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5 questions for Robert Parker

59 comments

I went to an event last night at U.C. Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, where their wine club (formed about ten years ago) invited me and a well-known winemaker to talk about the 100-point system. The embryo MBAs, about 40 in number, were a curious and super-smart bunch and they asked all kinds of smart questions.

I explained to them how our 100-point system works at Wine Enthusiast. Then they asked the winemaker how he felt about the point system, and he made everyone laugh by blushing and pausing and obviously having some difficulty expressing his true thoughts — obviously (I thought) because I was there. So I told him to “Spit it out!” and he did, albeit in a gracious way. He said, basically, that his job was to craft high-scoring wines, and that, if he didn’t, he could get fired. We critics, in other words, exert an undue amount of influence on his life. Then he described the annual visit that Robert Parker pays to his winery. The ordeal, he admitted, ties his stomach in knots, and actually makes it hard for him to sleep the night before. When it was question time, I raised my hand and insisted on my Speaker’s Right to ask the first one. It went like this:

“When Mr. Parker tastes with you, is it blind or open?”

“Open.”

“Does he make his reviews there? Do you see him writing?”

“Yes, and even though I can read upside down, he has this way of writing that makes it impossible to read.”

“Do you know if, subsequent to his tasting open with you, he then retastes the wines later on?”

“I don’t know, but I don’t think so.”

“Do you think it’s fair for him to taste wines openly, when he claims that he endeavors insofar as possible to taste blind?”

[From erobertparker.com: "When possible all of my tastings are done in peer-group, single-blind conditions, (meaning that the same types of wines are tasted against each other and the producers' names are not known). The ratings reflect an independent, critical look at the wines. Neither price nor the reputation of the producer/grower affect the rating in any manner."]

The winemaker knew where I was going, and on his own initiative he began to explain to the students the concept of “bias.” The winemaker said, and I paraphrase, “What Steve is driving at is that, since Parker knew that he was tasting wines he has historically given high scores to, that his mind determined he couldn’t possibly score anything lower than, say, 92.”

The winemaker was entirely correct. That is what I was driving at.

Parker has come under scrutiny many times for his tasting practices. I have anecdotally been told the same thing for years, that he tastes open. See, for instance, here, which is actually from one of my posts, wherein the famous Mr. Morton Leslie commented thusly: “We know Parker doesn’t taste blind because he comes to our wineries and tastes what we present to him. He doesn’t score them, I have watched him make notes, so we know the scores come sometime later when the whole thing is organized for publication. It’s pretty evident Parker judges wine based on who made them or who owns the operation.”

I would like to put this issue to rest by asking Bob to please come out and answer a few questions, if not for the sake of my own curiosity, then for his own reputation.

1. What percentage of your published scores are tasted blind, and what percentage are tasted openly?

2. When you taste openly with the winemaker, do you assign the score at that time, or later on?

3. Do you accept the concept of bias, and, if you are tasting openly, how do you compensate for your own bias?

4. How important do you think consistency is in a critic and, especially, in your own reputation?

5. Why do you not taste all wines blind, under controlled circumstances?

These are quite serious matters. The entire legitimacy of wine reviews rests on the premise that they are unbiased. That doesn’t mean merely that the reviewer promises not to have any personal stake in whether the wine does well or not. It also means that the reviewer cannot possibly be influenced one way or the other concerning the wine’s quality. To me, it’s patently obvious that when you’re visiting a hugely famous cult winery and tasting with the proprietor or winemaker, your mind is going to be influenced on all sorts of levels. That’s precisely why I am slowly but surely easing out of reviewing wines that way. I just can’t guarantee to people who follow my scores that such reviews from me are fair and unbiased, because they’re not. And I don’t see how anyone on earth can openly review and rate a wine at a famous winery, with the winemaker, and claim not to be biased.

I hope Bob Parker addresses these questions, which I ask with deep respect.

  1. Amen, brother.

    I have complained about this practice for years. And Parker is not the only one. You need to ask the same question of Tanzer, Laube and Blue.

    People who talk “blind tasting” and “peer to peer review” but practice something else are simply not telling the truth. It is almost universally true that every review of wines from the cult wineries like Bond, Screaming Eagle, etc, takes place at the winery, and it is also true, as far as I have know for the Sonoma cultists like Kistler, Littorai, Radio-Coteau, Rochioli.

    Here is a question you did not ask Parker. Since we know he comes to CA twice a year and spends much of his time going from winery to winery, “What percentage of your CA reviews are tasted openly in wineries with the winemaker/owner at your elbow?”. From reports that I get, I am betting that it is pretty high.

    I have first hand proof–because it is part of my journal’s methodology that we retaste every wine we are going to give scores of 90 and above. It is a simple check to make sure that we are not recommending a wine highly that might have scored well simply because of the setting. And it also allows us to check on our sense of the hierarchy from 90 points up.

    OK, so our office called a very famous RRV Pinot maker to get a second bottle of his very good wine. We had purchased the first one, but our retastes are all with solicited wine so we can be sure we are tasting fresh stock with no handling problems (a much bigger concern for those of us who purchase what we find on retail shelves). These second bottles are all tasted blind as are the firsts.

    The winery owner told our office, and then me when I called to be sure my folks had heard him correctly, that he would not supply the wine to us to taste blind. So, I asked why. His reply was, “Come up here and taste it with me.”

    I asked him how it was that Parker and Tanzer had tasted the wine and he said that they had come to winery. I then asked if he thought this was a fair way to taste and his response (because it was the first time I had heard it–although we now know that it is widely true) just floored me. “I prefer it this way because I get better scores”.

    And therein lies the problem. Not only do some reviewers not tell the truth about what they are doing, but the wineries are complicit in this charade, and they are cynically complicit at that.

    Steve, you have not yet addressed the Rodney Strong letter to all of us (see Vinography for a very pointed and good discussion of that letter), but it goes directly to the heart of the matter.

    Every time a journalist, in print or online, crosses the line into bad ethics, it hurts all of us and it hurts the consumer. You and I taste blind. These other folks claim they do but are not being accurate. Wine consumers are being duped and honest writers are being smeared by the bad behaviors of others who say one thing and do another.

    Thanks for having the cojones to take this on.

  2. Steve,

    Wow! Measuring strictly from the level of international influence, I’d say you you’ve just walked up and kicked the playground bully.

    I don’t know if you’ll get an answer (I’m pretty sure you won’t) but you have my utmost respect for laying down the gauntlet. Especially, since you’ve made your own position on this issue crystal clear (in previous posts) by laying out your answers to these questions. In fact, as a consumer, I’d like to see those questions answered by anyone who rates wines for a living. The bias you speak of is one of the main reasons I’m turned off to the 100 point system.

    Steve, we have different palates. As such, I don’t agree with every review you write, but your willingness to be honest in the attempt shows both your deep integrity and your dedication to craft. I appreciate that about you, and wish more in your industry had the same high standards.

  3. Charlie: ““What percentage of your CA reviews are tasted openly in wineries with the winemaker/owner at your elbow?” I think this was implicit in my questions. Re: “I prefer it this way because I get better scores”, that is why I do not taste Kistler, Marcassin, etc. and unfortunately will probably not taste Alban again, although I like his wines and respect John. Ditto for Rochioli. Re: “Steve, you have not yet addressed the Rodney Strong letter to all of us,” I don’t know what you’re referring to, and if you send me a link, I’ll look into it.

  4. Wow – some gauntlet tossing! :-)

  5. Steve, Charlie – “cynically complicit”? I’m not so sure.

    An old friend of mine started a cult winery that Parker scored highly out of the gate. Six or eight vintages in, this guy had turned a bit odd and I asked him why he did not seem to be having any joy any more. His answer? “I live by the sword and die by the sword.” If Parker scored his vintage over a 95, he was sold out in 2 months; if he gave a 92 the vintage might not sell out at all. The entire focus and integrity of this guy’s winemaking process had switched from “making the best wine possible” to “is this going to get a 92 or a 96?”

    And this has been going on for decades. Early in my career (late 80′s) I worked at a winery known for it’s Cabs. Parker gave their Chardonnay – hardly their bread and butter! – a less than stellar score, and god love him he made suggestions of what should be done to change it. It seemed like the whole place went into lockdown: the marketing team were apoplectic (“how are we supposed to sell this!!!?”), the PR people were sick, growers were called in and raked over the coals, people were literally on their knees begging to keep their jobs, consultants and academics on three continents were contacted, and the entire program changed in a week. The result – to my palate – was NOT a “better” wine.

    Dudes, that’s how serious this stuff is. It’s not about cynicism. I don’t think it’s about ego. It might be too much to say it’s about survival, but it certainly is about many people’s livelihoods. Wineries that live and die by the sword are making the best use they can of the “system” as it is.

  6. John: which makes it all the more important that scores/reviews be absolutely impartial, which means the critic cannot and must not drink “with the winemaker/owner at his elbow,” as Charlie puts it.

  7. Wow, Steve, you’ve just crossed into blobber territory! What next, will you be carrying an anti-flavor wine elite card (AFWE)?

  8. Steve

    I have come here before and ripped you, as you have incessantly defended Parker over the past 12 months. I am glad to see you asking these questions, but before we bow down to you, please know that many of us have been asking these very same questions of Parker for 2-3 years now.

    Numerous questions on his own website have gone unanswered.

    You are also missing a few key elements. Robert Parker claims to purchase 60% of his samples for review. It was 75% until last year. Dr. Vino did the approximates on dollars and it is astounding.

    In addition, Parker was just in Bordeaux, tasting 2007s for review in the issue due out next week. But has anyone ever seen how Parker claims to review BDX?

    In his books on Bordeaux, he claims that he purchases all of his samples from retailers in the United States, to ensure that the wine he is reviewing is the same that his subscribers taste. Yet, he was just in Bordeaux tasting the 2007s. Why, if they are available in the US already?

    I am glad you are finally seeing the light on this issue.

    I hope Parker finally comes clean, as many of us asked him to do, but again, do not hold your breath. Too many people speak out for him, so he never has to answer a tough question.

  9. David T (@ONUMello) says:

    Here is a link to a blog post about the letter (contains the letter in what appears to be its entirety but also the writer’s commentary before/afterwards):
    http://www.vinography.com/archives/2010/04/the_utter_stupidity_of_the_ftc.html

  10. Steve Boyer says:

    Mr. Olken, much respect to the ethical consistency you exhibit both in CGCW and in various blog comments. Out of curiosity, did you publish the review and score for the offending winery, and have you continued to review said winery?

  11. Terrific post Steve and very pointed questions. I’m pretty certain the word out of Monktown will be total silence. Why would MrParker come here to answer your questions and, therefore, anoint your lowly blog w/ some degree of credibility. He’s already stated his opinions on you pi$$-ant bloggers!!!
    He has nothing to gain and everything to lose by engaging in this discussion. ‘Tain’t a gonna happen.
    But good job of stirring the pot, Steve.
    Tom

  12. David T, I got that email too. I read the first sentence and trashed it, as I recall.

  13. Note to Steve Boyer–

    The winery in question ultimately relented and sent us the second bottle. So, yes, CGCW did review that wine.

    This, however, is a winery that only sells its best products direct to consumers and refused to put me on its list to buy the wines direct, all the while insisting that the only way a reviewer was going to get access to the wines for review by going through him was to taste with him at his winery.

    We have not reviewed another bottle of his wine. And we have stopped buying his wine and others like Kistler which wind up in stores at inflated prices when consumers trade them to retailers for other wines.

    I fully respect the rights of each and every winery to determine how and in what manner they do or do not make their wines available for review. But, it has been our policy from day one at CGCW that we taste all wines blind and in limited numbers per day, all in peer-to-peer tastings. We do accept samples at this point because it would be economic suicide to turn them down when all of our competitors are not paying for them. We probably pay more for wine than most reviewers as it is. And because we are small and private, we have stopped trying to compete with WS or even WE on total volume. Competing with Steve on CA and Paul Gregutt on WA is tough enough.

    Note to John Kelly–

    OK, “cynically complicit” is a construct. The winery owner who (openly and kindly, and whom I like personally) refused to even allow me to buy his wines to review is, in my humble opinion, is engaging in an unfair practice and doing it cynically knowing that he gets “better” ratings. He should, in my view, want honest ratings. He wants three digits for his PN, for goodness sake.

    Complicit has to do with his knowingly supporting reviewers who do one thing and say another. I appreciate that my language is sharp, and it is intentionally so. I have worked in a fair, open, transparent, unbiased manner for over three decades. Why in the world would I be anything but critical of those who claim to be all of those things yet are not?

    Funny thing is that I still pay to read Parker because I like his takes on Bordeaux even though I think his tasting methodology cause his ratings to be high.

  14. Daniel Posner says:

    Steve,

    This was you back in September, telling all of us to stop bothering Robert Parker…and now, everyone applauds you…
    http://www.steveheimoff.com/index.php/2009/09/29/why-do-bloggers-hate-parker/

  15. Daniel, I re-read my earlier post. A few comments. One, I was defending, at least in part, my Baby Boomer generation against attacks from the younger bloggers, as I have ever since I began blogging. I thought bloggers were just wanting Parker to go away, and I tried to explain that he’s still relevant. Which he is. I also defended him and his colleagues against some of the more spurious charges of freebies, etc. which we all accept, and which bloggers will too, if they’re ever in the position to be offered freebies. With today’s post, I’m not attacking Parker, and I’m not siding with bloggers. All I was doing was asking 5 questions whose answers could help clear the air. I’m not anti-Parker or anti-100 point system or anti-Boomer critics or anti-too much influence. As my own sensibilities continue to evolve with respect to blind tasting, tasting at the winery, tasting open with winemakers, etc., I’d simply like some answers to my 5 questions. And I hope I get them.

  16. I need to let readers know that I’m going to Wine Enthusiast’s Toast of the Town event pretty soon, where I’ll be working with my friends and colleagues from the magazine on this wonderful but complicated event. So I probably won’t be able to approve comments for much of the day. I am really sorry about that, and will get comments up asap when I’m back home. Hope to see some of you there at the San Francisco Opera House!

  17. Steve Boyer says:

    Note to Charlie Olken:

    Thanks for the forthright answer. Was curious to know whether the winery in question wanted the good score (and subsequent accolades you were ready to give them) enough to back down on their winery only tasting policy. Glad to hear also that CGCW has not reviewed the wines since.

    While I agree with both you and Steve Heimoff that an unbiased review should be based on tasting wines blind, I would hesitate to hold the winery responsible for making sure its wines are tasted blind. This should be the reviewers responsibility. The winery’s job is to sell wine, so if better scores result from site visits and hand holding of the reviewer then that is the prerogative of each and every winery. Good for you, and others that follow a similar code of tasting ethics, that you play the game by your rules not theirs.

    It is wonderful to see the beginnings of a grass roots movement (would that be a rootstock movement in the wine world???) towards reviewers and wine wonks, bloggers, blobbers and anti-flavor elites being expected to disclose (and also follow) their tasting and sample policies.

    If all reviewers (online or traditional) were as forthright as Mr. Heimoff and yourself then it wouldn’t be up to the sales staff and PR departments of an individual winery to “want honest reviews”. Honest reviews would be the only ones available.

  18. I have huge respect for your platform to ask these questions. I have reservations about whether they will be answered, but great work Mr. Heimoff for asking these tough questions.

    While I am not a wine reviewer on the same scale as you and eRobertParker, I do 90% of my reviews open but never with the wine maker.

    Josh @nectarwine on Twitter

  19. Oh yeah, I can’t believe my eyes. Can I say that you must have some pretty large cajones? I hope you get a very good answer to every one of your well-thought out questions.

  20. Daniel Posner says:

    Steve

    Thanks for the response. The one thing I do enjoy about our back and forth, is that you always respond.

    Nevertheless, we will disagree on one thing…by you asking these “rhetorical’ (IMO) questions, you are attacking Parker.

    We all know his answers by now. He is above the law, and does not have to answer to peasants like you or I.

    So long as people out there continue to believe that he tastes blind whenever possible, that he buys 60% of his wine samples, that he never accepts meals, trips or the like, that he is “influence free” and the “advocate for the consumer” then you and I will just have continue to ask questions and demand the truth. Someday, maybe we will get that truth. Unfortunately, I will not hold my breath.

  21. Morton Leslie says:

    Please do not quote me. It makes me blush and I also say a lot of stupid unreliable things. But then, why should I stop? In the interests of candor, though I’m annoyed by someone pretending to be unbiased when they are, in fact, biased; I should admit that a totally biased review once saved me my job as a winemaker.

    The problem with blind tasting, is it doesn’t make for a good story. In my experience, true blind tasting brings improbable results that are sometimes hard to explain and often bring into question one’s own skills as a taster. (Maybe Morton is as irradic in the tasting booth as he is a commentor.)

    The story that sells seems to the one about the good guys versus the bad guys. It screws up the story if the corporate behemoth makes a better wine than the guy in overalls with mud on his boots. The successful critic is the one that can make a good story out of dependably find sympathetic good guys. You know, the cool guys that don’t filter their wines and practice biodynamic farming. The simple humble individuals in the blue work shirts who don’t use a refractometer and chew grapes instead. The good guys are far removed from those cigar smoking corporate fat cats running those big polluting, refinery-wineries. Blind tasting gets in the way of that story, unless you taste blind then edit your scores after the reveal.

    In regard to Charlie’s question about the percentage of Parker’s CA reviews tasted openly in wineries with the winemaker/owner at his elbow… I think that number has declined with the advent of the association sponsored tasting where the samples are gathered from the appellation, organized and set up for the critic. Here, though the label is showing, there is probably a small reduction in bias since competitors wines are side by side and no winemaker explanations can cloud the issue.

    And there are different levels of blind tasting. If you set up a blind tasting of $200 Cabs that wineries have sent you, and you have someone else bag and number them, it is blind, but subject to bias in the scoring and unrepresentative samples. If you know they are $200 Cabs, you might as well be standing with Bob Levy when giving them a score. But your scores will give you the basis for a consistent story. On the other hand, if an assistant buys retail a large number of Cabernets from every price point, randomly groups and numbers them, without reference to price or appellation, and serves them to you blind you have done your best to remove bias and unrepresentative samples. But do unexplainable results give you the best story that attracts the most readers ?

    I realize there are obstacles to a reliable and un-biased review. I admire the individual who does their best to remove potential bias, and is honest to the reader about where they might be biased or unrepresentative. But I regret it may not be the most successful policy for building readership.

  22. Who’s been eating your porridge?

    Controlled wine tastings are nothing new. Winemaker/ Principal at your elbow tasting are standard operating procedure at production, wholesale and retail levels. Anyone in the wine business knows this.

    Ninety plus scores sell wine so the dance continues. Best of luck getting those five questions answered.

    Jack Nicholson said it best. ” You can’t handle the truth”

  23. Morton,

    The anomalous result is always a challenge. For us, the answer is to retaste the wine to be sure. Had a wine recently, Castle Rock PN Res RRV 2008, outrate a bunch of more expensive wines. We retasted it and pretty much confirmed that this $18 wine deserves a very positive review.

    I can’t speak for Steve, but I would guess that he does not feel very differently about the same issue. I like it when inexpensive wines show well. Finding those wines is one of the responsibilites of comprehensive reviewers. A really good $18 wine is a really good story and part of what we get paid by our readers to do. So is pointing out expensive wines that are not worth the money.

  24. Nice post and all but Question 4 “4. How important do you think consistency is in a critic and, especially, in your own reputation?” are good ones to be asking.

    I dare you or anyone else to find a critic, blogger, human that would answer “It’s not important”

    Otherwise, step by step we need to get rid of these silly points. They are only good for the auction block now a days…

  25. Daniel Posner says:

    I am still amazed that people simply do not get the intent of all of these questions posed over the past couple of years.

    I do not care whether Robert Parker tastes blind. I do not care whether he buys his samples.

    I just want him to be honest with his paying subscribers and the wine world. He built himself up based upon his strict ethical standards of wine reviewing. It appears to have all been a “sham,” a word he recently used to describe 2006 Clos de Tart.

    Let the consumer decide whom to trust, but the person asking for that trust should be truthful with their methods of doing business.

    In other news, 1996 Anne Gros Richebourg last night was certainly no sham.

  26. ed bowers says:

    Parker is a work of art. Never really trust a ‘blind’ tasting fromhim as he spends extentive time at the wineries, and thhen writes his note. Tasting hundreds of wines in a short period does nothing to enhance the scores. IMHO the wineries prepare special bottle for him to obtain high ratings.

    In fact most of his staff act in the same way. Tasting everything in BDX does not help me as many of what he tastes IS NOT AVAIALBLE in the US. Look at the ratings as he does not list a US disytributor for many of these.

  27. All those scores are just opinions, not science, not hard facts, just opinions. Does not matter if it is blind or not. One day consumers and buyers will realize that wine reviews are one opinion from one person at one moment of time. Might take a long time mind you for the system to get burn in a big way, but it will happen. Moody gave AAA ratings to mortgage back securities, those were also opinions (they recently won a lawsuit against them based on their first amendment right to voice an opinion) – at the end of the day the bankers were thinking that Moody’s opinions were good as gold. I think no one will believe a AAA rating is good as gold now.

  28. Charlie, I do like it when an inexpensive wine outshines an expensive one. Many, many times over the years I have given higher scores to a winery’s less expensive wine that to its reserve. Too often, by “reserve” all they mean is a riper, oakier and therefore more unbalanced wine.

  29. Q one for RP- DO YOU SMOKE CIG’S? Why do I ask? Cig smoke kills taste buds which would make complete sense why he loves high octane, loaded oak syrupy wine. “Pairs great with camels”.

    Q two: What’s with the extremely dark circles under your eyes? Reminds me of my old punk rock days… hmmm. Wine makes you sleep, so it can’t be from sleep deprevation.

    Q 3: What makes you a wine pro? Living in Maryland, what do you know, if anything, about the growing grapes? Ya, know the raw material we in this industry put into our wines.
    Ich glaube dass Der nicht davon weiss.

    That’s all the time I’d waste on a joker like Robert Parker.

  30. Steve, I see your point. But while your perception that a “riper, oakier, more unbalanced wine” may not be as good as a fresher, fruitier one, this perception is solely yours, and is certainly different from a significant percentage of other wine drinkers perceptions.
    On the other hand, the properties/”quality-indicators” you mentioned (riper/lower yields; oakier/longer term oak aging) are intrinsic to that wine’s nature and, therefore, independent of the individual taster’s palate or preference.
    This is why I stress the importance of disclosing grape-growing and winemaking techniques to consumers: it is infinitely easier for consumers to correlate their individual preferences with these “quality indicators” than with the subjectivity of the palate, and preferences, of various professional tasters.

  31. Peter: Tempest in a teapot. First of all, of course the perception is solely mine. Never said otherwise. Second, technique is always available to consumers. Of course, you can’t put it all on the label cuz there’s not enough room. But if a consumer is curious enough, he or she can go onto the web and usually find out.

  32. How do I get my wines reviewed by Parker, Olken, Heimoff? Is that process unbiased? Do all reviews get published?

  33. David Vergari says:

    Steve…I have several takes regarding your post and comments thus far.

    In my view you have definitely called out Robert Parker–in a diplomatic, polite way–but nonetheless it’s all that. BTW, I wouldn’t make any bets on the likelihood of a reply from Monkton, MD.

    In the mid-nineties, I was a cellar-rat in the Napa Valley. One day, the winemaker informed me that RP was going to pay a visit and that he, the winemaker, was “pandering” to Parker in order to get higher scores. When any reviewer sits down to taste with the winery there’s bound to a “Winemaker-effect” on his or her perceptions.

    The disclosure of winegrowing methods in the belief this will make it easier for consumers is complete rubbish.

    Now, Steve, let’s discuss your 87-point rating for one of my efforts!!! LOL!!!

  34. The notion that a forty or fifty or even seventy-five word wine review should address everything from site to soils to viticultural to vinicultural practices before it even gets to organoleptic impressions is one that wholly misses the point when it comes to what consumers want.

    Consumers want to know (a) how does the wine smell, taste, finish, (b) how much did the reviewer like it, and, maybe (c) how long and how well will it age. All of the comprehensive reviewers publish thousands and thousands of reviews per year. The readers of those writings are simply not going to read through thousands and thousands of descriptions of place and technique just so that they can learn what Mr. O’ Connor says are correlations between their individual taste preferences and quality indicators.

    That kind of thinking would send the millions of wine buyers off on fool’s errands while they try to figure out why Ramey Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay varies from year to year and in some years is better than his wine from the Ritchie Vineyard and in some years not. Quality indicators and taste preferences are not going to lead to decision-making between those two wines or the dozens more of fairly similarly constructed offerings from the makers of Chards from those sites and Hyde Vyd and Durell and Sangiacomo.

    But, well-researched, carefully framed, authoritative organoleptic evaluations from seasoned reviewers will. And first and foremost, those evaluatiions need to occur in neutral setting as free from bias as possible. No “correlation” is going to make up for a taster being biased by the setting in which the wine is sampled.

  35. Food for thought, Steve, and others…

    Parker published these remarks, in 2003, in his 4th Edition book on Bordeaux…

    “With regards to vintages in bottle, I prefer to taste these wines in what is called a ‘blind tasting.’…For bottled Bordeaux, I purchase the wines at retail, and USUALLY conduct all my tastings under single blind conditions…”

    Do you believe any of it?

  36. Daniel: I believe it in the same context in which Parker expressed it: usually. i.e., Not always.

  37. Dear BradK: Can’t speak for any of the others, but I review every wine sent to me. Not all reviews are published in Wine Enthusiast’s Buying Guide, due solely to space limitations. However, all reviews are published online, in our free database of reviews.

  38. David: 87 is by Wine Enthusiast’s definition a Very Good wine.

  39. I thought that Steve acknowledged that when he does his road trips, like to Santa Barbara recently, that he tastes with winemakers like Richard Sanford. Don’t these tasting sessions directly or indirectly end up in tasting scores and notes? I must be misremembering.

  40. “However, all reviews are published online, in our free database of reviews.”

    FYI: This service only seems to work with the IE browser, not with Google’s Chrome (my preference for its speed) or Firefox.

  41. Steve,

    And the part that he purchases the wine at retail? No usually there.

  42. Daniel: Let’s see the receipts.

  43. Tom, I am immediately bringing this to the attention of our IT people. Thanks.

  44. Tom, yes you are misremembering. I did taste with Richard, but explained carefully that this was not for formal reviewing. It was just for conversation. Richard later submitted the wines for formal review to me at home, where I tasted them in my usual manner. I’m always happy to taste wine informally with winemakers, so we can talk about what they’re doing, and their hopes and dreams. But I do not formally review with them.

  45. Daniel Posner says:

    FYI, Wine Enthusiast online reviews work on Firefox for me.

    Steve,

    I would love to see the receipts as well. Are we really supposed to believe that he purchased 2007 BDX stateside for review?

    Are we that foolish?

    Apparently so.

  46. Daniel, I have no idea. People can claim whatever they want. Proof is something else.

  47. John Lahart says:

    One question was left out!
    “Are you now or have you ever been….?”
    Steve:
    Really, what’s the point? Where are you going with these questions? Is there evidence in the content of any significant number of reviews that something is amiss?
    On the front of every issue of the WA the opening statement to a fairly elaborate description of Parker’s methodology etc. :

    “WHEN POSSIBLE, all of my tastings are done in peer group single blind conditions.”

    His criteria and methodology is described in detail.

    If there is some problem with any critic or wine writer’s work then it is certainly appropriate to state it and provide some supporting evidence. Hundreds of professionals taste and evaluate wines knowing what the wines are and often do so in the presence of a person(s) with a vested interest in selling the wines. If a writer’s work is dishonest then the evidence will be in the work (trust the tale not the teller).

    This whole thing has lured in a relatively small group of conspiracy nuts (let’s subpoena all the sales receipts–and maybe get some DNA samples from tasting glasses and…). I am sure that was not your intent.

  48. John, my intent was to shed further light on Bob’s tasting practices. I asked what percent of his wines are tasted blind. Since we know it’s not 100%, then the hedge “when possible” allows for the possibility that most of the wines he tastes are “open.” And I believe I have presented a strong argument that open tasting is not objective. It has its strengths, just as blind tasting has its weaknesses, but in my judgment open tasting should be held to a minimum, and people certainly have the right to know whether a review was blind or open.

  49. John Lahart says:

    Steve
    I think there is some confusion over wine tasting and evaluation. I read your piece “Blind Tasting as a Revolutionary Act.” I would recommend Peynaud on the subject (The Taste of Wine”) who explains the various goals and the blind vs non blind aspects in attaining each.

    The purpose of any wine tasting is important. I would note that thousands of professionals taste and critically evaluate wine totally non blind every day; and often in the presence of the wine maker or other vested interest in selling the wine. All this talk of “bias” yet no real explanation. Just what kind of “bias” are we talking about?

    It is a great myth that somehow one must taste wine blind to be able to be “objective” about it; that somehow blind tasting “ensures” some sort of fairness let alone objectivity. You seem to ignore the basic fact that were any critic to write good reviews of bad wine he/she would quickly lose credibility and be out of business. If anything, a wine with a reputation or high price etc would face a higher hurdle when tasted by any critic who “knew” the wine’s provenance.

    When Parker writes a note when reviewing, say, Bordeaux for the WA blindly in a peer group the goal of the tasting is one thing. When he tastes it with food and writes a note in the Hedonists Gazette the perspective changes. I would posit that there are truths in each instance. It is up to the consumer to apply some of their perspective and value each accordingly.

    The conclusion of your blind tasting piece is IMOP faulty–to a fault! That completely tasting wines blindly would “level the playing field.” That “playing field needs no leveling in the first place. The consumers always make the final assessment. Critics like Parker are basically tasting the wine, describing it and offering a recommendation to the consumer to try it themselves.

    Parker already regularly tastes hundreds of wines that sell for under, say, $15 a bottle and recommends them. He has also tasted numerous expensive or highly reputed wines and written less than glowing reviews. I am including most major critics (not just RMP) here.

    So there is a myth that the “playing field” is somehow less than level as things stand–blind or open. Let’s be honest here. Consumers almost always taste wines openly! What person can not–knowing the producer, grape, vintage and price of any wine say–I like this or I don’t like this.

    Yes, I have a marketing background and I know all about the focus groups and constructed tests. Yeah six outta ten choose the $10 Prosecco over the Dom! (more people are happy with their Nissan Sentra’s than Ferrari owners!) I do know that most people after paying for a wine (any wine) they do not like are quick to complain! especially if it was heavily/aggressively “sold” or possesses a big name label and/or price tag.

    The truth is, most every wine covered in the WA (and most other publications) is recommended. Some more than others. In the end the consumer offers the final thumbs up (or down). So blind or open–just taste the wine and honestly tell me what you think!

  50. John, everything you say is true, to a point. But for me the bottom line is simply that it’s impossible to taste alongside the producer and not be influenced. At least, that’s the way it is with me and just about every other critic I know. Mr. Parker may be that rare anomaly, the critic who can taste at Latour or Harlan and not be influenced by his surroundings, his feelings for his host, etc. By the way Prof. Peynaud’s book is one of my Bibles.

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