Monday, March 21, 2011

Robert Parker's tasting notes

Picking on Robert Parker is a bandwagon I've never really jumped on before, but I just got invited to sit in on a panel on wine scoring this weekend at Taste Washington. I will be the designated villain* who actually scores things on the 100-point scale.

*On my seminar registration form I insisted "Hangings to be conducted in effigy only."

So I thought I'd check in with how Parker's doing with his tasting notes these days, and whether you can tell by his description what he scored the wine.

Last week Donelan Family Wines spent some money sending out a press release trumpeting reviews Parker issued this month; all the wines scored between 89 and 100 points. I don't know the winery and haven't tasted the wines; all I'm interested in today are the reviews.

I am listing two reviews below. I have taken off the first sentence of each for reasons that will be clear after the jump. Before you take the jump, guess what Parker scored each wine. (Note: italics in the review are mine.)

2009 Donelan Cuvee Moriah (72% Grenache with 16% stems, 20% Syrah with 35% stems and 8% Mourvedre)
This wine reveals zesty acidity as well as an unmistakable kirsch liqueur style. It reminded me of a lighter vintage of Chateau Rayas, which is a lighter-styled Chateauneuf du Pape even in a powerful vintage. The light ruby-hued Cuvee Moriah offers up intense notes of sweet black cherries intertwined with herbal nuances. As the wine sits in the glass, tell-tale notes of raspberries (which I often associate with Rayas) also emerge. If tasted blind, this different, intriguing effort would undoubtedly be thought to be a French southern Rhone rather than a Sonoma County product. It should age effortlessly for 6-8 years.

2007 Donelan Richards Family Vineyard (100% Syrah, 100% whole clusters)
This Cote Rotie-like effort displays remarkable floral/lavender characteristics along with a dense purple color and an awesome bouquet of spring flowers, blueberries, blackberries and white chocolate. It hits the palate with a crescendo of intense, ripe, concentrated black fruits interwoven with barrique, charcoal and burning ember-like flavors. With staggering quality and full body as well as modest alcohol (14.2%) for a wine of such great ripeness, this riveting 2007 Syrah should provide immense pleasure over the next 15+ years. Don’t miss it!

So the wine that tastes like cherries and raspberries, or better, like Chateau Rayas, perhaps the greatest winery in Chateauneuf du Pape, Parker gave 89-91 points, the lowest score of any of Donelan's wines.

And the wine that tastes like burning embers? Here's the first line I edited out: "Flirting with perfection, the 2007 Syrah Richard’s Vineyard is a staggering effort." He gave it 97-100 points.

OK, powerful high-alcohol wines I can accept as personal taste, but seriously Bob, burning embers? And you call that flirting with perfection? How the hell am I going to defend that?

I couldn't get actual video of Parker tasting the wines, but here is an artists' rendition:


jo6pac said...

Thanks for the Monday morning laugh.

Kent Benson said...

Not having read many Parker notes, I took your challenge with a bit of apprehension. I “tasted” both reviews blind (i.e. without taking the jump).

Cuvee Moriah: Parker kept his powder dry on this offering, using only words such as intense, different, and intriguing. The fact that he made the favorable comparison to Chateau Rayas bumped my guess up a couple points. 6-8 years of aging necessitated little consideration. I guessed 91 points, matching the high end of Parker’s range.

Syrah: Knowing that Parker loves Northern Rhône wines, his comparison to Côte-Rôtie was a good clue. I also noted words, such as remarkable, awesome, intense, ripe, concentrated, staggering quality, great ripeness, and immense pleasure. Knowing that Parker reserves his final10 points for aging potential, the 15+ year drinking range was also a factor. I guessed 96 points, undershooting a bit.

Interesting exercise. Check out Parker’s breakdown of the components of his system at his Website. Almost no one I’ve asked even knows they exist, much less follows them. I’m not even sure Parker does.

Good luck defending the system. For help, consult with your colleague, Michael Franz. I remember he presented some pretty compelling arguments in response to my objections.

Christian Miller said...

"I am listing two reviews below... Before you take the jump, guess what Parker scored each wine."

What a concept - I think you should license it to Parker-Squires for their website. Given the fact that many of the wines he interviews are nearly unobtainable, and it's all about the points anyway, it's a great way for Parker fanatics to participate vicariously without further looting their depleted savings.

Anonymous said...

Very excited to see you and Christophe on the same panel, Blake! CHristophe will be representing Hedges Family Estate as the winery who does not submit wines for scoring and the creator of the Score Revolution
Scores or no scores, the HFE crew loves reading your posts, and we think someone who writes as thoughtfully and intelligently about wine as you do don't need 'em!
Looking forward to it!
Danielle Betras

W. Blake Gray said...

Thanks Danielle, I'm 93 on that comment ... seriously, sounds like it will be fun. I just got the list of questions our moderator wants to cover and it sounds like whoever is keeping time is going to be pulling us out of the room. See you there.

Tyler Thomas said...

Hi Blake, late to the game but I recently saw this post. I'm happy you used our wines as an example!

What I find surprising is the pettiness of your criticism. So you can accept high alcohol as personal taste, but not something else?

Has anyone tasted burning embers? Likely not. Is it a great descriptor? No, not one of his best. But what is your point really? The 2007 Richards has 14.2% alcohol, is that high alcohol to you? I am surprised you would use wines you have never tasted as an example to criticize someone else's notes. How can you provide better perspective? Could it be that he simply was reaching for another way to describe smokey? I assure you the wine is not "hot." You seem predisposed to dislike a wine you have never tasted because RP gave it 97-100? Most our wines are a bit paradigm busting and I suggest the 2007 Richards as one of them.

The Cuvee Moriah is a great wine, and I think deserved a better score, but help me understand your penchant for petty tearing down of someone else's notes?

W. Blake Gray said...

Tyler: You're absolutely right, "burning embers" is a great description of wine and you are wise to use it on your marketing materials.

I hope that was the apology you were seeking. If not, please tell me what it is you want me to say.

Anonymous said...

just run into this post. great idea! I really enjoy how Parker writes, not necessarily how he scores. from the notes I gave 89 to the Rayas and 94 to the Syrah. The notion of inserting a "burning embers" descriptor is a hallmark of his style, suggesting a figurative quality of heat in connection with the high alcohol but with a sense of "hot" as intense enjoyment and sensuality. My take anyway. long live the emperor. Cheers!