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A Plea for Sanity

2011 March 25
by Mike

Kudos to Jancis Robinson, who this week published an article suggesting that wine writers stop playing monkeys to the organ grinders and hold off on releasing their Bordeaux en primeur scores until after the chateaux have set opening prices. As Jancis surely anticipated, and as subsequent comments from Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator’s Thomas Matthews affirmed, her proposal was a non-starter. Still, I think it was admirable of Jancis, who is a major critic herself, to so forthrightly acknowledge that the en primeur charade mainly serves the interests of producers and to issue this plea for some true consumer advocacy. Credit, too, to Anthony Hanson, who gave Jancis the idea for a journalistic embargo, and whose deliciously biting remarks are included in her piece, which is well worth a read.

10 Responses leave one →
  1. Jack Bulkin permalink
    March 31, 2011

    Bill, I have been deleted dozens of times by Squires and Leve. Iwas put on double secret probation once for merely mentioning the word “cesore”. I have no fear of that tyrannical little creep so rest assured I will state how i feel there or anywhere. I also left WineBeserkers because of censorship by the administrator.
    I agree with you that the Bordeaux Chateau are doing irreparable harm to their future by relying onthe new found wealth of Chinese, Korean and Hong Kong investors. The wines are collections and bribe mechanisms there. Bordeaux does not generally go with the food and spices. There are many like you who will always be repulsed by the pricing decisions of Bordeaux Classified Chateaux today.
    I added this today to Squires Board in your honor:
    But as you can plainly see here on Parker’s own Forum or in similar postings on Wine Spectator , “we” are not among the insiders and our needs and wants are irrelevent. Sorry you feel locked out. I am over it and fortunately have enough wine so these irrational and short sighted pricing decisions by the Chateaux no longer will haunt me. As I said in the beginning of this thread, I feel for the young non affluent consumer who are now priced out of Bordeaux classifieds and must pass over them on all restaurant lists and buying decisions.

    Jack J. Bulkin
    03-31-2011, 02:48 PM

  2. Bill permalink
    March 31, 2011


    You’re right. It’s true I should probably give the satellites and smaller players a second look. It’s not fair that they be tarnished by the branding/commodity games of the big boys, but I think the unseemliness of the whole marketing charade has just turned my attention elsewhere.

    BTW, that’s pretty gutsy to post something like that on Parker’s board. Squires’ skills at suppressing dissent make Colonel Qaddafi look like an amateur, and even something as inoffensive as your comment, so long as it challenges the established order, I understand is usually met with swift excommunication. :) Good on you.


  3. Jack Bulkin permalink
    March 31, 2011

    Bill, you are sadly correct. As I stated on Parker’s forum unless a young wine enthusiast is a trust fund baby or a Chinese/Hong Kong Industrialist they are now priced out of Classified Bordeaux. I have purchased Bords for 30 years. The only good news is that the upswing in quality at many of the satelite appellations and Petit Chateaux is such that $20-40 dollar wines in very good vintages are as good as many classifieds from the 70’s and 80’s except for several great vintages. To further illustrate the sad reality for young wine buyers a 30 something Parker Pointer I occasionally drink with has offered me some of his California high scorers for some of my Right Bank Bordeaux from good but not great years. I am happy to pour my wines for him but don’t need his alcoholic super ripe cabs in trade.

  4. Bill permalink
    March 31, 2011


    In all seriousness, Bordeaux is essentially lost to my generation of wine-drinkers (in my early 30’s). Open a restaurant wine list, and the Bordeaux section is invariably a solid wall of 3-, 4-, and even 5-digit prices that either make the eyes skip over it entirely or are so absurd as to elicit a John McEnroe-esque, “you CAN’T be SERIOUS!” from friends at the table. I can’t even remember the last time anyone ordered a Bordeaux or brought one to a party.

    It’s just largely seen by my peers as expensive, inaccessible, and exclusively the province of the global business elite. When you see the news about young Cheval Blancs being popped and poured at wild parties in Davos or hear about Chinese symbols being slapped on Lafite, well then you know precisely who the Bordelais are aiming for. It ain’t the family dinner table, and it ain’t even the palate of the serious wine enthusiast. It’s too bad, as more people should be able to enjoy the fruits of some of the greatest terroir on Earth, but they never will. And the Bordelais seem to be just fine with that.


  5. March 30, 2011

    Nice, Bill! That’s what it seems to be coming to.

    Sadly, high-end Bordeaux has become exactly what you say–a commodity, a trophy, an “alternative asset.” It puts a very unappealing face on Bordeaux, and I think it is the reason (along with price) that so many oenophiles seem to be looking elsewhere for pleasure these days.


  6. Bill permalink
    March 30, 2011

    I’m beginning to think all this scoring and pricing is actually coming too late. I propose the Bordelais institute “sur la vigne” tastings, in which Parker and Suckling tour the vineyards, taste choice grapes straight from the vine, and then score them . Within a few years, it’ll then have advanced to “dans les nuages,” in which they are given, in May, exclusive access to long-term weather forecasts for the summer and fall, from which they can derive their scores for the individual wines.

    After all, wine isn’t a beverage to enjoy with a meal! It’s a commodity to be marketed, auctioned, displayed as a trophy, and traded on Liv-ex.

  7. March 30, 2011

    Jack, Francois,

    Not surprisingly, I agree with both of you. Per your comment, Francois, I think it would be best if journalists sat out the en primeur tastings, not least because it is ridiculous to be passing judgment on wines so young and undeveloped. And you’re absolutely right, Jack–Parker will never hold off on releasing scores until after the wines are priced or in bottle because it is not in his interest to surrender his influence. But it would be nice if he, Tom Matthews, and some of these others at least had the candor to acknowledge, a la Jancis, that something has gone awry with the en primeur process and that the interests of consumers are not necessarily being served.


  8. Jack Bulkin permalink
    March 29, 2011

    The Classified Growths have established a ridiculous charade in using the critic scores to pump up prices of young wines two years before the wines are even released. At least Jancis and Bettane finally acknowledge the farce that E.P. wine scoring and pricing has become. No respected critic should allow the Bordelais to use E.P. scores as justification for pricing. Scores should only be released after wines are priced or bottled which ever comes first. That would be in the interest of fairness towards pricing and the consumer. Robert Parker the “Wine Advocate” will never stop playing the fiddler for the dancing greed monkeys in Bordeaux.
    Count on his scores every Spring after E.P. tastings and continued elevated pricing using his scores as justification by the Chateaux.

  9. mauss permalink
    March 28, 2011

    Obviously, some journalists are starting to understand what kind of puppies they are in accepting the primeurs system organized by Bordeaux.
    Jancis Robinson is quite strong about the secondary effect of the scores by Parker on the prices of the wines, knowing perfectly that she will not be successfull in her approach, at least for some years to come.
    But Michel Bettane has started by an open letter to UGCB a new fight (in french on my blog) about the ridiculous race to be the first one to publish which forces in some way Bordeaux to “offer” a special treatment to some english names such as Suckling.
    The future fights to keep in mind : tasting blind or not, and, moreover, the ridiculous pretentious idea that tasting a wine inside 10 seconds give you the right to put a score of something totally unfinished.
    Well : it is time to give back the primeurs tastings to the sole Negoce and not anymore to journalists !

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