Thursday, May 10, 2007

Scoring in Burgundy

Robert Parker takes a lot of flak for publishing wine scores. But others do it too, including Wine Spectator and the International Wine Cellar. Because they are far less influential, those magazines don't receive the same amount of public criticism that Parker does, although I suspect that the vast majority of Parker's critics don't have an especially high opinion of Shanken or Tanzer (the publishers of Wine Spectator and IWC, respectively).

By comparison, Allen Meadows is beginning to have an effect on the market for Burgundy similar to that Parker has on the market for Bordeaux. His publication, Burghound, is rapidly becoming the go-to resource for Burgundy enthusiasts and, upon release of his quarterly reports, highly-rated wines sell-out rapidly.

Yet, Meadows does not come in for the same criticism that Parker does. And he is rating wines whose enthusiasts are most likely to be Parker critics. Red Burgundy is famously elegant and reserved rather than forward and fruity; Parker is well-known for giving relatively poor ratings to what most Burgundy lovers consider great wines; and those Burgundy lovers are well-known for claiming that Parker just "doesn't get" the region's wines. Burgundy enthusiasts celebrate the individuality of each wine and the particular characteristics of of the many specific vineyards into which Burgundy's wine regions are subdivided.

So why the appreciation for Meadows? He's doing precisely the same thing as Parker: providing reductionist tasting notes and numerical scores for hundreds of wines. And most Burgundy lovers make their case for the region's wine precisely because it does not lend itself to that approach. Each wine is unique, with its own characteristics, and not susceptible to ordinal ranking on some absolute scale.

Perhaps what makes Meadows palatable is that he has the "right" attitude toward wine and Burgundy in particular. Every issue of Burghound comes with a disclaimer that "Burgundies that emphasize purity, elegance, overall balance and a clear expression of the underlying terroir are rated more highly . . . a Volnay should taste like a Volnay." In other words, unlike Parker, Meadows is not giving high ratings to the sort of wines that Parker critics disapprove of. And that's something. But ultimately why should it let him off the hook? The scoring/tasting note system is objectionable and that's what Meadows provides. As a Burghound subscriber (thanks to the market forces I discussed in my previous post) I often ask myself this.

1 comment:

ScottS said...

Hm. Quantifying a wine into a number may be silly, or at least very limited in usefulness for the true oenephile with well defined style preferences. It seems to me that the problem with Parker points isn't so much the cardinal ranking it produces, with the attendant market effects, but that Parker's points (and therefore his style) have had a large, domineering impact. More critics and more points flowing around makes each score less important while also providing the consumer with a better picture of the wine. When there is consensus amongst the professional critics, face it, the wine has some qualities most people will enjoy. If a mixed review, then read carefully. I don't see how this is any different from movie reviews getting stars, other than the possibility that the wine critics try to score too many wines and end up writing less useful notes. More reviewers, more points, and more depth over breadth and the cliche criticism about points will become less relevant.