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Commentary | 1 Wine Dude - Page 13

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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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Will Bordeaux Be Fine Wine’s Benchmark In 100 Years? (A Candid Conversation With Eric Asimov)

Vinted on March 20, 2012 binned in commentary, interviews, wine news

Ah, Bordeaux… can’t live with its inflated prices… pass the peanuts!

The wine biz has been in a serious tizzy since Robert Parker released his scores for the 2009 Bordeaux offerings – and he was in a generous mood, with damn-near twenty wines garnering “perfect” 100 point scores, including the likes of Bellevue Mondotte, and Clos Fourtet, along with stalwarts such as Le Pin, Petrus, and Montrose. If the hubbub strikes you as much ado about little, you need to bear in mind that the Bordeaux wine market hardly seems able to wipe its own ass without a report on whether or not Parker used two-ply when evacuating.

Apparently, Parker’s website got so much attention when the scores were released that the site crashed (for which Parker apologized to his subscribers). Other long-time Bordeaux critics have been just as effusive (for example: James Suckling hailed 2009 as potentially Bordeaux’s best vintage, ever).

So, if you are under the delusion that the wine world still isn’t Bordeaux-crazy, then you are probably crazy. This is despite Bordeaux’s quality pyramid being almost totally inverted, and is despite the fact that wines from most of the top Bordeaux houses are now priced out the reach of what we would commonly call mortal human beings (I can remember when Chateau Margaux’s second wine, Pavillon Rouge de Chateau Margaux, was an excellent value at around $50 a bottle – the last ten years or so have seen about a 350% increase in that price).

But then again… as The Tick once said, maybe “you’re not going crazy… you’re going SANE in a CRAZY WOLD!” Has Bordeaux out-priced itself, and increased production so much that greed has overtaken good-old-fashioned capitalism? Are we in a Bordeaux backlash?  And will that backlash cause Bordeaux to lose its place as the benchmark for fine wine the world over?

To answer questions such as these, I like to turn to people who are much smarter than I am, and so I rang up the NY Times food and wine writer (and generally nice human) Eric Asimov to pick his noggin on all of this. If you want a cogent, educated, and measured take on the future of all of this Bordeaux madness, read on…

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Do Wine Experts Taste Differently Than You (And Does It Matter)?

Vinted on March 14, 2012 binned in best of, commentary, wine news, wine tasting

I don’t mean here that if you lick a wine expert (something I do not recommend, unless you happen to be Heidi Klum and the wine expert you plan on tasting is me) they taste like chocolate-covered hazelnut while you taste like a dog coming out of the rain.

I mean, are wine experts hard-wired to taste wine in a fundamentally different way than you are, physiologically?

Sound crazy? Well, crazy or not, that’s the conclusion suggested by results published in a recent issue of the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture, from a study performed by John Hayes (assistant professor of food science) and others at (WE ARE!) Penn State. Even NPR jumped in on this action despite the study results not having been repeated yet (see “Most Of Us Just Can’t Taste The Nuances In High-Priced Wines” – not that they’d stoop to using an incendiary title that insinuates the conclusions as unalterable scientific fact or anything gimmicky like that…).

The coverage of the study at PSU.edu is pretty sparse, and open to some rather gaping critical holes, but assuming the results hold up to further scientific scrutiny they will bolster the controversial position taken by Master of Wine Tim Hanni (and others) that individually we perceive wines differently based on a number of factors, some of them physical.

To the tape, quoting Mr. Hayes (emphasis mine):

“While learning plays a role in their expertise and other factors matter, such as how they communicate their thoughts and opinions on wines, some wine experts may have an innate advantage in learning to discern small differences in wine.”

The most interesting thing about this study? For my money, it’s the further implication that reviews from wine experts are actually even less helpful to the general public than previously thought

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