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Parker Backlash in the U.S.?


Joe Riley
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I find this encouraging on several levels:

http://www.decanter.com/news/72611.html

Any wine reviews can be useful, but they are NO substitute for actual tasting.

I recently had a customer complain to me that our store wasn't filled with ratings by the Wine Advocate or the Wine Spectator. I explained, as olitely as I could, that no one in our store subscribes to either publication. He was stunned - "Don't your suppliers give them you?" No, I explained. Before I got into an argument with him about how unimportant those things are to me, he cried, "Well, think of your customers!" and he left.

Oh, I am thinking of my customers, with each and every recommendation. How could I not?

Retailers who rely heavily upon the reviews of others are incredibly lazy. I was once in a wine shop where I listened to the salesperson on the floor discuss several wines with a customer and it seemed to me that every other word out of their mouth was, "Well, Robert Parker says this" or "the Wine Spectator says that"

As the San Fernando Valley sommelier might say, "Gag me with a tastevin".

If you want to subjegate your own palate to people you've never met and are unlikely to, go right ahead. It's your wine dollars, after all.

If, on the other hand, you truly want to LEARN something about wine, you MUST take chances, and you do yourself the best service by putting yourself into the hands of a reputable merchant who gives a damn. We are not all altruists or selfless, this is a business after all, but consider this:

1) If we're smart, we want your return business. That means dealing with you honestly and honorably, asking you questions so that we might learn your preferences and tastes and respective levels of comfort.

2) I'm not positive about the various Wine Spectator reviewers, but I can tell you that M. Robert Parker has never spent ONE DAY in the retail wine business. He is a consumer and a trained lawyer, which means that he is of an adversarial disposition where we merchants are concerned. Treat us like the enemy, with thinly-veiled hostility and see just how far we bend over backwards for you. Treat us with common courtesy and an ounce of respect and we will work our butts off for you.

Here is a scenario that is likely to play itself out, and two possible conclusions to it:

You find a wine that you like - for the sake of my argument, let's say it is Rutherford Hill Merlot, a national brand with wide distribution. If you really like, say, the 2002 vintage, and you taste the 2003 and it is not to your tastes, you'd probably want to secure what you can find of the 2002, right? Okay. If you bought that wine at Costco, chances are that you are out of luck, and the 2002 is all gone. There is no staff to ask, and they cannot obtain more for you. If you bought it from a retailer, you might be able to call up your "wine guy" and say, "Hey, I really prefer that 2002 to the 2003 - any more 2002 to be had?" Your retailer might have some stock of it, and might be able to get some more, as some vintages are available concurrently (not usually, because it causes confusion, but still there are exceptions). Sure, you might pay more, because your retailer isn't some national chain that has a paid membership and is giving everything away at 5% above their cost, but you are getting service that the big discounter cannot.

It all comes down to what level of service you are willing to pay for.

Do you wash your own car, or do you take it to a car wash, or even to a detailer?

Do you stay at Holiday Inns and Motel 6's or the Four Seasons and Hilton hotels? They all have clean rooms with bathrooms, right?

This is my roundabout way of saying that if you are paying for good retail wine service, you deserve a retailer who thinks for themselves and is discriminating, not blindly following some critic whose tastes might not jibe with your own.

Our success as reputable wine merchants depends upon the trust of our customers and their return business and positive word of mouth.

As for the scoring system, my friend David Raines, the wine director for the Gordon's chain in Waltham, Mass. put this issue into great perspective recently:

The Gordon's Daily Flash: Wednesday December 14, 2005

According to the fine print on the cover of the Wine Advocate: "The numerical rating given is a guide to what I think of the wine vis-à-vis its peer group. Certainly, wines rated above 85 are very good to excellent, and any wine rated 90 or above will be outstanding for its particular type." (emphasis added)

But please note: an outstanding tank fermented, unaged coöperative red may be "outstanding for its particular type," but it is NOT necessarily an outstanding wine. It is certainly not going to be a FINE one.

We've just finished tasting three wines here today. A 90 point wine, a 92 point wine, and a wine that hasn't been scored yet, but which consistently receives 90 to 91 point scores in the Wine Advocate.

Here's the WA note on the 90 pointer: "A custom cuvee assembled by importer Eric Solomon, this blend of 40% Bobal, 20% Merlot, and equal parts Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo exhibits a dense ruby/purple color, full-bodied, inky, concentrated, black fruit flavors, wonderful sweetness and purity, and a heady, long finish. A big, stylish red made on the border of Yecla and La Mancha, it is undeniably a fabulous value. Drink it over the next 2-3 years."

And here's the 92 pointer: "A custom cuvee for the American importer, the 19,000-case 2003 Mas Donnis Barrica was aged ten months in both American and French oak. Its dense ruby/purple color is followed by sumptuous aromas of blueberries, black currants, cold steel, and minerals. Evocative of a baby Priorat, it possesses an amazing fragrance, considerable nobility as well as complexity, medium to full body, and a long, concentrated, heady finish. Enjoy it over the next 5-7 years."

And here are the Daily Flash notes:

#1 is an artificially dark wine without structure, texture, layering or anything other than superficially pleasant flavors. Clearly manufacured (I guess that's what 'a custom cuvée' means) it is a clear improvement over similarly priced wines from California or Australia and easily merits a score between 82-84 points.

#2 offers a welcome return to a natural ruby color, smoother (i.e. not added) tannins, and flavors that actually seem related to the wine's Spanish origins, all in a clean, well-made, medium to medium-light bodied wine, again without much grip or texture.

#3, on the other hand, not only seems like an absolute BLOCKBUSTER in this company, it offers layer after layer of authentic Italian (that is MODERN Italian) flavor, rich, ripe tannins, tremendous intensity and genuine refinement.

Clearly the Wine Advocate and I are using different sets of criteria.

But assuming that 90 points is the dividing line between fine wine and merely good wine, can't we identify the differences that create that divide?

It isn't merely a matter of fruit.

Red wines are a whole made up of fruit, tannins, and as many complex reflections of different flavors as the vineyard, the weather, and the producer are capable of capturing. Primary, one dimensional fruit and raw tannins do not make for finesse. Fruit needs to be broadened through blending and elevage (not to mention through proper vineyard practices applied to an appropriate piece of land). And (even more importantly) tannins (which, at a minimum, should be naturally present in a wine) need to be MANAGED, not just left as they are (though if they were added, they probably won't change all that much anyway).

Wine #1 CAN NOT POSSIBLY be a 90 point wine. It doesn't have ANY of the elements of a fine wine.

It just has pleasant fruit.

And to say wine #2 (which is a very well made wine made from reltively modest raw materials) is even CLOSE TO wine #3, much less 2 points better, is like saying Kanye West is better than Brahams because it's easier to dance to his music.

There should be a few ABSOLUTES in wine judging, and one of them is that raw little reds (like #1) that will never be any better than they were the moment they were (early) bottled, CAN'T score more than 85 points. (You can actually make a case for a higher score for straightforward whites, but that's a subject for another day.)

It should also be a hard, fast rule that a red needs to have some tannic depth before it can be scored a 90.

And color shouldn't count at all, except maybe as a negative: today's wine #1 is virtually opaque, but that still doesn't make it anything more than very well made plonk.

If the 100 point scale has created any genuine damage, it's in this illusion it's created that we can all go down to the corner and get something as good as Château Latour for less than ten bucks.

We can't.

But that still doesn't mean wines numbers 1 and 2 aren't good, useful, and even praiseworthy wines. They ARE. All of that.

But I'm pretty sure it would be dishonest of me to tell you I'm selling you FINE wine when the wine in question is merely a GOOD one.

Good is good.

Fine costs more.

It would be nice to think it didn't.

But it does.

Note: I didn't ask David for permission to reprint his newsletter, because he is a friend and he has always acquiesed to my requests in the past, because I always give full credit to him (and why wouldn't I?)

Okay, that's enough ranting for one day :) I hope that this was informative.

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This subject has been hashed and re-hashed so many times, that I'm not sure that I can add much. Count me firmly in the Parker camp, however. After several years of subscribing to the Wine Advocate, I can say that I have found that I don't always agree with Parker's assessments, and I don't love all of the grapes he adores (grenache, for example--Parker calls himself "a grenache whore" but I don't care for 100% grenache wines, preferring it in a blend). But I have learned to calibrate my own palate to the reviews I read. And--here's the big one--while I don't buy wine solely on the basis of scores anymore, I have almost completely stopped spending my hard-earned money on bad wine. And since I don't have a lot of money, I need to buy carefully, and usually on sale or at a discount. I can't afford to limit my purchasing to one or two scrupulously honorable merchants. I'm all over the map looking for good deals on good wine.

I certainly have sympathy for the wine merchant, who needs to make money in order to stay in business. However, I know that there are aspects of the business that make it difficult for even the most honorable businessman to maintain the highest of standards. I know that wineries and wholesalers will require the purchase of wines of lesser quality in order to get others that are highly desirable. The stuff that's "not as good," or was so well priced that the merchant couldn't pass it up must also be sold.

Not everyone has as much time to devote as I do to educating myself about what's out there in the wine world, what's a likely winner in a vast ocean of plonk. Putting oneself in the hands of a trusted wine merchant is one way to go, and buying only wines that Parker has scored 90 or above is another.

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I am also in the Robert Parker camp. I have found that I like his style of wine. I may not agree 100% of the time but he usually steers me in the right direction.I can't say that about everyone that works for The Wine Advocate, but Parker's taste I love. The ratings just help people. Even though you as the wine merchant may love the wine, taste is subjective, unless you have bottles open of everything you love and recommend for people to try, I would not go on your recommendation alone uness we had a long standing relationship and I was sure of your tastes.The different ratings help us make decisions,plain and simple. I too am tired of spending good money on bad wine.

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Zora and Raisa you both make excellent points.

One thing I'm trying to point out is, that any review in the Wine Advocate (or any other publication for that matter) is just one person's opinion, and everyone has their own preferences, agendas and axes to grind.

(Don't believe me? One well-known wine reviewer once told me, after I questioned them about how their published experience with a particular white Burgundy vintage was very different from mine, "Oh, Joe, you're a smart guy. I expect you to be able to read between the lines." (?!?!?!) How disingenuous is that? So you are dishonest with your readers? Wow.)

An important part of becoming wine educated is tasting wines that you might NOT like, and wines that are unfamiliar to you. How else do you establish a "personal palate paradigm" a framework of reference and allow your palate and other senses to fully appreciate what it is you're tasting?

To put it another way, if you never had a bad or even mediocre restaurant meal, how could you fully appreciate a truly magnificent one? Oh sure, you can enjoy it, but doesn't the contrast make the appreciation just exponentially greater?

As an aside - Zora, have you ever had a Châteauneuf du Pâpe made from 100% Grenache? They still exist, and that is how most of them were made decades ago. (Beaucastel is the one who created the fiction that, to be a great Châteauneuf, you have to use all 13 grapes allowed by French law into your bottling, because it serves their marketing purposes.) A 100% Grenache Châteauneuf du Pâpe is very different from, say, a Spanish Garnacha. A lot of it has to do with the soil/microclimate, age of the vines, the viticultural techniques employed, etc..

I shouldn't be so critical. I like to trust my own palate and take chances for the same reasons that I prefer to explore different cities on my own. It's all about the life experiences, the good and the bad. If I don't take any chances, I feel that it limits my personal growth. But it's all about personal levels of comfort.

I can hear the criticism now, though - "But Joe, you're a professional, you get to taste a LOT of wine, including a lot of bad wine, and it doesn't cost you anything. Us poor consumers want to at least minimize our bad experiences and improve our odds with our wine dollars spent."

I can understand and relate to that, but that's where people like me come in. If you buy a wine from me that you are truly unhappy with, I appreciate the opportunity to make things up to you and find you something else to enjoy. I will always try to sell you something good and tailored to your tastes and requests. That's the joy that I get as a merchant, especially when I get a positive report back from my customer.

I guess what it comes down to for me is this: To me, wine reviews are the "Cliff's Notes" (or Monarch Notes) of wine education. They are no substitute for doing your own work, just as the aforementioned notes are no substitute for actually reading important literature (just ask any college professor). If all the work is done for you, then the experience is somewhat diminished. If you use wine reviews at all, take them with a certain grain of salt and don't rely upon them as any kind of gospel.

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An important part of becoming wine educated is tasting wines that you might NOT like, and wines that are unfamiliar to you.  How else do you establish a "personal palate paradigm" a framework of reference and allow your palate and other senses to fully appreciate what it is you're tasting?

To put it another way, if you never had a bad or even mediocre restaurant meal, how could you fully appreciate a truly magnificent one?  Oh sure, you can enjoy it, but doesn't the contrast make the appreciation just exponentially greater?

If I don't take any chances, I feel that it limits my personal growth.  But it's all about personal levels of comfort.

At this stage of my life (well along into middle age) I have to say that I have already had way too many bad to mediocre restaurant meals and bottles of wine to want to do anything other than avoid repeating the experiences. Sometimes it is unavoidable, like when someone else is cooking the meal, choosing the restaurant, picking the wine. As far as I am concerned, seeking quality is not necessarily the same as "playing it safe" which is what you seem to be suggesting.

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As far as I am concerned, seeking quality is not necessarily the same as "playing it safe" which is what you seem to be suggesting.

Zora, that is an excellent point. There certainly is a distinction.

I guess what annoys me the most IS the "play it safe" notion in wine commerce because it seems to foster more mediocrity. If the wine buying public continues to purchase very average, very inoffensive wines, then it only encourages those producers to change nothing, to never strive to be better. They only wind up trying to make the most "acceptable" product as inexpensively as possible

I can cite an example in the liquor industry - for those of you who drink Jack Daniel's Tennesee Whiskey (the Black Label), you might be interested to know that the current proof on that product is 80, down from 86 only a few years ago, and down from either 90 or 92 proof within the last 10 years. Do the Jack Daniel's people believe that this improves their product? No. They decided that the Jack Daniel's drinker, in focus groups, doesn't notice any difference. But by lowering the proof, they save a fortune in alcohol taxes. Jack Daniel's drinkers may enjoy it, but don't believe for one minute that this is the Jack Daniel's whiskey of Frank Sinatra, or your fathers or grandfathers. For anyone who wants to drink more authentic Tennesee whiskey, I recommend the much-less-expensive George Dickel brand, which remains at 92 proof, presumably unchanged in decades.

In the California wine industry, an example of this would be wineries adding lots of juice from less expensive varietals up to the legal limit to still allow a wine to be called by the varietal name placed upon the label. A wine labeled, "California Zinfandel" might only be 51% Zin. Now this becomes a minefield depending upon where in California the wine comes from, and many growers associations do strive for quality standards. If a wine is labeled, "Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon", for example, it must contain at LEAST 70% Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon wine (*note - on this particular figure, I might be a little fuzzy, as I believe standards might have strengthened to require that percentage to be even higher, so don't hold me to that number)

Zora, you are correct when you imply that wine reviews can be a guide to quality, and at their best, they certainly should be, but as I stated earlier, they are fraught with peril and must be used cautiously. For some people I've encountered, all that they KNOW is wine reviews, not practical personal tasting information.

To use an extreme comparison, It would be akin to someone reading dozens of car magazines each month, year after year, but never actually laying eyes upon an automobile or even driving one. Would that person be considered an automobile authority? Sure, they might know what to look for when the time comes to actually experience an automobile ride and drive it for themselves, but I've driven cheap, hard-ride automobiles and I've driven some sport and luxury cars, and I believe that I APPRECIATE the difference so much more because of the experiences I've had with the hard, cheap cars.

Do you see what I'm trying to say? There has to be a logic and a balance to these sorts of experiences to gain maximum appreciation for them.

I once heard tell of a wine salesman, possibly from Beverly Hills, who received a phone call from Frank Sinatra requesting that he immediately send him a case of the most expensive white wine that he had, or could find. The guy sent Sinatra some Château D'Yquem Sauternes, I believe. Sinatra called the guy some days later after tasting the very sweet Sauternes and blasted him, but the sales guy defended his choice because he was only trying to comply with Sinatra's request. Sinatra complained that the Sauternes was terrible with his lobster dinner!

The moral of that story? Well, to me it is twofold: 1) TALK to your wine salesman and let them help you (and likewise, the salesguy should have asked some good questions of Sinatra) and 2) Expense doesn't always buy you what you think it will - Sinatra probably would have been SO much happier with a $5 Muscadet instead, or at least I like to think so.

One of my best customers drinks no domestic wine (though he will buy Chilean and Argentine wine) and another of my best customers buys 90%+ California wine. With both customers, I try to recommend wines that I think they will be interested in and have a preference for. I wouldn't dream of fighting them or arguing any points with them, nor do I with my other customers except perhaps in a gentle way to establish a relationship and points of reference. And tastes DO change, sometimes. I know one woman who drinks very, very well but has given up almost entirely on California wines which she used to adore.

Incidently, Zora, it seems to me that at this point in your life, you've earned the right to limit your sketchier experiences with wine. I've been posting using some broad generalities and I guess I'm trying to educate the more neophyte among the DR readership. I just abhor blind faith to any commercial publication or professed individual - a healthy dose of skepticism is necessary. I have my own personal heroes, but I also have my own mind.

Isn't it wonderful to make an unexpected pleasant discovery with a wine on your own. with fewer or no preconcieved notions, then merely having a wine live up to a review that we've read? That's such great fun to me.

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An important part of becoming wine educated is tasting wines that you might NOT like, and wines that are unfamiliar to you.  How else do you establish a "personal palate paradigm" a framework of reference and allow your palate and other senses to fully appreciate what it is you're tasting?

Interesting - to me, this puts a finger right on why I don't pay much attention to Parker ratings, and it's not because I'm such a super-knowledgeable connoisseur, because I ain't. It's because I don't have a good sense of what HE likes and whether it tends to line up with what *I* like. To me the analogy is movie reviews: For years the NYTimes had a film critic I never, but NEVER, agreed with. It was extremely useful to me to read her reviews, though, because if she loved a movie, I'd avoid it like the plague, and if she hated one, the odds were I'd enjoy it. I haven't done that kind of calibration with Parker, so I don't pay attention to him.

Here's my problem: I love my quirky knowedgeable locally-owned neighborhood wine store, even though their selection is narrow and their prices are about 20% higher than Costco and Total Wine, and I try to buy there regularly just because I want them to stay in business. (Illogical, but I like the idea of having this cute wine store down the street.) The problem is that I seldom seem to like any of their staff recommendations, and I'm not sure how to articulate what I want that I don't find in their choices. (And I can't just assume that anything they DON'T recommend, as with the movie critic, is something I'll love!) I could meet my ethical goals (of supporting them) by just buying things I already know there, and if they're pouring something I actually like, pounce on it -- but that seems a bit of a wasted opportunity. Joe, your thoughts?

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Interesting - to me, this puts a finger right on why I don't pay much attention to Parker ratings, and it's not because I'm such a super-knowledgeable connoisseur, because I ain't.  It's because I don't have a good sense of what HE likes and whether it tends to line up with what *I* like.  To me the analogy is movie reviews: For years the NYTimes had a film critic I never, but NEVER, agreed with.  It was extremely useful to me to read her reviews, though, because if she loved a movie, I'd avoid it like the plague, and if she hated one, the odds were I'd enjoy it.  I haven't done that kind of calibration with Parker, so I don't pay attention to him.

Here's my problem: I love my quirky knowedgeable locally-owned neighborhood wine store, even though their selection is narrow and their prices are about 20% higher than Costco and Total Wine, and I try to buy there regularly just because I want them to stay in business.  (Illogical, but I like the idea of having this cute wine store down the street.) The problem is that I seldom seem to like any of their staff recommendations, and I'm not sure how to articulate what I want that I don't find in their choices.  (And I can't just assume that anything they DON'T recommend, as with the movie critic, is something I'll love!)  I could meet my ethical goals (of supporting them) by just buying things I already know there, and if they're pouring something I actually like, pounce on it -- but that seems a bit of a wasted opportunity.  Joe, your thoughts?

Keep track of the wines that you really like and look for similar ones. At the same time, keep track of ones that you really dislike and always be sure to point that out to that staff when soliciting wines from them. With apologies to Sy Sims, "An educated consumer is our best customer" sometimes. If you worked with me and told me that, say, California Zins just didn't do it for you, or that Argentine Malbec sent you around the moon, then I'd try to build a sales record of what you enjoy. If the store is conscientious, they will work with you. You are a saint for wanting to keep them in business, but they must continue to be WORTHY of your business.

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Just to play Devil's Advocate (get it? Parker? Advocate? I crack myself up)... anyway, here's one upside to buying "Parker-approved" wines: If you don't like 'em, and you happened to have bought multiples rather than doing the get-a-bottle-to-taste-before-I-make-a-decision-about-a-larger-purchase thing (which, frankly, a lot of folks do, because there's just not enough time in a given week to keep going shopping for wine), they're pretty easy to flip. Whereas unreviewed wines that Merchant X recommends but that don't quite speak to your sensibilities are often harder to sell or trade.

Also (and this really doesn't have anything to do with Parker vs Retailers - it's more about my own recommendation fatigue), given that I'm only opening a couple of bottles every week, if that, I don't particularly like experimenting with The Unknown anymore. When I open something, I want there to be a pretty high probability that I'm really going to like it. And I've been disappointed too many times by "highly recommended" wines.

(Maybe I should drink nothing but Krug, Ridge Montebello and Donnhoff from here on out. :) )

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I also have a new little wine shop that opened up in my area (Cork and Fork Wine Shop). His prices aren't always the cheapest but I will buy from him to honor his commitment to my community.(plus it evens out when I get the casr discount every week :) )

He recommends wines when I walk in, but he hasn't quite learned how to read my tastes yet so I usually only buy what he has open to taste. He usually has at least 6 bottles of his specials open per week, some are great some are just not to my taste.

Yet at the same time Joe Wiley suggested an Australian shiraz on another thread( I can't remember the name at this moment), but on his recommendation I bought it, and Joe was dead on! I had mentioned I liked a strong forceful shiraz, and he was able to interpret from his knowledge of the Peter Lehmann I liked that this one would be to my liking also.

Edited by RaisaB
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As a wine professional, when I work tastings I try to figure out what people like to drink on a regular basis - if someone loves Napa Sauvignon Blanc, I'm not gonna try to convince him/her that a minerally Sancerre is the way to go, and that they are misguided fools! Sometimes I think wine merchants get very set in what they like, and what we like is what they should drink. Ultimately it is the merchant that asks intelligent questions and manages to 1) give what the customer wants 2) refine the customer's ability to communicate his/her taste preferences (crucial in development of relationships IMO) and 3) guide them along the discovery of new wines is doing the job. I haven't met Joe but I think he probably does these things well.

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As a wine professional, when I work tastings I try to figure out what people like to drink on a regular basis - if someone loves Napa Sauvignon Blanc, I'm not gonna try to convince him/her that a minerally Sancerre is the way to go, and that they are misguided fools!  Sometimes I think wine merchants get very set in what they like, and what we like is what they should drink.  Ultimately it is the merchant that asks intelligent questions and manages to 1) give what the customer wants  2) refine the customer's ability to communicate his/her taste preferences (crucial in development of relationships IMO) and 3) guide them along the discovery of new wines is doing the job.  I haven't met Joe but I think he probably does these things well.

Having tasted wines with jamietown on numerous occasions, both before and after he started working where he does now, I know that he is very consious of what other people like and dislike and can usually offer something that will fit their taste. His tastes and mine are very different in some ways (he prefers the more Burgandian style of Pinot Noir, I love the ripe lush style of the CA Pinot Noir) but he has always been able to turn me on to new wines that I enjoy. It is always a joy to watch him show up at dinner with his suitcase full of wines for us to taste. If not for him, I would not have become as interested in Spanish wine as I have.

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Not to stray off topic too much, but I prefer the "barnyard smell" of a good Burgundy as opposed to a California Pinot also. Does anyone know of any California Pinots that come close to that or is it all in the "terroir". (Don, feel free to start a new thread if you find it fit, bisous).

Edited by RaisaB
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I just ran across this comment from Robert Parker, from the Mark Squires Wine Board, regarding his recent critics:

I did catch-up on board reading this morning and must say it is sad to continue to see what once were reasonably responsible,talented,and accomplished British wine writers behave with such paranoia...exaggerating,distorting,falsi fying, and just exhibiting appallingly prejudiced and narrow-minded palates...as I have said and so fervently believe, the glories of wine are it's diversity....that it does come in so many shapes and sizes....no size fits everyone, but it is this remarkable assortment of smells,flavors,textures,and personalities that has fueled my work and kept me endlessly fascinated for over 30 years....and contrary to the cheesy deception and obstinate repetition of falsehoods offered by a handful of writers who appear to have a sense of being dispossessed as well as a loss of power, the irrefutable truth is that we have so many more styles of wine and what...100 fold+ more high quality wines than existed 20 years ago.....feel free to express a dislike for this or that...hell that is what wine connoisseurship is all about...but to arbitrarily call for wines to be made by some strict and ancient recipe(do I detect the Illuminati at work?)...one where only a handful of "gifted" writers are capable of appreciating such complexity and nobility...and decree them "acceptable" for all of the uncultured slobs in the USA and the rest of the world....ummmm... wouldn't this lead us to fewer and fewer choices, and a sort of vinofascism that would be intolerable.....

Some friendly advice to them...as they all seem to be droning on about the same "talking points".....when you are in a deep hole....common sense says....stop digging....

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"as I have said and so fervently believe, the glories of wine are it's diversity....[edited for brevity, lacking in the original] .... to arbitrarily call for wines to be made by some strict and ancient recipe"

apparently the glories of wine are also it's punctuation [sic] ... and it's opportunities ... to boldly madly repetitively ... and smugly split infinitives... while never using commas where needed... and wildly abusing the ellipsis...

Is this really Parker writing so appallingly? no wonder the Brits hate him - probably has nothing to do with wine, and all to do with his slaughtering the Queen's English!

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Well it is a board posting and not a magazine article that is to be published. I like this in that it shows he is in somewhat of a hurry but still feels passionate enough to take the time to write about this elitism. At least he isn't writing like my kids do. TTYL!

Edited by RaisaB
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Unfortunately, Parker does a great service in promoting wines to people who want to be led by both wrists, both ankles, and maybe even by their [insert body part here] rings. On the other hand, unfortunately, Parker does a great job promoting dependence on his promotions. Yes, I typed that correctly.......

I think I just summed it up, but being the enthusiastic lush who believes in letting people find their way when it comes to wine, I will continue on my tirade...... in hopes that a newbie to wine will hear my rant!

I'd be stupid to say Robert Parker hasn't influenced my job in positive ways. The bone I have to pick is not with Robert Parker, but it is with his followers/readers/disciples/lemmings. When did we get to this point where we no longer think for ourselves and allow some faceless dude in BFE Maryland decide what we drink?

I like to share this with everyone I can..... if you shop at Cleveland Park Wine & Spirits and you ask Tony for this wine or that wine, and you mention that it got 89 points, 92 points, 105 points, 267 thumbs up and a smiley face and two gold stars, he will say, "Well, what did the REVIEW say?" and the truth is, people look at those gold stars and don't read the description. They can't answer the question. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? If The Incredible Hulk himself reviewed a movie on Aqua Man and gave it 100 points and 3 18karat gold stars, I still wouldn't go see the movie. Know why? I don't like comic books.

If my fellow wine drinkers wanted to do themselves a favor, they would taste everything they can get their hands on, READ THE ENTIRE REVIEWS & TASTING NOTES if they want to follow ratings, and learn what they can about their likes and dislikes. We in the business of pushing/enjoying/promoting wines will do everyone a favor by encouraging people to think for themselves, find what they like/dislike, and finally, to feel good about their own decisions.

To those of you already doing this - I give you 592 thumbs up, 9 gold stars, and a free toaster!

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Unfortunately, Parker does a great service in promoting wines to people who want to be led by both wrists, both ankles, and maybe even by their [insert body part here] rings.  On the other hand, unfortunately, Parker does a great job promoting dependence on his promotions.  Yes, I typed that correctly.......

I like to share this with everyone I can..... if you shop at Cleveland Park Wine & Spirits and you ask Tony for this wine or that wine, and you mention that it got 89 points, 92 points, 105 points, 267 thumbs up and a smiley face and two gold stars, he will say, "Well, what did the REVIEW say?"  and the truth is, people look at those gold stars and don't read the description.  They can't answer the question.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  If The Incredible Hulk himself reviewed a movie on Aqua Man and gave it 100 points and 3 18karat gold stars, I still wouldn't go see the movie.  Know why?  I don't like comic books.

If my fellow wine drinkers wanted to do themselves a favor, they would taste everything they can get their hands on, READ THE ENTIRE REVIEWS & TASTING NOTES if they want to follow ratings, and learn what they can about their likes and dislikes.  We in the business of pushing/enjoying/promoting wines will do everyone a favor by encouraging people to think for themselves, find what they like/dislike, and finally, to feel good about their own decisions.

To those of you already doing this - I give you 592 thumbs up, 9 gold stars, and a free toaster!

It may be true that they may look at the ratings and not read the description, but maybe this may be a good starting off point for many. It's an ever evolving process and maybe that is where those of you in the business should take it upon yourselves to educate the consumer.

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It may be true that they may look at the ratings and not read the description, but maybe this may be a good starting off point for many. It's an ever evolving process and maybe that is where those of you in the business should take it upon yourselves to educate the consumer.

I subscribe to Wine Advocate and I do read the tasting notes. They are what pique my interest in finding and tasting particular wines-- but if I am lucky enough to remember the name and vintage date of the wine, it is usually the score I remember, not the particulars of the tasting notes. I'm afraid I don't have that many neurons available anymore to store that much information. But I do keep the hard copies on my bookshelf, so I can go back and re-review the reviews.

I read movie reviews in the New Yorker before I decide what movie to see, too. I don't have the time or money (or interest) to see every movie that comes out--even from directors I have liked in the past. I rely on professionals whose judgement has seemed sound to me, and use their assessments to guide my viewing. Sometimes, I disagree with them, and maybe I miss out on movies I might have liked, that they didn't. And the backers, producers and directors of those films all hate reviewers who have too much power to determine success or failure, etc. etc. That's the way it goes...

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Zora,

I think you have touched on one of the main issues I have with all of the Parker bashers I have read. I have read (on this thread and elsewhere) that I should not care a lick about what Parker has to say about wines, but should trust another stranger’s opinion as to what to buy (whether that other stranger is another critic or an employee of a wine store). From what I have witnessed most people who object to Parker’s influence, object to his READERS fixation with his scores, and not his tasting notes.

My opinion of Robert Parker is rather mixed. I love the Wine Advocate tasting notes, but mostly ignore his scores. The reason why I wrote “mostly” is that for certain types of wine I find them very helpful (those are wine from Bordeaux and Rhone), other I find to be useless (Burgundy, Champagne, Australia, and Spain just to name a few). I think that it is sad that most of the readers of the Wine Advocate ignore the advice that Parker gives on how to read his publication and simply concentrate on a flawed scoring system.

I do not hate what he or his employees have done to the wine industry, but I also do not celebrate it either. I simply look to how Champagne has changed since the middle of the nineteenth century to realize that this is an industry that is always in flux. Most of the champagne industry was dominated by the Court of the Romanov’s, and their taste for sweet wines. Cristal was originally developed for the Russian market and was a Duo Champagne, today this same wine is very much a Brut. Why? Because tastes change over time. Since Parker’s weakest reviews and least amount of influence are in Champagne (OK and Burgundy), this cannot be blamed or credited to him. I see the rest of the wine market the same way, for example not so long ago Chianti was a joke, now it can rise to the level of sublime and keeps true to its roots.

I am neither a fan of the gleeful bashing of Parker and the Wine Advocate, nor the sycophantic adoration of it; it is simply a magazine not unlike those that cover cooking. If you don’t believe this, just look at the handful of chefs that Food and Wine, Gourmet, and Saveaur waste most of their ink covering.

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I don't like Parker's tasting notes or often sensational writing style. The laundry list of aromas that make up most of his notes is wearying and context-less for someone trying to pair wine and food or relate one wine to another. I also feel like his acid scale is off. And the practice of no longer publishing notes for wines scored below 85, while heartening for the schnook in me, gives the notes that are published even less context.

To me, that context is absolutely critical. In my experience, the best tasters can not only describe a wine, but also descriptively place it within a spectrum of other wines. Other than his infamous "mythical blends," I believe Parker falls short here. But it's that context that would educate his readers, and make them better wine drinkers, by allowing them to construct a thought model around all of their tasting experience, supplemented by thoughtful notes that support that model.

A good wine merchant provides that context. A good wine merchant gets to understand each drinker's own wine thought model; he or she can then offer wines that either fit into the thought model (and thus, are likely to be enjoyed by the drinker) or help expand the thought model into new areas (which help the drinker explore and learn more). In the latter case, said good wine merchant will back his judgment with "if you don't like it, bring it back and we'll find something else!"

So I guess my point is here, that in a perfect world, Parker's notes would do the best they could (granted, within a very hetergeneous reader environment) to not only evaluate wine but also to capital-C criticize it, i.e., to place wines within a useful and important context to aid the reader's judgment. And, in my opinion, Parker's notes don't meet the requirement; rather, they merely ape the superficial value judgment the scores reflect.

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Seems that all those who follow, never tend to lead, no thought of their own, just an opinion of objection. and argument of grounds, but no desire to realize the notion of truity. Joly had a piece yesterday on this subject of optimal condition and no substitutes. do you follow the craze of no personal opinion, 100 point wine drinker :blink: seems that wine of the 100 point trend will be the end of all good taste as quick as we are falling behind the race to be original :P

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Jake brought up an interesting point,"when pairing wine with food". None of the major writers are scoring these wines based on pairings while, most of us are enjoying these wines with food. Context is the crucial element many publications seem to over look. A rose from Provence may be wonderful and vibrant with fried chicken at a picnic in May, while the same wine could be flat and underwhelming paired with turkey at Thanksgiving.

On the other hand, knowing the palate of the person recomending wines can help quite a bit, even if you don't agree with that persons palate i.e. I know I will most likely not enjoy a 98 point Parker bomb but, a score in the 88 to 94 point range means that I know the wine is not flawed. I know Mr Parker loves big, extracted wines, while I prefer a more subtle and elegant style.

I do agree that slavishly following a ratings system leave one out in the cold on many wonderful wines.

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I don't really know the economics, but with the oceans of wine being produced, who knows

with any certainty what to bottle? Is a product rated "82" a better item (from a business point

view) than a quirky bottle "not rated"? My own (paranoid) view is that wine producers who play

the ratings game will use any and all wine chemist methods to "move up the scale". Some of them

will find that they have created a product that would have been considered "perfect" five

years ago, and that is now considered OK but not very interesting.

I do find the ratings numbers distracting. It is disturbing see an interesting bottle, and then notice

that it is an "86" and that down the shelf is a bottle rated "90". It should not make a difference,

but the competitive factor does momentarily kick in (at least for me).

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I don't really know the economics, but with the oceans of wine being produced, who knows

with any certainty what to bottle? Is a product rated "82" a better item (from a business point

view) than a quirky bottle "not rated"? My own (paranoid) view is that wine producers who play

the ratings game will use any and all wine chemist methods to "move up the scale". Some of them

will find that they have created a product that would have been considered "perfect" five

years ago, and that is now considered OK but not very interesting.

I do find the ratings numbers distracting. It is disturbing see an interesting bottle, and then notice

that it is an "86" and that down the shelf is a bottle rated "90". It should not make a difference,

but the competitive factor does momentarily kick in (at least for me).

this is so true. best way to get an inexpensive bottle of wine is by buying wines in the 80's point range , rather than the chaptilized, acidified, manipulized, reverse osmosisized, dealcoholized 90-100 point range. where will we be in five to ten years? maybe back to normal. high extraction shiraz is good for one thing,CHECK THIS OUT :blink:

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A lot of people I know here refer to the WS as "Wine Dictator" ;):blink: , but the hotel owner still insists I provide him with a current "WS points" list. I am sometimes very suprised at what gets a 91 and what gets an 84. Sometimes I agree, sometimes I run away with horror! Quite often, many of the tasty neat wines I am trying haven't ever been reviewed. So I just rack up the Bi-Annual points project as a waste of time. Also, instead of "plonk", we use "schwag" :P

dave

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I am sometimes very surprised at what gets a 91 and what gets an 84.

84 points = The wine's producer didn't pony up advertising $$ to the magazine. :blink:

Quite often, many of the tasty neat wines I am trying haven't ever been reviewed. So I just rack up the Bi-Annual points project as a waste of time.

You're right - it's a fool's errand, and your boss should be ashamed of himself for wasting your time.

It's always uncomfortable for me to have to explain to a WS subscriber that the latest "must-have" wine on their list was sold out months before the review came out or, once in a while, the wine in question hasn't even been released from the winery yet (yes, it's happened). It isn't what my customer wants to hear, and their facial expressions imply that I'm shining them on. No fun for me.

Fortunately, the requests for WS-rated wines (and WA-rated wines, for that matter) seem to have decreased in recent years. I think it's because there's a whole lot more information about wine on the Internet and more consumers are applying their own critical thinking to their purchases. Consumer self-empowerment = good thing.

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Fortunately, the requests for WS-rated wines (and WA-rated wines, for that matter) seem to have decreased in recent years. I think it's because there's a whole lot more information about wine on the Internet and more consumers are applying their own critical thinking to their purchases. Consumer self-empowerment = good thing.

Joe,

I'll never forget the first time a customer ordered a bottle of wine from me and told his guests "Parker gave it a 92". When I opened and served him the wine, I could clearly see that he hated it. I thought the poor guy would explode - the expert gave it a good rating and he didn't like it. I tried not to rub it in.

Personal taste is just that - personal.

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Joe,

I'll never forget the first time a customer ordered a bottle of wine from me and told his guests "Parker gave it a 92". When I opened and served him the wine, I could clearly see that he hated it. I thought the poor guy would explode - the expert gave it a good rating and he didn't like it. I tried not to rub it in.

Personal taste is just that - personal.

Wow, Mark. I don't know what's more frightening, the fact that the diner committed a Wine Advocate score to memory or the fact that, with a wine list like yours, he chose the wine based upon that review. Did it even pair with what they were having? Maybe I'm just cranky, but I like to think of fine dining as an adventure, and I include the wine in that equation. The guy would have been better off asking you for a recommendation. Who knows? He might have even given YOUR recommendation ninety-THREE points, two thumbs-up and an A+ with a gold star. :blink:

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