, otherwise why would you pay the extra money?
Finally, if the reviewer is from outside of Canada, the selection list isn’t often completely relevant. Many of the whiskies are often not available to try. Therefore, from a practical standpoint, a comparison or ranking of a good sampling of whiskies may be reduced to a comparison of only 2 or 3, depending on accessibility.
However, after all is said and done, reviews do provide a new perspective for consideration and thought.