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TDG: Wine Camp: 100 Point Perfection?


Fat Guy
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What if they made only one wine? What fun would that be?

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Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Craig,

How do you do it- One interesting and well written article after another? You've captured the essence of the problem with scoring wines. I think scores have some value as long as they relate a wine to its type. As you so clearly pointed out, most scores are simply pointing to one archetype for red and one for white no matter the situation. This is probably why Parker was never really respected for his Burgundy scoring. Really good burgundies (especially pinot noir) don't really fit the bill for the big fruit bomb. They are much more subtle and idiosyncratic. Don't get me wrong - I love big fruit bombs and have a few high scorers in my cellar, but I agree, there is much more to life than a single style. More important (or at least it should be) than scores are the discussions and descriptions that go along with a particular wine review.

Long live variety!

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I applaud Craig for writing this entire piece without once using the phrase "apples and oranges."

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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This is probably why Parker was never really respected for his Burgundy scoring. Really good burgundies (especially pinot noir) don't really fit the bill for the big fruit bomb. They are much more subtle and idiosyncratic.

doc,

There are reasons Bob doesn't review Burgundy anymore. He made some serious and important enemies there when he was writing about it. It is Pierre's job now.

Mark

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Excellent and very interesting! It could have been written by my local wine guy, who eschews any Parker or WS "point advertisments." He actually pulled a wine off the shelf when it made the WS top 100 a few years ago. I think it was the 97 Isole e Olena Cepparello. He did continue to sell it for those who sought it out, but kept it at it's pre-top 100 price of around $40.

The wine/beer/liquor superstore in the area, once the top 100 list came out, doubled the price on the same wine, and did the same for the other "top 100" wines.

John

"I can't believe a roasted dead animal could look so appealing."--my 10 year old upon seeing Peking Duck for the first time.

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Excellent piece of work!

I made my first "bad" experiences with high rated wines several years ago when I tried to pare with classic food. It just didn't work well.

Since then I "classify" the high rated, modern "juices" as "Port". Better to sip after meal.

The extremely high alcohol content (>14%) makes them especially difficult for women, maybe because they have less body weight and tend to dislike too much alcohol in their venes.

But thanks to better wine making technology for lighter wines also, I find more an more excellent bargain food wines from lesser known appellations. Examples are Loire reda, Valtellino nebbiolos, Pinot Noir from eastern Switzerland, old style Rioja (Lopez de Heredia), old mature vintages (80ies) from samller Bordeaux châteaus and german semi-sweet kabinett rieslings (~´7% alc.) as aperitif.

Kudos again for this article!

Make it as simple as possible, but not simpler.

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Craig,

Great article! You touch on some very interesting and important points. As a guy who works in the trenches selling wine, I see the point obsessed drinkers every day. Trying to explain to them that Caymus Special Selection cabernet may not be the best choice for an aperitf or Dover Sole meuniere is fruitless. People who drink these kinds of wines, both white and red, on a regular basis seem incapable of appreciating the subtlety, elegance and nuance of a Loire chenin or red Burgundy. Personally, I think these "hedonistic fruit bomb" wines de-sensitize the palate.

Another interesting developement was Parker's decision to exclude all wines scored under 85 from the WA. How does the consumer know if the wine they like was not scored because the points were too low or RP never got around to tasting it?

Mark

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Great article! As a wine drinker/collector for 30+ years, I long ago stopped listening to the pundits and thier ratings. The pronouncements of Wine Spectator that $150/bottle white burgundies are a good buy cause me to convulse. I continue to read about vintages and seperate out the chaff from the wheat and purchase what I want. In some cases(pun?), this involves actually going to the source and ordering the wine thourgh an importer. The Internet and email have made this easier. In a restaurant, I order what I want with no intervention from the wine steward who invariably obtained the position yesterday. I have no fear of ordering the wrong wine but only fear the price and when I ascertain the price is out of line, it's beer for me! -Dick

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Craig, you captured one of my biggest fears as a food writer, which is that people will ask me to order wine, assuming I must be an expert. The way I should have answered, back when I was a student, was: "Food writer mamster has no recommendations, but undergraduate mamster suggests Franzia."

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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Craig, that may have been the most graceful explanation I have ever read of the problem with points. To my (less graceful) mind, though, you didn't go far enough: saying that wines in the 80s are better deals and better with food is important and true, but it implies that the ratings are still meaningful in some way. As far as I'm concerned, they're not.

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Craig, that may have been the most graceful explanation I have ever read of the problem with points. To my (less graceful) mind, though, you didn't go far enough: saying that wines in the 80s are better deals and better with food is important and true, but it implies that the ratings are still meaningful in some way. As far as I'm concerned, they're not.

Actually I think ratings can be meaningful, but only in very specific ways. I quite admire Robert Parker for his organization, consistency and discipline. When he scores a wine I know exactly what he means. If you take the time to read his exceptional notes they tell you far more about the wines than the scores. I am a regular reader and will continue to read his publication with the respect it deserves. Other publications with many different individuals tasting is another argument - in this case scores are not only meaningless, but often misleading and are offered as a commercial product.

I myself use scores in my own personal notes. For public consumption I translate them into A, B, C etc. as a method of communicating my personal opinion.

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There are reasons Bob doesn't review Burgundy anymore. He made some serious and important enemies there when he was writing about it. It is Pierre's job now.

And Pierre is no better at it, it seems.

Bruce

Few wines elicit a more emotional response than Burgundy. Beware the reviewer that treads there.

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Craig,

Great article! You touch on some very interesting and important points. As a guy who works in the trenches selling wine, I see the point obsessed drinkers every day. Trying to explain to them that Caymus Special Selection cabernet may not be the best choice for an aperitf  or Dover Sole meuniere is fruitless. People who drink these kinds of wines, both white and red, on a regular basis seem incapable of appreciating the subtlety, elegance and nuance of a Loire chenin or red Burgundy. Personally, I think these "hedonistic fruit bomb" wines de-sensitize the palate.

Another interesting developement was Parker's decision to exclude all wines scored under 85 from the WA. How does the consumer know if the wine they like was not scored because the points were too low or RP never got around to tasting it?

Mark -

Robert Bansberg, the excellent sommelier at Ambria in Chicago, long ago told me of his aborted struggle to get customers to try other Champagnes than Dom Perignon. He stopped we he realized what they wanted was the experience of the bottle on the table - the experience in the mouth was secondary. Now he happily sells great Champagne to those who care and lets the image people have their Dom.

Sommeliers that really love wine are in a tough spot when it comes to these kind of wines - predator sommeliers live by it.

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Thank you Craig, enjoyed very much.

Taking the road less travelled by, for any wine writer, may result in a decrease of popularity. Parker's love for muscle and oak made him unwelcome in Bourgogne as stated by Mark.

Winemakers were simply preparing special extra oak barrels for his royal highness scoring more than those unwilling to bend.

Local young talents were simply Parker oriented scoring and selling a lot more to the very important American market.

This is exactly what this article is about.

Same thing happened in the Northern Rhone.

I like the style of Rovani but he lacks the massive Parker experience.

Andre Suidan

I was taught to finish what I order.

Life taught me to order what I enjoy.

The art of living taught me to take my time and enjoy.

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I quite admire Robert Parker for his organization, consistency and discipline. When he scores a wine I know exactly what he means.

I agree, his consistency is astounding. And I imagine, that if you found someone who had a similar palate to your own, their scores would be useful. And I can even understand the utility of keeping scores for writers and professionals who have to remember so many wines. So, yes, strictly speaking the scores are not meaningless.

But we're not playing a football game here. What does it mean when one barolo "beats" another one? (to say nothing of a barolo "beating" an amarone). Unless you are comparing two wines from the same vineyard and explicitly rating how well they express the terroir (subjective) or how well they are made (still subjective), scoring is absurd.

Of course, you can say, I like x expression of y terroir better than z, but you are really saying that you like it better on a hot august afternoon with melone, or while the Cubs are winning, or right before you're about to get laid, or whatever. And we all know that what ratings really score is not the above but rather the opposite: how well a wine has managed to betray (or transcend, depending on your inclination) its terroir in order to blow away the scorer's palate.

I'm exaggerating, but for me the concept of scoring wine is, if not meaningless, of very limited utility.

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I think there is some benefit to wine scoring. With a consistent scorer like Parker, his scores can be used as a ballpark as to whether or not one might like a wine, if one's palate has been calibrated against his. This does not mean that you necessarily like the wines he likes or to the degree he likes them or vice versa. If one doesn't like "hedonistic fruit bombs", one will know which wines not to overpay for. Just as important are his descriptions and ratings of character driven wines. These too are consistent and accurate and can be identified from his writing with the added benefit that they are not necessarily driven up in price. :smile: This provides a service in that people who want "status" wines know which ones to spend big bucks on and those who want wines with individual characteristics can get them too. :biggrin:

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Mark -

Robert Bansberg, the excellent sommelier at Ambria in Chicago, long ago told me of his aborted struggle to get customers to try other Champagnes than Dom Perignon. He stopped we he realized what they wanted was the experience of the bottle on the table - the experience in the mouth was secondary. Now he happily sells great Champagne to those who care and lets the image people have their Dom.

Sommeliers that really love wine are in a tough spot when it comes to these kind of wines - predator sommeliers live by it.

Craig,

I'm in the same boat, or was. Here in Washington, DC there are two distinct customer bases: the business diner and the social diner. The business diner dominates during the week. These are the people on expense accounts who go for the high score wines. On the weekend, the social diners are much more careful with their dollars and are more bound to ask my advice vis a vis bang for the buck or appropriate and unusual wines.

Mark

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A sense of history would remind the over-earnest that food/wine matching is governed more by fashion than by absolute criteria. In 19th century Britain, the great German wines which balanced sweetness and acidity were even more highly prized than the French classics. Sauces tended to be sweet, and so the aim was to match them with a wine that exactly complemented their sweetness. Such an approach is open to argument, but one thing is certain -- gastronomically, the Victorians were no fools.

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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I think that RP and WS scoring system is very useful; tasting reviews describing the wine, color, bouquet and taste may help the wine lover to look for a particular wine or recognize perfumes and fruits.

On the other side I do not like the the so scientific number-scoring, I think that it is impossible for everyone to state that a wine scoring 89 is better than the one scoring 88. Even a 99 points wine can be as good as a 80 points wine if someone like it. In some ways scoring wines is like wandering up and down the National Gallery giving marks to all the different paintings.

Taste is very subjective and RP and WS are not my bible, but only interesting pieces of paper to read. :cool:

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I think an elementary point is that scores are based on tasting series of little sips from many different wines. But drinking an entire bottle of the same wine combined with food, this is a pretty different thing wrt. to sensoric impressions.

In his excellent book "Wine Snobbery", Andrew Barr tells a nice little anecdote:

When the owner of Haut-Brion was asked to comment on the fact that Lafite-Rothschild scored better than Haut-Brion in a comparative tasting he replied: "Haut-Brion is meant to be drunk with food and not with Lafite".

As for Parker vs. WS ratings: Parker is an individual taster. WS is a gremium (no?).

So I go with Robert Parker, but also with Stephen Tanzer (WineCellar) and Clive Coates (TheVine). They all have different preferences, but I can learn to realistcally guess what they found in the bottles. A gremium has no distinct preferences other than a normalized taste (based on a normalized fashion, as John pointed out correctly)

Hmmm, somehow I'd like to drink a beer now.

Make it as simple as possible, but not simpler.

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Craig,

Thanks for another thoughtful and well-written article. As a "retail wine steward", I see everyday the influence that RP and WS exert over the retail market. Americans seem to shop for wines with the same dispassionate energy they search out the best washing machines. (They often buy both at the same place, too.)

I have my own scoring system that I encourage my customers to consider: Would you rather have one bottle of that, two of those, or five of these?

In my opinion, taste and perception are affected by so many variables that precise digital scoring is nearly meaningless. Digital scores implicitly suggest that a shiraz scoring a '94' is somehow 'better' than a shiraz scoring a '93'. This is absurd. No matter how scientific RP, WS, or anyone else tries to make their evaluation, it cannot be that precise. Furthermore, the factors most crucial to the enjoyment of wine are completely omitted from the evaluation!

When customers come to me lamenting that "the wine tasted so much better in Italy", I have to remind them that everything was better when they were in Italy. I am convinced that context is at least half of our appreciation of food and wine. Glorious occasions and the company of family and good friends can lift our enjoyment of a simple meal and a modest wine into the realm of personal mythology. More than once, I myself have been served a rare and impossibly expensive wine that I have been unable even to taste because the pressure and expectation were so high, or the company so insufferable.

I especially deplore the pervasiveness of the RP 'style'. Parker's preference for heavily oaked, alcohol-laden, full-bore fruit-bomb extractions drives not only the consumer market for these hyperbolic monsters, but also affects production, as winemakers strive to emulate the RP 'style' in an effort to capture his praise and to profit from his market. As you point out, the result is the loss of regional styles and wines with individual character.

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