The Difference Between What You Like and What's Good

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While riding a northbound train last week, I was struck by the conductor's judicious use of his P.A. privileges. He pointed out the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo. He piped up again when we rolled past Lyndon B. Johnson's alma mater. And he made sure everybody knew the train was traveling past Taylor Café, Vencil Mares' legendary barbecue shack. I thought it was terrific that Amtrak accorded the same significance to smoked brisket as a former president, and Tweeted so.

A response came back from @dessertfortwo: "I think Taylor Cafe is worth it! It's the best BBQ I've ever had! Am I wrong?"

Most food lovers would counsel there is no wrong when it comes to favorites. If you like your tuna fish topped with whipped cream and curry powder, by golly, that's the right way for you to make your sandwich. Inclusive eaters believe "best" is subjective: It's an argument I've occasionally used when called upon to defend my reviews and opinions.

But in his recent book, Reading Between the Wines, wine importer Terry Theise argues his industry hasn't been well served by such populist impulses. Theise doesn't begrudge drinkers the right to like whatever swill they prefer, but chastises fellow professionals for not correcting less experienced drinkers when they wrongly swoon over a corked bottle or pair Barolo with oysters.

Theise draws an analogy from baseball: It's fine if your favorite player's a 42-year-old journeyman who spends most of the season on the disabled list. But arguing he's a better player than Albert Pujols is preposterous.

While Theise is writing about wine, much of his book is really about the restoration of wonder. He believes promiscuous declarations of "best this" and "best that" deny drinkers the opportunity to discover wines that are technically better and, in turn, far more rewarding.

Theise acknowledges the wine lovers who espouse a "no rules" philosophy are well-meaning: They assume amateurs will eventually transfer their enthusiasm for oak-powdered Chardonnay to a gorgeously crafted German Riesling. But it's just as likely the drinker will stick to his grocery store wine, wondering why fancy grape juice commands so much money and attention.

So back to @dessertfortwo: Not knowing what other barbecue you've eaten, I have no idea whether it's the best barbecue you've ever had. But I know many serious barbecue aficionados don't consider it the best barbecue they've ever had (although I liked the brisket I ate there.) Perhaps its crust, or its flavor, or its fattiness didn't measure up to their standards. Are you wrong? To find out, you'll probably have to read about pit smoking, get to know barbecue devotees and eat a ton more meat. In other words, you'll have to delve into the learning and befriending and enjoying that makes food fascinating. Have fun.

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Worzel Gummidge
Worzel Gummidge

Wine evaluation is not 'all subjective', although I can understand someone making the ill-informed, but wholly subjective judgment, that it was.

Jon Daniel
Jon Daniel

Dear typical thick skulled Dallas diners. What HR is trying to tell you is this: Just because you like some overpriced, over-hyped, glitzy place with mediocre food...it doesn't make it "good", it just means YOU like it. And if you do like it, more power to you. You are free to spend your money on overpriced, over-hyped, glitzy place with mediocre food. Your defensiveness is understandable and kind of pathetic.

cynical old bastard
cynical old bastard

Taylor Cafe serves good BBQ. On a typical day it's not a top of the heap joint. But on one magical day a couple of years back I had the best brisket there that I've ever had in my life. And, imho, Taylor Cafe consistently serves up better Q than the tourist place at the top of the hill.

Nick
Nick

His analogy to baseball is a bit of a stretch... baseball has statistics (facts) on which one can base an argument... wine has nothing of the sort... it is entirely subjective.

luniz
luniz

That's just it. It's not entirely subjective. If the brisket is overcooked to 220 degrees, and the ideal is 180 or 190, that's not subjective. If the person subjectively "loves" place A that routinely overcooks the brisket, but admits that the correctly cooked brisket at B is better without consideration for anything else, then place A is not really "better".

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