I recently posted about blind tasting Bordeaux 2005 with Robert Parker. Last week, via the “inaugural edition” of his monthly e-newsletter, he produced his own summation of the public tasting, which included new, “official” scores for all the wines tasted. At the event, he had not scored any of the wines. But when a member of the audience asked him, “Bob, what were your three votes,” he stated:
“I went back and I was a big fan of 9 and 8 and 3. And then I think 13 and 14 are right up there…I can’t forget eight and nine. I had six wines that blew me away tonight: 1, 3, 8, 9, 13, and 14.”
To recap from the other post, those wines were Le Gay (9), L’Eglise Clinet (8), and Pape Clement (3) as his top three wines of the night, followed closely by Lafite (13), Troplong-Mondot (14), and Pavie (1). I’ve uploaded my own audio recording of the event to the right.
Yet in the e-newsletter, there were some surprises among the ratings. Le Gay, one of his top three wines of the night, received a score of 99 points, certainly outstanding but, oddly, only fourth that evening. L’Eglise Clinet received “99+ points.” But two wines scored 100. One was Troplong-Mondot. And the second was La Mission Haut Brion, which was not among the six wines that “blew him away” that evening.
What makes a wine worth 100 points? A couple of years ago, Parker told a Florida newspaper the key to difference separating a 100-point wine from a 99- or a 98-point wine. He said, “I really think probably the only difference…is really the emotion of the moment.”
Obviously, anyone could and perhaps should be influenced by emotions during a tasting of excellent wines. But doesn’t it undermine the pretense of (psuedo-)objectivity that scores represent? Isn’t scoring wines meant to “call it like you see it” and dispense with extraneous information such as labels and context?
How can a professional taster explain such a change in rankings from a public event to subsequent write-up? In the case of 05 La Mission, the wine clearly did not send a chill up Parker’s spine that evening since it was not in his top six. In a thread that emerged on his site about the discrepancies, Parker concluded one of his comments with a plea to “KEEP IT REAL.” Indeed.
Have you ever had a 92 point wine and thought it was most excellent–just because you knew it got a 92? If so, then you are not alone since that was the finding from a recent study by Michael Siegrist and Marie-Eve Cousin from ETH Zurich published in the journal Appetite. They gave 163 volunteers a taste of 2006 Clos de los Siete, a $15ish wine from Michel Rolland’s Argentina property and rated 92 points from the Wine Advocate. They told some of the participants the score beforehand, others not, and a told a third set that the wine got 72 points. Science Daily reports on the findings:
The analysis of the test results revealed that the test people who had been given the ratings with 92 or 72 points before the tasting rated the wine differently to those who weren’t given the Parker rating until afterwards. In the first two groups, the test people who had been given negative information rated the wine considerably worse than those who proceeded on the assumption that the wine was good. Those who knew beforehand that the wine had been given 92 Parker Points also found the wine better than those who only discovered the rating after they had tried the wine.
The information not only influences the sense of taste, but also how deep we are prepared to dig into our wallets: again, the test people with negative advance information were prepared to pay the least.
The researchers feel their initial hypothesis has been confirmed and conclude that the opinions of wine critics do have an impact on a wine drinker’s sense of taste. Surprisingly, the subjects did not change their opinion if they received the information after tasting. “People therefore were not simply trying to show themselves in a good light; the information really did alter their sense of taste”, says Siegrist.
The results are not surprising, really. But it’s too bad the the synopsis doesn’t elaborate on what the group with no prior information thought about the wines.
I do wonder if the study is somewhat backward looking as consumers are getting more independent. Consider the Sierra Carche incident; if Robert Kenney would have just accepted that it was a 96, he would have drunk it and moved on. Instead he went to the trouble of overnighting a bottle of it to the critic in question. While a third party endorsement can certainly sway a wine consumer to a one-time purchase, increased consumer savvy has arguably led to greater independence, leaving wine evaluation as something contested and not accepting scores as given.
Siegrist et al. Expectations influence sensory experience in a wine tasting. Appetite, 2009; 52 (3): 762 DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2009.02.002
Site reader Katie has taken the old mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle” to heart. Instead of merely recycling her old wine magazines she is know weaving their pages into handsome wine totes.
She wrote via email: “I weave the entire thing….got the idea because they are making purses now from recycled candy wrappers, potato chip bags, etc…so I thought, why not magazine pages? I covered each piece with a layer of packing tape so it would be waterproof and then figured out how they weave the purses together…then it was just a matter of altering size, and creating a pattern with the color. The inside is lined with a canvas pouch to carry the weight of the bottle.”
She also doesn’t hide her disdain for the magazines’ penchant for giving wines a score out of 100, which carry a false sense of objectivity–and don’t tell you which wine goes with duck breast, she adds. So now she says she “finally” has a use for the mags.
“Wine guru Parker says he’s happy with a $20 bottle,” blared a Reuters headline from a Tokyo stop on Robert Parker’s Asian trip. Yay! Before heading to a $3,000-a-head tasting dinner, he suggested to locals that it was OK to drink Beaujolais Nouveau, zinfandel starting at $18, and malbec from Argentina.
But buried in the story, Parker said, “You hear the argument you can’t go through a museum and say, ‘The Monet gets a 90 and the Cezanne gets 88.’ But there is a general consensus to what is good wine. I’m not trying to replace your taste, or the person buying the wine…”
Really? Unlike Parker, I find few “good” examples of Beaujolais nouveau (cru Beaujolais is an entirely more rewarding category, however). And some tasting panels can’t agree on what constitutes “good” either: Consider the recent Times panel on Soave where one taster said ”I was shocked at how many of the wines I didn’t like” to which Eric Asimov replied, “Needless to say, I disagreed.” Consensus? And remember the controversial 2003 Chateau Pavie? Finally, I doubt Parker and Alice Feiring would have many overlapping examples of “good” wines. When have you not agreed with someone else about a wine’s being “good”?
Speaking of lack of consensus, it’s also sometimes hard to determine what is “typical” as a portion of Jean-Paul Brun’s Beaujolais has been denied the appellation, ostensibly for being atypical. Or, in his case, good.
Is the backlash against “hedonistic fruit bombs” gaining speed? Previously in the year we’ve noted that they don’t age, a retailer who refuses to sell wine over 14.5% alcohol, and a Napa winemaker who said “higher alcohol wines should stop.”
Now, the recent developments:
1. Neal Martin, a meta-critic at Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate, trashes the 2003 Bordeaux vintage.
2. Garagiste wines, the Parker darlings (such as Jean-Luc Thunevin of Valandraud who has admitted that Parker “made” the property with his reviews), are seeing less interest at auction. In her review of the year in wine auctions, Elin McCoy writes on Bloomberg: “Not everything was selling. At Sotheby’s, buyers passed on once popular Bordeaux garagiste wines like Monbousquet…”
3. I spoke with a head buyer at a leading wine store in NYC recently and he told me that sales of Australian wines over $10 are down 60% at his store over the past three years. I expressed surprise. He said he’s talked to other buyers and they have noticed similar softening. Why? “I guess people are people are starting to realize that with that sort of wine, you don’t really gain a lot over $10,” he said.
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The sommelier becomes an official occupation in China, “to help meet surging demand in the increasingly prosperous nation,” state media reported Sunday. Related: “nuts chef” also joins the list. [via AFP, thanks reader Grayman!]
Little Luxembourg, big gulp
China may be big, but Luxembourg is thirsty. The Grand Duchy consumes the most alcohol per capita of any country in the world. France, Ireland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic round out the top five. [MSNBC]
Menu for Hope
See the creative donations from food and wine bloggers — bid and help UNWFP! [Chez Pim]
The 2003 Quinault l’Enclos (find this wine), is it “all about finesse, balance, and purity” or “low in acidity, rather bland and yet again lacking freshness and definition. A couple of sips is enough.”? We love dueling critics–and it’s even more fun when the shootout is in one publication, in this case, Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate! Incredible! Diversity of opinion is tolerated! [see more on Rockss and Fruit]
You might think this blend of wine and technology is from California, but this laptop spigot is francais–and in development until 2039. [link]
From feast to famine
The Australian wine lake has dried up. Was it the thirst of Chinese sommeliers? No, the industry has swung from glut to shortages in two years because of drought. [NZ Herald]
This site has been named a finalist for “Best Food Blog – Drinks” in annual awards at WellFed. Lend a click if you can! [WellFed.net]
“[Winemaking] parameters are dictated by an international taste and by champions of this taste – including Robert Parker, The Wine Spectator and certain Spanish critics like José Peñin. They are then produced by taste bureaucrats like Michel Rolland and hundreds of indigenous enologists like Telmo Rodriguez,” says Mondovino-director Jonathan Nossiter in his new book, Le Goût et le Pouvoir (Taste and Power). Link
“I guess everyone is getting frazzled by higher and higher wine prices and WMDs(wines of massive deliciousness)…..but seriously… anyone with half a chimp’s brain can see through Nossiter’s transparency easier than a J.J.Prum riesling…it is Nossiter and his ilk(call them the scary wine gestapo)chanting the same stupid hymn that demand wines be produced in only one narrow style…..but bring on the suckers and fools….some one will certainly buy into his propaganda as they did that migraine-inducing disingenuous film……” eBob
Related: “Mondovino: shaky not stirring” [Dr. V]
Alain Raynaud, owner of Parker-fave Chateau Quinault L’Enclos, asked Robert Parker to be the godfather of his child. Parker told Elin McCoy in Emperor of Wine “he didn’t see how he could refuse.” Why is the world’s leading wine critic on such close terms with the people whose products he says he independently evaluates? Or, as the saying goes, who’s your daddy?
These questions and more will be publicly aired with a new tell-all book from his former assistant in Bordeaux, Hanna Agostini. Agostini helped Parker with translations from 1995 – 2003 and controlled his calendar while he was in the region, often twice a year. Late in her tenure with Parker, she became embroiled with scandal of influence peddling, trying to cash in on her control of Parker’s schedule and sending out invoices for her consulting on his letterhead. After standing by her for a time, he let her go.
Now she’s fighting back with her own book, Robert Parker: Anatomie d’un Mythe, just published in France (and just purchased via amazon.fr by Dr. Vino). While she has respect for his palate, she accuses Parker of recycling his tasting notes, pokes fun at his prose, and even evaluating wines in print that he hasn’t even tasted. Here’s an excerpt from her interview with the Bordeaux paper, Sud-Ouest (link to cache; my translation):
In bringing up his relations with the winemaker Michel Rolland, and the négociants Archibald Johnston, Jeffrey Davies, Bill Blatch and Dominique Renard, his friendship with Jean-Bernard Delmas, the former head of grand cru haut Brion and the Moueix family, I’m not saying anything that’s not already widely known…I only want to show that there’s a yawning gap between his rhetoric and his actions.
The situation does raise the larger question of how close should a journalist be with his or her subjects? On the one hand, distance maintains journalistic independence. On the other hand, proximity and access make for a more nuanced understanding of what’s at stake and the players involved. Oh wait! Parker doesn’t even claim to be a journalist, but a critic–THE critic–so there’s no scoop for him to get. Just wines and tannic barrel samples, by the hundreds.
And, by the way, Alain Raynaud tried to block the book’s publication because he says Parker is not godfather to his daughter. A court in the region ruled against him last week.