Robert Parker’s Job Is Safe (A Tasting Perspective on Premiere Napa Valley’s Perspective Tasting)

Vinted on February 25, 2010 binned in California wine, commentary, wine tasting

You probably could have guessed that Robert Parker isn’t at high risk for becoming unemployed anytime soon without me explicitly stating it, but I thought I should clear up that I’m not after his job, in case there develops any rampant speculation on that topic in the future.

This is because I have never been, am not, and will never be a Wine Tasting Maven.

The point was driven home to me quite clearly and forcefully last week at the 2010 Premiere Napa Valley’s Perspective Tasting, held on two floors (Chardonnays on the top floor, Cabs on the bottom floor) in the meticulously kept sensory analysis classrooms at The Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena.  To put it mildly, tasting three successive comparative vintages of Napa cabs and Chards, blind, lined up one after another in a mostly white, sterile environment was the equivalent of having a joy vacuum attached to my wine-loving soul and turned on full-blast.

Sterile. Quiet.  Introverted.  Not a drip of social aspect or drop of true enjoyment in sight.

I briefly contemplated the alternative activity of banging my head against the CIA’s gorgeous walls of earthtoned, irregular stones, until I bled and then passed out.  As it turned out, I tasted some wines instead (more on the specific wines in a minute. Or two.).  But I didn’t truly taste them – not the way I’d define ‘truly tasting’, anyway.

This isn’t the fault of the wines, vintners, CIA, or the other tasting participants – it’s my fault, without a single shred of doubt.  I am simply incapable of tasting wine – I mean, really tasting it – that analytically.  I’m sure that Parker could rip through that scenario in record time and then, just for shits and giggles, quiz himself on the merits of the 92-96 point scoring wines in the bunch 11 years later.  I watched friend and fellow symposium attendee and panelist Alder Yarrow sniff, spit, and scribble his way through every single one of the dozens of numbered carafes on display in the blind Cab tasting, as if he were a pleasant, well-poised, humanoid-shaped and purple-toothed machine.

I will never be that guy. 

And I never want to be that guy

Which isn’t to say that Alder and Parker have got it wrong, just different of course, and if my inability to power through a blind tasting will forever doom me to B-list wine writer status, then so be it.  I feel confident that I can do a lot of things, but I can’t change who I am.

And what I am is someone for whom wine appreciation has to involve a measure of social connection – be it to the earth, to another person, another place, a plate of food. Connection is the name of my game, and my participation in Premiere Napa Valley has cemented that focus in my brain indelibly.  The guy who prizes connections, who remembers the individual vino that made his toes curl (good and bad), who needs soul in his wine tasting experience.

Yeah, I am that guy.

I’m not dissing blind tasting, of course – it has its merits and if it’s your job to critically and clinically evaluate wines, then I can think of no better way to go about it.  But for me, I’m sure as shit not enjoying myself when the volume of brown-bagged wines starts to creep up into higher numbers; into the “let’s make a job out of this” territory.

I do enjoy blind tastings from time-to-time, specifically because they often rev up the surprise-o-meter into the red – rarely do I walk away from a blind tasting without preferring at least one wine brand that made me take notice of – or in some cases totally reconsider – the producer.  Here are some of the wines that I sampled at the Premiere NV Perspective tasting that pleasantly caught my tongue (and nostrils):

Chardonnays (2006, 2007, & 2008 vintages tasted):

  • Beringer Vineyards 2008 – oozing with tropical fruits, balanced and while it finished a little hot, it’s not too hot.
  • Rutherford Hill Winery 2008 – Prettier than many in the tasting, and it helped to set a theme for me (in that I preferred the 2008s on display to their earlier counterparts, many of which were clearly oxidative… and we weren’t supposed to be tasting sherries).
  • Shafer Vineyards 2006 – an exception to my 2008 preference, this beauty brought some serious acid structure to the party.

Cabernet Sauvignons (2005, 2006, & 2007 vintages tasted):

  • Pride Mountain Vineyards 2006 – They’ve hyped the hell out of the 2007 vintage for Napa Cabs, but by-and-large I found the 2007s in this tasting to be downright brutish and, in quite a few cases, clumsy; not poorly made, just not delivering a consistent, harmonious profile from nose to finish.  Pride’s `07 was a nice exception and had very good tannic balance, but I still preferred their 2006 with its deep, deep, deeeeeep  black cherry fruit action.
  • Silverado Vineyards 2006 – One of the most supple of the entire Cab bunch, with tons of blueberry but still having a balanced “attack.”
  • Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery 2006 – If you were looking for a Bordeaux-like Cab, then you would have been in the wrong room during this tasting; that is, until you hit this wine.  I was struck by how brilliantly structured this wine seemed, and that it could easily have been overlooked for not being ‘”lush enough” for a Napa Cab.  But if Napa can produce more wines like this, you wouldn’t hear me complaining one bit. 

There you have it – some surprises, at least for me.  Will I stop blind tasting entirely?  Of course not – mostly because often times I don’t have a choice in the matter.  I may have to do it, but I don’t have to like it…






  • Richard Scholtz

    Joe, I've tried that Shafer Chard with Doug Shafer and a very wet winery dog/golden lab named Tucker. That chard is some really good stuff.
    I've tried a couple of those 2007 Cabs, and while they are big wines, I don't think they are quite ready yet, by and large. In my opinion, a lot of those 07's, when ready, are going to be really, really good IF YOU LIKE THAT STYLE. They have a lot of fruit, high alcohols, and milder tannins than normal. If you have a terrior-driven palate, you're going to hate them. Sadly, I think the drinking window on those wines is going to be very short, as I don't believe they possess enough acid to stand up to 10+ years of aging.

    • 1WineDude

      Totally agree on the acids comments, Richard. I certainly got the impression that these were wines for Now or for Not-too-long-from-Now.


  • Richard Shaffer

    Amen on everything you said here, Joe!

    Wine is meant to bring people together not isolate them into little cones of silence so we can stick wine under the microscope and perform an anatomy lesson (the "nose", the "mouthfeel" the "mid-palate" – yikes!).


    • 1WineDude

      Thanks. Yeah, I'm not the "lab coat taster" and probably never will be :-). Cheers!

  • vinogirl

    i am so glad that you don't want to be that guy, your blog is so much more than silly tasting notes. I can taste wine for myself, thank you very much, and I definitely don't need to be told by anyone else what I should be drinking. Stick with your original plan, you are doing very well at it.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks – I don't want to disparage what folks like Alder do when it comes to tasting, I'm just cut from a different mold. Probably black cellar mold. :-)

  • Jason Malumed

    "Wine has two purposes in life: To make food taste better, and to make you feel better." – Some random Italian guy I met

    Can definitely see how these power-tastings might get a little bit tiring after a while. Definitely might surprise some people not in the business just how much work and stamina is necessary to make real and honest reviews of all those wines! Definitely puts you in a tough position because (especially if your name is attached to the review) you want to be as fair to each wine as possible

    • 1WineDude

      GREAT quote!

      Yeah, Jason, this is the part that is definitely work. Sometimes really hard work. I'd go nuts if that's how I approached it on a consistent basis!

  • Jo Diaz


    We all have something to contribute to the world of wine. It has so many layers and so many icons of varying degrees. I agree you'll never be *that* guy, but you certainly have found a way to exert your own presence and personality. I'm rather enjoying the new layer of wine reviewers, critics, and story tellers. The Internet opened a window and allowed a whole lot of fresh air to breeze through. And, there's so much room on the playing field, that everyone's taking a position.

    I'm also pleased that it's finally settling itself in, so that we can appreciate those who have set the standard, including Robert Parker, and those now enjoying the limelight, like Alder and yourself.

    Bravo! Get blog story.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Jo.

      My advice is for people to get into that space NOW, while it's still free! We won't see another expansion like this for probably many years (when another wave of countries reaches critical mass in their middle classes that there is another boom in wine consumer numbers)…

  • Sasha

    Great post. Those mega-tastings can get pretty grim (plus, those are not the two easiest wines to taste in high volumes. A roomful of refreshing Riesling, on the other hand…). I'm a fan of Pride Mountain, liked the 2006 as well.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks! I've done Riesling en masse, and that has its own perils (ie, destruction of tooth enamel :-).

  • Chris


    You hit so many nails with so many hammers that it's hard to pick my favorite. To me this is the best argument ever to abandon wine scoring of any type, numbers, grades, whatever, that have become the holy grail of the wine industry (to some).

    I was in Napa last weekend and experienced a 99-point wine that was destined to disappoint, more than likely because I knew the score ahead of time. I found others that were prefered that I have no idea what "score" they got, because they (and the food and the environment and company in which they were consumed) were more my style.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks for that! I'm not totally anti-scoring, but people really need to find a reviewer who has similar tastes – otherwise, the scores could be meaningless *for you*; the subjectivity of which you're rightly pointing out in your example. Cheers!

  • PaulG

    I am frequently criticized for speaking out about the false "objectivity" of blind tastings. You've really made the point – and it's an excellent point: "what I am is someone for whom wine appreciation has to involve a measure of social connection – be it to the earth, to another person, another place, a plate of food." Context. Absolutely essential when accurately judging (and at times scoring) wine. Thanks for a great post!

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Paul – a pleasure to have you stop by here!

      I have some very analytical friends who (often) tell me that there is a fundamental, scientific basis for some level of objectivity in tasting wine (i.e., most of us are capable of picking out flavors / aromas / quality to some extent in wine and that those elements are consistent in the wine).

      Not saying that those folks are wrong, but you could say the same thing about an orgasm if you're describing it scientifically, right? :)

    • whitesidejw

      How is context essential for judging or evaluating a wine? Are you saying that if someone takes into account your contextualized opinion of a wine and tried to replicate that context, they will somehow have the same experience as you? What are the odds of that? Blind tasting removes bias, and blind tasting removes the good or bad context (which I submit cannot be easily replicated) that might make a wine taste better or worse. I for one don't really give a rat's ass about most other people's opinion of a given wine, but I do see the value in blind tasting in order to allow an individual a neutral place in which to evaluate the wine for themself.

      • 1WineDude

        Personally, I wouldn't go so far as to say blind tasting has no place, or that context is essential to formally judging a wine. I just happen to enjoy the contextual part more than the objective aspects…

        • whitesidejw

          And that, my dear friend, is what separates wine professionals from wine lovers or wine affictionados. You have claimed in the past that you taste 500 wines a year. I literally tasted 200 wines last week! You can't taste an average 40 wines per day and also choose the right menu and light candles for your girlfriend to make the mood right. And for the part-timer, contextualizing is nice because it allows you open a sample at your leisure, prepare a nice dinner around it, and then compare it to your favorite Rush song. Blind tasting, or even unblinded MASS tasting, puts wine into an unbiased perspective, pares tasting down to the essentials, and cuts out the romance. It might be dirty, it might be too clinical for you, but it is a real job for some people. And at the end of the day, would you rather talk to a guy with a foot-fetish, or a podiatrist about your ingrown toenail? I'd look to the pro's advice (even if they're too busy tasting to write a blog) every time.

          • 1WineDude

            That's a pretty black-&-white view.

            I'd argue that there is a spot in-between those extremes, where one can analyze a wine on its merits vs. what you might expect from a wine in that price range, from that location, producer, etc., etc. And *then* maybe enjoy it with dinner if it's good enough…

          • 1WineDude

            Of course, I should add that this is all easy for me to say, given that I don't yet make my living from the wine world. If I was a buyer, for example, or a wine director at a restaurant, I'd just have to suck up the fact that I don't like that kind of tasting and do it because I'd be looking for the best wines at the right prices, and/or the wines that best pair with the restaurant's cuisine, etc., and there would literally be no alternative.

            It also depends on what the wine lover / reader is looking for, of course. If they want the most unbiased, analytical review possible, then likely they're not reading this blog anyway!

  • 1WineDude

    Well said!

    • Dennis Schaefer

      My friends usually give me a quizical and incredulous look when I tell them wine tasting is sometimes "too much like work."

  • Dan G The Iowa Wino

    Well said. I'll never be nor want to be someone with the status of a parker. Let me taste wine, write a description and my biggest thrill is when someone comments to me me "Hey you were right. This wine does smell and taste like what you said. Thank you for introducing me to it". Or the small wine producer who thanks me because I like their wine, appreciate its quality (they don't even mind the Holy Shit this is good) and a couple readers of the blog order because they want to see if I am correct. That brings a smile to my face and if I ever lose that (or reach snobery status) ban me from ever tasting another glass again. Cheers Dan

  • 1WineDude

    "You have to spit it out" should suffice to carry your argument… :)

  • Sondra Barrett

    Great post, Joe. So often, like you said, people (read wine professionals) lose the pleasure of the wine experience by having to measure it and analyze it. Glad you found wines that you could enjoy in the blind experience. I'm attending my first blind tasting in many years tomorrow – pinot noir – and hoping its a lot different than your experience. I'm hoping for fun and discovering a few great (good) wines. Cheers. Glad you're not Parker.

  • 1WineDude

    Thanks! Enjoy the tasting – please feel free to stop back here and comment about the experience, I'd love to know how it goes and if you run into any of the same emotional/mental/psychotic roadblocks that I did :-). cheers!

  • Tim

    Joe, great sentences, great paragraphs, and really a great perspective….well stated but the best is the reference to the experience of having a joy vacuum sucking the wine loving soul out of you at full blast quite well said. Don't ever change…

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, man!!!

  • Jack Straw

    Wine dude! you like the totallyist awesome wine geek. I'm with you man! Screw all those wine writers! Their idiots!
    I m with you man, just "chug the jug"…You know waht I M sayin!!!!!!!!!! Rock on !!!! Awesome wine dude.

  • One Wine Dudette

    More like "1 Wine Dufus"…cuz I can't spell 1. Two many letters.. Fuck english language….
    This is a very serious blog and you had better know that!

  • 1WineDude

    Dear Jack Straw / One Wine Dudette,

    Uhm… uhhh… errr…. Thanks, I think.

  • Kimberly

    I just went to my first trade tasting a week ago, and I don't know how people work their way through these things on a regular basis. I was thrilled to be there, and tasted many very good wines, but sweet mother of mercy! After tasting not really more than about 20 whites, once we hit the reds, I felt ill-equipped to judge anything I was tasting. Sure, spitting is good, but even so. . . .Still, I would say yes in heartbeat to an invite to another tasting like this.

    Hey, I've got a product idea for ya — you could write an e-book on how to effectively "work" a trade tasting, you now, tips and tricks on trying lots o' wine, AND still being able to recall the details of each. : )
    When I got home later with my book of wines from the tasting (after the 3 hour nap/coma I lapsed into), I was looking at the list, scratching my head, asking myself why I didn't take more notes. All that knowledge, lost forever . . . .

    • 1WineDude

      Well, first I'd need to figure that out for myself, then write about it… ;-)

      • Jo Diaz

        YOu guy just need to age a bit, like a fine wine… Trust me, it will happen.

        • 1WineDude

          The aging part, for sure… :-)

  • UnmitigatedGaul

    Bless you for saying it Dude.
    Evaluating wines in this sort of environment is the equivalent of picking new a car for your family by driving diffewrent vehicles around a professional track. Once you get home, you'll end up having to squeeze the kids into the trunk.

    • 1WineDude

      Oh, that analogy is soooooo good…!

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