The latest buzz spreading through the on-line wine microcosm is the recent musical chairs over at The Wine Advocate: Robert M Parker Jr. will no longer review and rate current California wine releases (to the joy or consternation of some). Instead, Antonio Galloni will now review… Italy, Champagne, Chablis, Côte d’Or and…….. (deep breath)… California (to the joy, puzzlement or consternation of some)
How can one taster be proficient in all those regions?
A wine reviewer does not merely take a seat at a desk (or table) whose “IN” box is the catch-all for the thousands of wines of two continents, three countries and a myriad of climates and stylistic philosophies. They have to understand the context of each of those wines to make an informed, expert judgment and (ultimately) a meaningful recommendation.
There are the finer nuances of each area’s climate, soil and their influence on the expression of the grape. So many appellations can be argued to have artificially and arbitrarily delineated boundaries. Visiting an area as vast as the Central Coast (or even Paso Robles) once a year and spending a week or two there allows one to glimpse only the tip of the iceberg that is the landscape of a region’s wine. The nuances, caveats and exceptions that arise out of those artificially and arbitrarily (and politically) determined boundaries are lost on the short-term, once-a-year visitor.
In today’s wine realities, a person responsible for reviewing the wines of a particular region should be possesses of an intimate understanding of those wines and their origins. A Neurologist is specialized in treating only disorders of the nervous system and not of the heart – that’s what a Cardiologist is for.
Unfortunately, however, a jack of all trades is a master of none.
I understand that Parker set out to be a consumer advocate. It could be argued either way if that means that the consumer should be brought to understand the wine or if the wine should be subjugated to a particular style. Regardless, in its current incarnation, Parker’s brand is generally an advocate for a specific style and (as many believe) for Parker himself and the wine producers and importers with whom he rubs elbows.
An advocate should see the true nature of what he or she advocates for – flaws, shortcomings and all. In the case of wine, this means understanding not only the regional context of the wines but their history and legacy – as Dan Berger pointed out in a recent conversation we had. If one is a wine advocate, one should advocate for the rich and varied tapestry that is the global spectrum of wine, not only for those wines that fit a particular preference.
The fine line here, of course, is to not become a shill for a particular region or its producers. One can certainly avoid this trapping: One can praise while exhorting to higher standards. That exhortation should be informed by a recognition of both the potential and the limitations of a particular combination of cultivar and region. One can explain and put in perspective, acknowledging things for what they are and how they are, without being an apologist or Pollyanna.
All this requires knowledge and understanding of wine in general and in the context of a particular set of cultivars and of the place and circumstances from which the wine originates.
But back to my initial question:
How can one taster be an expert in wines from regions and traditions as different as France, Italy and California?
The answer is that one can’t arrive at such a level of in-depth expertise in the wines of three different countries. It is hard enough to truly master California’s Central Coast.
The only feasible alternative is to know the formula for the preferred (and rewarded) style [(heft>balance and structure) x (more_is_gooder) = great wine] and how to fit each new wine into that rubric.
This is not advocating for wine. This is not enlightening one’s readers. It is just a continued subjugation of the wines of the world to the formula and the preference that generated that formula.
Email & Share