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How Critical Should A Wine Critic Be?

2011 June 2
by Mike

In my post last week about pinot noir and alcohol levels, I mentioned John Gilman’s biting review of the 2010 Château Pavie. While most critics awarded the wine high marks, Gilman called it “the biggest train wreck of the vintage” and gave it a score of 47-52+? points. Predictably, his harsh words and hilariously low rating, published in his newsletter View From the Cellar, touched off a rancorous debate. Some people lauded the 2010 Pavie and accused Gilman of poor judgment. Others suggested that the broadside against Pavie was just an attention-getting stunt. But Gilman also found plenty of defenders, who praised him for his candor. I would just like to know how he decided on a score of 47-52+?. How did he come up with those particular numbers? And what’s with the plus sign and the question mark at the end—does it mean that the wine might eventually be upgraded to 53 points?

This latest kerfuffle over Pavie (and has there ever been a more polarizing wine?) raises an interesting question: How far should critics go in trashing wines they don’t like? Taste is subjective, and we know that it is at least partly rooted in physiological factors. So many of these debates over individual wines amount to people talking past each other, and it’s clear that they are doing so because they are not really tasting the same things, even though they are drinking the exact same wines. Pavie is the perfect illustration of this. It is made in a flamboyant style, and while some people enjoy all that ripeness, extraction, and oak, others find it vile. People perceive these attributes differently, and thus react differently to the wine. So what’s a critic to do?

One option is the artful dodge, and we see a lot of that these days. Rather than slam a wine, a critic will give it a respectable score and write a tasting note that essentially says, “A well-made wine in a style that I don’t enjoy but that others might.” If the objective is to steer clear of controversy and avoid possibly alienating readers (or winemakers), this approach obviously makes sense. But it also emits a distinct whiff of pusillanimity: Critics are supposed to tell us what they think, damn the consequences. Someone once quipped that critics are like eunuchs at an orgy; you might say that a critic who softens or masks his own opinions so as to not cause offense has castrated himself.

Gilman clearly didn’t soften or mask his feelings about the 2010 Pavie. However, the score he gave the wine suggests that it is so egregiously bad that it shouldn’t even be put on the market and that anyone who finds pleasure in it ought to immediately seek a palate transplant, and I think this is what caused so much indignation. It seems to me that Gilman’s rating conveyed an unmistakable message: there can be no honest difference of opinion over the 2010 Pavie; it is swill, and if you like it, your judgment is as flawed as the wine. Is that a fair reading of his score? Did he go too far, or was he doing what a critic should do?

For what it’s worth, I have a different approach—a third way, if you will. I think it is silly to give a good rating to a wine that I abhor simply because it is “well-made” and someone else might like it. Although I haven’t tried the 2010, I’m not a fan of what Gérard Perse and Michel Rolland have done with Pavie; in fact, I can’t stand any of those New Wave Saint-Emilions and have made my views very clear. On the other hand, I don’t see much use in handing out failing or near-failing grades. Sure, slapping a D or an F on a wine might have some shock or entertainment value, but I am not interested in evaluating degrees of badness, and I think a gentleman’s C more than gets the point across.

If there is a whole category of wines that I detest, such as those modernist Saint-Emilions, I see no reason to even bother with individual reviews and scores. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy writing caustic tasting notes as much as the next guy (although maybe not as much as Gilman!), but how many different ways can you say “ugh”? I think a paragraph explaining what I dislike about those wines is more than adequate. Taste is personal, and while I don’t sugarcoat my reviews, I also don’t want to spend a lot of time trying to convince people who enjoy Pavie that they are abusing their palates. I’d rather spill words pointing them to wines that I think are better. In my experience, people welcome recommendations; they don’t particularly appreciate being told that their taste in wine stinks.

I’m curious to hear what you think. If a critic doesn’t like a wine, how scathing should he or she be? Should critics seek to strike a balance between candor and tact, recognizing that wine appreciation is subjective, or should they just unload? Scalpel or machete—you tell me.

35 Responses leave one →
  1. June 1, 2013

    What’s up mates, how is everything, and what you desire to say on the topic of this piece of writing, in my view its truly amazing in favor of me.

  2. May 9, 2013

    Good write-up. I absolutely appreciate this site.
    Thanks!

  3. June 9, 2011

    Evan,

    The reason I mentioned filtering is exactly what you said, those wines may show brett but are stable. Velcorin, which I mentioned but you didn’t, will also kill brett active brett cells and can be used in place of flitering in this case. — My point didn’t lump filtered or unfiltered (or unvelcorined) wines together, it specifically mentioned and excluded those.

    As far as a wine writer finding this out ahead of time, perhaps I am giving wine writers short shrift. I assume folks like Mike, Steve Heimoff, Tanzer, Parker, Galloni, etc. receive hundreds of samples annually. I didn’t know that they could easily find out, for each wine, if it had been filtered or velcorined before tasting them.

    Finally, how is oak changing with time different than active brett? Well…for one thing, the oak influence is the same across all bottles and is changing in the same way for all bottles. Brett, being alive (unlike the oak), will grow in some bottles, but not in others, based on a number of circumstances….many known, some perhaps not known.

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

  4. June 8, 2011

    Adam,

    I understand your point, and I hear it all the time. But here’s why it doesn’t really work.

    There are plenty of wines that are indeed filtered but do have some level of Brett. I have some in my cellar. Those wines are essentially stable, compared to unfiltered wines with Brett that can bloom, so to speak. Your point lumps all wines with Brett into the latter category. Writers can easily find out if a wine has been filtered; often they know before tasting. So for unfiltered wines with Brett, your point is a good one. For filtered wines, it’s not.

    Also, I hear writers talk all the time about how oak “integrates with time” or “is aggressive now but will take a step back.” So much of it seems like optimism, but let’s just say it’s true. Is that all that different than a wine with a changing level of Brett?

  5. June 8, 2011

    See Sam Sifton’s smackdown of Imperial No. 9 in today’s NYT for an example of a useful critical pan. It may be mean, but he calls it like he sees it. Personally, as a consumer, I find that much more helpful than a mealy-mouthed “it’s not great, but to each his own” kind of review.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/08/dining/reviews/imperial-no-nine-nyc-restaurant-review.html?_r=2&src=tptw

    Should I go, or should I not go? I know where Sifton stands.

  6. June 8, 2011

    Great thread, as usual, Mike. I think a gentleman’s C is fine most of the time, but a well-reasoned, well-argued grenade (used sparingly) is an invaluable way to spark discussion, challenge orthodoxy, and stave off complacency. When it comes from someone who normally shies away from polemical language, it can be especially effective. I’d be willing to bet good money that a certain writer’s takedown of sauvignon blanc (http://www.slate.com/id/2139871/) was one of his most popular and widely debated pieces of all time.

    Plus, I feel the critical pan is an important way of regulating norms within a particular culture or sub-culture. Movie critics dutifully shuffle into theaters each summer to view Michael Bay’s latest dross and promptly issue scathing (and typically funny) reviews. The public sees them anyway, but the critics are doing something important in distinguishing Bay’s work from that of real, creative directors who are trying to say something meaningful through their films, rather than just finance another estate in Malibu. In short, critics do a valuable service in helping define the line between art and entertainment, and the well-executed pan is a great technique for doing that.

    The same should apply for wine. While we oenophiles might take it for granted that Yellow Tail or Yellow Label are insipid wines, I’ve heard plenty of folks speak of them as if they’re well-made, high-end products. When people can’t distinguish between what’s industrialized plonk and what’s a well-made wine, it’s a sign that the marketing machines of these wine corporations are dictating taste, and that’s not healthy for the wine culture. Perhaps a little more critical opprobrium of the Gilman variety is exactly what’s needed.

    Cheers,

    Bill Moore

  7. June 8, 2011

    Evan,

    A couple of thoughts….

    1) One of the difference between oak and brett is that the oak influence is the same across all bottles. Brett is living in the bottle (unless the live cells have been filtered or velcorined out) and thus each bottle will be different. Even if I enjoyed brett’s influence, I’d have a hard time offering a big score for a wine knowing that my reader would be experiencing a different wine.

    2) I’d argue that sleeker wines get big press from lots of wine writers now….but big wines get big scores from some of those writers, at least when they taste them blind.

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

  8. June 7, 2011

    Here’s why I tend to have trouble with the “well made for its style” kind of review. Oak and Brett. Some critics love the sweet, powerful tones of oak in their wines (Suckling regularly uses six or seven descriptors, and it’s common for more than half to describe the oak influence). Other critics don’t dig the sweet oaky style, but they’ll give it good marks nonetheless. With Brett, if you dig some Brett, that’s one thing. But how many critics have said that a wine was “too funky for my taste, but well made for those who dig it” and still offered a big score? It almost never happens. And yet both oak and Brett are outside agents, if you will.

    A simpler way to say that is: Big wines get big scores. Sleeker wines only get big scores from those who appreciate the style.

  9. Jack Bulkin permalink
    June 7, 2011

    It’s just ” Off with his little head” Wilfred. : ) Jeff Leve and Suckling have much to fear with Billy Bobbit…..

  10. Wilfred permalink
    June 7, 2011

    Ouch!

  11. Jack Bulkin permalink
    June 7, 2011

    Bill a machete???? A guillotine??? Those who know and love you would probably be more accurate in calling you a “Mohel”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohel.
    I think that crtics are only useful as a starting point. To use them as see all end all wine buying sources results in lots of bottles that are wasted space in one’s cellar.

  12. June 6, 2011

    Thanks, all, for the terrific input; a lot to chew over here. Just to be clear: I am not opposed to giving negative reviews; far from it (as for that “Mr. Nice Guy” jab, Bill Klapp–c’mon, you know me better than that!). I simply don’t want to spend time assessing degrees of badness. I’ve made clear what I think of those modernist St Emilions, and I’ve explained exactly what I dislike about them. If I write up a bunch of scathing tasting notes for all the New Wave St Emilions that I don’t like, does it really benefit you, the reader? Sure, it might give you a good laugh, and there’s some value in that, but is it added information that you really need? Likewise, do you need to know whether I think, say, the 2010 Troplong Mondot merits an F, or a D-, or merely a D+? If I just give the wine a C, are you going to be any more inclined to buy it?

    I certainly understand the frustration that Wilfred expresses with critics who pull their punches. But I don’t see how my approach amounts to pulling punches.

    Anyway, I emailed John over the weekend. He was just returning from a few days in San Francisco. Now that he’s back, perhaps he’ll jump in.

  13. June 6, 2011

    Trashing wines in a review is like trashing an artisan and/or farmer and one reason it’s probably not done very often. It’s just in poor taste. However, wines like Pavie, with their billionaire owners and high paid consultants, seem to be fair game. Does anyone get sentimental about Pavie? (aside from Gerard Perse)

    Gilman picks the scab off of the proxy war over the 2003, which otherwise seems to have been completely healed. Since then, the major critics, including Parker and Jancis, are pretty much in lock-step agreement about recommending Pavie http://www.bordoverview.com/?wine=Pavie, so it’s great to hear someone rating wines take the opposite stance once again.

    Otherwise, just as you mention, the whole ratings game becomes toothless with each critic politely trying to be “objective”, compounding the myth that wine scores are “objective”.

    I like your policy (but I wouldn’t call it a “third way” especially in the UK :) of not wasting time reviewing individual wines that you don’t like, however you’re not really in the wine rating business. Or at least not in the points business. Critics in the points business can’t avoid not assigning a value to a wine such as Pavie. If Gilman really hates it, good for him for not pulling punches.

  14. Wilfred permalink
    June 5, 2011

    Personally, I’m for a critic calling it as good or bad as he or she sees it. If Gilman found the wine disgusting (apparently he did), then he should give a rating reflecting that sentiment. To me, a “gentleman’s C” is like endlessly promoting a failing student, year after year, even though the student hasn’t learned the material. It gives a false sense of “adequate” (which is what a C means) because the critic doesn’t genuinely find the wine adequate.

    Its just refreshing to finally hear (or, in this case, read) someone call it like he sees it compared to the milk toast (pain grille?) reviews in which the range is compressed and not a negative word be said.

  15. mauss permalink
    June 5, 2011

    If I can easily understand an opinion so bad about a wine tasted not blind during primeurs where the wines are not even babies, I will just ask this critic to taste it blind with some others crus from the same level, in 5 or 10 years. We will see then, if, like Jancis has done, he will come back or not on this score.
    He may already start with the vintages 98, 00, 01.
    Whatever, we are in a free world and no doubt that putting such scores makes you come under the radar. In this respect, this critic is first class !

  16. June 4, 2011

    Wine folk who submit to “professionals reviewers” get what they deserve. The moment YOU as a winery put your marketing eggs in some reviewers basket and not rely on your own abilities, then justice is more than served.

    This is yet just another reason to turned to the D.I.Y. method of Wine marketing. Usually, no one can market your wines better than you.

  17. Bill Klapp permalink
    June 4, 2011

    Deb, I hear you, but if, say, DRC Romanee-Conti is a total disaster in a particular vintage, then I think that, given its long and stellar track record, the wine world would want to know of the disaster. Now, that wine may not be the best example, because few can afford it, but my point is only its high profile. Whether Pavie rises to that level of need-to-know is hard to say, since it is a Johnny-come-lately among Bordeaux. (And I am not siding with Gilman and declaring it to be a disaster!) Other than that situation, and maybe a few others, I agree with you that there is no sense wasting space on wines that the critic does not care for.

  18. June 3, 2011

    There are so many good/great wines to be tasted, why take up space writing about bad ones? In my blog, I review wines I’ve enjoyed, and I make it a point to provide useful info about the place, people, history, etc. Those things — a wine’s context — are often half the fun!
    And yes, I often taste wines that I don’t enjoy but I know others will. In that case, I do the same thing I do in my wine shop: I say, “Here’s something right up your alley.”
    But I have to admit — I’ve occasionally been unable to resist writing that “The Emperor has no clothes,” when I taste a big name wine that has no apparent substance.

  19. Bill Klapp permalink
    June 3, 2011

    Al, you should see my biceps from holding up the Karis book on my chest night after night. Buff!

    And somebody e-mail Mauss and propose Gilman for GJE membership. And see if they will be willing to sell tickets to tastings!

  20. June 3, 2011

    Thanks all for these comments; fantastic discussion as always. I have a couple of things to add but am about to run out the door to my six-year-old daughter’s hip-hop dance recital (don’t ask), so just a quick response for now.

    I suppose part of what motivated John to trash Pavie is that he regards these modern-style Bordeaux as aberrant wines, and perhaps also sees them as threatening more classical-styled clarets. I’m going to email him tonight to see if he might have time to join the discussion. As I said, I can’t stand these New Wave St Emilions, either, but I am not as alarmed by their existence. In fact, I think they served a useful purpose. Competition is a good thing; it encourages everyone to improve. Le Pin is generally recognized as the first of the so-called garage wines, and Christian Moueix has said that the advent of Le Pin was a good thing for Petrus–it obliged Moueix and his colleagues to raise their game. So while I don’t like Pavie and its ilk, I can’t get as exercised about these wines as John does. I will also admit that I am just not all that concerned about Bordeaux in general these days. The prices are nuts, I can’t abide the branding and corporatization, and with so much excellent wine from so many other places, I am content to leave Bordeaux to the Chinese and the punters.

    Anyway, back with more later, and thanks again for all the thought-provoking comments.

  21. Tom Palmer permalink
    June 3, 2011

    I’m all for critics calling it like they see it. If Gilman, Asimov et al. don’t like what they describe as modern, international wines then I support them giving low scores.

    However, I believe the ability to distinguish modern. vs. traditional wines must be confirmed blind and must be repeatable. If Gilman can’t pick out the Pavie’s of the world without the label then it is not his taste buds doing the scoring.

    If someone like John or Eric participated in the GJE or something similar and confirmed they really abhor these modern wines this would greatly improve their credibility in my eyes.

    If they say they need the label for “back story” then I reserve the right to rate the critic as likely a wine elitist who is full of cork!

  22. June 3, 2011

    I find Bill’s last comment very interesting. I’m just a wine consumer. I too have looked, and continue to look (although the cellar is full) to wine critics to direct me to wines that I might want to buy (and, hopefully, steer me from wines I might not). I also have looked to wine critics for an education about wine and wine production. That remains ongoing, regardless of whether my purchasing slows down.

    So is there a distinction between wine writing and wine criticism? Sure. Is there a huge overlap between the two? Definitely. Would I, as a consumer, like there to be more overlap. Also, definitely.

    Wine is a lot about what’s in the bottle. But it’s also about other things, and in my humble view it’s wrong to deny it. It’s about history, it’s about farming, it’s about geography and place and the people who made the wine, and connection to all of those things. If I can’t blindly taste the difference between one of a million bottles of K-J Vintner’s Reserve and one of 2400 bottles of a small Chardonnay producer, that doesn’t answer all of the questions, nor, necessarily, does a blind judgment that they are of equivalent “quality” tell me which I want to drink.

    That’s where the wine writing part comes in. Why would anyone curl up with Harry Karis’s CdP book (not that you could hold it up for long)? Not to find out which wine will taste best blind, but to connect with these particular wines, made in this particular place, by these particular people. Blind criticism is incredibly helpful to the consumer, but it only goes so far. The balance is hard for those who purport to be critics and judgers of empirical “quality,” and that’s why we’re having this discussion.

    Cheers,

    Al

  23. Bill Klapp permalink
    June 3, 2011

    Chuck, I agree with what you are saying. Mike is a wine writer, and he is all about communication and education. To my mind, if you really want to know wine, you need to read about it, study it, immerse yourself in it. (Oh, and TASTE it. Let’s not forget that.) Many wine critics simply cannot write. All can apparently generate tasting notes ad nauseum, and also arrive at all manner of conclusions based upon their tasting experiences. There is certainly a place for that on the wine learning curve. You can learn as much from critics that you hate as from critics that you love. However, that is not the same thing as the researching, interviewing, traveling and the other activities that allow wine writers to ply their trade. To me, wine critics offer personal opinions, with no need to do anything other than taste wine and opine. You do not have to fact-check personal opinions. There is no issue of proof or disproof. Most wine writers will fail if all they are serving up is opinion. Personally, I have collected pretty much all of the wine that I am likely to. For that reason, wine critics are of ever-diminishing importance to me, unless they are issuing dire “drink up” warnings for wines in my cellar. I will never lose my interest in wine writing, however, and I fervently hope that, with the imminent passing of the phenomenon known as Robert M. Parker, Jr. and nobody positioned to take his place, wine criticism will take a back seat and wine writing will, for the first time, take center stage…

  24. June 3, 2011

    Sorry to say, your proposed middle ground of a gentleman’s C won’t work. I was recently publicly flamed for rating a popular California pinot noir in the 80s. Herd opinion brooks no dissent!

    I think part of the reason for this is that if you drink wine for your own enjoyment, you don’t have to care what others think of it, but if you drink wine to impress others, it is absolutely vital that everybody be in agreement on the awesomeness of what you’re drinking, because otherwise they are robbing from you the power to impress.

  25. David Cerruti permalink
    June 3, 2011

    “One cannot review a bad book without showing off.” — W.H. Auden

    Perhaps that also applies to wine. If a taster doesn’t like a wine, please say so, explain why, and skip the rant.

  26. Chuck Hayward permalink
    June 3, 2011

    As always, another great thought provoking article. And as always, a number of thoughts pop up in response. I guess for me, the question starts with the role of a wine writer. Are wine writers here to be journalists, educators or critics? I think most readers want a bit of each. There’s a need to hear stories and to be kept up to date with the latest developments. Readers also need to learn more about wine and expand their knowledge base. And as they become more involved with wine and develop their own opinions about what they like and do not like, they want to hear other opinions and they can either seek confirmation of their beliefs or enter a world of endless debate and invectives.

    Something tells me that a writer who appeals to all three areas will prove to be a moderate voice in the world of wine and will gain a broader readership and ultimately, perform a more useful function for the wine industry and for wine criticism. Those who choose the hacksaw are often writing for a smaller audience (and in many cases it is an audience of one) that does little to expand insight and knowledge about the world of wine. I am all for expanding interest in wine as I think that wine is a great thing that people should try and enjoy. And I think that writers like yourself and Charlie Olken share these basic tenets. I guess I just don’t see how the machete will accomplish that goal.

  27. June 3, 2011

    Thanks for a thought-provoking piece.

    It seems to me that there is no such thing as “one size fits all” when it comes to wine-writing. Your style is not my style is not Robert Parker’s style is probably not Galloni’s style.

    Some critics refuse to post negative reviews. I believe that my readers are entitled to know what I think of every wine I taste. They are paying the bills, after all. But, when I was writing a tasting note column in the Los Angeles Times, it was clear that it would be a waste of limited space to cover wines I did not like.

    As for how critical, well, that again depends. I made a living on Gentleman C’s in college for classes that did not excite, but I can’t see how that approach works in wine criticism. A wine that is disliked by the critic does need to be described for what it is.

    But a good wine that may not be to a critic’s style does not need to be destroyed by a disrepectful review. I may or may not be less bothered by highly ripe wines than you, but at some level, usually when the wines lose fruit, lose varietal character and begin to take on desiccated characteristics, then clean and well-made becomes excess to me. Frankly, it is OK that we differ. But what we really need to do if we are to be of continuing value to our readers is to be consistent, clear and helpful. If we accomplish those goals, then it does not matter whether we give C’s or B’s to good wines that do not earn our A’s or D’s. What matters most is the way we craft our words so that our readers know what we are talkiing about.

  28. Bill Klapp permalink
    June 3, 2011

    I cannot argue with your positive “educational” route, Mike, and sometimes the carrot is better than the stick. But you do have to ask yourself how many wine critics are driven primarily by the desire to educate rather than the need for self-expression, validation, attention, credibility or other ego-driven gratification. I say not many. I think that many start there, but those that enjoy success and notoriety become wrapped up in managing their images and their brands. I know enough about you and your palate to trust your “Mr. Nice Guy” educational approach. However, in this era of rampant grade inflation among wine critics (yes, even that gnarly, nasty John Gilman when he falls in love with a bottle of Muscadet), I can only stand so much good news. A steady diet of empty superlatives ultimately numbs the mind, and makes separating the vinous wheat from the chaff all the more difficult.

    I’m with Betty on this one. The bottom line is that any reader who regularly follows one or more wine critics inevitably calibrates his or her own palate against the critic’s, positively or negatively. Tasting notes that seem absurdly wrong-headed and overwrought and bring on apoplexy in many are often as useful, or more useful, than those that simply confirm the greatness of one of your favorite wines. Thus, I am not misled by Gilman’s digital histrionics. I know his work, and I know that in so doing, he has “taken the scalpel”, as Betty suggested, not just to the 2010 Pavie, but also to ALL Perse-era Pavies and a whole slew of garagiste Johnny-come-latelys, and to their henchmen Parker, Rolland, Suckling, et al. I see it as 2010 Pavie-as-metaphor for a particular style of Bordeaux that many, including you, me, Gilman, find to be a negative development that is not to our liking. I am afraid that taking the high road and saying, “Well, the 2010 Pavie is not my cup of tea, but the 1961 Latour, now THERE’S a wine!” does not stir the juice in the same way that Gilman has done. I find that much of the learning that goes on in the world of fine wine is the result of synthesis resulting from an ongoing, quite aggressive dialectic that can be found both in wine literature and, God help us, on wine boards. And, of course, on thought-provoking blogs like this one!

    Now, when the issue is criticizing CRITICS rather than wines, the scalpel is the ONLY way to go. Or, in my case, a machete. Or guillotine. My reputation precedes me, as they say…

  29. June 3, 2011

    With respect to the reviewing of wines critics dislike, I’ve always been troubled by critics’ unwillingness to publish their “bad” reviews. I will use Parker as an example. For the most part a WA subscriber gets reviews that fall in 15 points of the 100 point scale, 85 and up. The stated theory behind publishing reviews only of recommended wines is that there is limited space and resources, and that it is not “helpful” to publish scores of non-recommended wines.

    I have always had a problem with this. There are lots of wines out there, only a small subset of which are reviewed. If I don’t know whether, on the one hand, a non-reviewed wine was tasted by a critic I follow and was not recommended, or, on the other, that it was not tasted at all, I am lacking a critical piece of information. My view is that if a critic tastes a wine sufficiently to make a judgment, he or she should publish something about that experience, whether it is a full review/rating, just a review, just a rating, just a notation that the wine was “tasted but not recommended,” something.

    All of this is to say that non-positive reviews are useful. As to whether Gilman’s Pavie review is just a publicity stunt, and one in bad taste, at that, I don’t know. I don’t really have a problem with it, some will see him as a gadfly, some will see him as a clown. As long as he doesn’t care about those reactions, there’s no real harm in it I guess (a critic is just as entitled to hate something as to love it — and Parker himself made his name as the contrarian poking the establishment in the eye). He’s gotten everyone talking, including us. There’s value to that in and of itself.

    Cheers,

    Al

  30. June 3, 2011

    An eloquent, balanced and reasonable summation of what is always a matter of great subjectivity. There’s a old wine story told in Australian Wine show circles about the late great wine men Len Evans and Rudi Komon. My recollection of the story is that it was very early in Evans’ wine show days and he was a steward at the Royal Sydney Show. Komon was judging the Australian “Sherry” classes and held up a glass of one of the entries and loudly declared ” This is the finest Australian fino I’ve ever tasted”. Evans, keen to perform his stewards role to its max, quickly asked if Rudi would like some more to which came the retort “No thank you. I can’t stand Australian sherry”.

    And that, as they say, is the ball game. Here you have a classic example of a professional taster being able to put aside his personal subjectivity and assess the wine as an example of what it’s MEANT to be. This is a fundamental distinction between “gifted amateurs” and “professionals”.

    More recently in Australia, we’ve seen the decrying of local shiraz matured in American oak. Irrespective of whether the wine is in balance or not, the mere presence of American oak has been enough to cause some pundits apoplexy. Personally, I’m not a fan of it, however if the wine is balanced…..

    Interesting questions to ponder with the Pavie 2010 are:

    1. Did John score it so low because he thought it was just plain bad booze and/or it was not typical/representative/identifiable as BX?
    2. Did RMP score it so highly for the converse?

    I can’t recall either givinggave any context or explanation to their scores. Maybe you can enlighten me/us.

    FWIW, I’m a subscriber to “View” and have been to the WA on and off over the years.

    Really enjoying this blog Mike. Always an interesting read.
    Rgds Frank

  31. June 2, 2011

    Well, just as there are different styles of wine for different palates, I think the world can accomodate more than one approach to wine criticism. I’m a subscriber to View from the Cellar because (i) most importantly, I find I have a fair overlap with his tastes in wine, and (ii) I enjoy reading his reviews. They are well written and definitely reflect his personal viewpoint. The “artful dodges” you noted above Mike all to often cloak some wine writers true opinions and render their critiques pretty anodyne (and in some cases perhaps they don’t really deserve being labelled as “crtics” at all).

    Personally I fregard John’s scathing write-ups of the likes of Pavie as pure entertainment (his final score for the Pavie is surely meant mostly in jest), but John is filling his own (subscriber only) niche. It wouldn’t be a sensible approach for a more “mainstream” critic with a broader audience. I think your approach serves you very well (hey, that’s why I am lurking about your blog).

    Of course, sometimes I worry that one day John will decide he feels that way about one of my wines. No one likes to hear their baby being called fat, ugly and stupid. Well, I guess fat is ok for wine and babies…

  32. June 2, 2011

    What a great topic. Thanks for covering it so well.

    I would prefer a scalpel over a butter knife. “Well made” reviews are boring and not very helpful. I want to see some color. The more color, the better.

    If a critic tells me my taste sucks, I can handle that. I know what I like, and I honor what I like. Just because somebody is a critic doesn’t mean I need to bow down to him or her or treat his or her reviews like gospel.

    But since reviews can play such a big role in the demand and pricing of wine, giving a wine a D or F rating is a bit much.

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