In every profession and endeavor there comes a point when it’s time to quit. In most cases, physical abilities or endurance wane despite a wealth of experience, knowledge and competence. In some instances, sadly, it is the other way around. In other cases, the passion fades and there is nothing to drive one forward. Sometimes, the going simply gets too tough.
The inevitable senescence of our bodies forces many to detach themselves from the professional activities which were the embodiment of their identities.
Surgeons, pilots and others with the lives of numerous people in their hands come immediately to mind as professions subject to mandatory retirement rules. While there is no mandatory age of retirement for doctors, there exist health, competence and performance- based criteria which guide the often difficult and painful decision.
Wine writing – wine assessment, to be more precise – is also a profession in which the performance and reliability of the individual is subject to age-related physiological changes and limitations. Certainly, no lives are at stake, but the critic is providing a consumer service.
With age, our senses fail or lose acuity for a number of reasons. Olfactory and gustatory acuity diminish with age. This happens at different rates and to different degrees in individuals and there is an exception to every rule. Most often, this decline in sensory acuity is attributable to changes in the functioning and number of taste buds and olfactory receptors. In a small portion of those with olfactory loss, the changes may be an early harbinger of dementia.
At the age of 39, I hope that these changes are a long way down the road for me. However, I expect that they will come. As an epicure, I shudder a little at the thought.
Presuming that in 20 or 30 years I am still tasting and writing about wine, the question recently came to my mind: Will I know when its time to hang it up?
The argument has been made that an organoleptic assessor with sensory acuity far greater than the average person is not serving the reader and their opinions are not relevant. The same can be said of a reviewer or critic whose sensory abilities are waning.
So, the next question also begs asking: Should there be retirement guidelines for wine critics?
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