Friday, January 21, 2011

One man's meat.

There has been a lot of dithering on wine blogs lately about the merits of the 100 point scoring system for reviewing wine. Love it or hate it, the 100 point scale is, unfortunately, here to stay.
It is perhaps inherent in human nature for some, but not all, individuals to try to convince the rest of us that they alone know what is best. This trait is seemingly amplified within certain wine reviewers (with overly inflated opinions of their individual sense of taste, bordering on fanaticism) who feel the need to tell others what is good to drink. Personally, I only trust my own buds to tell me if I am enjoying what is in my glass and I can draw my own conclusion as to whether a specific wine is merely a pleasant tipple, a stupendously mind-blowing experience, or rather something to be avoided like the plague. After all, aren’t my taste buds a survival mechanism that will send, tout de suite, a quick message to my digestive system to warn me that I am about to swallow something that might not be advantageous to my well-being? Nobody else can make this decision for me. Hemlock, anyone?
The fixation with the 100 point system began for some in California (more specifically Napa) on a singularly auspicious day, more than two decades ago, when a certain Robert Parker Jr. bestowed upon one wine, the Groth 1985 Reserve Cabernet sauvignon, the, perhaps now dubious, honour of being the very first American recipient of his preposterously grandiose perfect score. To be delivered into the annals of wine history by such magnificent taste buds was surely a tremendous privilege for Groth Vineyards & Winery. One can only imagine that being thus catapulted into the realm of enological-infamy was a bit of a shock for the unassuming Groth family who (like other wine producers in the still, relatively sleepy Napa Valley of the 1980s) were simply trying to produce the best wine possible from their little slice of Eden. But, Parker interfered and things in the wine-reviewing game have never been the same since, or in the wine industry for that matter. It now seems that some wineries are obsessed with trying to manipulate their product into something that may please one particular critic’s palate. Cha-ching!
One could ask what exactly is being scored anyway? A particularly extraordinary vineyard/terroir? Mother Nature’s beneficence in the deliverance of an ideal growing season? The green-fingered expertise of the viticulturalist? The alchemical-prowess of the winemaker? The bankrolling ability of the proprietor? Of course there is no simple answer, wine is far too complex to pigeonhole. Just as the 100 point scoring system is, in some perverse way, far too simplistic - but it is always subjective.
Recently I got to taste the Groth 2005 Reserve Cabernet sauvignon. Some twenty vintages later, this is a wine worthy of reviewing. This is not a typical over-blown Napa Cabernet; instead it is a restrained, but intricately layered interpretation of a much revered wine varietal. I have no idea what score Mr. Parker bequeathed upon this particular vintage, and I’m not even going to look it up, I simply don’t care – and I wish more people didn’t care. A little while back I was speaking to a stranger about wine scores and mused aloud that surely no one took these scores too seriously, only to be berated and told in no uncertain terms that some people need to be told what to drink. What? Did this lemming really utter those words? Unfortunately, it seems that there are more people out there than one might imagine who cannot make the most basic of choices for themselves.
Of course, this is coming from little old me, who as a self-confessed contrarian hardly ever agrees with film reviews, never even reads book reviews, and therefore is not likely to take a blind bit of notice of a wine review in which someone else feels the urge to tell me that what they are tasting is more valid than my own perception.
Ho hum!

15 comments:

Leon Stolarski said...

Great post! In fact, to paraphrase another of America's well-known wine critics, I'm 100 on that. ;-))

Whilst it would be wrong for me to say that I have never enjoyed a wine that Parker has scored highly, there are a great many "Parkerised" wines that have left me completely cold (not to mention reaching for the water). I prefer to stick to wines made by growers who care what discerning drinkers like - not what RMP likes.

Vinogirl said...

And, it is said that women generally have more taste buds than men...maybe I'd pay more attention if Robert was actually Roberta :)

Thud said...

I like reading reviews and I find a consensus easily reached which I mostly agree with, probably with wine too. Life is way too short to discover everything myself, and seeings as the Groth reserve is so good I'd like one myself...see the power of a good review.

Affer said...

Excellent and thought-provoking.

In the past, those who produced, or were in the eye of, the media were so able to impose their views that the phrase 'I know what I like' became synonymous with a simpleton who knew nothing! This applied to all sorts of things, from books and art to food and drink, and is a sort of taste-fascism. Or maybe just snobbery.

At a snobby party, I once said that I liked Lambrusco, to be greeted with the sort of looks that made a Bateman cartoon look like gentle comment. But I had enjoyed it both in a small bistro in Reggio Emilia and in the F1 Ferrari pit at Brands hatch....and I knew what I liked!

Fortunately,the spread of blogging is the antidote to all this - so more power to your taste buds VG!

Ron Combo said...

I like Lambrusco too Affer, I spent far too long in that section of Vinitaly (terrifyingly large wine exhibition at Verona) last year and swayed away a happier Ronnie.

Vinogirl said...

Thud: It's the ludicrous 100 point system that I am railing against.
As for the '05 - you've already had it.

Affer: Thank you.
Wish I could spend some time in a F1 pit with a bottle of Lambrusco!

Ron: Terrifying? I am up for the challenge!

Thud said...

So I can't have another?

Vinogirl said...

Sheesh! Alright, I'll see what is in Vinoland's cellar.

Cesar Valverde said...

Yes. But also no- some people do need to be told what to drink, or more importantly BUY.

The Parker phenomenom drives prices of some wines up. And this provides invaluable information to investors.

But most people who appreciate wine will roundly ignore them. Not least because we can't be bothered to pay the price for the sodding website.

Que sera sera. I won't worry about it too much.

Vinogirl said...

Cesar, welcome to Vinsanity.
Like you, I don't worry about it too much, especially from the investment point of view. But, it does concern me, a tad, that people don't even want to bother experimenting with new wines to find out for themselves what pleases their taste buds.

Cesar Valverde said...

Thank you for the welcome, and for the excellent blog, keep up the good work!

'More for the rest of us' is one point of view. But yes- I can see how it would become a problem if it's putting smaller producers out of business or discouraging people from getting into winemaking.

For the moment though there's probably quite enough variety for me to drink myself to an early grave...

phlegmfatale said...

Hear! Hear! Chacun à son goût. I've always said it's better to have bad taste than no taste at all.

Aya Smith said...

“Personally, I only trust my own buds to tell me if I am enjoying what is in my glass and I can draw my own conclusion as to whether a specific wine is merely a pleasant tipple, a stupendously mind-blowing experience, or rather something to be avoided like the plague.” –Amen to that!

You have made your points very clear, and I found myself agreeing to them. Although it is important to obtain the approval of established wine critics, I still think that people should trust no other critic but their own taste buds. The latter won’t deceive you and they surely can recognise nirvana when they taste it.

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Vinogirl said...

AS: Welcome to Vinsanity!
The "approval of established wine critics" as far as I can tell is for the marketing department of the winery whose wine is being reviewed - not for me as a consumer. We all should be a tad more adventurous and do a little more experimentation with our wine choices and just drink what we like that we come across during that journey. Thanks for your comment.

NHwineman said...

Vinogirl, yeah, it would be a good thing if everyone could-a-would-a think for themselves about every aspect of life, but as some of us are not either that capable, talented, or have the time or money to explore wine for themselves, the use of scores by WS, WE, WA, and an endless river of blogs can be helpful; I do understand your view, and if I were you, I'd feel exactly the same way.
I just want to thank you for the history of the 1985 Groth Res.; as you know, I've recently discovered Groth Cabernet, and I too have found it to be one of the best wines I've tasted; what it means to me is that wine is NOT solely a subjective experience, but that there is room for some (how much?) objectivity; something I've suspected for some time now.
As a Newbie wine taster, I've seen several people get together, blindly taste a group of wines, and arrive at a consensus, indicating some element of objectivity.
It's a good thing that I've come to know you a little better, because I just be afraid to comment;-)