Founded by the late Daniel Rogov, focusing primarily on wines that are either kosher or Israeli.

The Ethics of Wine Critics

The vast majority of wine critics demonstrate a well-balanced sense of ethics
10
30%
A small majority of wine critics demonstrate a well-balanced sense of ethics
8
24%
Less than half of wine critics demonstrate a well-balanced sense of ethics
5
15%
More than half of wine critics demonstrate unethical behavior
2
6%
Most wine critics demonstrate unethical behavior
1
3%
I have no opinion on the issue
7
21%
 
Total votes : 33
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

by Daniel Rogov » Sun Jul 27, 2008 12:03 pm

Thomas, Hello....

Indeed we are in agreement. I did not respond because I had assumed that you had seen the first three items on my list of qualifications.


a. The critic need not be a winemaker but must have a thorough working knowledge of the entire winemaking process, that from the vineyard to the bottling
b. Included in the above is a good working knowledge of vines and grape varieties
c. The critic should have a good overall working knowledge of the wine industry. That is to say, not to be "in" the business but to know how it works from the vintner to the winery to the store to the client



As to suggesting what might or might not have been done, is that not part of the review/crit as written. That might include, e.g. the over- or under-use of oak; levels of volatile acidity; the use or mis-use of wild yeasts; the appropriateness of malolactic fermentation with a specific wine; the indication of Brett and its positive or negative contribution; etc.....

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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

by Thomas » Sun Jul 27, 2008 1:34 pm

Daniel Rogov wrote:Thomas, Hello....

Indeed we are in agreement. I did not respond because I had assumed that you had seen the first three items on my list of qualifications.


a. The critic need not be a winemaker but must have a thorough working knowledge of the entire winemaking process, that from the vineyard to the bottling
b. Included in the above is a good working knowledge of vines and grape varieties
c. The critic should have a good overall working knowledge of the wine industry. That is to say, not to be "in" the business but to know how it works from the vintner to the winery to the store to the client



As to suggesting what might or might not have been done, is that not part of the review/crit as written. That might include, e.g. the over- or under-use of oak; levels of volatile acidity; the use or mis-use of wild yeasts; the appropriateness of malolactic fermentation with a specific wine; the indication of Brett and its positive or negative contribution; etc.....

Best
Rogov


Yes, Daniel, it might, but far too many critics either ignore such discussions or approach them strictly from a subjective standpoint. To take your examples:

To me, since oak barrel aging is not a prerequisite for producing wine, under or over use of oak is completely subjective, but what about oak chip intervention? Historically, oak was simply a storage and shipping vessel. When did it become a stylistic part of winemaking? Is it chicken or egg--did those who identified its tastes melding with wine establish the pattern of timing the use of oak to impart flavor, or did the wine producers establish that trend? And since it is flavor that wine producers strive for, is it wrong to use oak chips and forgo the barrel?

Levels of volatility are regulated by federal parameters. How many critics know the parameters and also know how to detect if they have been met or exceeded? And, how many critics can tell readers what the future holds for a wine of high volatile acidity--or even why it happens?

Is there a mis-using of wild yeast when making wine? Actually, the wine industry still doesn't understand so-called wild yeast. Seems to me yeast has become--to critics--a politically correct issue rather than a wine issue, and to yeast cultivators it has become a food processing matter.

One would have to know the wine's stats before ML was introduced into the process in order to make a determination concerning its appropriateness, so I don't understand what you mean by the appropriateness of ML. A trained critic should, however, be able to determine what might have gone right or wrong with ML.

I agree completely: a critic should be able to speak to the issue of the positives and negatives of Brett, but of course, many critics either love it or hate it, and the wines they rate gain or lose points for that--great subjectivity, but is it good criticism?

Is there value in being able to determine the differences between a wine that is technically sound and pleasing to your taste and a wine that is technically sound and not pleasing to your taste? And if it is technically sound, shouldn't that account for a large measure of the score that it receives?

More important, is their value in being able to determine when a wine is technically unsound yet pleasing to your taste, and should a critic be able to determine that it is unpleasant because of its certain technical flaws or because the critic simply doesn't like it?
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

by AlexR » Sun Jul 27, 2008 2:55 pm

Chris,

Thanks for a remarkably well-balanced and interesting reply. I had no idea you would be reading my post!

I see where you are coming from better now.
I trust that my use of the word "inadvertent" and the way I introduced my reference to your site (rather than blog :-) showed you that I meant no harmful criticism whatsoever of what you do. [i]Au contraire[/i] !

Furthermore, I much appreciated your notes on your recently Loire Valley trip, and am interested in buying the St. Nicolas de Bourgueil you raved about!

As regards your comments, you ask "If I moved to Bordeaux, would I be in a stronger position" (in speaking of understanding affordably-priced Bordeaux).
I would answer an emphatic "yes" to that question.
While I do believe it is possible to have a very good handle on the great growths if you live near London, let's say, with all the tastings held there, and travel to Bordeaux a couple of times a year, there is such a variety and scope to the other 95% of Bordeaux that living here much of the year would be (is) a decided advantage IMHO. Being based where they make the wine opens the door to discovering good, but little-known wines much more easily and keeps you very up-to-date with all the news… and gossip.

While the benefits of being in the wine country are pretty self-explanatory, you wonder if there is not an increased temptation to be swallowed up by the local power structure – to become complacent at best, beholden at worst.

Since the thread is about ethics, that indirectly asks the question: is the wine writer based far away from the wine country freer to express his honest opinions?
My gut reaction is: I don't see why this should be. If a château owner were to have it in for a wine writer (this has, of course, been known to happen - http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_q ... _n14313033) I don't think the fallout would be worse for a local wine writer than someone far away. The difficulty there would be between 2 people, not a critic and an entire region (although, this too, has happened on rare occasions, such as Clive Coates zero out of twenty rating for 1982 Sauternes).

However, it raises another question: why are almost all the most popular critics located in London, Paris, suburban Washington, etc? The only one I can think of in the wine country is Jean-Marc Quarin http://www.quarin.com/abonnement.php or possibly Clive Coates (although he's semi-retired, isn't he?).
Is this just a coincidence?

I would also like to raise the issue of whether or not a wine journalist and/or critic should accept a free meal.

The consensus seems to be that accepting gifts of wine is unethical (I find this compromising for a critic, but less so for a journalist – but perhaps I am in the minority).

But what about meals?
You and I met at Château Brown. We had an extensive tasting there and a meal. I have no problem with that (although it's true that my notes are more informal, and I don't have my own site).

How do people reading this thread feel about that?
I must point out though that free meals are offered left right and center in Bordeaux. One would have to be a saint to skip every last one…

Last, but not least, Chris, please forgive me for murdering your last name. It's the last thing someone named Rychlewski should do!

All best wishes,
Alex
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

by AlexR » Sun Jul 27, 2008 3:03 pm

Thomas,

I respectully disagree with your belief that wine critics should have technical training.

This is based on my opinion that people in the trade as well as critics have a very different set of tasting parameters from oenologists.
In short, they are not looking for the same things.
You have only to refer to their descriptors to see that the approach is quite different.

It would be like asking someone who reviews classical music to learn how to play the violin, or a literary critic to go to writing workshops.

While, I don't, of course, think that technical training and/or winemaking experience is a negative thing, I see it as more complementary than
necessary.

However, sometimes when I read a really catty or dismissive review, I think to myself "some poor slob has spent all year making that wine, and
this stupid city slicker has just annihilated it nonchalantly, whereas his doesn't have the first (expletive deleted) idea of all the toil and sweat that went into that".

Best regards,
Alex R.
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

by Ian Sutton » Sun Jul 27, 2008 4:18 pm

Interesting thread

Questions of ethics/credibility hang over every critic, or at least every critic that has friends in the industry or accepts samples or even who 'scores' wines. There are also questions of ethics around how they write and in particular the responsibility to write honestly and openly, but without going overboard or by applying undue prejudice, either in praise or criticism. There's also the old chestnut of wine scores on which the scale is set (e.g. 20 point starting at 10 points for a glass of water, or the new standard of 100 points, with battery acid scoring at least 50points). These scales are appreciated by wineries, as an 87 point wine is easier to see than a 63 point wine (which might be the equivalent score if the scale started at zero).

There are few instances of outright corruption and criticism of such situations are rightly vocal.

For the rest of the time, it's important for critics to maintain a credibility and that means being watchful of potential conflicts of interest. Like others I like the idea of full and clear disclosure of interests and it's a very useful starting point for any critic.

regards

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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

by Thomas » Sun Jul 27, 2008 4:27 pm

AlexR wrote:Thomas,

I respectully disagree with your belief that wine critics should have technical training.

This is based on my opinion that people in the trade as well as critics have a very different set of tasting parameters from oenologists.
In short, they are not looking for the same things.
You have only to refer to their descriptors to see that the approach is quite different.

It would be like asking someone who reviews classical music to learn how to play the violin, or a literary critic to go to writing workshops.

While, I don't, of course, think that technical training and/or winemaking experience is a negative thing, I see it as more complementary than
necessary.

However, sometimes when I read a really catty or dismissive review, I think to myself "some poor slob has spent all year making that wine, and
this stupid city slicker has just annihilated it nonchalantly, whereas his doesn't have the first (expletive deleted) idea of all the toil and sweat that went into that".

Best regards,
Alex R.


Alex,

If someone can simply start criticizing because he or she is interested in the subject, what in the criticisms is there on which to pin value? Why should anyone care about the uninformed opinions of others?

Perhaps, this is one way of looking at the subject, "It would be like asking someone who reviews classical music to learn how to play the violin, or a literary critic to go to writing workshops."

I see it this way: A music critic doesn't have to be a violin player (piano is fine ;)) but the critic damned sure better know something about harmonics or even basic melody or chord progressions for me to take the criticism serious. By the same token, a literary critic who can't construct a sentence or two would lose me by the third sentence of the criticism.

You inadvertently highlight a pet peeve of mine: that these days everyone with a computer keyboard and at least two of the five basic senses seems to be a wine critic. I reject the notion that drinking wine " a lot" is all that is needed in order to become a wine critic. I've spent many years in the business, and I've met people who consumed wine for half their lifetime and they still have trouble identifying some basic problems in wine (and some basic niceties, too).

In addition, since the subject is ethics and not process, it's much easier for ethics to go by the wayside when the critics are loosely formed and even more loosely controlled or certified.

The reason I consider myself a wine writer and not a wine critic is exactly because I don't believe in my talents that strongly to be so self-assured that I should tell others what is and what isn't--and I have technical wine training!
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

by Daniel Rogov » Sun Jul 27, 2008 4:32 pm

Thomas, Hi......


Me beginneth to think that you are counting angels on the head of a pin. It goes without saying that all criticism, regardless of whether social criticism, literary criticism or criticism of the theatre, the opera, restaurants or wines is going to be somewhat egocentric to the critic in question. That is one of the reasons why it falls on the reader to find that/those critics not with whom they agree or disagree but with whom they can set their own palates.

You bring up, for example, the history and use of oak, oak chips, oak staves, oak teabags and, if we like even oak concentrate. Fair enough but let us never forget that unless the critic has 1,000+ words to devote to each wine tasted (and no critic on this planet has that privilege or desire), there is simply no way that one can devote time or space each and every factor. From time to time one does indeed write about the use of oak, its justifiability, its history, its logic or illogic in general, as one does with regard to Brett, and some other 100 or more factors. In my list I may be asking the ideal in ethics. In your comments you are asking the ideal in space. And, truth be told, most people who read wine columns, forums, internet sites, magazines and yes, even books are not that interested in what some might call "the gory details".

That there is indeed a subjective portion to all criticism is why we follow those critics we consider "good" and "interesting" and who give us consistent direction. Saints usuallly wind up on the stake, their bodies pierced with arrows and worse or by writing boring books. As stated earlier, I have no desire to attain sainthood.

Best
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

by AlexR » Sun Jul 27, 2008 4:59 pm

Hi Thomas,

Thanks for your reply.

I visited your Web site and saw that you are based in Hammondsport.
I grew up in Seneca Falls, and my introduction to the world of wine was in the Finger Lakes.
It is next to impossible for people outside America believe that such a place as Hammondsport could possibly exist in New York!

Getting back to our discussion, I'm all for the well-rounded individual (even if I, personally, am very weak in science).
I do not mean to say that a technical grounding in viticulture and winemaking is beside the point.
It isn't.
It's just that this is only one part of wine's rich tapestry, and one that does not interest the average consumer - or, should I say, the average consumer cannot relate to.
I'll even go one step further: one which many fanatical wine lovers cannot, or do not wish to relate to.

I can remember back labels of California wine that were a complete turn-off with all their technical data.
This is not what people want to see, even most geeks such as myself.

As to "anyone becoming a wine critic", I see this as both good and bad, a faithful reflection of the Internet revolution.

If I visit a forum such as this and read a tasting note by a non-professional who writes intelligently on a wine I have in my cellar, I am very glad to have read what he has to say.
In many instances, I'll trust it as much as the appreciations of some established wine writer, particularly if the latter assigns numerical evaluations (the dreaded percentage points).

You are right: who in their right mind wants to feed their head with uninformed opinions?!
On the other hand, the beauty of the Internet is to put us in contact with unsung heroes: wine lovers who are non-professionals, but nevertheless good tasters, passionate about wine, and with a gift for expressing themselves.
I don't rule these people out by any means.

Sorting the wheat from the chaff is not very difficult....

You write: "It's much easier for ethics to go by the wayside when the critics are loosely formed and even more loosely controlled or certified".
I'm not sure I agree with that, but let me please ask you: what *is* (or should be) the proper training for a wine critic (not forgetting that the world's most famous wine critic at the present time is self-taught)?

I applaud your statement "The reason I consider myself a wine writer and not a wine critic is exactly because I don't believe in my talents that strongly to be so self-assured that I should tell others what is and what isn't--and I have technical wine training!"
On top of my aversion to pinpoint scores, I also don't like to look on wine as a "disembodied object". What I mean by that, is when there is a *story* to tell it makes things come alive, and gives depth and meaning to what I'm drinking.

Yup, give me a good article or book on wine any day over a bunch of numbers!

Best regards,
Alex R.
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

by Daniel Rogov » Sun Jul 27, 2008 5:11 pm

Alex, Hi....


With regard to scores, I can assure you that no-one despises publishing scores more than many of the wine critics who assign them. In my own case, I was using the 100 point system even before Mr. Parker but I used it entirelly as a summary notation for my own personal use and not for publication. I started publishing scores in Israel and Europe only when my editors demanded it and that largely because readers were insisting on them. Helas, mais c'est la vie.

As to why 20 point or 100 point systems - quite simple - those are the systems that people in Europe or America use for grades and provide a common and measurable language. Are scores fully objective? Of course not. Do most critics have a choice in assigning them? Nope! Are readers intelligent? Let us sincerely hope that our readers are.

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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

by Thomas » Sun Jul 27, 2008 6:26 pm

Alex and Daniel,

You both misconstrue my intention. I don't want critics to tell consumers how the sausage is produced, so to speak, but I do want them to know how so that they can inject some objectivity into the process, which is what judging wine should be all about. But then, I take Daniel's comment into consideration and I am left to wonder:

"That is one of the reasons why it falls on the reader to find that/those critics not with whom they agree or disagree but with whom they can set their own palates."

To chase and calibrate to the palate of a critic so as not to miss anything seems to me like an obsession--not much fun.To me, finding the wines myself is all the fun, and if I miss a few wines before I die, that won't be so bad, so long as I had discovered a new wine at least once a week or once a month!

To answer your question Alex:
"...what *is* (or should be) the proper training for a wine critic (not forgetting that the world's most famous wine critic at the present time is self-taught)"

I admit that I don't follow critics in any field, so I have an overall ax to grind. I find the whole idea excessively egotistical (I started to think this way in the 1970s, after a theater critic panned Liza Minelli's Broadway show because he didn't like her nose). Still, I understand that critics perform a function for others. In my view, they ought to back up their opinions with objective knowledge (In my opinion, Liza's nose did not ruin her performance).

At minimum, a wine critic or reviewer should know when the wine suffers from serious flaws--one CA cult wine has received raves for its excessive v.a. and is actually forgiven for its inconsistency by some critics, because every so often, one of the bottles is ok, if you drink it soon enough. Call me crazy, but I find that kind of wine reviewing wanting.

Daniel, I believe the 20-point system was initially developed as a technical scoring device at UC Davis by Maynard Amerine. You should one day read his treatise on evaluating wine objectively. To him, it was not only possible to do it, it was an imperative.

PS: Alex, we once talked about Seneca Falls in the chat room.
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

by AlexR » Sun Jul 27, 2008 6:48 pm

Thomas

Your raised a perfect example:
"At minimum, a wine critic or reviewer should know when the wine suffers from serious flaws--one CA cult wine has received raves for its excessive v.a. and is actually forgiven for its inconsistency by some critics, because every so often, one of the bottles is ok, if you drink it soon enough. Call me crazy, but I find that kind of wine reviewing wanting".

Consumer-oriented wine appreciation can take a technical flaw in stride.
This is entirely possible.
It is particularly frequent ( and justified - with old wines.
What the flaw takes away can be very much compensated by other qualities.
That is the essence of the difference between the purely technical approach and the sybaritic approach.
OK, taking both into account is fine.
But too techical is too limited in my opinion.

However, the more important point I wanted to make is that wine appreciation is, by definition, subjective.
You can beat about the bush, use 20 point systems or whatever, have juries evaluate the wine, etc.

But there can be no universal method of appraising wine quality except in the very broadest way, thereby necessarily bypassing the subtlties of the finest wines.

IMHO....

Best regards,
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

by AlexR » Sun Jul 27, 2008 6:53 pm

Thomas,

You wrote:
"Rarely does a wine critic talk about what a winemaker may have achieved differently had he or she done such and such instead of this and that to the wine".

Isn't this largely beside the point?

I mean, people are interested in what the 2005 whatever tastes like, not what it might have tasted like had it been made differently.
No?

Alex
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

by Thomas » Sun Jul 27, 2008 7:59 pm

AlexR wrote:Thomas

Your raised a perfect example:
"At minimum, a wine critic or reviewer should know when the wine suffers from serious flaws--one CA cult wine has received raves for its excessive v.a. and is actually forgiven for its inconsistency by some critics, because every so often, one of the bottles is ok, if you drink it soon enough. Call me crazy, but I find that kind of wine reviewing wanting".

However, the more important point I wanted to make is that wine appreciation is, by definition, subjective.
You can beat about the bush, use 20 point systems or whatever, have juries evaluate the wine, etc.

But there can be no universal method of appraising wine quality except in the very broadest way, thereby necessarily bypassing the subtlties of the finest wines.

IMHO....

Best regards,


Alex R.



Excessive v.a. leads to many problems--it's irresponsible not to point that out in a review.

Yes, wine appreciation is subjective. So tell me exactly what service a subjective criticism serves?

On the other hand, wine production is not subjective. You should read that treatise by Amerine that I pointed to. In his view, and in mine, your following opinion is nonsense: "But there can be no universal method of appraising wine quality except in the very broadest way, thereby necessarily bypassing the subtlties of the finest wines."

Subjectivity does not concern itself with quality; it concerns itself with "what do I like and what don't I like." Subtleties are mainly in the realm of subjectivity, as your subtlety quite possibly can be someone else's bombast. And as I said earlier: a wine judge is asked to put aside subjectivity and evaluate wines on their merits, with as much objectivity as possible. It can and is done regularly by those who are trained to do it.

Quality must first be codified; then, it can be objectively measured. Personal taste can never be measured objectively.

Still, I am not saying that critics need to tell the consumer all about objective measures. I am saying that without knowing the parameters of objectivity, a critic's value, to me, is questionable, and that's before he or she accepts free wine... One must earn the right to be a wine critic by knowing something, not by making a self-appointment to the throne.
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

by Thomas » Sun Jul 27, 2008 8:03 pm

AlexR wrote:Thomas,

You wrote:
"Rarely does a wine critic talk about what a winemaker may have achieved differently had he or she done such and such instead of this and that to the wine".

Isn't this largely beside the point?

I mean, people are interested in what the 2005 whatever tastes like, not what it might have tasted like had it been made differently.
No?

Alex


You completely missed the point. But it's likely too esoteric for me to get across on the Internet, so I'll drop that one.
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

by David M. Bueker » Sun Jul 27, 2008 8:32 pm

Thomas,

I'm just going to throw this out there to see if the cat licks it up...

Do you think my opinions on Riesling have merit? I've had no formal training. I've learned by hook and by crook to identify wine faults & become someone with a wealth of brain clutter on a specific niche of wine. Is it of no value because I've never gone to school for it? (Actually I have...remote courses from UC Davis, but that's actually beside the point).
There behind the glass lies a real blade of grass. Be careful as you pass. Move along. Move along.
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

by Thomas » Sun Jul 27, 2008 9:23 pm

David M. Bueker wrote:Thomas,

I'm just going to throw this out there to see if the cat licks it up...

Do you think my opinions on Riesling have merit? I've had no formal training. I've learned by hook and by crook to identify wine faults & become someone with a wealth of brain clutter on a specific niche of wine. Is it of no value because I've never gone to school for it? (Actually I have...remote courses from UC Davis, but that's actually beside the point).


As a means for conversation about Riesling, your opinions have great merit. But if you try to persuade me toward a wine in which I detect a serious flaw, I would lose faith in you. More important, if you were to try to persuade me that your opinion was the be-all, I'd probably be politely dismissive ;)

There's criticism from knowledge and there's criticism from opinion; I prefer the one from knowledge.

And those remote courses give you away as someone who also has some knowledge, which means that rather than self-appointment, you decided to learn what you were talking about--a lot of today's mass of critics haven't been doing that. In the past few weeks I've read comments by a few wine critics that plainly exposed that they hold strong opinions which are backed up by serious knowledge gaps.
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

by David M. Bueker » Sun Jul 27, 2008 9:31 pm

Thomas wrote:And those remote courses give you away as someone who also has some knowledge, which means that rather than self-appointment, you decided to learn what you were talking about...


rats...I always wanted to be an empty shirt. :wink:
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

by Thomas » Sun Jul 27, 2008 11:06 pm

David M. Bueker wrote:
Thomas wrote:And those remote courses give you away as someone who also has some knowledge, which means that rather than self-appointment, you decided to learn what you were talking about...


rats...I always wanted to be an empty shirt. :wink:


No need for that--there's enough of them to go around; some wear blouses...
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

by Stuart Yaniger » Sun Jul 27, 2008 11:21 pm

May I ask why the mention of Parker is anathema?


Because he is unethical. Not in the bribery sense (I can't imagine that he ever did that), but in the sense of telling porkies, journalistic "license," and having used lawyers to try to bully his critics into silence.
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

by Thomas » Sun Jul 27, 2008 11:27 pm

Stuart Yaniger wrote:
May I ask why the mention of Parker is anathema?


Because he is unethical. Not in the bribery sense (I can't imagine that he ever did that), but in the sense of telling porkies, journalistic "license," and having used lawyers to try to bully his critics into silence.


Stuart,

The hallmark of a successful critic seems to be the inability to take criticism. It makes sense, however, when you consider that someone so convinced of his or her rightness probably shouldn't ever accept the possibility of being wrong, or being found out.
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

by Daniel Rogov » Mon Jul 28, 2008 4:21 am

Thomas wrote: The hallmark of a successful critic seems to be the inability to take criticism.



Thomas ...

Perhaps a bit of an overgeneralization?

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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

by AlexR » Mon Jul 28, 2008 4:24 am

Thomas,

>>>Yes, wine appreciation is subjective. So tell me exactly what service a subjective criticism serves?

Seeing as subjective criticism is "the only wheel in town" once you get past the basics, such criticism is only as good as the perspicacity, experience, and written expression of the critic.
It's his framework that counts. Yes. While he is necessarily fallible, he can be a big help in the absence of any (meaningful) objective yardstick.
Of course some critics are, like some wines, indeed much better than others.
None is completely reliable. BUT some can help us work towards the unattainable goal of objectivity.

>>>On the other hand, wine production is not subjective. You should read that treatise by Amerine that I pointed to. In his view, and in mine, your following opinion is nonsense: "But there can be no universal method of appraising wine quality except in the very broadest way, thereby necessarily bypassing the subtlties of the finest wines."

I defend my statement ardently. A 20 point system defined in a California university for appraising wine quality is B.S. when it comes to the fine wines most of us on this board drink. It is completely overshadowed and tells only a tiny part of the story. Totally inadequate.
Has anyone from a school of enology ever made a name for himself as a taster of fine wines?

Furthermore, the scientists can't see past the flaws you mentioned earlier. I've had Italian wines that were given a lift and character from volatile acidity, many people enjoy a whiff of brett, and some old wines that are falling apart at the seams also have something that is absolutely celestial.
Mere science must take a back seat here.

>>>Subjectivity does not concern itself with quality; it concerns itself with "what do I like and what don't I like."

Yes and no. I completely agree that it's a trap. However, with experience you can get around this. For instance, I don't like Condrieu or Gewürtztraminer. However, when tasting either of this wines I try to overcome my prejudice to evaluate the wine in its context. Same for New World wines. Same for very old wines.
Criteria change. There is no objectivity - even though, as a member of tasting juries, I have seen that extremely wide variations are relatively uncommon.

>>>Subtleties are mainly in the realm of subjectivity, as your subtlety quite possibly can be someone else's bombast.

I fully agree.

>>>And as I said earlier: a wine judge is asked to put aside subjectivity and evaluate wines on their merits, with as much objectivity as possible. It can and is done regularly by those who are trained to do it.

I have been on any number of juries. Yes, you try to evaluate wines "objectively" but every one of us knows that such a thing is impossible. That's the very reason why there are several of us - because an average of frequently dissenting views should, theoretically, come closer to "the truth" about the wine.
Training? Yes, indeed! However, this comes in many shapes and forms. Classroom training can help. But it is by no means the only, much less the best way in my most humble opinion.

>>>Quality must first be codified; then, it can be objectively measured. Personal taste can never be measured objectively.

You are an idealist. I am not.
Wine appreciation is not an exact science.
"Codify" a 1985 Château Margaux?!
If one could, then we go back to the fantasy of isolating each and every element in a great wine and reproducing it artificially…

In the French system, we are stifled by diplomas and credentials. I prefer the American way of letting people prove their mettle.
Parker (about whom I have ambivalent feelings, like many of us) is a self-made man. His story kind of refutes a certain amount of what you say, doesn't it?
He learned on his own. And he worked very hard. And he's the world's foremost critic.

He didn't need anybody's permission to do that.
It was up for people to take or leave his reviews. And they have taken it, massively.
There's no quarrelling with success!

>>>There's criticism from knowledge and there's criticism from opinion; I prefer the one from knowledge.

There is more than one road to enlightenment… For appreciating a Chambertin or a Martha's vineyard, I would far rather listen to the opinion of an experienced wine lover than someone in a laboratory coat.
I don't, of course, mean to imply that science and art can't co-exist. But I stake my clear preference for the latter when it comes to the fine wine category.

One last thing, Thomas. I have a degree in philosophy and enjoy a good discussion (or argument, in the best sense of the term). Please do not take anything I have said personally!
It would be so much better to talk about this over a glass of wine, wouldn't it?!

Best regards,
Alex R.
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

by Chris Kissack » Mon Jul 28, 2008 5:55 am

Thomas wrote:Neither of the wine reviewers--Daniel and Chris--address my claim that critics ought also to have technical wine training so that their analysis exceeds subjectivity. I know it's not exactly an ethical issue, but to me it is an issue that goes to the heart of wine criticism.

Should I take silence on that issue to mean that you believe that criticism should be subjective and nothing more? And if it is a subjective exercise, please enlighten me to the benefit in knowing what someone else likes or dislikes about a wine.

I'm not trying to be sarcastic, just trying to understand something about wine criticism generally. For instance, in other professional criticisms (theater, movies, some food critics but not all, etc.) the critics often have years of study under their belts, and they add production value to their discourse. Rarely does a wine critic talk about what a winemaker may have achieved differently had he or she done such and such instead of this and that to the wine.


I didn't respond to your point as I thought it a tangential issue separate - as you point out - from this discussion of ethics. But as you have raised it again I will respond.

In my opinion there are several flaws in your premise. Firstly, it seems that you would value a critic's opinion more if they had a background in wine - perhaps making wine? Whilst an in-depth knowledge such as this would enrich their opinions, I fail to see how it would make a critic less subjective. When they taste they will still come up with a judgement based on the interaction between their palate and the wine, in that situation, on that day. You can lessen the variables if you have the position, as only a few critics do, to demand samples so you can organise your own tastings in an environment that suits you, blind-tasting as you see fit, but it is still one person's palate and one person's judgement. Even if they could make a comment on how the wine might have been with different yields, hang-time, fermentation vessel and so on, they still offer something that is nothing more than opinion. It's inherently subjective.

Secondly, I think you are missing the point of wine journalism. It isn't absolutism because there is - in my opinion - no universal palate. That it is subjective doesn't lessen its worth - you seem to think that is the case, but you can just as easily ask what is the point of knowing someone else's opinion of a movie, a play, a painting, a ballet production, a restaurant and so on? That you can read varied opinions on any given wine (or any of these things) - and indeed that some wines seem to strongly divide opinion - is not only inevitable but it should be enjoyed. Accepting that we all have our own palates and therefore we can see wines differently is one facet of wine that helps to make it so fascinating. What matters is not that reviewers all give the same technically robust but perhaps rather dull opinion, but that you find those critics who like the wines that you follow, and who through experience you trust. You cite examples such as movies and theatre but we all know these arenas are followed by many, many people all ready to give their opinion. Some you agree with, some you don't, and just because someone has some technical experience doesn't necessarily mean they have an opinion that is (a) more valid than anyone else's, or (b) more likely to agree with your own individual tastes.

Thirdly, I don't understand the usefulness of a discourse on how the wine would taste if the winemaker had done something differently. I suppose films can be re-edited, the 'director's cut', and ballets produced differently, with different interpretations of the story, a different choreographer, but wines can't be remade. The next vintage things can be done differently, sure, but it's a new vintage, and the wine is a whole new story. To comment on what might have been is of academic interest to a tiny minority, I suspect, and useful for those learning how to make wine, certainly, but for those wanting to buy, cellar and drink?
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

by Chris Kissack » Mon Jul 28, 2008 6:37 am

AlexR wrote:Chris,

However, it raises another question: why are almost all the most popular critics located in London, Paris, suburban Washington, etc? The only one I can think of in the wine country is Jean-Marc Quarin http://www.quarin.com/abonnement.php or possibly Clive Coates (although he's semi-retired, isn't he?).
Is this just a coincidence?


I don't think I have any answer to your question, but I know that in London there is a *huge* tasting scenere allowing writers based there to taste wines from across the world. It is truly global; in London you find trade tastings focussed on an incredibly diverse array of regions, appellations or countries so that a writer can literally 'taste the world'. I am five hours travel from London by train, a slightly shorter duration by air, so it is not something I take advantage of to any great extent. But I can understand why there are so many wine journo's there, and I even know of those who have moved to London purely for the wine opportunities there.

AlexR wrote:But what about meals?
You and I met at Château Brown. We had an extensive tasting there and a meal. I have no problem with that (although it's true that my notes are more informal, and I don't have my own site).

How do people reading this thread feel about that?
I must point out though that free meals are offered left right and center in Bordeaux. One would have to be a saint to skip every last one…

I don't know how they feel, but when in Bordeaux (which isn't as often as I like) I have to eat, and during the en primeur tastings the vast majority of critics visiting to assess the wine accept hospitality in the form of meals and indeed rooms. What matters for me individually is that you rate the wines fairly - neither bigging them up on the basis of some perceived perk - such as a few canapés over the course of the evening, which is what we were provided with Alex, or a couple of nights stay in a draughty chateau - nor rating them lower than they deserve in order to protect yourself, because that is a a disservice to the wine, the winemaker and the reader.

I am happy for people to view my write-up of the evening in question here (http://www.thewinedoctor.com/tastingsformal/bordeaux2006whitegraves.shtml), which details not only the hospitality received including the wines that were poured later in the evening, but also my tasting notes on the white Graves that I tasted. People are free to judge whether the food swayed my opinions of the wine from Chateau Brown.

AlexR wrote:Last, but not least, Chris, please forgive me for murdering your last name. It's the last thing someone named Rychlewski should do!

No problem, I enjoyed it. On my office door alongside my correct name I also cut out and paste up all the variations that people have used when they write to me - they include Kussack, Cussack, Kiffack, McKissack, Kissock, Kissac, McKissick, Kissak, Kuissack, Keswick and Kissing. I celebrate the moment I receive a new variation as it means yet another name on the door!
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