Friday, May 2, 2008

A Bone of Contention

I have a bone to pick with Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. As most of you know, I am not a big fan of the wine scores. To recap, I don’t like them because 1) the 100-point scale created by Parker and his disciples is built upon a wine’s BODY, not overall quality, and 2) we Americans have fairly cynical views on the 100-point scale thanks to our time served in the public school system as youths. But the biggest issue of all is that this is a small group of supposed experts who have slowly integrated their stilted opinions upon the masses, for better or worse. And despite the fact that these reviewers have had a big hand in maneuvering the masses into the wine world, they have steered them in one singular direction – the direction of homogenized, sometimes soulless wines that exhibit often brutish fruit characteristics, possessing as many dimensions as an amoeba. [Okay, that might be a bit harsh, but hopefully, my point has been made…]

What has made the use of reviews palatable in our stores, in my opinion, is the accompaniment of some sort of textual review – a sort of rationale for the score. These reviewers at least provide a bit of interpretation of the elements used to conclude that wine A is deserving of a high score or low score.

So this brings me to the double-barrel insanity at and the Wine Advocate – the reviewers named Dr. Jay Miller and now Neal Martin.

According to Parker’s website, Dr. Miller has been in the wine industry since 1977 and has worked as a part-time assistant to Parker for a time from 1985-1998. Where I don’t doubt his credentials, what I do doubt is his work ethic. To me, posting a score for a wine without any sort of review whatsoever is ABSOLUTELY LAZY. How in the heck did you come up with the score? Especially when it is a 90 point wine, what the heck makes it so? Most people would want to know, particularly if it was a wine for under $12 suggested retail. Case-in-point: the recently reviewed Don Miguel Gascon Malbec 2006. 90 points in Wine Advocate according to Jay Miller, yet absolutely no tasting notes published WHATSOEVER. There was a whole host of Argentinean wines with good scores buy not one tasting note for them. Seems to pad the issue, an index of noteworthy wines was given the lazy treatment with a simple listing and a numerical score. The list was comprised of entirely wines under $20. This listing of incomplete information gives the reader the impression that value is not nearly as important as a 95 point wine that’s $40 and above. You would think that with today’s economy sort of residing in the toilet bowl, the staffers at Wine Advocate would reevaluate that line of thinking, but this month, thanks to the Advocate’s resident Brit, Neal Martin, New Zealand gets its turn with the shoddy treatment. I have a lot of praise for Mr. Martin – his contributions to Parker’s website have given a more contemporary, younger appeal, and his prose is actually some of the more enjoyable in the wine world to date. But it seems he is taking his cues from Dr. Miller, with the comprising of a Best Buy Index for Kiwi wines. Case-in-point: Huia Sauvignon Blanc 2007. 89 points in Wine Advocate – no tasting notes. Why? It’s a pretty good wine for the money. Shouldn’t there be a review? I mean, how did Mr. Martin devise his score for this wine? Got me?

I am not the only one honked off by this apparent “phone-it-in” attitude. I only hope that my hero in the biz, Mr. David Schildknect, for whom I have a profound respect, will continue to be comprehensive and complete when presenting his reviews. The “filler” mentality of these indexes does little to further credibility for the new critics at Parker – I would argue that it goes a long way to damage their integrity.

Dr. Jay Miller = 77 points. Neal Martin = 85 points.

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