25 March 2008

In memory reborn

[torcello from burano]If the heart of Venice is busily reliving itself, the more remote islands of the lagoon seem to linger in their decay. Abandoned fortresses and villas, some quite elaborate, fall into a ruin of tangled weeds and grasping vines. A twisted, weather-beaten dock to which is tethered a small boat juts outward from a tiny stone shack on an island little larger than the structure; still occupied, but part of a lifestyle that, almost, can no longer be. Even where habitation persists, it’s often amongst wind-ravaged, salt-faded shreds of paint and eroded wood along a morose quay, perhaps with a stooped and sullen figure in the black shroud of her final decade peering from an half-opened shutter. There are no slums in Venice itself, but these half-desolate settlements bear the desperate, almost pleading air of one; a feeling that while people may remain, life is slowly fading away.

…continued here.

24 March 2008


[Barolo vineyards]Tasting notes from the Boston Wine Expo. Note the usual caveats about speed-tasting in boisterous environments, where mistakes are rampant and palate fatigue is a factor. These are brief impressions, not full examinations; the phraseology reflects these conditions.

Part 3: Italy

( For the previous year’s notes, look here.)

Marchesi di Barolo 2000 Barolo Sarmassa (Piedmont) – Licorice espresso. Goregous and balanced. Still quite tannic and primary. Beautifully composed, with a long finish. Really, really nice. (2/08)

Fantino Conterno 2003 Barolo Sorì Ginestra (Piedmont) – Pretty, leafy, and floral, with elegant spice and gravel. It’s very tannic (no surprise), but that’s the only real point of imbalance. (2/08)

Paolo Scavino 1999 Barolo Carobric (Piedmont) – Overextracted in every way. Actively offensive. (2/08)

Silvio Grasso 2000 Barolo Ciabot Manzoni (Piedmont) – Gorgeous, silky tannin. Seductive and beautiful, maybe even a bit lush. More forward than I would expect at this stage. There’s a pleasant note of old cheese here, but there’s also a lot of wood. It’s a good wine, but it’s not really why I like Barolo. (2/08)

G&F Mascarello 2000 Barolo Monprivato (Piedmont) – Slightly sour, minty, and strange. Impossible to access right now, but I don’t much like what I’m tasting. (2/08)

Fratelli Giacosa 2006 Dolcetto d’Alba San Rocco (Piedmont) – Dirty and difficult. Very acidic. (2/08)

Fratelli Giacosa 2001 Barbaresco Rio Sordo (Piedmont) – Sweet, gentle spice. Cherries. Already mostly mature, which is kind of disturbing. But it’s not a bad drink. (2/08)

Antinori “Guado al Tasso” 2003 Bolgheri “Superiore” (Tuscany) – Plum-flavored Port. Over-concentrated. Tannic and dull as hell. What is the point of wines like this? (2/08)

Antinori 2004 “Tignanello” (Tuscany) – International to its core, showing big blueberry and blackberry, albeit with surprising acidity. The finish is short, and it’s far simpler than it should be at this price, but the balance is at least acceptable. If one must drink this sort of wine, this isn’t a bad one to try. (2/08)

Giampaolo Motta 2003 “Giorgio Primo” (Tuscany) – Acidic strawberry, some good raw materials, but massive, overwhelming tannin obliterates most of what’s drinkable. I can’t possibly assess something this out of balance. (2/08)

[tuscan vineyard]Castell’in Villa 1995 Chianti Classico “Riserva” (Tuscany) – Dense. Strawberry and herbal dirt, with dense (actually, thoroughly solid) tannin. A bit hard, but long. Needs continued aging. (2/08)

Brancaia 2003 “Il Blu” (Tuscany) – Sour wood, dill, weeds, and hints of red fruit. Very dense, but with what? The finish is long and dusty. (2/08)

Quintarelli 1998 Valpolicella Classico “Superiore” (Veneto) – Concentrated and dense. Black licorice, strawberry, black cherry, and a solid, graphite-textured structure. Gorgeous but still fairly repressed; this isn’t done going wherever it’s going. (2/08)

dal Forno Romano 2002 Valpolicella “Superiore” (Veneto) – Fabric softener texture and aroma. Dense, hard, and absolutely no fun at all. Red licorice dominates the finish. This is pretty awful. Thankfully, it’s neither famous nor expensive. Oh, wait… (2/08)

Anselmi 2004 Capitel Foscarino (Veneto) – Sulfurous and tight, but pretty nonetheless. Grapey, with lovely, floral fruit. The finish is short, and has some dry botrytis-like characteristics. Overall, the effect is a little odd. What’s going on at this property? (2/08)

Jermann 2005 “Were Dreams…” (Venezia Giulia) – Fig and peach. Nice acidity. Pure, sunny, clean, and short. It’s good, but it’s not all that interesting. (2/08)

Vivallis 2007 Pinot Grigio (Trentino) – Crisp, dry, and powdery. Melon, ripe Granny Smith apple. Simple, pure fruit. Absolutely not complex in any way. (2/08)

Vivallis 2007 Nosiola (Trentino) – Floral, with very good acidity. Fun, clean, and sandy. Again, very simple. (2/08)

Vivallis 2007 Traminer Aromatico (Trentino) – Light aroma, only the faintest suggestion of spice, and overt crispness. Uninteresting. (2/08)

Vivallis 2007 Valdadige Schiava (Veneto) – Sour strawberry, cranberry, and herbs. Difficult and weedy. Ick. (2/08)

Vivallis 2007 Lagrein (Trentino) – Dirt and tar. Exceedingly underripe. Horrid. (2/08)

The Spain truth

Tasting notes from the Boston Wine Expo. Note the usual caveats about speed-tasting in boisterous environments, where mistakes are rampant and palate fatigue is a factor. These are brief impressions, not full examinations; the phraseology reflects these conditions.

Part 4: Spain

Llicorella “Gran Nasard” 2002 Priorat “Mas Saura” (Cataluña) – Beautiful. Rocks fill a gorgeous, plummy, dark berry fruit salad with good acidity. Long and crisp, balanced throughout, and potentially stunning. (2/08)

Llicorella “Gran Nasard” 2003 Priorat “Gran Nasard” (Cataluña) – Juicy black fruit over stones. Dry rocks fill the mouth. Big, balanced, and good; even, perhaps a little bit of fun (in the context of Priorat). (2/08)

Ferrer Escoda “Bàrbara Forés” 2006 Terra Alta Blanc (Cataluña) – Drying apple skin tannin, medium-bodied, and crisp. And yet, still not interesting. (2/08)

Ferrer Escoda “Bàrbara Forés” 2005 Terra Alta “El Quintà” (Cataluña) – Some obtrusive oak, sticky peach, and flowers. Too thick, and lacking life. (2/08)

Ferrer Escoda “Bàrbara Forés” 2004 Terra Alta “Negre” (Cataluña) – Dense blueberry and lots of graphite-tinged structure. Good, but a little short. (2/08)

Ferrer Escoda “Bàrbara Forés” 2002 Terra Alta “Coma d’En Pou” (Cataluña) – Warm oakspice and baked cherries. Just OK. (2/08)

Natur Montsant “Mas Franch” 2004 Monsant Negre (Cataluña) – Licorice and coconut with big blueberry fruit and some bitter syrup. It’s a little like Amaro, but sweeter, with some freshening minerality in the mix. Average. (2/08)

Natur Montsant “Mas Franch” 2004 Montsant “Optim” (Cataluña) – Huge minerality. Long and stony, with dense tannin and some chocolaty bitterness. And yet, it’s a bigger wine than can be supported by its structure. It might turn out OK eventually. (2/08)

Canals Nadal Cava Brut (Cataluña) – Coarse chicken-flavored salt. Really. Clean otherwise, but exceedingly odd. (2/08)

Canals Nadal Cava Brut “Reserva” (Cataluña) – Bigger and more complex, with lemon, light yeastiness, and a pale sweetness. (2/08)

Antoni Canals Nadal Cava Brut Natural (Cataluña) – Makrut lime, lemon, apple, and lots of grassiness. Pretty tasty. (2/08)

Canals Nadal Cava Brut Natural “Gran Reserva” (Cataluña) – Fruity, showing lemon and clean, crisp apple mixed with skins. Long, with a notion of true complexity. (2/08)

Antoni Canals Nadal Cava Brut “cupada selecció” (Cataluña) – Oaky-tasting, and the rest is somewhat muted. Uninteresting. (2/08)

Ron Burgundy

[leaves]Tasting notes from the Boston Wine Expo. Note the usual caveats about speed-tasting in boisterous environments, where mistakes are rampant and palate fatigue is a factor. These are brief impressions, not full examinations; the phraseology reflects these conditions.

Part 5: Burgundy

Latour 2002 Meursault-Perrières “1er Cru” (Burgundy) – Candied wood, baked and stale. A gross monstrosity. (2/08)

Jean-Noël Gagnard 2001 Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot “1er Cru” (Burgundy) – Light wood, cream, mild spice, and sand. Pretty but overly soft. There’s not really all that much to this. (2/08)

Guy Bocard 2002 Meursault-Charmes “1er Cru” (Burgundy) – Caramelized spice, dill, and lots of wood. Somewhat stale and falling apart. And a little oxidized? There are a few signs. (2/08)

Amiot 2001 Clos de la Roche (Burgundy) – Smoky. Dense with huge lobes of meat. 100% animal. Long-finishing and utterly fascinating. Not for the faint of heart, though. (2/08)

Armand 2000 Pommard Clos des Epeneaux “1er Cru” (Burgundy) – Pretty and soft, with cherries and strawberries. Elegant and lithe. Caresses the tongue. (2/08)

Bouchard Père & Fils 1997 Beaune Grèves Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus (Burgundy) – Big fruit, full of dark cherry and blueberry, but with a drying, short finish. Otherwise, clean and straightforward. (2/08)

Latour 2002 Château Corton Grancey (Burgundy) – Lightly beet-infused. Soft, short, and disappointing. Eh. (2/08)

Domaine de Corcel 2003 Pommard Grand Clos des Epenots “1er Cru” (Burgundy) – Dill and nuts. Soft. Very strange in a number of ways, number one being that it’s not tannic. It doesn’t much matter, however, because it’s no good either. (2/08)

d’Angerville 2004 Volnay Taillepieds “1er Cru” (Burgundy) – Good, crisp acidity. Roughrider cherries and dirt. Long, somewhat imbalanced towards acidity (but I’m fine with that), and in need of time. (2/08)

21 March 2008

Faith, less charity, no Hope

Though it’s bright and sunny outside, we’re in a dimly-lit room. Shadows are everywhere. There’s a sepulchral quiet in the air. And I’m beginning to wonder if we’re ever going to taste any wine.

Jenny Wheeler, the sales and marketing director for Greenhough (Patons Rd., RD 1, Hope), is talking to us. Everything she says sounds understated, but the low volume is deceptive; there are some strong opinions being expressed here. We ease into our conversation by commiserating over the problematic 2005 season, which is not going any better at Greenhough than it is elsewhere. Maybe this is the wrong way to start.

Continued here...

18 March 2008


[cairanne]Tasting notes from the Boston Wine Expo. Note the usual caveats about speed-tasting in boisterous environments, where mistakes are rampant and palate fatigue is a factor. These are brief impressions, not full examinations; the phraseology reflects these conditions.

Part 2: Rhône Valley (other than Châteauneuf-du-Pape)

( For the previous year’s notes, look here.)

Domaine Boisson 2006 Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages Cairanne Blanc “l’Exigence” (Rhône) – Roasted apricots from a can. Skeletal and strange. There’s no meat or skin on these bones. (2/08)

Lafond “Roc-Epine” 2007 Lirac Blanc (Rhône) – Banana marshmallow, some violet, leafy and floral. Pretty. (2/08)

Domaine Boisson 2006 Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages Cairanne Rosé (Rhône) – Fresh raspberry blossoms in sunshine. Clean and precise. Nice. (2/08)

Lafond “Roc-Epine” 2007 Tavel (Rhône) – Strawberry bubblegum, bones, and shells. Seems short, but grows with air. Not bad. (2/08)

“Le petit vin d’Avril” Vin de Table (Rhône) – Blueberry, gravel, leafy tobacco. Slightly underripe and tannic, but fair enough for the price. (2/08)

Pierre Usseglio 2006 Côtes-du-Rhône (Rhône) – Simple, nutty, and clean. Bubblegum-dominated fruit. Medium-bodied. Decent. (2/08)

Boiron “Domaine Nicholas Boiron” 2006 Côtes-du-Rhône (Rhône) – Peppery, burnt fruit. Very full-bodied, but what it’s full of isn’t very good. (2/08)

Olivier Hillaire 2006 Côtes-du-Rhône “Vieilles Vignes” (Rhône) – Walnut and sour dill. Ick. (2/08)

Lafond “Roc-Epine” 2007 Côtes-du-Rhône (Rhône) – Burnt bark, light bubblegum, some blackberry. Good fruit, soft and pure, with improvement on the finish, but that initial impression of char is unpleasant. (2/08)

Domaine Boisson 2006 Côtes-du-Rhône (Rhône) – Shoe polish, blueberry, and freshly-stripped bark. Abrupt. (2/08)

Chaussy “Mas de Boislauzon” 2006 Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages (Rhône) – Full, lush, and juicy. Dark, smoky fruit. Meat emerges on the finish. Quite good. (2/08)

[tavel]Domaine Boisson 2006 Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages Cairanne (Rhône) – Big red plum and some juiciness. Crisp for a southern Rhône. Short, though. (2/08)

Domaine Boisson 2006 Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages Massif d’Uchaux “Clos de la Brussière” (Rhône) – Big. Meaty but clean, with plums and blackberries present. Graphite-textured structure. Long and solid, though it sheds a bit of complexity on the finish. Impressive and ageable, though not quite up to its initial promise. (2/08)

Domaine Boisson 2006 Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages Cairanne “l’Exigence” (Rhône) – Some alcohol, but otherwise the noseis tight. The palate, on the other hand, is fairly explosive, with huge, dark fruit, brown earth, tar, and milk chocolate. Dense as hell. The finish is equally massive, though the burn reemerges. Good, but also one to be wary of. (2/08)

Alain Boisson “Domaine Cros de Romet” 2006 Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages Cairanne (Rhône) – A big, chewy herb fest: thyme, rosemary, etc. Very tannic. This will live for a long time on its structure, though whether it will ever show anything interesting is an open question. My guess: it won’t. (2/08)

Lafond “Roc-Epine” 2005 Lirac (Rhône) – Strawberry and anise. Very, very simple. Light structure, if any, at this point. (2/08)

Lafond 2005 Lirac “La Ferme Romaine” (Rhône) – Balanced. Bubblegum fruit and walnut with darker tones. Chewy. Some heat. Pretty good, nonetheless. (2/08)

Faraud “Domaine Cabassole” 2004 Vacqueyras “Vieilles Vignes” (Rhône) – Meat and crushed granite. Dense, tough. Unyielding and not much fun to drink. (2/08)

Stehelin 2005 Gigondas (Rhône) – Big and generous, with meaty, dark cherry fruit. Long and very tannic, but the structure only compliments the wine, which is a top-quality monster. Needs endless time, I think, but it should be a beauty someday. (2/08)

Guigal 2001 Hermitage (Rhône) – Dill and sour fruit. Weird. Good structure, but this is either completely off the map or closed in a very, very strange way. (2/08)

17 March 2008

Mom & Pape

[vineyard]Tasting notes from the Boston Wine Expo. Note the usual caveats about speed-tasting in boisterous environments, where mistakes are rampant and palate fatigue is a factor. These are brief impressions, not full examinations; the phraseology reflects these conditions.

Part 1: Châteauneuf-du-Pape

(All wines are red unless otherwise noted. Further, all 2006 reds are barrel, pre-bottling, or pre-release samples. For the previous year’s notes, look here.)

Michel “Le Vieux Donjon” 2007 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc (Rhône) – Beautiful. Nuts, stones, and spice. Richly fruited. A white-out of flavor. Long, with good acidity. Really excellent. (2/08)

Avril “Clos des Papes” 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc (Rhône) – Malted. Twisted, gnarled bones and stones. Higher-toned, showing some anise-heavy licorice. Interesting and complex. (2/08)

Moulin-Tacussel 2007 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc (Rhône) – Banana skin, papaya, and pineapple. Simple and angular, with a medium-weight finish. (2/08)

Baron Le Roy de Boisenaumarié “Château Fortia” 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc (Rhône) – Flat-fronted. Tropical fruit with crisp acidity. Closes quickly despite initial freshness. (2/08)

Pierre Usseglio 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône) – Big and modern. Toughens on the finish. Peanuts and sticky fruit. This cuvée has, for me, turned an unpleasant corner of late. (2/08)

Pierre Usseglio 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Cuvée de mon Aïeul” (Rhône) – Spice, blueberries, flowers. Exciting and long. There’s “more” to this wine, and thus it handles its nods towards modernity better than the normale. (2/08)

Michel “Le Vieux Donjon” 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône) – Gorgeous. Full-throated. Meat and herbs. Very tannic now, but the balance is terrific, and this has massive potential. (2/08)

Moulin-Tacussel 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Tradition” (Rhône) – Medium-full, tannic, and juicy. Plummy, with good acidity. Tannic. This is better than usual, and in fact I thought this house did better in 2005 as well; are things changing here? (2/08)

Moulin-Tacussel 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Hommage à Henry Tacussel” (Rhône) – Chocolate, orange peel, and minerality. Thick and tannic. Far too dense to taste now, though based on the preliminary evidence I’m suspicious of the results. (2/08)

Boiron “Bosquet des Papes” 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Cuvée Tradition” (Rhône) – Herbed bubblegum. Full and fruity, with a medium-length finish. Mostly balanced, though there’s a snippet of heat late in the game. Good. (2/08)

Boiron “Bosquet des Papes” 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Chante le Merle Vieilles Vignes” (Rhône) – Big structure. Herbs, plum, lavender, bubblegum. Structured and balanced. Impressive. (2/08)

Olivier Hillaire 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône) – Cylindrical. Metallic and a bit harsh, with alcohol showing throughout. (2/08)

Olivier Hillaire 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Les Petits Pieds d’Armand” (Rhône) – Peanut butter and jelly on toast. Very juicy fruit. Chocolate-covered cherries. Acid is prominent but well-integrated. Long finish. Upfront and promising, though not very traditional. (2/08)

Olivier Hillaire 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône) – Walnut and sour dill. No good. (2/08)

Lafond “Roc-Epine”2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône) – Balanced. Bubblegum fruit with darker tones, plus walnut and other nuts. Chewy. Some heat on the finish, but a better-than-usual effort from this perennially-underperforming house. (2/08)

Baron Le Roy de Boisenaumarié “Château Fortia” 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Tradition” (Rhône) – Good balance, quite traditional. Herbs in a light brown tone. Fine tannin and acidity. Fun and pure, though not at the top level. (2/08)

Baron Le Roy de Boisenaumarié “Château Fortia” 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Cuvée du Baron” (Rhône) – Pure. Red and pink fruit, bubblegum, with more structure (especially tannin) but less fun. Shaped like a diminuendo symbol. (2/08)

Baron Le Roy de Boisenaumarié “Château Fortia” 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Réserve” (Rhône) – A syrah-dominated cuvée. Pepper dust, leather, and blueberry. Full and tannic. Very interesting, though it does stand out amongst grenache-heavy company. (2/08)

[cdp vine]Courtil-Thibaut “Clos des Brusquières” 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône) – Peanuts and bubblegum. Oddly synthetic. Very simple. (2/08)

Laget-Royer “Domaine Pontifical” 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône) – Lovely nose. Full and spicy. Structured. Under the enticement, however, there’s not a great deal of substance. (2/08)

Diffonty “Cuvée du Vatican” 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône) – Tight, over-structured, tough, and short. (2/08)

Diffonty “Cuvée du Vatican” 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Réserve Sixtine” (Rhône) – Big and chocolate-infused. Too tannic. Biting chunks of structure. There’s some stuff underneath, I think, but it’s really far too early to tell for sure. Essentially, I think this is over-extracted. (2/08)

Mestre “Domaine de La Côte de l’Ange” 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône) – Medium-fruity. Plum, bubblegum, and thyme. Soft and almost pretty, perhaps even verging on fluff. It’s fun, though. (2/08)

Mestre “Domaine de La Côte de l’Ange” 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Vieilles Vignes” (Rhône) – Fuller and more structured than the normale, but still balanced. Some sour peanuts on the finish. (2/08)

Chaussy “Mas de Boislauzon” 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône) – Thick and forward. Chocolate, fruit, herbs in the background. Dense and structured, but reasonably balanced. Turns linear on the finish. (2/08)

Chaussy “Mas de Boislauzon” 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Quet” (Rhône) – Excellent balance in a warm, spicy, milk chocolate style, which not everyone will or should appreciate. There’s a bit of heat. This is very well done, but it would be difficult to call it CdP. (2/08)

Chaussy “Mas de Boislauzon” 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Tintot Spécial Cuvée” (Rhône) – 100% old-vine mourvèdre. Earthy, big and lush. Mouthfilling. Dark and brooding, showing nuts and chocolate. Long and balanced. This has excellent aging potential.

Château La Nerthe 1999 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône) – Dill and huge acidity. A gross perversion of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Yuck, yuck, yuck. (2/08)

Coulon “Boisrenard” 2004 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône) – Thick with herbs (dominated by lavender and mint). Dense and solid – perhaps overly concentrated – with meat and garrigue ascendant. Good, but it would be better if it took its foot off the accelerator. (2/08)

Terry & lair-y

[square at night]Leaving Alsace for Paris, via Metz, Burgundy, Montana…and the past. An excerpt:

Normally, this hotel would be in a prime location. I say “normally,” because it’s right behind the National Assembly, which is currently a thicket of police and barriers as the city prepares for a strike. Thankfully, this really only becomes a hassle on our last two days in Paris, while the demonstrators (mostly students) chant and throw things for a well-planned hour or two, then disperse to discuss the matter over coffee. The logistics of a French strike are something to behold.

…continued here.

Circus life

[cirque]Cirque de Gavarnie – After lunch, and with a wary eye on the weather forecast, we decide to do the second of our major walks in this region. It will eventually turn out that, given goals of rain-avoidance and excellent visibility, this is a good idea. However, at a certain point our feet – especially Theresa’s – decide that maybe one hike per day is enough. Nonetheless, the Cirque lives up to its lofty reputation, and though the path is laden with afternoon strollers (who gradually fall away as we approach the great arc of the cirque itself), the feeling that one is approaching the wall at the end of the world is inescapable.

…continued here.

13 March 2008

Murcia, Murcia me

[old vines]A tasting of the wines of Murcia in Southeastern Spain. That means monastrell (mourvèdre), and lots of it. I go into such a tasting with trepidation, because while Spain’s historical precedence with the grape has to be acknowledged, I’ve tasted very few that I’ve liked. Whatever terroir or clonal differences may or may not apply, I’ve always preferred the versions from across the Pyrenées. So I guess we’ll see how it goes.

Pedro Luis Martinez “Alceño” 2005 Jumilla Monastrell (Levant) – 85% monastrell, 15% syrah. Hot, showing blackberry, licorice, raw coffee bean, and bitter chocolate, with a layering-on of toast and more chocolate on the finish. The finish is dominated by coffee in both bitter/burnt and raw/green forms. Pretty nasty. (10/07)

Pedro Luis Martinez “Alceño” 2004 Jumilla “Selección” (Levant) – 50% monastrell, 40% syrah, 10% tempranillo. Even more charred than the previous bottling. Fuller-bodied, chocolaty, and over-toasted, with a green finish. Lousy. (10/07)

Pedro Luis Martinez “Alceño” 2004 Jumilla Syrah (Levant) – 85% syrah, 15% monastrell. Violets and espresso, with a thick, plastic-wrapped and blueberry-flavored coffee finish. Absolutely synthetic-tasting; a horror-show of unfruit™. (10/07)

Pedro Luis Martinez “Alceño” 2004 Jumilla Monastrell “Dulce” (Levant) – From 375 ml, 100% monastrell. Highly concentrated plum, blueberry, and black cherry syrups, with chocolate and a brief shower of herbs. Very, very sweet – not PX level – with a light rancio note to the finish. Anonymous, but reasonably pretty. (10/07)

The only wine I’d even consider here is the Dulce, and even then there are a lot of dessert wines I like more. The rest are…regrettable.

[vineyard]Finca Omblancas 2004 Jumilla “Delaín” (Levant) – 70% monastrell, 20% cabernet sauvignon, 10% syrah. Charred cherry, black and blue fruit – obvious and darkly attractive – but turning into the very definition of “dead fruit” on the palate. Gets increasingly tarry as it airs, with biting tannin. No good. (10/07)

Finca Omblancas 2004 Jumilla “Denuño” Monastrell (Levant) – 90% monastrell, 10% cabernet sauvignon. Green and red bell pepper forced into an arranged marriage with thick blueberry and oak. Very, very dry. At least this has some character, off-putting though it may be. (10/07)

Finca Omblancas 2004 Jumilla “Denuño” Cabernet Sauvignon (Levant) – 100% cabernet sauvignon. Peppery with hints of tobacco, a healthy dusting of black pepper, and a candied tar finish. Momentary promise is thus destroyed at the conclusion. (10/07)

Finca Omblancas 2003 Jumilla “Omblancas Selección Especial” (Levant) – 85% monastrell, 15% cabernet sauvignon. Roasted walnut, cocoa, earth, and spice with an unpleasant intrusion of dill. There’s chocolate here, too. This is the roundest and fullest wine yet, with some actual generosity – but let’s not overstate; it’s still doing its best to put me off with that dill – and a breezy, leafy finish that inexplicably turns into drinkable goat cheese. What the hell? (10/07)

While nothing here is particularly appealing, these wines are at least bad in recognizable ways. Well, except for that goat cheese…

[monastrell]Bleda “Castello de Jumilla” 2004 Jumilla “Crianza” (Levant) – 90% monastrell, 10% tempranillo. Freshly-stripped tree bark, moldering fall leaves in a slightly humid breeze, but otherwise fairly hollow on the nose. The palate shows dark, charred soil and pepper dust. The wine starts balanced, but it’s impossible to tell if this continues as the wine simply vanishes on the finish. Poof! It’s gone! (10/07)

Bleda “Divus” 2004 Jumilla Monastrell (Levant) – 95% monastrell, 5% merlot. Polished and fruity, with good, chewy berries a bit lacerated by herbal, weedy notes. There’s a lot of earth, though, and hen-of-the-woods mushroom as well. Good acidity. Long and fairly zingy on the finish. This is actually quite drinkable, though I’d keep a close eye on those weeds. (10/07)

Bleda “Castello de Jumilla” 2001 Jumilla “Reserva” (Levant) – 90% monastrell, 10% tempranillo. Big, nutty, milk chocolate and sweet tea with a fat underbelly of blackberry and boysenberry, plus a little hint of verbena. Good acidity, slightly green tannin. Decent all around. (10/07)

Bleda “Castello de Jumilla” 2006 Jumilla Monastrell (Levant) – 100% monastrell. Raw fruit and some pepper (both bell and seed), with huge clods of earth, sour dill, and a spiky, agitated aspect. The finish is puckery. I don’t like it, but it seems honest and forthright. (10/07)

Well, well, well. Actual wines. Who knew? With acidity and everything!

[label]Casa de la Ermita “Monasterio de Santa Ana” 2005 Jumilla Monastrell (Levant) – 100% old-vine monastrell. Served too cold, even were it a crisp white (which it most definitely is not). All I can access are a difficult nose and a palate full of weeds, herbs, and peppers. But the wine is so frigid I can’t stand around, cupping it in my palms, long enough to draw anything else forth, and when I return later for a retaste, the wine is once more bathing in ice. Thus, consider this anti-rave highly conditional. (10/07)

Casa de la Ermita 2006 Jumilla Viognier (Levant) – 100% viognier. God, what a relief it is to taste a white after all these brutal reds. As such, I might be slightly more favorably-inclined towards this wine than it deserves. Anyway, there’s a big, almost lurid quality to the wine, but it nicely dances away from the edge of soup, showing honeysuckle and fruit salad with a dry minerality at its core. Good acidity persists a little too long, watering down the limey finish, which tightens up more than I’d like. Still, I have to admit that given a choice between this and a goopy, oaky, overwrought Condrieu (like Cuilleron), I’d take this in a heartbeat. (10/07)

Casa de la Ermita 2003 Jumilla “Crianza” (Levant) – Old-vine monastrell, tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon, and petit verdot. Also served too cold, but this time not so frigid that I’m unable to coax out a few suggestions of character. Shy and somewhat elegant – words you don’t read about monastrell-based wines very often – showing some bitter chocolate, French roast coffee beans, tightly puckery cranberries, and good acidity. The tannin is shaded slightly green. Some nice ideas here, but the wine is incomplete. Again, see above, re: serving temperature, making this yet another conditional note. (10/07)

Casa de la Ermita 2003 Jumilla Petit Verdot (Levant) – 100% petit verdot…and isn’t varietal petit verdot from Jumilla what a jaded wine world has been clamoring for? There’s a prickle of sulfur on the nose, but it blows off fairly quickly, exposing some sort of breakfast cereal with dried blueberries and a dusty, chalky texture. Austere and extremely arid. I haven’t tasted a lot of petit verdot on its own (and what I’ve tasted has almost exclusively come from barrels prior to blending), but this seems to represent the generally incomplete nature of the variety with which I’m slightly familiar. So how do I judge it? As varietal petit verdot, it seems successful…an interesting intellectual exercise, though lacking any sense of fun. As a wine, however, the lack of fun becomes the majority report. I’d like to try this from a less extreme vintage, though I have no idea if it would make a difference; for all I know, it would exacerbate the problems. (10/07)

This is a producer with which I’m familiar, at least to an extent, so it’s interesting to see the wines in a greater regional context. As this is still a fairly young winery (some of the vineyards are six times the age of the estate), there’s obvious room for improvement…though of course, there’s also room for increasingly internationalized distortions. Or possibly both. The future will tell.

[sheep]Casa de las Especias 2006 Jumilla “Joven” (Levant) – 60% monastrell, 20% cabernet sauvignon, 20% syrah. Organic. Goofy, synthetic strawberry with a tiny tannic bite. Otherwise, soft, short, and indifferent. (10/07)

Casa de las Especias 2004 Yecla “Crianza” (Levant) – 40% monastrell, 25% cabernet sauvignon, 25% syrah. Organic. Goofy strawberry of a darker hue, mint syrup, and red licorice. A faint suggestion of earth. Turns fairly supple on the finish. Still, it’s mostly too late. (10/07)


Valle de Salinas 2005 Yecla Roble (Levant) – 60% monastrell, 20% tempranillo, 20% syrah. Chocolate-draped orange candy, herbal cough drop, and bitter coffee. There’s structure, but it too is herbal, and the chocolate morphs into a nasty sort of Hershey’s-style “dark chocolate” horror show on the finish. Avoid if you value your palate. (10/07)

Valle de Salinas 2005 Yecla “Joven” (Levant) – 60% monastrell, 20% merlot, 20% syrah. Dill and other herbs, shoe polish, tin, and awful stewed fruit. Perhaps the stewed fruit comes from a tin can. The metallic scrape of the wine on the palate does not, unfortunately, remove its own taste. Whatever…this is all too much thought for a wine this God-awful. (10/07)

Valle de Salinas 2004 Yecla “Crianza” (Levant) – 40% monastrell, 40% cabernet sauvignon, 20% syrah. Sour dill, dead cherry fruit syrup, corn starch, and synthetic vanilla. Nasty, nasty, nasty. (10/07)

These are some really horrible wines. I mean really horrible. I can’t even see the road forward here; they’re that bad.

[Yecla cupola]La Purísima “Valcorso” 2006 Yecla Monastrell (Levant) – Organic. Sour fruit, herbs, freshly-crushed cherries and raspberries with wildflowers. Fuller on the palate than many of these wines. There’s some deadening nastiness on the finish, but the wine is not entirely horrible. High praise, I know. (10/07)

La Purísima 2005 Yecla Monastrell “Barrica” (Levant) – Shy, spicy fruit and dark, chewy red fruit bark. Turns sour (but a good kind of sour) on the finish. Fairly long. Not bad. Not particularly good, but not bad. (10/07)

La Purísima 2006 Yecla “Old Hands” (Levant) – Simple baked fruit, dark berries, dark chocolate, and an underripe, papery finish. 2/3 of a chuggable wine, but the finish renders it useless. (10/07)

La Purísima 2006 Yecla “Organic” (Levant) – As the name suggests, organic. Mixed chocolate powders, freshly-ground nutmeg, hints of other spices, and a sort, squinty finish. What’s the point? This is like drinking a Penzey’s catalog. (10/07)

La Purísima “Trapío” 2004 Yecla Monastrell (Levant) – Sophisticated blueberry, grey earth, mushroom, and mixed meadow flowers form the nose. Lightly vegetal, but in a way that will only offend those with extreme Kermitophobia. Very big and fruity, with huge, juicy blackberries tumbling across the palate, plus a little chocolate. It coalesces into a package with a firm, tannic structure and dancing acidity. Long and balanced. Very good; probably the best red in this entire tasting. (10/07)

La Purísima 2003 “Enesencia” Yecla Monastrell “Dulce” (Levant) – Sweet bell pepper, plum, and tangy candy. Very crisp, and very odd. Is it repellent or fascinating? Quite possibly both. I have no idea what to think of this wine. (10/07)

…and we finish on what, contextually, passes for a high note. Reasonable work is being done at this house, though of course there’s unevenness to spare, and I’m still struggling to understand the paradigm of sweet monastrell.

[grapes]Overall, this is a pretty dismal tasting. I’d happily drink the viognier and the Divus, and I’d probably actually buy the Trapío in a pinch, but everything else ranges from indifferent to torturous. I have no idea what the problem is; that, in general, I wouldn’t like hot-climate monastrell is no surprise given my northern-oriented palate, but there’s a vast gulf between disliking a wine and thinking that it’s horribly made. Which, in regard to far too many bottles in this tasting, I do. In fact, the wines I gravitate towards are those with more fruit, which is the reverse of my usual preference; when bad, these wines seem to show all the signs of underripeness and extractive winemaking (though the latter may not even be necessary) without any of the compensating outsized fruit that usually accompanies such wines. That may just be a function of monastrell, which is no shrinking violet nor fruit bomb of a grape even in the best of circumstances, and certainly doesn’t lack for structure, but I have a hard time believing that better wines aren’t possible.

In any case, let the savage bilingual attacks on my parentage commence.

12 March 2008

Sweet on Alsace

[grape-eating bear, Andlau]In the most recent issue of The Wine Advocate, critic David Schildknecht’s report on Alsace includes a typically long and thoughtful preface assessing the current “state of the region.” In it, he makes many points I’ve been making for years (as, I should note, has he), with a special emphasis on the growing problem of residual sugar:

No doubt the sweetness in much of today’s Alsace wine is to a significant extent a reaction to high grape sugar, and many of the factors driving this – a long streak of very ripe vintages; selectivity at harvest; changing fashions; and a tendency to perceive more-as-better when tasting wines as parts of large line-ups – are hardly unique to the region. But whatever the cause, as more than a few concerned growers reminded me, steering a course and striking a balance between alcohol and sugar is becoming an increasing challenge (often exacerbated by precarious acidity), one ultimately demanding a re-thinking of vineyard and cellar practices. And those too-many Alsace growers whose wines display deficiencies in extract on account of high yields lack a critical tool for buffering alcohol or burying sugar.

He then goes on to identify manifestations of this problem…not only in gewurztraminer and pinot gris, where they’re ubiquitous and exacerbated by the problems of escalating alcohol and declining acidity, but also in the previously-iconic riesling and muscat. The latter is especially dismaying, as there’s precious little dry muscat on the market these days, though admittedly there has never been much of an export market for it in any form.

To fans of the region's wines, this is all well-trodden territory. But in his essay, Schildknecht edges up to a major but largely unspoken cause of this problem in a way few high-profile critics have done, yet turns away before drawing the inevitable and self-damning conclusion: it’s, at least in part, critics’ fault.

Yes, as he says, climate change has a significant role to play. Certainly freak vintages like 1997, 2000, and 2003 are more the norm than the exception these days, and sugar levels are up everywhere (not just in Alsace). And it’s important to acknowledge that improved viticulture’s effects can be a mixed blessing, as the more reliable, even ripening at a previously-underperforming property is paralleled by the temptation of ever-longer, sugar-elevating hangtimes at better domaines.

But when Schildknecht writes:

Are not the most profound wines of which these varieties are capable apt to be in the realm of selective picking, vendange tardive, and residual sweetness? One could make such an argument, and my ratings would support it. But such a conclusion by no means warrants sweetness throughout a grower’s range.

…he misses the bigger problem: ratings, as a rule and from the greater mass of critics, do reward sweetness throughout a grower’s range.

Schildknecht may be an exception to this rule, given his ratings thus far, but if so he’s a rare one. Who gets the majority of the highest ratings major critics give? Generally, wineries who produce powerful, rich, sweet, and often alcoholic wine. Even dry-preferring wineries are frequently rewarded for wines in which residual sugar is presented as an “unavoidable”1 alternative to Port-like alcohol in a dry-fermented wine. People can and do disagree on whether these wines are balanced or not2, but there’s dismayingly little disagreement among major critics about “better,” in Alsace, almost universally correlating with “sweeter.”

Given this critical climate, what’s a sensible, export-minded winemaker to do? Unless there’s a rock-solid reputation on which to trade (e.g. Trimbach), one possible answer is to do what the critics appear to want, and pump up the volume.

“Well,” some are no doubt already objecting, “don’t the critics just reflect what people actually like?” If so, why are Alsace wine sales in the States so stagnant? Why does Trimbach continue to dominate certain regions with their dry or barely off-dry wines while other excellent, but sweeter, wines languish on the shelves and in distributors’ warehouses? And why do the biggest exporters to other markets, other than the top names that can sell almost anywhere3, seem to be négociants and cooperatives whose wines are, yes, dryer than most? I don’t think it’s because the bulk of Trimbach’s products, which are the yellow-label négociant wines, are inherently better than their competitors; I wouldn’t say they were, though they’re of reliably fine quality. And above that level, which Alsatian wines most regularly appear on top restaurant lists? The highly austere “Cuvée Frédéric Émile” and Clos Ste-Hune Rieslings, the ultra-restrained “Réserve Personelle” Pinot Gris, and the increasingly unique “Cuvée des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre” Gewurztraminer, much more than other fine grand cru4 wines from other producers. So it would, in fact, appear that critics are not reflecting popular taste…or if they are, they’re singularly unconvincing when it comes to these wines and this region.

The thing is, I don’t think they’re doing anything other than reflecting their own tastes. As, of course, they should be; their opinions, rather than some form of polling data, are what they sell. But when there’s a changing of the guard, as their has been at The Wine Advocate…from the sugar-loving (this is not a criticism) Robert Parker, though the sugar-appreciating-but-occasionally-suspicious Pierre Rovani, to the much more conflicted Schildknecht…the effect of years of the sugar=points equation is thrown into stark relief. Drinking the major names, these days, it can be very, very difficult to find anything that’s not overpoweringly sweet. This was not the case ten years ago, either, so one can see how quickly and completely this shift has occurred.

Will the paradigm swing back? Not soon, if ever. For one thing, many critics are still enamored of the more, more, more!!! style of winemaking, no matter which region is under review. For another, warming effects aren’t going away; in fifty years, the Furstentum may be more appropriate for syrah than it is for gewurztraminer. Now, maybe this will have a long-overdue positive effect on Alsatian pinot noir, but losing the wines that have actually made Alsace’s reputation would seem to be an astronomical price to pay for such an unheralded achievement.

1Of course, “events” like 2003 aside, it’s not entirely true that such results are unavoidable. The problem is that alcohol-reduction steps in the vineyard need to start long before a grower knows whether they have 1998 (a fine, balanced year) or 1997 (hot and sticky) on their hands, and by the time they have an inkling, it’s too late to do much. But there are still steps that can be taken, and some growers are starting to do them as a matter of course: picking earlier (or picking a portion of grapes earlier to preserve acidity for the final blend), and late-season canopy retention to avoid the greatest ripening excesses. Among others.

2What works elsewhere doesn’t necessarily work in Alsace. Even before the sugar revolution, Alsatian wines were “too heavy” for some, due to relatively warm, dry conditions for the Germanic set of grapes they employ, and the resultant levels of alcohol and dry extract. Adding sugar and even more alcohol to these wines while stripping their remaining acidity is a singularly bad idea, unless one is trying to produce syrup.

3Except, it sometimes seems, the States. I’ve gotten in trouble for revealing this in the past, but even the best-known names don’t always sell that well here. Prices are a major factor (especially at a few top addresses), and visits to the market are a must too often ignored by some, but the availability of the highest-rated Alsatian wines long after their release and initial ratings would be surprising to those who haven’t seen it first-hand in the marketplace. There has to be a reason for this, and there is: see the main essay.

4Which these are, though they’re not labeled as such.

09 March 2008

The key to a man's nose

There's a fine article on scent (which is, after all, the "taste" of wine) and the difficulties involved in describing it in the current issue of The New Yorker. But what really makes it worth the read is the final paragraph...which I guess I'll go ahead and spoil right now:
“The question that women casually shopping for perfume ask more than any other is this: ‘What scent drives men wild?’ After years of intense research, we know the definitive answer. It is bacon.”
Absolutely true.

07 March 2008

Against the bias

[2001 star child; copyright MGM]On two of the major wine fora (here, here, and here, if you’re unduly burdened with free time and a strong stomach), strident arguments about how best to identify and eliminate bias have spiraled – as they always do – out of control.

Here’s a thought: how about we admit that this asks the impossible, and go back to the much more sensible practice of asking critics to be good?

I’ve already said far more than I ever should on the subject here, so I’ll let that stand as the pro-bias manifesto. But I’m curious about another facet of this endless debate: why do we care so much? Why is the potential for pure philosophical objectivity so beloved among consumers, especially when it’s impossible to achieve?

I believe that we recognize our own flaws as objective observers. We know that we can only make a attempt to be unbiased, but recognize that no matter how hard we try, we’re unlikely to succeed.

However, we exalt the critic (in my opinion unduly so), which follows from the subordination of our own opinion to that of the purported expert in whichever field of criticism we’re concerned with. The critic, in other words, is supposed to be more right than we are. In the act of subordinating our judgment to that of another, we justify our decision on the basis that the critic has superior knowledge that we have neither the time nor the inclination to acquire. This is often true, but it’s also irrelevant.

Knowledge, which begets accuracy, is a fundamental skill for any critic, to be sure. But it’s not what makes them a critic, it’s what makes them a writer or a journalist. A critic may do one or both of those things, but he or she also – and primarily – deals in opinions. It’s the utility of these opinions that determines a critic’s success or failure. By this I do not mean that the critic with the largest number of agreements “wins” – that’s patently ridiculous given that criticism is inherently subjective – but that the critic’s output must, in some sense, be useful to others.

Thus, while we may justifiably subject our knowledge to those with a superior breadth or depth of it, we somewhat less justifiably subject our opinion to that of the critic. This is not inherently misguided, because an informed opinion can indeed be more valuable than an uninformed one, but it is similarly irrelevant. A better-justified but still subjective response to an object of criticism does not mean that the less-justified opinion is now incorrect for the holder of that opinion. This is not an argument against the supremacy of fact and reason, both of which must remain paramount, but instead a restatement of this simple principle: just because you like something doesn’t mean I like it too. Shouldn’t that be obvious?

Wine appreciation is subjective. It cannot be otherwise. So for a person to allow another’s subjective judgments to hold sway over their own, they must posit the existence of a superior subjectivity. Except that doesn’t make any sense from a definitional standpoint – subjectivity is inherently leveling – and so the next step is to assume that a critic must now be objective. This is lunacy, but it’s what many people appear to believe.

If a critic is truly objective, then they must be free from all external constraints on their judgment. And this is how we wade into the miasma of bias, for if such a mythical creature as the objective critic existed, he or she would obviously be fundamentally and absolutely free of any influences other than those contained within the object of criticism. No prior experiences, no pre-formed opinions, no external motivators (a nearby winemaker, a pleasant dinner, an enthusiastic companion, the label), and certainly no generalized opinions on what does and does not constitute quality. Nothing. In other words, wine criticism in a sensory-deprivation tank.

Taken to its logical conclusion, of course, this also means that such an objective critic can only ever review a single wine. Because, as a critic, they must render a judgment on that wine. Having done so, they have now constructed a preliminary definition of quality. The next wine cannot help but be tainted by this construction, and thus bias has been introduced.

It sounds ridiculous, of course, and yet it is exactly where the anti-bias journey reaches its inevitable conclusion: a being that transcends their humanity, has no contact with anyone or anything that could influence their opinion, works just once, and then retires. Hopefully to somewhere where they can be a person.

No…better to let our critics be human, to accept that they (as we) are biased and cannot be otherwise, and to judge them not on conceptual philosophies but on the quality of their work. In other words, to be critics ourselves; critics of the critics, with all our own biases fully and gloriously intact.

02 March 2008

The hobgoblin of little minds

“Another wine that I underrated (probably because of my generally conservative nature regarding new estates, and I had only tasted one previous vintage from this one) […]”Robert M. Parker, Jr., The Hedonist’s Gazette

“Neither price nor the reputation of the producer/grower affect the rating in any manner.”Robert M. Parker, Jr., an explanation of his methods

The world’s most powerful critic caught in a contradiction. Is it a backhanded admission of error? Or is it blatant hypocrisy?

How about none of the above?

Parker hasn’t (yet) responded to this contradiction, revealed on his own online forum, and the resulting thread has spun off in a predictable way: an exceedingly arbitrary debate about the pros and cons of blind tasting. While that’s certainly an interesting topic, it’s not what I’m interested in at the moment. Instead, I’m here to defend Parker. At least, after a fashion.

Every critic eventually contradicts himself. Computers, if programmed correctly, are perfectly consistent. People are not, and probably can’t be. Critics will practice regular inconsistency when it comes to individual wines, and while there are always a worshipful few who can’t seem to grasp the subjective and ever-changing nature of criticism, most rational people understand that this is simply the way wine interacts with the taster. Wine is a (more or less) natural product that can be different from bottle to bottle, taste to taste, and time to time.

However, when it comes to statements about the very nature of criticism – as described in the above-linked statement of Parker’s methodology, for example – people seem much less forgiving of inconsistency, and resort to imposing ever more rigid strictures on the critic’s methodology (e.g. “all wines must be tasted double-blind”). Or they’re forced into impossible and indefensible rhetorical acrobatics in an effort to explain away the inconsistency (it’s those worshipful few again, causing problems). The fact is, there’s no way to reconcile the two statements quoted above. Parker is mistaken (or, if one feels they can read his mind and his motivations, lying) in one of the two. In the absence of further clarification from him, it’s up to the concerned reader to decide which is his true position.

Of course, there is a way that they can both be correct, and that’s if they’re applied consecutively, rather than simultaneously. Parker might well be considering reputation when he evaluates some wines, and ignoring it when he evaluates others.* Certainly, it would be a natural human inclination, and despite Parker’s allegedly superhuman tasting abilities, he’s still just a human being, with all the normal flaws inherent in the species. Just like the rest of us.

For those who demand absolutes from their critics, this is an irreconcilable inconsistency. And they’re welcome to move on to whichever critics they find to be reliably inerrant, since Parker must now be excluded from that set. But I would like to suggest that the problem is not whether Parker is being inconsistent or not, and only partially that some people don’t actually understand the practice of criticism, but rather that he, himself, has fallen into an absolutist trap of his own construction.

Who makes a bigger deal about their methods and ethics than any other major wine critic? Parker, of course. From this position, he issues far-too-frequent attacks on other critics, and at times amateurs; a habit that is, by far, his most distasteful characteristic. (To be fair, he is frequently the victim of similar attacks, though that doesn’t excuse them on either side.) By doing so, he obviously opens himself up to attacks based on inconsistencies like the one above. But he wouldn’t have to defend such obvious inconsistencies if he didn’t take such an absolutist line. By saying “I do this, and only this,” and then being seen to be doing the opposite, he makes a mockery of the rigid methodological code he so loudly trumpets.

The solution, of course, is to take on a more liberal view of the possible ethical and methodological approaches to criticism. This is not to say that one should abandon all ethical codes – to be sure, there are critics who think that Parker isn’t strict enough – but simply to suggest that basing one’s reputation on ethics and methods rather than the results is fundamentally misguided. People may listen to Parker’s (or any other critic’s) ethical pronouncements, but his power and reputation are due to consumers’ trust in his results (that is, his wine evaluations). Using those ethics and methods to heap abuse on other critics is unseemly on the face of it, but more so when it turns out that the source of the abuse doesn’t even follow his own advice.

Parker shouldn’t be criticized for contradicting himself. And he wouldn’t be, did he not so gleefully wrap himself in the shield of absolutism when it comes to his methods. Since the “don’t contradict yourself” solution is generally unavailable to humans (including Parker), that leaves only the other option. An option he – and all critics – would do well to consider.

* Parker’s statement about price and reputation is, of course, meant as a direct attack on critics who could do 75% of their work without actually tasting the wines; critics for whom label and reputation mean nearly everything. Those critics exist (though as a smaller percentage of total critics than they did when Parker started…and he can probably take a large portion of the credit for that), and they’re a plague on the calling. Certainly, the number of unheralded wines that have nonetheless been heralded by Parker over the years suggests that he has not, as a rule, been unduly restrained by his own doubts when it comes to a young, untested brand.