The Judges Judged

Discussion in 'UK Wine Forum' started by Alex Lake, Jun 6, 2018.

  1. Maybe I just misunderstood how Neal, Jancis etc taste wines presented by the Chateaux.

    I understood they generally took private appointments individually.

  2. The beauty of blind tasting.
  3. Tom Cannavan

    Tom Cannavan Administrator

    Only for a handful of the very top Chateaux. Otherwise, each commune hosts a large tasting of all the other wines from the commune, sometimes in a chateaux building, sometimes a marquee. There might be between 40 and 80 chateaux each with a small table, normally with the winemaker standing behind, so you can 'do' the vast majority of Margaux or St Emilion wines for example, in one place and one session.

    These are not blind, but often there's a separate journalists only area where you can taste blind. By no means do all journalists take that up though, as it is sommelier served and takes twice as long as walking round the tables.

    Only first growths, some super seconds and some of the right bank elite do their own thing. Not blind.
  4. Russell,

    I should qualify what I wrote earlier.

    "Superstar critics" get special treatment. James Suckling is the best example because, as the translated article says, his big thing is to be the first one out with scores. However, most critics attend the large group tastings.

    It is quite a chore (a worthwhile, largely enjoyable chore, but still a chore) to visit all the very top estates that won't include their wines in the larger group tastings. This means that you have to go to each one individually and it eats up a tremendous amount of time.

    This is one of the reasons that affordable Bordeaux gets such short shrift. It takes a dead minimum of a full, very intense week just to taste the great growths. Jouralists and critics, especially foreign ones, just don't have any time left over to investigate the less exalted estates.

    Best regards,
  5. Well done Neal, goes to show a little humility goes a long way. A most entertaining read I must say.
  6. Thanks. I found Neals account from last year. He says he spends he first week seeing 6-8 Chateaux per day. Given second wines and others under similar ownership I imagine that can account for a couple of hundred wines or more.
  7. ... out of (conservative figure) 6,000 châteaux.

    You do the math...

    Alex R.
  8. I’d do the maths based on the number of reviews not Chateaux.
  9. Tom Cannavan

    Tom Cannavan Administrator

    Alex, I know the lack of attention paid to 95% of Bordeaux producers is one of your betes noires, but really, it's much the same in every region and there are always tons of small producers for whom a journalist visit is an extremely rare occurrence. It's magnified in Bordeaux by the 1855 classification and the en primeur system, putting global wine collector focus on so few of the 6,000. It's in the Bordelais hands to change it to an extent - stop en primeur altogether, and work more cohesively to move the focus off the 1855 set and right bank stars. It might be a state of affairs that frustrates you, but it's largely Bordeaux's own fault surely, not ours as consumers or journalists?
  10. Alex -- I'd presume you mean VA and Brett as flaws. Any other winemaking flaws?

    My understanding (based on when I visited Bordeaux most years from 1986 to 2001), is that many châteaux have not made their assemblages by late March/early April, when the EP tastings take place. Why would they release tentative (or even definitive) assemblages that contain flawed wine?
    Alex Jagger likes this.
  11. Tom,

    I honestly do fault journalists for lack of curiosity and stepping outside their comfort zone BUT cannot, of course, lay the blame for the anonymity of many good wines solely on their doorstep!!!

    Here’s an article from the Daily Telegraph dated the 4th of June.
    Typical… The journalist does give you an idea what it’s like to be in the wine country, but 4 of the 5 estates are great growths. The 5th is only mentioned because the journalist is friends with the English owner…

    Furthermore, I would be interested to know to what extent, as you say, good wines are ignored by journalists in other regions too… Yes, I agree, Bordeaux’s classifications are truly double edged. Most regions don’t have them, so wine criticism is much more dynamic, don’t you find?

    As for stopping en primeur, there is very little likelihood this will happen. It is a huge advantage, even when the economic situation is poor and the vintage is not very good. It makes for an orderly market. People like that :). The system broke down once, in the mid-1970s. Its demise has been often predicted since then, but it’s still going strong.


    I am no enologist so that, yes, the two flaws you described occur from time to time, as well as off-flavors I cannot put my finger on.
    How can such wines be served to professionals? I prefer to think that it’s just an anomaly with one bottle, but have encountered instances in which the château owner thought the wine was fine when it was manifestly not.
    People pouring range to everything from secretaries to wealthy, influential proprietors, which means that some of the people are not really qualified to comment on, or even notice anything wrong.

    The final blend? Many estates freely admit that they “doctor” samples (even after the “assemblage") to reflect what they think the wine will be. By that, they mean that they will add a proportion showing more or less oak, for instance.

    Alex R.
  12. ‘Orderly market’. Hhmmmmm.
    I’m no free-marketeer, but.........
  13. It's the same old subject that comes up every couple of years. The relationship between critics and producers should be a happy, cooperative one but, like many relationships, sometimes they are damaged by unequal power, dependence, bullying and breaking of trust.

    Nice summary article from Richard Hemming here Wine producers v critics - an uneasy relationship

    Relating it to our discussion on tasting variation, which I believe is more taster-variation than bottle-variation, I do believe some critics should consider their own irregularities a bit more often. It would be nice to see some more humility and less judgement from some of them.
  14. Mark,

    Can you name another wine market that is more orderly?

    On any given day, the Place de Bordeaux has a price for all the great wines.
    It's like the stock market.

    These are presented at the same time of year en primeur and "come out" in a fairly tight window.

    Compare that to Burgundy...

    Alex R.
  15. Alex, my issue is that it’s too orderly. :eek:
  16. One mans orderly is another’s price fixing...
    Mark Carrington likes this.
  17. It's a free world, ain't it Russell? ;-).

    You don't want to pay the price? Fine.
    Someone else does? Fine.
    No one does? The market lowers it one way or another (Fine).

    "Price fixing"? Really can't see that at all! The great wines are released to a whole gaggle of négociants and it's fiercely competitive!

    Alex R.
  18. Interesting. Back in the time when I would visit, there were relatively few who would openly admit to showing different wines to different critics (as well as at least one owner that I can recall having caught red-handed doing it); and of course, Parker adamantly denied it, even though he had no way of testing the allegations.
  19. Tom Cannavan

    Tom Cannavan Administrator

    I don't *think* that's the suggestion; just that samples are prepared specifically for EP tastings in general. I always remember Philippe Dambrine at Cantemerle telling me that they always made a couple of barrels in American oak, because the extra vanilla and spice showed really well when blending the EP samples
  20. I'm speaking of an earlier era, Tom. There were no EP tastings back then. For the most part, I visited individual châteaux and interviewed either the owner or the maître de chai. In the early years, I mostly tasted straight from barrels, just like in Burgundy or the Rhône, although as time passed, more and more châteaux had pre-bottled samples. (For St-Émilion, Pessac-Léognan and Graves, and Barsac and Sauternes, there were special tastings put on for me because there were too many properties to visit (although I did visit the very most prestgious estates in those regions, too; those large tastings obviously used samples.)

    Anyway, on the visits to the châteaux, I from time to time would be shown (1) what was going to be in the final wine (my visits generally were in late May, and by then the assemblages had virtually all been done) and (2) what had been shown to Parker, two completely different wines. Many other journalists and merchants in those days had the same experience. My understanding is that other than the first growths and maybe one or two other special properties, Parker did his tastings at négociants from pre-bottled samples.
  21. Does that translate to about 17.5 for HRH?!
  22. Very good Simon, very good.
  23. I find Jancis' notes helpful if you ignore the score.
  24. Interesting article, and wholly understandable for producers to want to express their views on the critics.

    However, the hatchet-job that's been done on many of these critics makes me a little uncomfortable. Most of the critics are simply trying to do an honest job, and we all benefit from their labours. Some of the time the job is glamorous, & we would give our eye teeth for the chance to taste the rare old bottles that are opened for them - but a lot of the time it will be tedious stuff, ploughing through hundreds of bottles of gut-churning immature wine or tedious ordinary plonk.

    I'm not suggesting a sympathy vote for these critics .. but criticism of their labours should be as balanced, open and specific as possible, permitting the accused a right of reply. naturally this needs to be balanced with a desire on the part of the anonymous Bordelais author/producer for protection from retribution. perhaps the solution is an occasional clearing house for complaints/concerns and responses, mediated by respected neutral intermediaries such as our host?
  25. Also, this is just one producer's view yes? In which case, and even though at times he purports to be also speaking on behalf of others, we shouldn't just assume that these are generally held views.
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2018
    johnny Shek and Mark Carrington like this.

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