Sierra missed, parte dos! A blind tasting of Sierra Carche

Remember the saga of Sierra Carche? Here’s a reminder from our earlier coverage: “What happens when a reviewer tastes a good bottle, but some consumers buy what appears to be a completely different product? Think it couldn’t happen? Guess again and behold the saga of Sierra Carche 2005.”

robert_kenneyWell, last week I met that consumer, Robert Kenney (right), whose dogged pursuit of Jay Miller popped the cork on this saga. Kenney purchased 48 bottles of Sierra Carche and has opened 18 of them, “hoping for a good one” but instead has found Jay Miller’s term “undrinkable” a more apt descriptor. I joined Kenney and a dozen other tasters for a blind tasting organized by Daniel Posner, a partner in the wine store, Grapes The Wine Co. in White Plains, NY.

Posner greeted the tasters in his apron as he pulled burgers off the grill outside the store. But his real work had happened well before the tasting even started, coordinating the lineup. He managed to find four bottles of Sierra Carche from two different lots of the wine (astute readers may recall mention of a third lot, #7033, but bottles from that small lot/bottling proved elusive). Posner selected similar wines, including wines rated 93 – 99 by Jay Miller at the Wine Advocate ranging in price from $6 to $150.

It was the worst tasting I have ever attended. Although the burgers and company were good, the wines were abysmal. I’ll spare you the play-by-play (if you want it, see Dale Williams’ funny account–I was sitting next to Dale). Suffice it to say, among the wines, there was one note that kept recurring: “Nasty, VA meets green pepper with a dash of jalepeno overlaying a bed of silage.” Other terms bandied about included burnt rubber, bacterial issues, fermenting/rotting hay, roadkill, and roadkill with burning rubber that ends up in a hog “lagoon.”

Here is the complete lineup:
#1 2005 Sierra Carche (lot 8114) WA 96
#2 2005 Espectacle (Monsant) – about $150 (unrated, but 2004 was WA 99, 2006 WA 96)
#3 2004 Pico Madama WA 93
#4 2008 Edgbaston Pepper Pot (South Africa), $14, unrated
#5 2005 Sierra Carche (lot 8114) WA 96
#6 2005 Pasanau (El Vell Coster) Priorat WA 97
#7 2005 Sierra Carche (lot 8114) WA 96
#8 2005 Mollydooker Carnival of Love WA 99 (17% alcohol)
#9 2007 Emilio Moro, Resalso (Ribera del Duero) WA 90
#10 2007 A1 Mouvedre $12 unrated
#11 2007 Panarroz (Jumilla) $6 (Unrated by JM, but RP gave 2003-2006 all WA 90)
#12 2008 Oriol (Emporda) $12 unrated
#13 2001 Clos Fonta (Priorat) WA 94
#14 2005 Sierra Carche (lot 8113) WA 96
2005 Pico Madama (corked, not served) WA 95+

carche_madama_front Someone in the group speculated that the 2004 Pico Madama was the same wine as the 2005 Sierra Carche, both from the same importer. (Marc Clinard of the Well Oiled Wine Co, the importer, was planning on attending the tasting but canceled two days prior with a back injury.)
madama_carche_smThe labels are similar as the photo shows (click to enlarge back labels). And retailer Gary Vaynerchuk had a bad experience with the 04 Pico Madama on camera (around 14:12), dumping it out and dropping his glass on the table out of frustration. In our tasting, the 04 Pico Madama was not quite as bad and neither wine appeared heat damaged; but neither wine was great and the Sierra Carche exhibited consistently bad notes with a surprising green character. There was something possibly bacteriological in the Panarroz, the worst wine of the day.

The importer’s laboratory analysis of the various lots of Sierra Carche is still pending. Parker tasted one bottle of lot 8114 in mid-August and gave it a score of 90; Miller, another taster, and Mrs. Parker also tasted the bottle and scored it 91, 92, and 93 points, respectively. He also wrote of possibly tasting more bottles on his video blog. In a summary statement, in mid-August, he also wrote that with “over 300,000 wines tasted….bait and switch tactics MAY have happened a maximum 20 times…in reality a lot less I suspect…we only taste with conscientious people in the wine trade.”

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15 Responses to “Sierra missed, parte dos! A blind tasting of Sierra Carche”

  1. Scores are meaningless to me, what do wines TASTE like? Not inflated advertising (Wine Spectator??) driven scores given by ego driven “writers?”

    Thanks, I’ll imagine what Gary has to say-’cause I listen to him regardless of Parker’s ego driven fluff. I know that fluff drives the market, but to me, it’s fluff all the same. Drink-eat, smile-love… it’s all about the palate!

  2. Yikes — rough tasting! Was there any common denominator in the wines beyond general style? Are there any lessons consumers can draw from your misfortune?

  3. Very interesting blog and Dale Williams’ account is a hoot. I also feel vindicated for dumping the bottle of Panarroz I tried a few months ago after drinking half a glass. Tasted like extremely alcoholic cough syrup. I generally like Spanish wine, but this was a serious disappointment.

  4. Even though this was a blind tasting, everyone went in under the expectation that there should be wines which taste horrid, no? One could look at it in the way that prior expectations impacted the negative result. Of course, you could also view it as low expectations met by an even lower result. What are your thoughts on our expectations effect on tasting results?

  5. MCB – for starters, what do you think of Warren’s conclusion about points?

    Cathy – yes, the Panarroz was the worst wine of the day; severely flawed. Several people there had other experience with the wine and said it wasn’t representative.

    Dylan – I did not go in to the tasting of 14 wines thinking they would all be bad. It was double blind (meaning nobody knew which wines were in the lineup) and none of the tasters knew even how many bottles of Sierra Carche were in the tasting. But, yes, I do think that expectations factor into tasting experiences. Blind tasting, while it has other drawbacks, at least removes label bias.

  6. Tyler, I’d completely agree with Warren’s conclusion about points — they tell you nothing about how a wine is going to taste. I’ve thought that for a long time. I find tasting notes much more useful, and I really appreciated Dale’s evaluations of the various wines.

    But this group as a whole seems so remarkably bad, and I’m wondering if there’s any factor linking them that might explain their joint badness. An importer who isn’t storing the wines at the proper temperature? Serious quality control issues with Spanish wines? Or have the winemakers been emboldened by their high WA scores to bottle crap and sell it under the same label?

    I’m starting to suspect it’s the last option, which is unfortunate. Panarroz Jumilla used to be one of our go-to cheap reds, but the last bottle we bought was ghastly. Not quite as bad as what Dale described, but more along the lines of Cathy’s “extremely alcoholic cough syrup” descriptor.

  7. MCB,

    I think you draw an interesting conclusion…

    Parkerized, or dare I say, “Millerized” wines is a hot topic in the wine business. One thing that was clear from this tasting is that the tasters on that day did not care for the Parkerized or Millerized wines.

    Blind tasting is very revealing. I wish Jay Miller would try it for his reviews and we might see some more “honest” reviews, as bias, especially based on these wines at Sierra Carche tasting, has reared its ugly head in a bad way.

    I wish that Robert Parker had tasted Sierra Carche in a similar fashion that we did last week. Then maybe his wife may not have scored it 93 points.

    I await his promised video blog tasting this wine.

  8. I bought a bottle of Pannoz 07, honestly one of the roughest wine experiences of my life.

  9. A word or two about points and about tasting bias.

    Points, as everyone agrees, tell you nothing about the character of a wine. Points do tell you how much an individual taster liked a wine relative to other wines that taster has experienced and rated.

    So, when Daniel Posner put together a tasting of wines that someone (all WA in this case) has rated up to 95 points, we can all agree that Daniel has chosen wines that the reviewer likes and is willing to bet his reputation on.

    That brings us back to the question of bias. Blind tasting eliminates, as Dr. V has said, label bias. I think we need to hear more from Mr. Posner and from Dr. V. about the potential for “expectation bias”. How was the tasting described in advance? What expectations did the tasters bring to the table?

    What I find missing from this conversation is a longer discussion of conclusions.

    –Was the tasting a fair measure of all the wines?

    –If so, what conclusions are to be drawn about the tasting acuity of those who first reviewed the wines in print?

    –Can any conclusions be drawn about bait and switch across a broad spectrum of the wine market or about any particular segment of it?

    –What results would be seen if this same group of tasters were presented with a high ranking group of northern Rhones from the same producer and told that same introductory information as happened with the Sierra Carche tasting?

    –Dr. V wishes that RP has tasted Sierra Carche in a similar fashion. I wish that all writing about wines done for publications like WA, WS, WE, CGCW, Tanzer, QRV were all done blind. Such tactics would not eliminate the bait and switch cheating by producers. For that we need better labelling laws. But, they would eliminate the potential for label bias–not that I believe it would eliminate it all simply because there appear to be reviewers who, in my opinion, overrate the areas they cover.

    –Finally, I come to the question of reviewers only tasting samples that are provided to them and never tasting wines that are purchased in stores. Assuming good handling in reputable stores, the best way to taste wines that the consumer is going to buy is to buy them yourself. Even if one is not going to do that with all wines tasted, it is very useful to do it with a broad sample, including duplicates of wine samples sent to the publication. Something is going wrong in the system, and all writers, from Dr. V. and Gary V. to the giants like WA and WS need to take precautions that they are not being gamed from morning to night.

  10. Charlie, good questions…

    14 wines were tasted over an approximately 100 minute period.

    The first 6 wines were tasted with the delicious Filet that I cooked up, and cheese followed.

    The only thing that people knew was the Sierra Carche 2005 was somewhere in the lineup.

    Expectations were pretty high for most at the table, as some had come from very far away, and I would not want to pour shit for them, right?

    Some people have said that I did pour shit. I take offense to that, as I poured either

    a) Highly rated Jay Miller wines
    b) Wines I sell and like
    c) Both

    Most of the choice b wines scored pretty well with the group (save Panarroz, which was very different from what I drank one week earlier).

    I am not sure there was expectation bias, espectially considering the Sierra Carche wines were so easy to peg. They were disgusting. So that left people looking for the great wines. There were a few $100 btls of wine here. So clearly this tasting should have gone better, considering the reviews from Jay and the price tags on many of these wines.

    What can be learned from a tasting like this, Charlie?

    It would appear obvious, in the immediate future…Sierra Carche was some sort of fraud, at some level. The Wine Advocate, in the independent voice for the consumer, which aided in selling thousands of cases of this shit, has elected to nothing for the consumer here. No investigation, other than Mrs. Robert Parker tasting the wine. So, now consumers must tread carefully, or they may get duped again.

  11. […] amigos chilenos a probar los vinos mencionados y reportar aquí. Por casualidad, Dr. Vino publicó una interesante crónica de cata siguiendo la historia de aquel Sierra […]

  12. Site reader Damien just tweeted that he had a bottle of the elusive lot 7033!

    He wrote, “Thinking of you, @drvino, and remembering that if you don’t have anything nice to say, its better than saying nothing”

    And later added, “Some notes to follow. No bell pepper, but not much soul, either.”

  13. I am just a neophyte and,admittedly a ratings-chaser(you have to start somewhere-although ironically-I don’t like to use the WA ratings typically).I bought a bottle #16599/20000 of lot 8114 from a state store in PA. Opened it up 2 nites ago.Wow-and wow means BAD.Nose was swampy-sewage with a tiny hint of some sort of sour fruit. The acid sealed the burned-rubber/plastic-y taste onto our tongues, with a super-long, and ultimately bitter, finish. I had read reviews that were fairly positive, but also read of the scandalous bait-and-switch.I have to say, my entry-level tate buds agree with the detractors. Whew-stinky wine…

  14. […] Luzon, monastrell, Jumilla, 2008 (about $8): This wine was funny since it was the cheapest wine we tasted for the day, yet the most popular as people reached for their pens to scribble this one down. To me, it didn’t have a lot of individuality but certainly was not the worst example of monastrell I’ve ever had (ahem, Sierra Carche). […]

  15. ‘roadkill with burning rubber ending in a hog lagoon” is a phrase for the ages


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