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The French Resistance


Rebel Rose
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any process which reduces the complex experience of wine tasting to a single number (for a wine) inevitably places a total order on all wines, maps them onto a single dimension, and thus makes these sort of comparisons valid.
Not necessarily. Numerical systems are a shorthand for seeing where a given wine falls on a reviewer's own global scale of evaluation.

If in fact the reviewer has a global scale of evaluation. Not to argue balex's own point, I am coming from a perspective of reading (and having available for reference) much US wine-critic writing from before the "100-point" scales appeared. The critical landscape in those days was vigorous (for the umpteenth time, you can see a survey of it in the 1984 UC-Press book cited above) and a concrete single scale was just not part of it. The 20-point Davis scale had been tried and it didn't "take" with the public; numerical scales as of the early 1980s were a tested, and failed, idea. US critics wrote appraisals as they do now, but the absolute "quality" summaries were coarse (prime - choice - good - utility - pet). The side effect of the 100-point scales (though people brought up with them or bought into them tend to accept them implicitly and defend them, and may lack real reference points outside that model) is precisely that they create the horse race mentioned above.

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The side effect of the 100-point scales ... is precisely that they create the horse race mentioned above.

True, which is why I noted that a horse race was perhaps inevitable. As one who neither implicity accepts 100-point scales nor lacks outside references, however, I have also resigned myself to the fact that scoring systems, like asinine contests, are here to stay in a mass market. (Although I still enjoy ridiculing the contests...)

Edited by StevenC (log)
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hey guys, got an email from Sante magazine with this head line...

French Wines Lose to Californians in Great Taste Test

Belfast Telegraph

When eight of the finest palates in France gathered at the Intercontinental Hotel in Paris 30 years ago to sample the latest offerings from up-and-coming Californian winemakers, the day began in an atmosphere of relaxed informality. In an attempt to spice-up the proceedings, the organizer thought it would be fun to compare American wine with the best French through blind tastings – a decision that sent shockwaves through the wine trade. Tasters stormed out crying “scandle” when the Paris tasting found the California wines had beaten the finest Bordeaux and Burgundies the natives could offer in white and red categories. On May 24, exactly 30 years later, 80 experts were assembled from both sides of the Atlantic to recreate the experiment. Meeting at Berry Brothers in Piccadilly and at Copia in the heart of Californian winemaking country, they tested the original wines to see if they had stood the test of time. Almost unthinkably, California routed the French even more convincingly than it did three decades ago, upturning the critic’s damning predictions that Napa Valley’s grapes would not age so well. The experts’ top five wines were all Californian. Among them was the runaway winner, the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello, [t]he second place winner . . . the 1973 Stags’ Leap, and [t]he third place winners . . . the 1971 Mayacamas and the 1970 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard. It is not until . . . the sixth place that the French register an appearance, courtesy of the 1970 Château Mouton-Rothschild. Both of the original champions – a 1973 Chardonnay from Château Montelena and a 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stags’ Leap Wine Cellars – are on display at the Smithsonian.

so there you have it i guess...

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What is it that we now have? I've now seen several press reports that are small variations on these statements:

Belfast Telegraph

... In an attempt to spice-up the [1976] proceedings, the organizer thought it would be fun to compare American wine with the best French through blind tastings – a decision that sent shockwaves through the wine trade.

-- No comment about the other US-France taste tests before and after, which Bob Thompson cited (upthread).
On May 24 ... California routed the French even more convincingly than it did three decades ago, upturning the critic’s damning predictions that Napa Valley’s grapes would not age so well.

This may allude to particular "critic's" (does anyone happen to know which?) but it doesn't say. (I haven't run into many serious European critics who say that.) Also it doesn't mention (nor does any of the reports I've seen) that solid California Cabernets have a very long record of aging well, they were famous for it in the 1960s, Ridge wines well before the 1971 are known for it; who exactly was disputing that well-known history???

It is possible that what we now have is another mythos in formation. (To be solemnly repeated, but never examined.)

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It is possible that what we now have is another mythos in formation. (To be solemnly repeated, but never examined.)

:blink:

wow, this thread is chock full of heated debate. i didnt mean much by my above post other than California Cabs can age quite well enough to put up a fight with top Bordeaux producers. im not here to fight for who i think is the king of the hill, there's no point in that, we should all drink what we can and be happy wether in Petrus or Puppy kibble.

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It is possible that what we now have is another mythos in formation. (To be solemnly repeated, but never examined.)

we should all drink what we can and be happy wether in Petrus or Puppy kibble.

I can't decide which of these lines to use as a sig quote! :laugh:

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It is possible that what we now have is another mythos in formation. (To be solemnly repeated, but never examined.)

:blink:

wow, this thread is chock full of heated debate. i didnt mean much by my above post other than California Cabs can age quite well enough to put up a fight with top Bordeaux producers. im not here to fight for who i think is the king of the hill, there's no point in that, we should all drink what we can and be happy wether in Petrus or Puppy kibble.

There are quite a few people who have long held that in general terms, Bordeaux age better than California cabernets.

There is IMOP no "mythos."

No one I know of will say this is a hard and fast rule--just a generalization.

It is based upon a widely held belief that Bordeaux from fine vintages require many years to "open up" and reveal their potential while California wines are made in a "riper" and easier to drink when young style--revealing their potential at a much earlier age. I would argue that terroir plays a role here. Bordeaux does develop secondary and tertiary aromas and flavors after some age and California Cabernets tend to be fruitier and riper in their youth. Of course these are generalizations. One would expect some differerences in aging and development given the differing terroirs. (weather mostly).

Also there seems to be some confusion about scoring wine and point systems.

Wine can be critically evaluated--it is not totally a subjective endeavor. Every system has objective and subjective components and tasters can be (and are) trained in assessment of a wine's quality. Tasters do not sample a wine and pronounce it to be good, bad, or great based upon a simplistic subjective response--"gee this tastes good--think I'll give it ninety points."

Yes, for those who believe that wine is "art in a bottle"--well even art can be evaluated--there is a reason certain paintings for eg--are revered and others are not, same with music etc.

I would recommend "Art and Visual Perception" by Rudolf Arnheim. Yes in the end subjectivity plays a big role but the best art critics (and wine tasters) are highly trained and knowledgeable people who apply rigorous and generally accepted standards to their endeavors. Certainly fashion and popular taste are always a part.

Scores are nothing more (or less) than a critic's summary evaluation of the wine in question.

One can quibble with the particular system--each has its own set of faults and benefits.

What one does with the ratings is important. Scores (or notes) can be used to compare wines (as with art or anything else) comparisons are more valid and make more sense if they are done for similar wines (or paintings etc).

Picasso's are compared to other paintings of similar styles etc (so too Bordeaux can be compared to Cabernets from anywhere though one would be better served if the cabernets were from vintages of equal quality or similar climates for eg). That is the more variables the less valid the copmparison--if quality is the motivating factor behind the comparison.

One should always establish what the comparison in question is intended to accomplish.

More often than not good comparisons can offer a lot of learning about the subjects and their place in the scheme of things. let's not forget there are serious courses of study at most esteemed universities in the world titled "Comparative Literature."

The whole notion of Bordeaux is based upon comparison--first growth, second growth etc.

The 1976 event and subsequent events are not in and of themselves horse races. One can turn these into a series of athletic competitions--if done for fun fine. But one would be missing out on many more interesting and more subtle pieces of knowledge that can be gained from them.

Often these comparisons are helpful in pointing up differences and stimulating debate and discussion about all the variables in terms of their production and styles etc.

Yes, the Red Sox are world champs --that's what the score says--but there is a lot to be learned (and a lot of fun) if one looks beyond the final outcome into the reasons why--how this came to be for eg. This invites one to look at and enjoy the nuances of the game of baseball and how teams are constructed--the role of fate and so on all leading to a greater appreciation for the game itself.

Finally, I would point out that these blind tastings often help to show how complex wine is and how difficult it is to taste and evaluate.

Here's an example

A basic concept like "terroir" is revealed to be elusive--how many of these tasters mistake the origins of wines made thousands of miles apart? Are these disparate wines more similar than different?

This is just one of many topics for discussion and debate that have arisen from these tastings --if we can look past the basic "competition" aspect..

Interesting food for thought.

Edited by JohnL (log)
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There are all sorts of objective ways to compare wine and paintings. None of them are very interesting except in so far as they are correlated with the subjective elements that are why people are interested in the subject.

Your post didn't really come clean on whether you believe there are objective standards of "quality" in wine -- do you?

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There are all sorts of objective ways to compare wine and paintings. None of them are very interesting except in so far as they are correlated with the subjective elements that are why people are interested in the subject.

Your post didn't really come clean on whether you believe there are objective standards of "quality" in wine -- do you?

I think that comparative studies are immensely interesting.

So do many others--those comparative literature courses are pretty popular.

If there were no standards for judging things--then we would have critical anarchy.

Every painting would be "equivalent" to Picassos or every sculpture would be as worthy of admiration as a Rodin. (by the way all Rodins would be equal).

To simplify things-- one should be able to distinguish between a glass of "spoiled" wine (vinegar) and a glass of healthy wine. There are probably some people who would actually enjoy the spoiled wine and may even prefer it which is fine. But to prefer the vinegar with no understanding and respect for the healthy wine would be to wallow in ignorance.

There are scientifically measurable components of wine and palates can be trained to recognize these components. (See any enology school--UC Davis, WSET--MW program, the many French universities etc)

Therefore one can judge and assess quality--this is what professional tasters do.

There can be plenty of debate as to what one likes or dislikes and likes and dislikes can have absolutely nothing to do with quality.

I may not "like" Picasso's works but I understand that Picasso is a great and talented painter.

I may not "like" the wines of, say, the DRC; but I can recognize a high level of quality and the reasons so many hold these wines in high esteem.

There isn't much to learn from a review that simply declares, "this wine sucks." A critic's opinion is important and one would hope that the critic would present that opinion with well supported observations. A critic also has an obligation to provide some objective context for the wine. Clarity, cleanliness on the nose and palate, style, tipicity etc etc.

So a good review (tasting note and score or no score) should be illuminating and informative whether or not the reader agrees with the final assessment of the critic.

In the end, the various iterations of the 1976 paris tasting are all illuminating in many areas of wine. Unfortunately many are misreading the conclusions. These tastings can and often do point up interesting comparatives both differences and similarities.

There's a lot of fodder for interesting discussion and debate, to spend time on scores and scoring wines is to miss the point (actually many points).

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I always find these discussions interesting, largely because I find the claim of objectivity to be so obviously wrong that there must be some misunderstanding somewhere along the line. We agree that wine tasting notes should be informative, that some aspects of wine appreciation are objective -- alcohol level is a banal example, but I reckon that UCD style wine descriptors are potentially objective, and so on. The real question is whether a statement of the form "wine X is good" is something where you can say, this is true/false according to objective criteria. If everyone agrees then you can kid yourself that this is an objective statement rather than a sequence of correlated subjective judgments.

Take a recent example : Pavie 2003. Can you decide objectively who is right about this wine?

Ultimately, we are interested in wine because it gives us pleasure -- and just like with paintings, value judgments are unavoidable and inevitable unstable -- look at the way the reputations of artists and whole schools, change over the years.

(and comparative literature is really not about comparing -- the word comparative refers to the study of multiple languages)

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Also there seems to be some confusion about scoring wine and point systems.

Wine can be critically evaluated--it is not totally a subjective endeavor. Every system has objective and subjective components and tasters can be (and are) trained in assessment of a wine's quality. Tasters do not sample a wine and pronounce it to be good, bad, or great based upon a simplistic subjective response--"gee this tastes good--think I'll give it ninety points."

johnL

ok, i have to play devils advocate here and before i do, John let me assure you that this is not directed at you and that your quote is merely a starting point for my point...

i like the 100 point system just as much as the next guys, it DOES have alot of benefits, though there is something totaly subjective about wine. for example, i am an avid lover of bonny doon. i know not many on this forum are (or so it seems), but they just release a sangiovese that to quote RG, for the past three years has completely missed the mark, becoming a big bad red instead of the elegent/all food loving chianti.

Does this make this wine any less desirable, or any other wine that does not taste like me know it to? i dont think so, but many would rate this lower on a 100 point scale because it doesnt drink like they think sangiovese should. humor me--if you tasted a grape variety you had never tasted before and it tasted like this sangiovese does, you would be pleasantly surprised, praise it, etc, but when its revealed to be sangiovese its suddenly scoffed at. doesnt make much sense to me.

many people tend to think that terrior, is a primarily french thing because they taste minerality in their wine. this should not be so. terrior does not = minerality. french terrior just happens to be manifested in the wine as minerality.

ah crap, now ive done it...let the flaming begin, back to work for me, but lets here the replys and ill defend my stance later in the day

Grand Cru Productions

Private High End Dinners and Personal Chef Service

in Chicago, Illinois

For more information email me at:

grandcruproductions@hotmail.com

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Also there seems to be some confusion about scoring wine and point systems.

Wine can be critically evaluated--it is not totally a subjective endeavor. Every system has objective and subjective components and tasters can be (and are) trained in assessment of a wine's quality. Tasters do not sample a wine and pronounce it to be good, bad, or great based upon a simplistic subjective response--"gee this tastes good--think I'll give it ninety points."

johnL

ok, i have to play devils advocate here and before i do, John let me assure you that this is not directed at you and that your quote is merely a starting point for my point...

i like the 100 point system just as much as the next guys, it DOES have alot of benefits, though there is something totaly subjective about wine. for example, i am an avid lover of bonny doon. i know not many on this forum are (or so it seems), but they just release a sangiovese that to quote RG, for the past three years has completely missed the mark, becoming a big bad red instead of the elegent/all food loving chianti.

Does this make this wine any less desirable, or any other wine that does not taste like me know it to? i dont think so, but many would rate this lower on a 100 point scale because it doesnt drink like they think sangiovese should. humor me--if you tasted a grape variety you had never tasted before and it tasted like this sangiovese does, you would be pleasantly surprised, praise it, etc, but when its revealed to be sangiovese its suddenly scoffed at. doesnt make much sense to me.

many people tend to think that terrior, is a primarily french thing because they taste minerality in their wine. this should not be so. terrior does not = minerality. french terrior just happens to be manifested in the wine as minerality.

ah crap, now ive done it...let the flaming begin, back to work for me, but lets here the replys and ill defend my stance later in the day

No--you make some very good and valid points!

I think that all too often we confuse "objective" evaluation of wine with the much more subjective (or totally subjective) final evaluation that includes a tasters preference.

Let me try an example:

Some people do not like the flavors imparted by oak aging in their wine. Their preference would be for unoaked wines.

However, regardless of one's preference, one should be able to appreciate a wine that does have oak flavors--say a great Montrachet from the DRC. A professional taster/critic should be able to note the presence of oak and whether it is well integrated into the wine or prominent.

That is he or she should be able to evaluate the quality of the wine for what that wine is.

It is up to the consumer to decide if he or she would like that wine based upon their personal preferences.

I happen to like a lot of what Graham is doing with Bonney Doon.

The Vin Du Glacier is very fine sweet white wine. There are many others I enjoy as well.

Interestingly, Graham is a huge proponant of "terroir."

As for terroir in general, current thinking by a wide range of scientists/enologists from France to Australia is that "minerality" has little to do with the soil or subsoil or minerals in the ground in vineyards (it is not passed to the grape through the root system). In fact the most important impact on wine by soil is believed to be its drainage properties.

I really believe we all want to have our tastes validated. If a critic does not "like" a wine we happen to like and/or scores it lower than we do there is a tendency to resent the critic.

We then tend to dismiss that critic.

If the critic is good at their job the review will be informative and the review/notes ahould indicate why the score or result is what it is.

We can learn something about the wine in question (and something about the critic and ourselves) and we can agree or disagree. I think the key is to at least consider what the critic is saying.

In the end if one likes something then one likes something.

I can't stand caviar--however I made an effort to learn why so many prize it. I can tell the differences and understand the attributes of fine caviar and the types. I "get it" but still don't like it. But our tastes change so who knows--as a kid I hated eggs--now I love em.

that's life--go figure!

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