|Beneath the suavity and elegance of Bordeaux, passions run deep. © UGC Bordeaux|
| Beneath the suavity and elegance of Bordeaux, passions run deep.
Ever wondered what wine producers really think of critics? Read one irate summation of the state of wine reviewing.
By Don Kavanagh | Posted Friday, 01-Jun-2018
You have to feel for wine producers sometimes.
They slave away, day and night, tending their vineyards in Burgundy and Bordeaux in order to produce the best grapes they can. They harvest these Cabernet or Pinot grapes, spend weeks meticulously and painstakingly turning them into precious wine, which they then leave ageing until it is ready to meet its public. And then some jumped-up wine critic comes along and tells them exactly how wrong they've got it. It must be heartbreaking.
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And it must be especially galling when a major occasion brings hordes of critics and "wine professionals" to town, all of them looking for the best in wine, food and accommodation, while simultaneously publicly slamming the best efforts of some of the very people offering their hospitality.
A fascinating insight into the anguish felt by many producers can now be revealed, after an extraordinary letter from a severely disgruntled member of the producer end of the market was made public this week on social media. In the letter, the author gives an amusing series of "tasting notes" on several high-profile wine critics, and awards them scores based on their perceived performance.
Some of the critics do well in the assessments, but there are some brutally direct comments about the integrity of others and many are accused of offering better scores to producers who are willing to do a little more for the critic in return.
Wine-Searcher has verified the authenticity of the letter, so it is not simply a concocted internet meme or fake social media sensation; it's an actual communication sent by a member of the French wine industry to a colleague. We are not identifying the author or the critics, as we don't want anyone to lose their job and we'd rather not be sued for defamation by outraged critics unable to take the heat when it is applied to them.
"Each year in spring, during en primeur, wines are tasted, analyzed and scored by critics. The notes and scores are often incoherent and senseless, to the point that one can ask if some of them really know how to taste wines. It's not enough to have a polished rhetoric and apply a score out of 20 or 100 points. This exercise requires other essential skills that many of them seem to be short of.
"This evaluation rests on an analysis of scores, comments and the tasting of wines from a decade of en primeur and en livrable [bottled wines] tastings. The criteria on which this ranking is based are the following: tasting aptitude in recognizing qualities and faults/defects, neutrality, integrity, independence, knowledge of wineries, interest in the vintage conditions and the technical choices of the vignerons, en primeur and en livrable tastings, aptitude to reconsider en primeur scores.
"The list of influencers is non-exhaustive, but has never ceased to grow in the past few years; press journalists and independents, bloggers, masters of wine (MW) – many legitimate or not, who claim membership of the 'influential' circle."
Critic A is described as possessing integrity, discretion and objectivity. "...is also of a great humility (a rare quality in this profession) and has already gone back on [the original score] during en livrable retastings, a quite rarely observed thing among critics." The author sums up: "Not infallible, but commendable. 93-95 points."
Critic B is referred to as "The Formula 1 of tasting", but there is an inference that some mutual back-scratching is to be expected. "You will have guessed, integrity is not a priority, but [B] is liked at Bordeaux ... therefore receives a score that allows [B] to come to future tastings! 90 points."
Critic C gets a completely favorable review, being acknowledged for a willingness to travel, to do research on the vintage conditions and also to reassess scores, however the final score (87-89) suggests a certain lack of sparkle.
Incompetence and incoherence seem to be common threads among some wine critics.© Wikimedia | Incompetence and incoherence seem to be common threads among some wine critics.
Critic D "travels mainly to friends’ and demonstrates opportunism", according to the author. Integrity, neutrality and the aptitude to reassess a score are not among [D's] qualities. Blind tasting does not mean tasting blind and giving a score or comment once the bottle is unveiled … well, one shouldn't displease a client… Without great interest, nothing to see here. 85-87 points."
Critic E "tastes a lot ...yet a training on wine faults is urgently required. Has no humility but has the courage of [E's] convictions, even risking to offend domains. Limited interest though. 85-87 points."
Critic F is described as a "hedonist, not a critic. It will be much appreciated to invite [F] for a lunch or to sleep over at the chateau to get good comments and better scores. A training on wine faults is here also required. 85-87 points."
Critic G "tastes a lot with certain skills but without any re-assessment ... tastes more often labels than wines. Neutrality and integrity are not a prime quality, humility neither. 83-85 points."
Critic H gets a rather mixed review: "...does not travel to properties often, seems honest, yet unpredictable, capable of the best and the worst. Can be biting in a totally arbitrary way. Remains very inconsistent, yet tends to follow the established order without really questioning it. Many aberration were noted on some crus and a training on wines qualities and faults is vividly advised. Do not follow [H's] recommendations. 81-83 points."
Critic I is where things start to really go downhill. "Surprising right from [I's] first en primeur tastings, big mistakes committed, never reassesses scores, only travels to friends. No integrity, also likes faulty wines. We advise basic wine training to gain credibility. To be forgotten; 80-82 points."
Critic J "travels a lot to properties, that's [J's] only quality. Tastes labels before wines and integrity, neutrality or even humility are very far from [J's] preoccupations. Can also give you advice on how to make a better wine. If you know a good table (because [J] is also a gastronome) while telling a good story on the wine, a podium finish is secured, but don't forget to buy some ads, too; cronyism is required. Again, nothing to see here. 75-77 points."
Critic K "only travels to friends' properties. Neutrality and integrity are not preoccupations, an American hedonist with a Californian palate and is a label drinker. Don't forget to welcome [K] at the table with very old vintages; good or bad it doesn't matter as long as the label is beautiful. A training on recognizing wine faults is imperative. For those who want to taste great wines with great harmony, finesses and elegance, [K's] recommendations are to be avoided. 68-70 points.
Critic L is dismissed in a couple of sentences. "Does not travel, incoherent and incompetent, of no interest; don't waste your time. Because a score has to be given: 61-62 points."
Critic M also gets it in the neck. "Does not travel, incoherent, proven incompetent, discredits the title of Master of Wine – if it still has any credibility in the eyes of wine professionals. Nothing to interest anyone. Because it's our duty to score this 'critic' – 61-62 points."
Critic N doesn't do much to restore the reputation of the profession, either. "Incoherent and famously incompetent, without any humility. Has buried the title of Master of Wine for good. Don't waste your time, nothing to see here. 61-62 points."
Critic O rounds out the main runners and riders. "Absolute necessity to get intensive training on wine tasting, one cannot improvise the role of critic. If you too want to criticize wines without knowing anything about them, [O] proves it's possible. 61-62 points."
Comentario de / Comment of Wines Inform Assessors:
De acuerdo con lo dicho por Paul Vanderberg. Matizaría que cada crítico tienes su prestigio y sus limitaciones.
Conozco un crítico excelente en España al que su bondad, sentido de la amistad y gran capacidad literaria le puede volver menos útil a la hora de decidir comprar el vino/bodega del que habla. Sus descripciones incitan a conocer la bodega y sus productos y ésto me parece su gran valor como comentarista
Al final es un debate tan antiguo el de la democracia: como se deben elegir los representantes, dando el mismo valor a cada voto o limitando los votos a "los preparados"?
Personalmente doy siempre más valor al conjunto de opiniones de los consumidores que uno puede consultar por diferentes mecanismos (y que luego uno mismo considerará acertadas o no)
Por curiosidad miro las valoraciones de la bodega de Paul Vanderberg en Maps Google y son excelentes y creo que sinceras. Este mecanismo permite corregir las opiniones de los críticos habituales y de los premios , a los que sinceramente cada vez presto menos atención
Wines Inform Assessors, Barcelona
According to what Paul Vanderberg said. I would point out that each critic has his prestige and limitations.
I know an excellent critic in Spain whose kindness, sense of friendship and great literary ability can make him less useful when deciding to buy the wine/cellar he is talking about. His descriptions incite to know the winery and its products and this seems to me its great value as a commentator
At the end the debate is so old and similar to those about democracy: how to choose the representatives, giving the same value to each vote or limiting the votes to "the prepared"?
Personally I always give more value to the set of opinions of the consumers that one can consult by different mechanisms (and which in the end will be checked by myself.)
By curiosity, I look at the valuations of Paul Vanderberg's winery on Google Maps and they are excellent and I think this opinions are sincere. This mechanism allows us to correct the opinions of the usual critics and the prizes, to which I sincerely pay less attention.
Wines Inform Assessors, Barcelona
Why has Don Kavanagh omitted some?
I would however agree with one l isted in the 61-62 range, adding that he is also often seen drunk at tastings.
Most print reviews are a pay to play, quid pro abomination.
Too many "critics" are old, fat, guys, who smoke cigars.
Research shows tasting sensitivity is in general; lower after fifty, lower in males, lower in smokers, and latest research indicates obesity reduces sensitivity by 25%. Hmm?
Any one want to host a Wine Critics Open? I have some ideas on how to evaluate abilities.
I haven't sent wine to acritic or competition in decades, I'm not afraid to criticize critics.
Paradisos del Sol