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Random Notes for A Hot, Hazy, Humid Wednesday

2013 May 29
by Mike

I gave a talk last week about America’s wine revolution at the Mercantile Library in Cincinnati. It is a lovely, privately funded institution that has a terrific speakers program, and I was honored that they invited me out. Around 100 people attended, and it was gratifying to see how interested they were in the culture of wine. There were a few self-acknowledged wine geeks in the crowd, but most were casual wine enthusiasts. Yet, they all seemed completely engaged by the topic. I spoke for around 35 minutes, then took questions for a half-hour.  The questions were very smart, and had we not run out of time, the discussion might have gone on long into the evening. We know that cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Chicago have incredibly vibrant wine scenes, and we also know that there are plenty of oenophiles in places like Charlotte and Austin. But at the risk of sounding like an ignorant coastal type, it was very encouraging to see that the wine bug is truly a national phenomenon. During my talk, I made the claim that United States has the most dynamic wine culture of any country now, and the audience in Cincinnati proved my point.

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I drove back and forth to Cincinnati, about nine hours each way. Driving was probably not the wisest choice—the Pennsylvania Turnpike is as dull as it is interminable!—but it was depressingly revealing. There was nothing to eat on the highway except fast food, and by the look of things, fast food was pretty much all that was available off the highway, too, in places such as western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. Sure, we all know fast food is everywhere, but I don’t think you can fully appreciate the extent to which it dominates the American landscape until you drive through some of these areas.

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Acclaimed consulting winemaker Stéphane Derenoncourt gave an interview earlier this month to the French newspaper Le Monde in which he acknowledged preparing special cuvées expressly for the annual Bordeaux en primeurs tastings. Derenoncourt told Le Monde that the en primeurs blends are put into barrel sooner than the rest of the vintage so that they taste more evolved than would otherwise be the case six months after the harvest. Decanter magazine picked up the story last week and cited a handful of winemakers confirming that this is standard practice in Bordeaux. One winery owner, Yann Bouscasse of Châeau Cantinot, confessed that he gives different samples to different critics; some taste from new oak barrels, others from older barrels. “James Suckling, Neal Martin or Robert Parker will get a new barrel,” Bouscasse said, “while Gault Millau, or Revue du Vin de France, will get second or third use. American tasters can cope better with oak—Suckling likes a wine with more body.” Setting aside the fact that Martin is British, not American, Bouscasse’s candid remark calls to mind Michael Kinsley’s famous definition of a gaffe: it is when a politician accidentally tells the truth. I might have more to say on this topic tomorrow, but I am just curious: is anyone surprised to learn that the Bordelais are doctoring up samples for critics?

21 Responses leave one →
  1. R.N. permalink
    October 5, 2013

    Nothing new here for 4 months: I am deleting it from my bookmarks. Bye.

  2. cilt bakimi permalink
    July 25, 2013

    Cilt temizli?inin cilt bak?m?nda yap?lmas? gereken ilk ad?m oldu?unu biliyoruz. Cildinizi nemlendirmeden önce yüzünüzde kalan son art?klar? temizlemek ve gözeneklerinizin s?k? olmas? için tonikleri kullanmak ?art. Kozmetik ve cilt uzmanlar? akneli ve ya?l? ciltlerin tonik kullanmas?n?n gerekli oldu?unu söylüyor. Çünkü ya?l? ciltlerde gözenekler daha aç?kt?r. Ya?l? ve akneli ciltlerde tonik seçerken biraz alkollü olmas? tercih edilir. Tonik kullan?m? kuru ciltlerde çok da gerekli de?ildir.

  3. Elfida permalink
    July 25, 2013

    I love with yours : ) Cilt bak?m? http://www.elfida.net

  4. Bill Klapp permalink
    June 12, 2013

    Good point, Jay. Trust nobody, I say. Starting with me…

  5. Jay S. Miller permalink
    June 11, 2013

    My first experience with this (real) phenomenon was the Parker-Faiveley confrontation. I tasted with Bob at Faiveley on several occasions. It was Bob’s usual practice to go into the barrel room and taste from cask directly. However, Faiveley always had the samples prepared for presentation in the tasting room.
    You can draw your own conclusions but what is sure is that a number of subscribers told Bob that his notes and what they tasted from purchased bottles were discrepant.
    MrBigJ

  6. Dan McCallum permalink
    June 1, 2013

    Bill,
    I’ve previously commented elsewhere on another topic: ‘if there is hubris in the demand, there will be deceit in the supply’. Wine, art, securities, or iron ore; makes no difference, applies to anything and everything.

  7. Bill Klapp permalink
    June 1, 2013

    Interesting take, Dan. Time to drink whatever is in the bottle before you, enjoy it if it is tasty, pour it out if it is not, and otherwise shut the hell up about it?

  8. Dan McCallum permalink
    June 1, 2013

    Well, despite all the attention captured by the auction house fakery, I’ve been inclined to consider that the bulk of Chateaus and Domaines are the greater faussaires. And, I don’t mean to imply that this is solely a French problem. It is everywhere. Those with a history ‘counterfeit’ their own wine. Upstarts ‘counterfeit’ wine itself. At this level of fakery, we don’t get blurred labels, rather, a blurring in the bottle…of the line between wine and a grape based adult beverage.
    So, what is the cause of premox and other ‘wine’ diseases? Well, money of course. Money is even more reactive than oxygen. In fact, outranked only by certain isotopes so unstable that they are not found in nature. Big money has been flooding into wine for only a little more than a decade or two. The growers and wine-makers increasingly position to soak up as much as they can, as quickly as they can. It is the way of all things; yes, certifiably natural.

  9. Bill Klapp permalink
    June 1, 2013

    Sorry, botched copying the link…

    http://www.decanter.com/news/wine-news/ … rce=feedly

  10. Bill Klapp permalink
    June 1, 2013

    Mike, I find this bit of news out of Bordeaux from another respected member of that community to be equally interesting:

    http://www.decanter.com/news/wine-news/ … rce=feedly

    It does not seem to be intended as such, but it amounts to a full frontal assault on everything that Bob Parker (mistakenly) believes. Even more interesting is that the thread containing the above link on WineBerserkers drew all of 12 posts and 576 hits and promptly disappeared, and while I do not subscribe to eBob, I understand that it got no airplay on Squires at all. I am convinced that between issues like the special samples, premox in any of its incarnations and auction house fraud, the majority of wine collectors at every level no longer want to know what is REALLY in their cellars, nor to revisit what caused them to put it there in the first place!

  11. David permalink
    May 31, 2013

    I grew up in Cincinnati so I may be biased but I am dissapinted that you were surprised (my word, not yours) that the wine bug was present in Cincinnati too. The US is a major wine consuming nation because it is consumed everywhere. Also, most of the major (and minor) cities in the mid-west, great plains, etc. tend to have great food and wine culture and have for decades. You can eat (and drink) for example, exceedingly well in Minneapolis. And Memphis. And Kansas City. And Denver. And so on.

  12. May 30, 2013

    Jeremy, I’m not sure about the new Pope, but his predecessor was known to heed the call of nature when out on nature walks.

    I didn’t realize you were such a seasoned veteran of the PA Turnpike; the next time I find myself driving the length of it (which, hopefully, won’t be anytime soon), I will definitely seek your advice. All I had between Cincinnati and home was a bag of trail mix and a several large cups of Starbucks.

    Re doctored samples–yes, track record is ultimately more important, but certainly for the Bordelais, those early scores carry significant weight, thus the incentive to cook up special cuvees for visiting critics.

  13. May 30, 2013

    Thanks for stopping by, Claude, and for sharing those recollections. It will be interesting to see if Parker has anything to say about Derenoncourt’s admission and the comments from the other producers. He has long denied the existence of “Parker cuvees”, just as he has steadfastly disputed the notion that producers tweaked their wines to cater to his palate. At any rate, it is not in the least surprising that the Bordelais have been doctoring up their samples for years–with so much riding on those early scores, they have every incentive to concoct special en primeurs blends. But this is just one reason among many that the whole en primeurs thing has become a farce.

  14. Dan permalink
    May 30, 2013

    I recently drove from Zurich to Nuits-Saint-Georges and then from Dijon to CDG… the food choices along the drive were no more impressive than those along the Interstates I am familiar with (which is to say, not impressive).

  15. Dan McCallum permalink
    May 30, 2013

    Well, in digesting all this, my conclusion is that Chipotle is clearly preparing special servings for visiting acclaimed winemakers.

  16. Dave Baloun permalink
    May 30, 2013

    Mike:
    I’m glad you had a good wine experience in Cincinnati. As a wine appreciation educator in Canton, OH for over 15 years along with being a self-professed “cork dork”, I can vouch for the love of the grape even in our little slice of the wine world. There is a growing awareness and level of wine sophistication that has been growing here for some time. Although we are many times bereft of gaining access to some wines by virtue of our location in the country and lack of respect for the marketplace, we drink our fair share of good wine here!
    As for the aspects of the abominable fast food landscape, there is an increasing appreciation for fresh, organic food and farm-to-table restaurants. Many of us are regualry boycotting the chain restaurants in support of the locals who are trying to do things the right way.
    Please, feel free to visit the “Buckeye State” any time; we appreciate the work you do and would love to have you back again!

  17. Jeremy S permalink
    May 30, 2013

    Mike,

    The only real question is whether the Pope shits in the woods. We don’t actually care about bears or catholicism.

    As someone who has taken that Pennsylvania Turnpike once a year for the past 35, I now organize my journey around the location of various Chipotle outlets as they easily represent the best option. The rest is indeed depressing.

    With regards to the samples, doctoring is a lot easier to do if you are tasting out of a pulled sample in bottle. A little harder to finagle if you are tasting out of barrel. The great thing is that as RW, HMW points out, reviews only matter for a while. Track record is ultimately more important.

  18. May 30, 2013

    Unsurprisingly, the doctoring of Bordeaux samples has been going on for a long time. I no longer cover Bordeaux, 2001 (2000 vintage) being the last time I was there. However, prior to that, I followed the wines very closely. When I went, the large press tastings of the type today did not exist (with an exception in 1990 for the 1989 vintage, but that’s another story). Moreover, I usually went later — end of May, rather than in late March/early April — in part on the advice of several producers that their blends were not definitively made by late March.

    For the most part, I went from château to château to taste the wines. I often would taste in the cellar with the maître de chai and we would taste from one or more barrels and coud discuss what we were tasting. As the years went by, it became increasingly less frequent to taste from barrel and instead I was received in a tasting room and offered a bottle with what was said to be a representative sample.

    An exception to the way that I tasted was in Saint-Emilion, Pessac-Léognan/Graves, and Sauternes, however, where there were simply too many châteaux to visit in a short time. The local syndicats viticoles arranged tastings of the wines for me. Many of the producers (château owners and/or maîtres de chai) would show up to hear my comments at the end of the tasting. I vividly recall one in 1991 (1990 vintage) where I criticized a Saint-Emilion for being too oaky, and the château owner quickly assured me that the finished wine would not be so oaky; he had just assumed that being an American, that was what I wanted. I had several other similar experiences, as well instances of a producer telling me that he had shown Parker different samples than what he was showing me, and he allowed me to taste what they said would be the finished wine and what he said was the blend that had been supplied to Parker.

    My experiences at that time were far from unique, and I recall others in the trade telling me that they had similar experiences. All that seems really to be new this time is that the producers are more brazen about admitting the practice.

  19. May 30, 2013

    I agree, Ron; this is one of those “the earth is round, the pope is Catholic, and the bear shits in the woods” revelations–the only surprise is that anyone is surprised. And, yes, it is clearly in everyone’s interest to play along with this charade. The critics have their VIP (very important palate) status affirmed, and the chateaux get good scores in return. The fact that consumers are getting their eyes gouged out–well, who cares about them? Re Parker: yes, he was sued by Faiveley after implying in print that they had served him a Parker cuvee. As I recall, Parker settled for an undisclosed sum and has been bashing Burgundy ever since. Cause and effect? How cynical of me to even raise the possibility. But the more important question is this: which domaines in Burgundy are producing Hosemaster cuvees, and when are you planning on getting sued?

  20. May 29, 2013

    Mike,
    I would only have been surprised to learn that the Bordelais DON’T doctor their wines for wine critics. It’s the same motivation restaurant owners have to post pictures of “anonymous” restaurant critics around the place so the staff can recognize them and tell the chef so that the critic gets unknowingly spoiled. Reviews matter. For a while.

    Didn’t Parker get sued, or blackballed, by a Burgundy producer when he claimed the wine he had out of barrel wasn’t the same wine he had later out of bottle? I may be wrong about that, but that sounds familiar.

    But, honestly, isn’t it sort of in everyone’s best interests to play along with the ruse? It is, after all, a measure of your importance that they make a special barrel just for you. You can return the compliment with a nice score. Everyone goes home happy.

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