Posts Tagged ‘Masters’

Everyone is a critic!

Everyone is a critic!


Twice in the past several months, the wine world has been rocked by news from Robert Parker, the world’s most famous wine critic.

In December, Parker announced that he’d sold a “substantial interest” in the Wine Advocate, the influential magazine he founded in 1978, to a trio of Singapore-based investors—and that he’d relinquished editorial control. In February, one of Parker’s top critics, Antonio Galloni, said that he’d left the publication to start an online enterprise.

Parker, who popularized the 100-point scale for reviewing wine, is nearly 66. So he can’t be faulted for wanting to slow down. But thanks to this pair of stories, oenophiles finally seem ready to admit that wine criticism is changing.

Consumers don’t need—or want—centralized gatekeepers telling them what they should or shouldn’t drink. Consumers still need advisors, of course, but when today’s consumers want information, they’re willing to look past professional critics and instead turn to friends and trusted networks.

With travel, restaurants, movies, and so much else, this trend would hardly be worthy of commentary. TripAdvisor long ago supplanted paper-based guides like Frommer’s.

Yelp is now the holy grail of restaurant reviews, and local blogs are increasingly influential. With movies, opening the local newspaper for commentary no longer makes sense when you can check out dozens of reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.

With wine, however, this shift runs counter to so much of what’s sacred. Everything about wine—the bizarre tasting rituals, knowledge of obscure regions and varietals, and identifying good values—is supposed to be handed down from on high. Consumers are supposed to decide what to drink based on the advice of prominent wine critics, not mere amateurs.


Read on …

The human palate is arguably the weakest of the five traditional senses. This begs an important question regarding wine tasting: is it bullshit, or is it complete and utter bullshit?

There are no two ways about it: the bullshit is strong with wine. Wine tasting. Wine rating. Wine reviews. Wine descriptions. They’re all related. And they’re all egregious offenders, from a bullshit standpoint.

Exhibit A: Wine experts contradict themselves. Constantly.

Statistician and wine-lover Robert Hodgson recently analyzed a series of wine competitions in California, after “wondering how wines, such as his own, [could] win a gold medal at one competition, and ‘end up in the pooper’ at others.” In one study, Hodgson presented blindfolded wine experts with the same wine three times in succession. Incredibly, the judges’ ratings typically varied by ±4 points on a standard ratings scale running from 80 to 100. Via the Wall Street Journal:

A wine rated 91 on one tasting would often be rated an 87 or 95 on the next. Some of the judges did much worse, and only about one in 10 regularly rated the same wine within a range of ±2 points.

Mr. Hodgson also found that the judges whose ratings were most consistent in any given year landed in the middle of the pack in other years, suggesting that their consistent performance that year had simply been due to chance.
It bears repeating that the judges Hodgson surveyed were no ordinary taste-testers. These were judges at California State Fair wine competition – the oldest and most prestigious in North America. If you think you can consistently rate the “quality” of wine, it means two things:

1: No. You can’t.

2. Wine-tasting is bullshit.

Exhibit B: Expert wine critics can’t distinguish between red and white wines

This one’s one of my favorites. In 2001, researcher Frédéric Brochet invited 54 wine experts to give their opinions on what were ostensibly two glasses of different wine: one red, and one white. In actuality, the two wines were identical, with one exception: the “red” wine had been dyed with food coloring.

The experts described the “red” wine in language typically reserved for characterizing reds. They called it “jammy,” for example, and noted the flavors imparted by its “crushed red fruit.” Not one of the 54 experts surveyed noticed that it was, in fact a white wine.

Read on …

wine-spitting-620x349It’s a necessary evil for anyone wanting to taste many wines, but how on earth should one go about it?

“I don’t think I can taste wine. I don’t know how to spit.”

Christian Payne was once a war photographer. He’s not afraid of meeting Syrian rebels at a clandestine location in eastern Turkey. But at a tasting we were both attending, the idea of spitting improperly in front of wine critics intimidated him.

I tried to reassure him. “Everybody knows how to spit. All that matters is getting the wine out of your mouth into a cup.”

Payne was unconvinced. “I’ve seen some very complicated spitting here,” he said.

I remained nonchalant, but I should have genuflected, because I was in the presence of spitting royalty. The spitter’s spitter. (I’ll tell you who soon.)

Fortunately, unlike Payne, I’m American. As with so many other Continental manners, perfect spitting isn’t something we aspire to or even understand. Only while working on this story have I come to realize that my British colleagues have likely been raising a discreet eyebrow at my own spitting for years.

Spitting prowess matters in England. Jancis Robinson MW told me, “I followed the advice of Pamela Vandyke Price, then wine correspondent of the London Times, to practice in the bath.”

But it’s not as important in the U.S. “I suck at it,” says Shayn Bjornholm, who is not only a Master Sommelier in Seattle; he’s examination director for the Court of Master Sommeliers. “If you’ve ever seen me, it’s like somebody filled a whoopee cushion with water and sat on it.”

Bjornholm says he still remembers his initial introduction to professional spitters, at the first tasting he did as a wine buyer.

“This guy looked like a cross between one of Jim Henson’s Muppets and Jimi Hendrix on acid,” Bjornholm recalls. “He was walking around with a chain bucket around his neck. He would take a sip of wine and spit into it. I knew people spit. I knew Jancis Robinson could shoot a bird out of a tree from 50 feet away. I thought that was cool. But up close, it was disgusting.”
Read on …