Tuesday, March 3, 2009

DR. JAY'S MAGIC SNAKE OIL

I have this ongoing issue with Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. No, I am not talking about wine ratings (that's the other 800 lb. Gorilla in the room). And not with Mr. Parker per se, but with one of his current contributing reviewers, a Dr. Jay Miller. I have written a few emails to the magazine, complaining that Dr. Miller's coverage of Australia, South America, Spain and pretty much anything he does, is a bit frustrating, because of all these wines he scores, yet offers no tasting notes whatsoever.

In a response on the first go-around, I was actually told that he DIDN'T EVEN PROVIDE THE MAGAZINE WITH HIS TASTING NOTES! I responded, "Why does he even bother? And more directly, why do you?" I can't understand how somebody can do their job half-ass and still keep it (insert joke about a politician or corporate executive here).

I was then told that they're isn't enough room in the magazine. I told them to do at least what Spectator does, whatever content doesn't fit in the print medium, list it as WEB ONLY. Hell, that alone is why I subscribe to the online versions of all these wine mags.

Isn't that the smart thing to do?

Which brings me back to my complaining to RP, this whole compulsion to dole out "LISTS" of "VALUE WINES." The fact that it is simply the low end of the economic spectrum shows you that the intended audience of this magazine is the high-end trophy wine buyers who couldn't give a crap about a good $10 wine. The fact that said $10 wine scored 90 points should be enough right? But in using these reviews to help sell wine (which I unfortunately am forced to do in this market), I need more than points. Customers want to see what it was that earned the wine such a score, or at least see where the taster's mind was when trying said wine.

It's tough for me to bash on RP. For years, I have looked up to David Schildknect, Wine Advocate's resident reviewer of German and Austrian wines (since going full-time for RP, he has added Alsace, Loire, South Africa and other regions to his duties). David is considered one of, if not THE authority on German and Austrian wines in the world (so much so that Jancis Robinson had David rewrite the German section in the latest edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine), so it pains me to be complaining to his employer, but if Mr. Parker is trying working toward turning his magazine over to a younger generation, or just wanting to move into a Publisher's role (like Marvin Shanken at WS), then he should expect nothing but the best from his reviewers. David, along with Antonio Galloni, who is arguably one of the best Italian wine reviewers out there, and Neal Martin who works on New Zealand, as well as wine writing illuminaries Kevin Zraly, Karen MacNeil, Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Mark Squires and Lettie Teague, I have to say that Dr. Jay Miller - you are the weakest link.

1 comment:

Mark said...

It's been my honor to have Dr. Jay Miller as a contemporary, friend and tasting expert for the past 25 years. Dr. Jay has been Parker's "second palate" as one of his closest confidants as Jay managed bottle deliveries, organized flights, tasted as a back-up and second-opinion consultant to Parker in the several 100-bottle-wine-tastings (per week) for that same 25-year-period.
Up until the last few years when RMP decided, grudgingly, to add assistant expert tasters because the world of wine had grown immeasurably, Jay was typically at his side at most of these sessions. World travel, barrel-tasting Bordeaux Premieres, International Wine Exhibitions, as Parker's assistant earned Jay the tongue-in-cheek "palates-separated-at-birth" we’ve jokingly applied.
Many sessions took place at my two restaurants in Baltimore (now history, I'm now a wine wholesaler). The set-up was to start by 9AM, have breakfast, lunch and light snacks throughout the grueling day to refresh the palate as needed. It is a remarkable thing to watch and, if you have never seen it, understandably a permissible reason for a healthy skepticism. Favorites were broken out of the ocean of bottles in each flight, usually tasted "blind" (another of Jay's set-up duties)and moved to another area to be re-tasted as the finalists and for an overview of how the favorites changed with breathing through the day. You can imagine the dreck waded through to get to those 90 pointers, especially going back 30 years, before modern thinking and wine-making techniques were commonplace.
I have never seen Parker affected by alcohol in the 10 years I had restaurants, nor the 17 years we kept a tasting dinner club (always blind flights) as fellow members. Ditto for Dr. Jay.
In those blind tasting dinner flights, which were of great depth of vintages and breadth of countries/appellations/varietals, Dr. Jay commonly "nailed" the themes more than any of the other seven professional wine industry members, and at least as often as Mr. Parker.
As much as wine newbies like to dump on Parker, and now Miller, The Wine Advocate has done more for world-wine qualitatively and, in defining an “elementary” scoring system (and applying it FIRST), the incredible expansion of modern winemaking, production and the public's acceptance and enjoyment of fine wine.
These experts are not infallible, not wine popes, and may often be more excited about oak and extraction than I, but I can always count on the WA reviews being consistent-more than any other periodical, year after year.
They are NOT tasting for the industry, take NO advertising and are NOT publishing so you will have a sales tool to sell wine. They do not send "pre-release" scores to retailers as a marketing tool as other Wine Industry rags do. If you have a gripe I'm quite certain Jay Miller will be more than glad to address it personally. It's easy to dump on those set upon a pedestal but your rant is better used telling your readers the coincidence of high-scoring reviews with advertising revenues which is the rule for cigar and wine magazines.
All of which I may add, are best taken with a grain of salt as you reference ANY review opinions, including The Wine Advocate, so that you can make better buying decisions to taste for the development of your own palate.
Best in Wine and Life, Mark Nichols/Annapolis MD