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Why Rating Wine Is Bad Science

Vinted on May 16, 2012 binned in best of, commentary

[ Editor’s note: this article is not an easy one to follow, because the topic is not an easy one to get your head around; intrepid readers will want to stick with it, though, because I think the conclusions are fodder for some amazing discussion on their implications on wine criticism. ]

The world of wine critique is fraught with logical contradictions.

Case in point: take this excerpt from a recent interview with critic James Suckling on Liv-Ex.com on the topic of evaluating wines while they are still in the barrel, as is often done during En Primeur in Bordeaux (emphasis mine):

The key thing to remember is that the nose isn’t important at all. I learnt that from Daniel Lawton, one of the great negociants of Bordeaux. The important thing is the texture – the quality of the tannins and how they relate to the acidity and alcohol – and then the finish. Wines with long seamless finishes are really the great wines. It’s not all about power. It takes a long time before you can taste En Primeur properly. There’s a hierarchy in Bordeaux that helps as you can kind of figure out what should taste good. But to really understand how wines evolve you need a good 10 years of tasting.”

The logic issue here is that we know scientifically that the vast majority of our sensory experience in tasting wine comes aromatically and retro-nasally. So one (but not the only!) interpretation of the above quote is that En Primeur ratings are meaningless, or at least limited in value to consumers, because the aromas – and therefore the majority of the wine’s sensory experience – cannot be fully evaluated. The contradiction being that the wine world largely treats those ratings as not having any such limited usage.

Issues like that one crop up all over the place in the wine world, if you’re willing to look hard enough. And so it should be of little surprise to many of you when I tell you that the act of rating wines falls squarely into what is commonly called “bad science” in the scientific world…

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Uber-Critic Robert Parker Drops The Gloves In Sommelier Journal Interview

Vinted on May 2, 2012 binned in best of, commentary, wine publications

Though certainly at what many would consider well-deserved retirement age (he turns 65 this year), Robert Parker – still the single most influential critic of any kind in the world – is not retiring any time soon.

If you’ve read the interview with Parker by sommelier David D. Denton in the April 15, 2012 issue of Sommelier Journal, you already know that Parker has called the rumor of his retirement “totally not true.”

You’d also know that he has critical words for overzealous followers of fresh produce in the restaurant world (“I don’t need the entire history of the vegetable from the time it was planted to the time it was harvested”), fervently believes that former Wine Advocate contributor Jay Miller and MW Pancho Campo are innocent of any pay-to-play wrong-doing (“this guy Jim Budd seems to have something against him, and I don’t know what goes on there” – he’s apparently lawyered-up and hired an investigative service called Kroll to find out), and that he considers himself the first wine blogger (an interesting comparison that I think was first explored here on the virtual pages of 1WineDude.com during my interview with Parker).

And if you’d read that SJ interview, then you’d also know that Parker reserves his most vitriolic words for author Alice Feiring and her position at the forefront of the crusade to bring natural wines into the public consciousness (links and emphasis mine):

“We don’t promote this, but Beaux Frères [ the Oregon wine producer of which Parker is a co-owner ] is biodynamically farmed, the wines aren’t fined or filtered, and I’d say that for most of the vintages we’ve done to date, we didn’t need to put SO2 on the label because the levels were so low. So when we talk about all these catchphrases like ‘natural wine,’ I can tell you that people like Alice Feiring are charlatans – I think they are no better than the snake-oil salesman of yesterday. They are selling a gimmick. Most wines are natural.”

Think the critic doth protest too much? If you asked me that question, the answer would be “probably, but I’m more concerned with how the rest of us are going to look now”…

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Dude, Where’s My “Wine?” (Marijuana And Wine Remain Popular Pairing For California Winemakers)

Vinted on April 18, 2012 binned in best of, California wine, wine news

I recently had a conversation with a celebrity involved in the California wine biz that went something like this:

CA Wine Celebrity: “Hey – have you ever had cannabis-infused wine?”

Me: “Cannabis-infused?”

CWC: “Yeah. Totally. Pot wine?”

Me: “No – but I wouldn’t be surprised if every other winemaker in California was drinking it; and probably making it.”

CWC: “I just tried some. It was weird. It smelled exactly like…” – at this point he extended a long, lanky, outstretched arm ending in pinched fingers directly under my nose – “…like someone stuck a bud in there; it smells just like a big ol’ bud right up in your nose!”

Turns out, he wasn’t very far off. It is with very, very little surprise that I give you the findings of Michael Steinberger’s recent article for The Daily Beast, titled Marijuana-Laced Wine Grows More Fashionable in California Wine Country: apparently, a lot of winemakers in California wine country make the stuff (by dropping about one lb. of dope into fermenting grape juice, Cabernet apparently being the variety of choice, and nearby Humboldt County being the marijuana source of choice), because a lot of CA winemakers dig pot.

Whoa – now there’s a news flash [ Editor’s note: sarcasm intended ].

We are talking about California here, people…

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The 2012 1WineDude.com CA Petite Sirah Taste-Off!

Vinted on April 10, 2012 binned in best of, wine review

This is a tourney several years in the making.

I first had the idea of having a “Taste-Off” – a March Madness tournament-style tasting of sixteen wines, randomly matched against one another, and proceeding in a single-elimination tasting against one another over the same day until one is crowned “champion”– back in 2008.

It’s taken me this long to get around to it, inspired in part by the facts that a) we’ve had an exciting NCAA tourney this year, b) simply having a free day in which to do it, and c) having the personal realization that I had sixteen different California Petite Sirah samples (none of the poor things knowing what was in store for them) sitting in the bowels of my cellar and therefore could actually pull it off. Also, I had a pretty sh*tty week and just needed a fun escape.

Why Petite Sirah? It just felt right. It’s a divisive wine, usually eliciting either intense devotion or complete hatred hatred – and as a result, it’s a variety that tends to get less press coverage than a Xylophonist convention.

How it went down: Sixteen different CA Petite Sirah wines were randomly assigned numbers, which were then randomly matched into a field of sixteen, single-elimination tourney bracket-style. The winner of each bracket went on to face the winner of the next, with the losers being eliminated. This means that a) it’s possible for mismatches, just like in a real tournament – and there certainly were some of those! – and b) some really good wines didn’t get to compete against one another. A wine advanced if, at the moments I tasted it, it seemed a better, more complete, well-crafted, more complex wine; and yes, that means that a wine not tasting well on the given day was at a disadvantage – no different than any other wine competition (or competition of any kind, for that matter!).

That’s the nature of single-elimination tourneys, people: it’s not entirely fair; too friggin’ bad; deal with it and let’s have some fun!

Over the course of this week, I’m going to feature the results of the tourney, revealing the “champion” on Thursday and highlighting the two finalists. Mini-reviews will post this coming Monday and will include any wine in the lineup not already reviewed in the minis. So if you’re not into PS, this is not  the week for you to be checking out 1WD. If you’re curious or already a PS lover, then read on!…

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