Thursday, May 8, 2014
What if Robert Parker judged in a wine competition?
Every one of these judges is a wine expert: wine brokers, critics, enology professors. Something I marvel at every year is how different not only are our opinions, but our standards and expectations.
Example: This year my panel got a flight of 11 Cavas. They were mostly fruit-driven, simple but pleasant wines. I gave 4 golds and 6 silvers, with only the last wine, an older wine, getting no medal from me.
The two judges next to me, from Portugal and Belgium, gave no medals to the first 10 wines, and gave only the last one a silver medal. They gave the same reason: They preferred its complexity, whereas I thought the wine was interesting but unpleasant.
I have this kind of interaction every time I judge wine: people with good palates and knowledge who simply disagree. I don't think I was "right" on the Cavas. What differed was our standard: I rewarded pleasure, while my neighbors punished simplicity. Ultimately the statisticians will sort it out.
I don't know which way Robert Parker would have gone, had he sat on the panel with us. But it would be interesting to have that discussion with him, and I think he's missing out by not having it.
You must have confidence in your palate to judge and rate wine, whether on a panel or for a magazine. I may not think I'm "right," but I don't think I'm "wrong" either, and that goes for both my likes and dislikes.
Fairly often I taste something that gets an extremely high score from the Advocate and I think of it as my Concours Mondial colleagues did of those Cavas: fruity, pleasant, but a bit boring.
Wine Advocate has assembled a group of tasters who prize ripeness, pretty much to the exclusion of other characteristics about wine. This is a valid point of view, a popular one and a financially successful one. There's no reason for the Advocate to change unless it wants to expand its influence into Europe and Japan. And why should it? Everyone who follows wine knows what the Advocate stands for, and that's a good thing.
I regret that Parker and his colleagues don't have these occasional thought-provoking conversations with people whose standards and expectations are different. Take away the vitriol that often accompanies wine disagreements online, and just listen to what other experts are saying.
I also regret never sitting on a wine judging panel with Parker, because I'd like to hear his enthusiasm and expertise in person. Maybe he wouldn't convince me that blueberry is the new black. But I'd like to hear him make the case.