Wine Talk

Snooth User: JonDerry

Rate the Wine Critics

Posted by JonDerry, Feb 21, 2011.

1. Steve Tanzer - Like how he grades tough and also like the regions he specializes in (Burgundy, Piedmont, California/Washington, South Africa, Bordeaux).  Actually, I never knew this guy was American until I looked it up.

2. James Suckling - Really like his approach to ratings, and think his website is a must for wine connoisseurs. 

3. Robert Parker - Of course, I don't like what happened with the alleged or actual Parkerization of California but I also don't like all the Parker haterade that's out there.  Seems a lot of young wine critics have a driving need to disrespect Parker & WA but overall he's a living legend, and for good reason.

4. Wine Spectator - Not my favorite.  I don't like the commercialization involved, but at the end of the day I typically respect their scores to some degree.

*Wine & Spirits - I've read some good articles but am overall not really familiar with what they do.

*Jancis Robinson - Have the pocket book, and am interested in her Purple Pages but not sure I need another pay site.  Overall comes accross as an overly arrogant Brit?

*Wine Enthusiast - I'm not sure what or who's behind this publication, but I pretty much ignore it.

 

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Replies

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Reply by napagirl68, Feb 22, 2011.

Im a Steve Tanzer fan, hands down.  No snobbiness here... I just find we have a similar palate.  He rates wines as I would.

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Reply by dmcker, Feb 22, 2011.

Jancis is quite good, in my experience. How about Johnson and Broadbent, going back a ways?

And how about the raters at major newspapers, and even commercial wine retail chains. NG, any comment?  ;-)

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Reply by spikedc, Feb 22, 2011.

Steven Spurrier, consultant editor for Decanter magazine, English Public school,snobiness - yes, but i must admit i 've enjoyed a lot of his articles and reviews

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Reply by dmcker, Feb 22, 2011.

Plus the fact that he started all that brouhaha back in '76...

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Feb 22, 2011.

The criticism I have of the critics is that they often bias ratings to there preferred style and often dismiss wines that they have a philosophical objection to their style.

I quite like getting a collection of views and then trying to interpret what they say when tasting the wine.  I find that often by taking a lead on why a wine is good or not so good I can develop my own understanding of the wine.

An example is the concept of underripe/overripe characteristics that can arise by poor bunch selection at the winery delivery gate.  By trying wines that critics say have these characteristics I get to learn how to detect it and even agree or disagree on the comment

Take dmckers comment on another thread re brettanomycies or brett contamination.  He and many others find it an enhancing characteristic in some wines.  Many people find it an unpleasant fault.  By trying the wines described as having a positive Brettty character you get to think about whether the Brett is good or bad for you.  Its a bit like sugar and/or milk in coffee, no right answer but it is good to understand the difference.

I must admit that I was put off of Jancis Robinson when she wrote what I considered was a very self serving and generally offensive and frankly off track article on wine sites/blogs etc. 

Tanzer seems to me to be the most objective of the International Critics and Jeremy Oliver is imho the most objective and balanced of the Australian critics.

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Reply by dmcker, Feb 22, 2011.

In my opinion it's crazy to write off a whole body of someone's work just because they have a bad day, though I do understand how humanly easy it is to look at someone entirely differently once they cross a specific threshold.

How about bloggers? I also like the Wine Doctor (Chris Kissack), and John Gilman (View from the Cellar). Amongst others....

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Feb 22, 2011.

D - I agree but you know the saying it takes years to build a reputation and minutes to destroy it, plus they [critics] are pretty good at building a wine up and then dumping it after one bad vintage.  Live by the sword[pen] die by the sword [pen]

Lets not dismiss the humble input of people like GDP and many people in this community 

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Reply by dmcker, Feb 22, 2011.

I assumed that GDP's place in the pantheon was a given... ;-)

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Feb 22, 2011.

Plus on Jancis, I had just come off doing some major research with our online team on the impact of social media and its importance with connection with consumers and target audiences and what it means for brands.  What she wrote was what we would classify as the view form the land of digital dinosaurs and she risks not connecting with the new breed being the digital natives.  I think she might want to talk to the editors and proprietors of her magazine employers because they are in fear of the digital transformation going on in society and are trying to determine the model going forward.

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Reply by dmcker, Feb 22, 2011.

Again, someone's wine sensibilities shouldn't be denigrated just because they don't 'get' SNS, IMHO. A lot of people don't get it/them. I certainly don't look to her for that kind of expertise. If you want to know who's best for that in Tokyo I can give you a few names... ;-)

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Reply by JonDerry, Feb 22, 2011.

Good call on the Wine Doctor Dm - I've liked his Bordeaux reviews, and appreciate how he uses the 20 point scale.

SH - I guess we caught the same thing with Jancis...i'm sure she's good at what she does, but I'm not about to go out of my way to pay for the Purple Pages at this point.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Feb 22, 2011.

Of course, the person down the street whose "critique" you can take home for any bottle in his store, and who can describe wines and compare them to wines you have purchased, deserves mention.  If you have a good one, most of the written reviewage is irrelevant--I read Asimov in the NY Times, but most of the time can't purchase the wines.  If the local wine seller knows his stuff or at least understands what you have liked, you don't have to worry about finding what someone just gave 90 points.

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Reply by hhotdog, Feb 22, 2011.
Edited Feb 23, 2011

i guess i just wish there was a standard in the way reviews are to be made.  in order to understand the review one has to know the reviewer intimatley.  i look at the reviews and just keep them in the back of my mind.  i agree Fox that your wine guy knows you best.  i may suggest some wines i've heard that have good reviews and ask opinions...that's as much i will go with them and make my own decision then on whether to try it.  ask around...some movies that get the worst reviews tend to be better than i've read and visa-versa. it seems wine is as personal...

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Feb 22, 2011.

hhotdog:  Your last line explains why the first line is impossible.  Wine is personal, so reviews defy standardization.  Just as with movie reviewers, it helps to know the point of view of the reviewer.  (That's the irony of this thread:  Rating reviewers is subjective, too.)  Problem is it's a big undertaking to keep everyone's point of view straight, and you have to ask yourself if it's worth it, unless you just love wine writing.  (I read way too much of it--at some point it becames comedy.) Right now, I tend to think I get the most insight from wine writers I understand on some other levels.  Like the regulars here--plus you can ASK them about a wine, instead of being at the mercy of what the reviewer is tasting that week, hoping your store stocks it (or gets it before you forget), having time to go get it... so my fave wine writers right now are, in no particular order, dmcker, SH, GregT, NG, GDD (okay, she's got other stuff on her mind right now), GDP, you, HondaJohn, outthere, lingprof, JonDerry, and anyone else who takes the time to share their enthusiasm.  (Oh, don't want to forget Lefty, who I just added as a friend, and who has enthusiasm a-plenty!) I even hope to meet a few of them for real, not virtual, tasting and drinking someday!

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Feb 23, 2011.

I am with you Foxall, maybe we should get GDP to buy a weekly snooth forum contributors lottery ticket and if it wins big he can pay for us all to go a selected destination for a big tasting experience

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Reply by JonDerry, Feb 23, 2011.

Fox: That's very true, though i've found critics to be a helpful tool in browsing, or more importantly in targeting which wines to buy. 

SH: Great idea - that would definitely be something i'd want to attend. New York sounds about right.

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Reply by spikedc, Feb 23, 2011.

I'm with you Foxall, being a novice the most help i've had is from you guys, everything suggested to me so far has been spot on. My knowledge in the few months has improved, who needs so called expert wine critics/reviewers.

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Feb 23, 2011.

D - On Jancis, I don't undervalue her knowledge and ability particularly given she has an MW [Master of Wine] which is a tough qual to get, but her attitude just annoyed me and it made me winder whether that permeates her tasting mindset.

Again she is a well regarded committed professional so her view at very least should be respected

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Reply by gregt, Feb 23, 2011.

Well I just got a mailing from the Rare Wine Company and I open it up and they have a few words from some critics and whose name do I see there?

Greg dal Piaz.

And then Gilman and the usual bunch. 

Anyhow, I guess the issue would be whether you consider someone a good critic or an "authority", which can be quite different.  Someone can know a great deal about an issue but that doesn't make them a good assessor of things.  In other words, you can know a great deal about soil and botany but that doesn't make you a great garden designer or judge of the most beautiful garden on the block.

OTOH, being a critic is one of the easiest jobs in the world - you simply state whether or not you like something. If you're a decent writer, you do it with some wit and style and people enjoy reading you.  If you're a crappy writer, you have a harder path.  For a wine critic, I suppose consistency would be the most important factor in whether the critic was worth much.

Parker happens to be a fairly bad writer.  He's written many books but I never find his use of English inspiring.  But for some wines, he's very consistent, and he's spent 30+ years learning about certain regions, so it's ludicrous for someone to dismiss him out of hand.  As to whether he's useful for recommendations - you have to try some wines and see if you agree.  I'm far from a basher but I haven't found any of the 2007 Rhones to be as wonderful as he has. 

Quite the opposite in fact.  I think one of the problems is that he doesn't taste blind and in recent years, he's become what he began his career opposing.  Not that he has investments in the wineries he rates, but he hangs out with his favorite producers and drinks their wine with them and it's in no way objective any more.  On his staff he has David Shildneckt, who is overly verbose, and who rates wines the same way, but who is to me, both an authority on certain regions, and a useful critic as well.  May be the best on Parker's team.  Galloni used to be more useful - now he's covering a lot of areas and I pay little attention. Also on that team Mark Squires, although he's loathed by many, happens to be a pretty good judge of wine.  Not an authority as he freely admits, but open and honest about his desire to learn.

Asimov has an agenda it would seem.  He's decided to be part of what Parker called the "anti-flavor" elite. He may be the most influential writer in the US.  He's not an authority on any specific region or aspect of winemaking.  And as a critic I don't get him either.  However, he does something I think is useful in that he reports a variety of opinions on each bottle, so he stands in his own space.

Wine Spectator is a collection of individual different palates.  It's funny - the magazine itself is often dismissed as a glossy lifestyle magazine, and it's true that even in their best articles, they write for the person who knows a little about wine, but not too much, and who fancies himself a bit more knowledgeable than he is.  And they have the ads for watches and cars, etc.  But some of the individual critics are actually quite good and quite honest.  Moreover, they taste blind, which to me is a good thing in that I don't care who you are, unless you're Mark Squires, you can't drink someone's wine with the person grinning at you and then write that the wine sucks.  Some of the writers are better than others of course, but I wouldn't dismiss everyone out of hand.

And same with Wine Enthusiast matter of fact.  It's obviously a knock-off but they have some pretty decent writers as well as a couple of hacks.

W+S is a revolving group so it's hard to pin down what that's going to be like.  Nice idea, but because the critics on the panel change, you don't get a benchmark opinion.

Jancis is nice enough in person but she does come of as a bit full of herself.  Take a look at her site where she talks about all of her awards and writings - she says she has a "groaning bookshelf" from all of her writing.  Gee, that's nice.  But shouldn't someone else be blowing horns for you?  And like some of the other British critics, she can't get over the fact that some hick from Maryland wields far more clout than she ever will as a critic.  OTOH, as an authority, she covers a lot of ground. Ditto some of the others although Broadbent didn't do his reputation any good when he sued over "defamation" because he came off looking like an idiot in a book.  And frankly, I've always found his critical assessments pompous and unpleasant reading.  Johnson was always an easier read.

Tanzer - he also has a stable of writers these days.  For the areas he covers himself, I like him as a critic, although he's also one of those guys who reaches for the Thesaurus too often.

Suckling strikes me as the Inspector Clouseau of wine writing.  I never paid much mind to him when he was at WS after trying some of his highly-rated recommendations.  Since he left, I wished him well but then I saw a few of his videos and they just went from bad to worse.  He combines just about the worst qualities of all critics - his pronounciation of grapes and wines is just ludicrous, a la Clouseau, he claims to have a strict method for rating wines but at least on his videos appears to pull his deductions and ratings out of the air, a la Clouseau, he's apparently developed his conclusions before even taking a sip of wine as everything is right around 90 points, a la Clouseau, he loves to name-drop and talk about the places he's lived, whether relevant or not, demonstrating  an amazing sense of his own grandeur, a la Clouseau, and he's completely oblivious to his own ludicrosity (?) a la Clouseau.

Clouseau: It is possible that his intended victim was a man and that he made a mistake.
Dreyfus: Mistake?... in a nudist camp? Idiot nincompoop lunatic!

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Reply by dmcker, Feb 23, 2011.

Another excellent post, Greg. Again, I'd read the blog if you started one.

Hey, and then you could be an expert critic, too!

 

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