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The Adjustment: A Play in Three Acts

25 comments

Act 1

Scene: A wine magazine or newsletter (not Wine Enthusiast).

Disclosure page: “All wines are tasted blind, unless otherwise indicated”

Taster: Hello. Welcome to the Wine _________. Today we’re tasting 12 wines. As you can see, they’re in paper bags. This is what’s called a “blind tasting.” We know very little about the wines, except that they’re all reds from Bordeaux, and the vintage is 2005. (If we knew nothing at all about the wines, it would be called a “double blind tasting.”) By tasting the wines blind, we ensure that no psychological factors, such as bias for or against the producer, can affect the score.

[The taster proceeds to taste through the wines. He sniffs, swirls and tastes each in turn, spitting the wine out afterward in order to remain sober.]

We spit, because it’s not a good idea for a professional wine critic to become drunk while reviewing wines, although it has been known to happen!

As you can see, after tasting every wine, I make notes on this piece of paper, which I call my “tasting notes.” At this stage, these notes are roughly drafted, and even illegible to anyone but me, but the substance of my impressions is here. Later on, I will craft them into final form, but the essence and truth of my impressions will remain constant. As you can also see [holds piece of paper up], I also write down my score at this time. For instance, you can see that for wine #1, my score is 84 points. That is not a particularly good score, but then, it was not a particularly good wine.

[Fade to black.]

Act 2

Scene: A TV studio. The taster is being interviewed by a well-known celebrity video journalist.

Celebrity Journalist: So you say you taste everything blind?

Taster: Oh, yes. That is our bond, our guarantee to our readers.

CJ: It is nice to have a bond, a guarantee with your fans. I have one with mine, you know. They love me!

T: Without that bond, that guarantee, you are nothing. Just a piece of flotsam and jetsam on the erratic tide of life.

CJ: How true. Without a bond, a guarantee, you cannot be a brand. You cannot sell yourself without that credibility.

T: Indeed. It is vital for one’s credibility to retain that bond, that guarantee.

CJ: Amen, brother! [both smile, bump fists.]

Act 3

Scene: Later that night, in the Taster’s private home office.

[The room is entirely dark except for the bluish glow of the computer monitor, which casts an eerie, demonic glow on the Taster’s face. From over his shoulder you can see the screen, and hear the rapid pecking of his fingers on the keyboard. We see the Taster access Wine #1 — the one he gave 84 points. We now see it is Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. The Taster drags the cursor to the score area, deletes the 84 rating, and substitutes it with a 96 rating. New camera angle: Closeup on the Taster’s face. He looks directly into the camera. His eyes glitter in the blue light. It is impossible to know just what they are saying.]

Voiceover: Ladies  and Gentlemen, you have just witnessed another episode of [drumroll, dramatic synthesizer music]… The Adjustment.

theatre-stage

Note: Any similarity between this Internet play and any real magazine or newsletter is strictly coincidental.

  1. Amen.

  2. Tobias Øno says:

    Thanks. That was a fun read.

  3. You forgot the part in Act II where 400+ bloggers immediately write posts about the credibility question… ;-)

  4. Dude, The Taster doesn’t bother himself with reading trivia like that.

  5. Imagine how shocked I was to learn that critics may not be credible?

    I do hope no one proves that stuff against Santa Claus…couldn’t take two major shocks in one year.

  6. Most works of fictiion have some basis in fact for their existence. Steve, what have you done late at night, you naughty boy?

    How does this play not cast asperations on Steve Heimoff? Is it born out of a real life experience?

    Do all writers do this? Do a high percentage do it? Does Steve know something he is not telling us?

  7. This post would be a whole lot more interesting if you had the cohones to name the taster/publication.

    It’d be more credible too ;)

  8. Lenn: I encourage readers to use their imaginations.

  9. Charlie, I do not adjust to fit a stereotype. That’s why it’s not uncommon for me to rate a winery’s regular higher than it’s reserve or vineyard-designate. My Tasting Director at Wine Enthusiast, Joe, once said my palate prefers more accessible wines. I didn’t agree with him at first, but now I do. I think that, sometimes, a winery will take an oakier, riper, more tannic wine and make it the [more expensive] reserve, but that doesn’t make it better.

    However, to hear the conventional wisdom in Wine Country, some competing publications do adjust, or at least are widely suspected of doing so, because the reserves/vineyard designates are ALWAYS higher-rated, or nearly so. That’s just a little too convenient, IMHO.

    I will say there have certainly been times when I have changed a score after the fact. Usually, it’s at the behest of a producer. Sometimes the score remains the same. Sometimes it goes up. Usually it doesn’t go down — but that’s probably because the producers who ask for a retaste are unhappy with the original score.

  10. Thanks for the long response. I somehow had a feeling you were not talking about yourself.

  11. If I adjusted, do you think I would have written this post?

  12. Charlie,

    Asperations?

    Who’s your editor? ;)

  13. Thomas Matthews says:

    Since Wine Spectator’s “disclosure page” cites our blind-tasting policies (read it here: http://www.winespectator.com/display/show/id/about-our-tastings), I want to assure Steve’s readers that while Act 1 bears a passing resemblance to our tastings, Acts 2 and 3 most certainly do not. So if this little fantasy is meant as a roman a clef, it must be about some other magazine whose name might happen to begin with “Wine”.

    Thomas Matthews
    Executive editor
    Wine Spectator

  14. Steve,

    I’m intrigued more by a critics description of a wine than the score. Adjectives seem to carry much more weight to me than numbers. Perhaps, that’s why I was never very good at math. This little piece lends even more credence to my distaste (as a consumer) to scoring systems.

    Also, your admission in the comments to changing scores on occasion is refreshing and I think speaks highly to your credibility.

    Nice post.

  15. The Adjustment. I’ve heard of this, wasn’t there a sequel? Ah yes, “The Disappointment,” starring the consumer.

  16. Note to Tom P.

    I am my editor. Lousy pay. Lousy results. Want a job?

  17. Steve,

    I’m a big fan of your blog, but for me this piece is off the mark. Based on the stated tasting methodologies of Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate, your description in Act 1 is talking about Wine Spectator. I infer this because they’re the only ones I’m aware of who say they taste blind “unless otherwise noted”. Last I checked, The Wine Advocate and Wine Enthusiast taste blind “when possible”. That being the case, I’d rather see you make the accusation against Wine Spectator directly.

    Wine Spectator provides more information about how they taste than The Wine Advocate and Wine Enthusiast combined. Because of this, I find it odd that you’d go after them along these lines. Further, that you’d accuse them of adjusting scores only to go on and later state in the comments that you adjust scores from time to time. I find this bizarre.

    I presume that you’re basing this anecdote on actual incidents that you’ve seen or have heard rumors of. If that’s the case, I’d be interested in hearing more details and substance if you care to share. If not, I’ll remain confused as to which publication you’re talking about and whether you’re making veiled accusations -or- merely stirring the pot.

    Respectfully,
    Robert Dwyer

  18. What’s so terrible about adjusting scores? I could not care less about what wine gets what number from what middle-aged man, but it seems, well, human for a person to revise an impression based on further tasting. This would be no big deal at all without numbers. It’s the silly number that imply precision that even you, Steve, have admitted does not exist in the wine critic’s tool kit.

    On the other hand, if you are implying that a specific magazine changed a specific score with a motive other than keeping the veritas in vino, well, that’s another story.

  19. Asperation: the act of making uneven or rough. So the behavior described in the play is making SH’s life uneven or rough. Very nuanced use of the word. No need for editing.

  20. Tobias Øno says:

    maybe you ought to have included the “..work of fiction.. any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental..”-note?

  21. Tom, I’d say a nice try, but I don’t think one can cast asperation, as it is a tangible response to an active stimulus. One can, however, cast aspersion, as an allusion to something damaging–or as holy water…

  22. Tom M–

    Thanks. I wish it were true, but thanks for having my exposed back (side) on this.

    Charlie

  23. Tobias–

    If there is no similarity to an actual incident, the play need not have been written. Steve is a smart guy, and I think he knows more than he is telling us. Otherwise, why toss out this hand grenade? The man is a pacifist. He does not believe in gratuitous violence.

  24. Tobias,

    Charlie is probably correct.

    Remember the writer’s command: write what you know.

  25. Dylan – Bravo!!!

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