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Tuesday Tributes
How To Judge A Wine Critic—Use The Caesar’s Wife Rule

By Charles Olken

It is simple enough. The world needs to apply the Caesar’s Wife Rule in judging the ethics and independence of wine critics. Let them do nothing that makes them suspect in any way.

Steve Heimoff in his contributions to this topic allowed that some of the things that Parker and his minions have done do not set off alarm bells for him. That is true to some extent, because so much of what Parker or any other useful critic does in genuine and above suspicion—but not all. Some of what Parker states as policy are exceptions to the rule. Heimoff has done an admirable job of breaking down the Parker policies and analyzing them. You can find his comments at:

But then, Heimoff writes, “Loopholes are funny things. Everybody uses them.” In response, I offer the following:

With all due respect, Loopholes are nothing more--loopholes.

I see no reason why there need to be loopholes for most of what Parker mentions. Go back and look at those loopholes. They constitute the bulk of his highest ratings and all of his so-called bargain priced wines.

I see no reason why wine critics should taste wine for evaluative review in a variety of settings. Taste the wine in your tasting setting and in the same numbers. Routine may be boring but it is also the path to consistency.

I see no reason why wine critics should ever taste wine for review with the labels showing and at the wineries. It is not enough to be transparent about this practice, about which most writers are not including Parker. This practice is tantamount to payola for new wines. Knowing that one is tasting Screaming Eagle at Screaming Eagle or DRC at DRC is the pathway to exaggerated ratings. When I asked a winery owner if he thought that this practice was intellectually honest, he replied, “I get better scores that way”.

There is a simple standard. It applies to Parker and his minions. It applies to me and it applies to you. It is the caesar’s wife rule. Do we follow practices that leave our ratings above suspicion? If we do not, then our ratings are suspect.

Sadly for all writers, when someone like Parker or the folks in New Zealand who charge for reviews do things that raise big suspicions, all of us who try to write unbiased, independent reviews come under suspicion.


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by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:12/14/2011 8:42:33 AM

Charlie and Thomas have found complete agreement...

I suspect that the reason for the "loopholes" can be found buried in the reasons behind why a wine critic is a wine critic.

Like you say, Charlie, "...critics should taste wine for evaluative review..."

Although I pulled that phrase out of context, it is almost exactly what most critics don't do--unless you consider that they are evaluating themselves and not the wine.

Complete Agreement
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:12/14/2011 9:08:07 AM

Mr. P--

My day has been made, and it's only 810 AM here.


Why Blind Taste?
by Jason
Posted on:12/15/2011 1:47:31 PM

   Mr. Olken,

    This is just personal oppinion, but blind tasting as an issue is kind of a non-starter.  Should the film critic not know they are watching a Terrence Malick Film?  Does the literary critic need to avoid the knowledge that the book they are reading was written by Philip Roth?  I understand that the wine experience is set and setting dependant, but not wholly.  To suggest otherwise would render wine criticism a pointless endeavour 

     In order for wine criticism to be a valid form, there must be tangible and discernible qualties that are being critiqued.  These qualities would stand up regardless of what prior knowledge or bias held by the critic.  Again, suggesting suspicion means that there is no way to independently confirm or validate a critique.

   Lastly, it is impossible to recreate an exact tasting experience from glass to glass, let alone year to year.  Physical, emotional and environmental conditions are by nature not static.  So try as one might, you can not state that wines were ever judged under identical conditions.  For these reasons I find no objection to the critic having as much information as possible when exploring a wine.


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