WTN/Wine Advisor: Parker swings, misses (ESJ's 2005 lineup)

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WTN/Wine Advisor: Parker swings, misses (ESJ's 2005 lineup)

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Dec 07, 2007 1:22 pm

Parker swings, misses

American wine critic Robert M. Parker Jr. has been dubbed "The Emperor of Wine." He reportedly has a $1 million insurance policy on his nose, and his print newsletter, <I>The Wine Advocate</i>, is influential far beyond its 40,000 circulation.

I respect Parker for his consistency. But, like a lot of other wine geeks I know, I find the wines he rates in the 90- to 100-point range to be too big, alcoholic and fruit-forward for me. The wines he dismisses in the 80-point range tend to be the kind of more subtle and elegant wines that I enjoy.

That's all right. Different strokes, etc. But Parker's Aug. 29, 2007 report on six new 2005 releases from one of my favorite California wineries, Edmunds St. John, crosses a line for me.

Parker rates these wines from 84 to 87 on his famous 100-point scale, which seems fair enough. Edmunds St. John is one of the few California producers that makes wines with a consistent European sensibility, respecting the soil ("terroir") in which they're grown. They're wines meant to age, and wines meant to go with food; and thus perhaps not to the liking of a critic who seems to prefer amped-up, concentrated wines better suited for cocktail-style sipping.

But the language accompanying the reviews reads not merely as critical but mean-spirited, almost snide. "There appears to be a deliberate attempt to make French-styled wines," Parker wrote. "Of course, California is not France, and therein may suggest (sic) the problem. If you want to make a French wine, do it in France."

Then, "Edmunds St. John's current releases all possess good aromatics, but ... 'where's the beef?'" Pejorative terms like "the wine doesn't deliver," "little weight or depth and virtually no finish," "innocuous" and "one-dimensional and superfluous in the mouth" (huh?) pepper the reviews. "... a low brow (sic) version of a French Côtes du Rhône"?

It almost seems as if these wines made Parker angry. You're tempted to visualize the Emperor of Wine stamping his foot and yelling, "Off with their heads!"

Yet in another respected wine journal, Steve Tanzer's <i>International Wine Cellar</i>, critic Josh Raynolds had reviewed the Edmunds St. John 2005 releases in May and, with surprising consistency, rated them five points above the lackluster ratings that Parker would deliver in August.

Raynolds' tasting reports were consistently laudatory where Parker's would be pejorative. The wine that Parker dissed as "lowbrow Rhone" earned Raynolds' praise as "Southern Rhone in style ... a great value." Parker's "doesn't deliver" became Raynolds' "Bright and energetic ... elegant, very refreshing." And so it went, from one end of the line to the other.

Who had it right? There was just one way to find out for sure: Taste them myself. I asked Steve Edmunds to send me a set of the wines (which weren't yet available locally); and to help temper my own prejudices - I'm a great admirer of Edmunds and his wines, and I know it - I asked a group of my regular tasting pals, local sommeliers and wine experts, to join me in tasting through the six wines, first analytically and then again with appropriate food on the table.

To put it mildly, we could not concur in Parker's findings. As with any opinionated group of serious wine "geeks," opinions varied on individual wines. But overall, as the evening-long tasting wore on, the disconnect between the Parker commentary and reality became too obvious to ignore. These are honest, well-made and consistently enjoyable wines, wines that focus more on elegance and subtle restraint than in-your-face fruit, and that's the way we like them. The more "serious" single-vineyard Syrahs will benefit from significant aging; all of them, again in the European tradition, hit their stride when served with food.

But "innocuous"? "One-dimensional"? I don't think so. I don't do points; I'd rather tell you how I perceived the wines and invite you to use your own judgement. But they certainly win my strong recommendation. Buy 'em if you can find 'em. (Prices shown are suggested retail. Street prices may vary.)

<table border="0" align="right" width="170"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/esj_shell.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>Six '05s from Edmunds St. John

<b>Edmunds St. John 2005 Shell and Bone Paso Robles White Wine</b> ($20)
A blend of Viognier and Roussanne with no oak presence (it's fermented in neutral 22-year-old French oak casks, then transferred to stainless steel). Pale gold. Peach and toasted almond and a whiff of white pepper, subtle and delicious; good rich texture and balance. Excellent alone, transcendent with seared prawns and scallops.

<b>Edmunds St. John 2005 Rocks and Gravel California Red Wine</b> ($18)
A Rhone-style blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, again seeing only neutral oak barrels. Clear dark garnet in color. Earth and red berries and a whiff of eucalyptus or menthol, Rhone-style with a light California accent. Ripe and fresh, raspberries and tart cherries and subtle earthy <i>terroir</i>, good balance and length.

<b>Edmunds St. John 2005 "Red Neck 101" Eagle Point Ranch Mendocino County Red Wine</b> ($25)
A blend of Syrah and Grenache from Eagle Point, a respected vineyard. Grenache red berries and darker Syrah berries join in a mixed-berry flavor combination reminiscent of a subtle old-style Zinfandel; a whiff of earthy barnyard adds complexity without going overboard. Lush red fruit is nicely balanced by acidity in an excellent quaff. Like all of the ESJ reds on the table, it wraps itself around a medium-rare grilled steak with exceptional style, in a match that improves the steak and adds another layor of dimensionality to the wine.

<b>Edmunds St. John 2005 Bassetti Vineyard San Luis Obispo County Syrah</b> ($45)
A little reductive bottle funk, not surprising in an ageworthy red, blows off with swirling in the glass to reveal pure Syrah fruit, sunny and ripe. Lush red and black berry fruit with back notes of smoke and a hint of earthy black olives. Well balanced, impressive but needs a lot of cellar time to achieve its potential. Buy it now, drink it in 2015.

<b>Edmunds St. John 2005 Parmelee-Hill Vineyard Sonoma Valley Syrah</b> ($25)
Lovely licorice and fennel over deep dark fruit. Mouth-filling and balanced. Elegant, much aging potential but drinking very nicely now, particularly in company with rare beef. This will be the last vintage of Parmelee-Hill from ESJ, and in a statement that gives clear insight into Edmunds' philosophy and his personality, he explains why: "'05 was the last time we took fruit from Parmelee-Hill. Not that we didn't like it, but the price was getting up there, and given the kind of wine we make, and the constant clamoring by the critics for bigger and dumber wines, I didn't feel confident that I could sell the wine for a high enough price to make any money on it. Then again, making money isn't something I've ever gotten much of a handle on."

<b>Edmunds St. John 2005 Wylie-Fenaughty El Dorado County Syrah</b> ($25)
Black. Subtle and complex, red-berry fruit and "forest floor." Ripe and balanced, with ample but smooth, silky tannins that marry well with the beef. The Wylie-Fenaughty has long been my favorite of all the ESJ Syrahs, and the 2005 is right on track. Parker said he found "little weight or depth and virtually no finish." I wonder what he was drinking? Certainly not the wine I had.

<B>FIND THESE WINES ONLINE:</B>
Edmunds St. John wines are sporadically distributed around the U.S. and, unfortunately, difficult to impossible to find internationally. For information on distributors in about 30 U.S. states, British Columbia, Europe, the UK and Japan, see the winery Website,
http://www.edmundsstjohn.com/buy

Check prices and find vendors for Edmunds St. John on Wine-Searcher.com:
[url=http://www.wine-searcher.com/find/Edmunds%2bSt%2bJohn/-/-/USD/A?referring_site=WLP]http://www.wine-searcher.com/
find/Edmunds%2bSt%2bJohn/-/-/USD/A?referring_site=WLP[/url]

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Last edited by Robin Garr on Fri Dec 07, 2007 3:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Parker swings, misses (ESJ's 2005 lineup)

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Dec 07, 2007 2:09 pm

Robin Garr wrote:<b>Edmunds St. John 2005 Rocks and Gravel California Red Wine</b> ($18)


It's been called to my attention that Parker knocked the '04 Rocks and Gravel, the only one on the Wine Advocate list that was not from the 2005 vintage. I tasted the '05. My error, but it doesn't alter my conclusions.
Last edited by Robin Garr on Fri Dec 07, 2007 2:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Parker swings, misses (ESJ's 2005 lineup)

Postby Jean-Pierre Cauvin » Fri Dec 07, 2007 2:19 pm

Bravo, Robin, for exposing the emperor without clothes. That RP should exercise such consistently flawed judgment, yet maintain his influence, is a phenomenon that deserves to be better known.
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Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Parker swings, misses (ESJ's 2005 lineup)

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Dec 07, 2007 2:33 pm

Jean-Pierre Cauvin wrote:Bravo, Robin, for exposing the emperor without clothes. That RP should exercise such consistently flawed judgment, yet maintain his influence, is a phenomenon that deserves to be better known.


Jean-Pierre, thanks. I appreciate your kind words. At the same time, however, I would like to see this not turn into a generalized Parker-bashing discussion. For purposes of today's discussion, I think it's sufficient to assert that he simply got the ESJ 2005 portfolio (and the 04 Rocks and Gravel) profoundly wrong.
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Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Parker swings, misses (ESJ's 2005 lineup)

Postby wrcstl » Fri Dec 07, 2007 2:38 pm

Robin,
Every time RP pans a wine he will piss someone off. I have not read the WA in several years but thought he did not post on wines that got below 85. Regardless, as we all know, Steve's wines are not RPs style which seem to every year have to shock his palate more and more to get attention. He likes big, fruit driven, alcohol wines which is why he reviews OZ, US cabs and Rhones. I still don't understand his love of Bordeaux but he has spent a lifetime trying to get Bordeaux to make bigger wines and to some degree has been succesful.

I buy ESJ wines every year, one of only two California producers. I buy them because Steve is cute, plus he makes a style I enjoy; mostly the more serious Syrah such as Wylie Fernaughty and Basseti plus Rocks and Gravel. The problem with Steve's wines, IMHO, is that they do not show well early. They require 5+ years to come around and put on weight and complexity. Early, again IMHO, they are light bodied and seem simple and do not appear to show much. With 5-6 years they become rivals for the best Rhones in the cellar. With the exception of the '02 Shadow I have not opened any of his wines that I have purchased in the last 3-4 years. I cannot explain RPs "mean spirited" remarks but can understand his problem with the wines. Steve has taken the high road and makes what he thinks are good wines, and they certainly are, but has given up the goopy trail to success for the average US palate. I congratulate him for that and wish him success. In the meantime all we can do is purchase a case or so each year and continue preaching to the choir.
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Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Parker swings, misses (ESJ's 2005 lineup)

Postby David M. Bueker » Fri Dec 07, 2007 2:56 pm

One of the things that we'll never know is what context Parker had when tasting these wines. If he tasted them around wines like Alban and Carlisle then there's no way Steve's wines would have been able to compete on volume alone (even though I think they are better wines for me and for acompanying food).
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Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Parker swings, misses (ESJ's 2005 lineup)

Postby wrcstl » Fri Dec 07, 2007 3:13 pm

David M. Bueker wrote:One of the things that we'll never know is what context Parker had when tasting these wines. If he tasted them around wines like Alban and Carlisle then there's no way Steve's wines would have been able to compete on volume alone (even though I think they are better wines for me and for acompanying food).


David,
Excellent point. What a wine is tasted next to or whether it is tasted with food or not has a large impact on enjoyment. Not so sure I would say RP got it wrong as much as I would say he does not like the style and as you say may have drank them next to really big wines. If you bring a '90 CC to a CC tasting and everyone else brings current releases you get lost in the crowd. I personally think he gets it wrong most of the time because I do not like his style of wines. The real problem is that so many people follow his rating numbers and do not form their own opinion.

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Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Parker swings, misses (ESJ's 2005 lineup)

Postby David M. Bueker » Fri Dec 07, 2007 3:18 pm

Well when this was discussed at length over on Squires' site back in September there was general agreement regarding the quality of Steve's wines, so even on eSheep.com people do form their own opinions some (most) of the time.
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Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Parker swings, misses (ESJ's 2005 lineup)

Postby wrcstl » Fri Dec 07, 2007 3:25 pm

David M. Bueker wrote:Well when this was discussed at length over on Squires' site back in September there was general agreement regarding the quality of Steve's wines, so even on eSheep.com people do form their own opinions some (most) of the time.


David,
What was the opinion on Squires page regarding Steve's wines. Did they agree with RP or did they go against the holy father? Is eSheep a real page? Sorry if I missed a joke but WLDG is the only page I visit as I unfortunately have a job.
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Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Parker swings, misses (ESJ's 2005 lineup)

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Dec 07, 2007 3:29 pm

wrcstl wrote:I cannot explain RPs "mean spirited" remarks but can understand his problem with the wines.


I understand, Walt, and I hope that was clear from my column: I respect RMP's right to dislike this style of wine (although I think it's unfortunate to base <I>scores</i> on personal preference rather than a more objective assessment of flaws.

But the mean-spirited, nasty nature of the remarks, which seemed unusual for Parker, stuck out at me like a sore thumb. It almost makes you wonder if Steve did something to p!$$ him off.
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Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Parker swings, misses (ESJ's 2005 lineup)

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Dec 07, 2007 4:00 pm

One more quick fix: The Bassetti Syrah, which both the WA and I incorrectly reported as a $40 suggested retail, actually lists at $45.
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Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Parker swings, misses (ESJ's 2005 lineup)

Postby David M. Bueker » Fri Dec 07, 2007 4:03 pm

eSheep is my little joke reference to Squires' site.

Indeed folks on the site were complimentary (and still are, see the following thread http://dat.erobertparker.com/bboard/sho ... p?t=152420 ) of the wines.
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Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Parker swings, misses (ESJ's 2005 lineup)

Postby Oliver McCrum » Fri Dec 07, 2007 4:12 pm

Thanks for this, Robin.

I love the idea that anyone making wine with decent acidity in CA is trying to be 'French.' Bollocks.
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Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Parker swings, misses (ESJ's 2005 lineup)

Postby Florida Jim » Fri Dec 07, 2007 4:38 pm

Oliver McCrum wrote:Thanks for this, Robin.


Yep.
You can agree or disagree with whomever is writing the notes but, either way, Steve is getting talked about and I think he and his wines deserve that.
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Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Parker swings, misses (ESJ's 2005 lineup)

Postby OW Holmes » Fri Dec 07, 2007 4:42 pm

Good-on-you Robin.
I remember reading about these nasty Parker comments a few months ago, and concluded that Parker felt somehow slighted by Steve or something. I am a fan of the ESJ wines, though I've had a hard time getting them in Michigan. (Steve, if you are listening, do you direct ship to Michigan? The distributor you list for this state says he no longer carries your excellent wines.)
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Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Parker swings, misses (ESJ's 2005 lineup)

Postby David M. Bueker » Fri Dec 07, 2007 4:59 pm

Please don't construe this as actually defending what Parker wrote, but I wonder if his seemingly vitriolic reaction was at least somewhat in response to the generally laudatory comments Steve's wines receive on the internet (even at his own site). Could he be trying to tell the geek community that he thinks we're off our rockers (especially compared to some of the rather "forward" style wines made elsewhere)?

Granted I think he's off his, but it's a possible reason.
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Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Parker swings, misses (ESJ's 2005 lineup)

Postby Brian Gilp » Fri Dec 07, 2007 5:09 pm

David Wrote:
Please don't construe this as actually defending what Parker wrote, but I wonder if his seemingly vitriolic reaction was at least somewhat in response to the generally laudatory comments Steve's wines receive on the internet (even at his own site). Could he be trying to tell the geek community that he thinks we're off our rockers (especially compared to some of the rather "forward" style wines made elsewhere)?


You steped in before I did but I have to ask if this would be a topic of discussion if the wines in question were made by Jimmie's wine shack from Nowhere North Carolina. I don't think the reaction to Parker's word choice would be so negative in this case.
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Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Parker swings, misses (ESJ's 2005 lineup)

Postby Florida Jim » Fri Dec 07, 2007 5:15 pm

Brian Gilp wrote: . . . Jimmie's wine shack from Nowhere North Carolina.


Ouch.
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Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Parker swings, misses (ESJ's 2005 lineup)

Postby Brian Gilp » Fri Dec 07, 2007 5:23 pm

Ouch.


Whoops. You even have a place in NC don't you? Fill in any name you like. Not directed to anyone in particular. Just trying to make the point that the respect that Steve has is likely largely responsible for the response to Parker's word choice. If the same review was directed at a less respected operation, the uproar would not be so great.
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Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Parker swings, misses (ESJ's 2005 lineup)

Postby wrcstl » Fri Dec 07, 2007 6:01 pm

Robin Garr wrote:I understand, Walt, and I hope that was clear from my column: I respect RMP's right to dislike this style of wine (although I think it's unfortunate to base <I>scores</i> on personal preference rather than a more objective assessment of flaws.


Robin,
I think what you are asking of a reviewer is impossible. How can we give a high score to a wine that we do not like? This is why I think the number rating is useless but the desciption is of great value. You may be a better man than I but when I taste a CF from the Loire I seldom ever give it a good numberical score but many really like this type of wine. I can say it has hints of green pepper and angular flavors which may be correct and what you are looking for and that is what is important. When I taste an oaky chard I can hardly drink it and certainly would not rate it well but my description would say "oak, butter and vanilla" and that may be exactly what you are looking for. All reviewers, IMO, have biases, RP is just positioned as the "god" and we are the people who elevated him. Give the guy credit, he filled a void; a person to rate wines for people who are too lazy to form their own opinion. If my palate preferences were similar to RP's I would probably be a lemming.
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Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Parker swings, misses (ESJ's 2005 lineup)

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Dec 07, 2007 7:03 pm

wrcstl wrote:I think what you are asking of a reviewer is impossible. How can we give a high score to a wine that we do not like?


Walt, it may seem counter-intuitive, but seriously, wine judges - and any decent wine critic - can and does do exactly this. Judging wine on the basis of competent wine making and the avoidance of flaws is a completely different matter than judging wine on the basis of what you like. It's a fairly well-established craft, and competition scoring systems are designed to render a judgment - and a score - based on wine-making criteria, not hedonistic pleasure. That's the only way I can work the Kentucky State Fair, for instance, and fairly judge hybrids or labrusca.

This is why I think the number rating is useless but the desciption is of great value.


I agree personally ... that's why I don't use a number rating in my writing. But I do <i>try</i> to write about wines first on the basis of wine making and flaws, with personal preference mentioned, if at all, only as an afterthought.
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Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Parker swings, misses (ESJ's 2005 lineup)

Postby John Tomasso » Fri Dec 07, 2007 8:54 pm

I really enjoyed this edition of the advisor.
The Rocks and Gravel is a wine I could drink every night - if someone wants to calibrate to my palate they need only open a bottle of this. I also think this wine drinks well right out of the chute - contrary to what another poster opined, though it certainly improves with some bottle age.

I agree also on the Wylie - Fenaughty......I find it's the perfect blend of serious and fun, and with a few years on it, it becomes one hell of a bottle of wine, especially for the money.

I have more bottles of Steve's wines in my cellar than any other single producer, and I've yet to regret buying a single bottle.
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Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Parker swings, misses (ESJ's 2005 lineup)

Postby David M. Bueker » Fri Dec 07, 2007 8:59 pm

Walt,

Certainly three reviewers (in this case Parker, Raynolds and Garr) can come to differing assessments on the quality of the wines. That's fine. IF I am reading Robin correctly (and I hope I am since we have discussed this a bit), his issues lies much more with the "low brow" and "where's the beef" type of comments, which are, for the most part, out of character for Parker. I've seen a similar voice only a very few times in the Wine Advocate (Mount Mary & some 2003 Germans (Rovani reviews for the Germans) spring to mind), so it seems very much out of place. It's harsh and unecessary, as the actual wine description and score convey his feelings adequately without resorting to insults.

I am a big fan of Steve Edmunds' wines, so I am not the objecive voice here, but my respect for Parker went down a tick because of the way he went about conveying his point. He's better than that.
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Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Parker swings, misses (ESJ's 2005 lineup)

Postby Rahsaan » Fri Dec 07, 2007 9:02 pm

Oliver McCrum wrote:I love the idea that anyone making wine with decent acidity in CA is trying to be 'French.' Bollocks.


I agree. I've said over and over again that Steve's wines don't seem French to me (although that may be my bias towards Northern France), and that the ESJ wines speak volumes about sunny CA goodness, balanced with acidity and grace..

Obviously there is more than one way to make wine in CA.
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