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THURSDAY THORNS
11/20/2014
Wine Serendipity

By Charles Olken

I always like it when there is plenty of news in wine country. The blogosphere explodes with commentary, and all of us, including yours truly, feel the need to comment—even when we know little about the topic at hand. It makes for amusing times, and, as I sit here contemplating the week that was, I am quite pleased with the way things have gone down.

Galloni Buys Tanzer

In the wine critic world, there is one big dog when it comes to subscriber-based newsletters, and that is Robert Parker. We all know that Parker and his publication, The Wine Advocate, has gone through some major changes of late, but no matter how one slices it, he is still the voice that moves the market. Whether he should or should not be, whether his rating system is the best or the worst thing in wine criticism, whether his days are numbered or not are all topics that have been debated and will continue to be debated.

But, and this is the first takeaway for me in the current discussion of wine newsletters, Parker and The Advocate reign supreme and will continue to dominate the field.

Antonio Galloni, once anointed by Parker to be part of the succession at The Wine Advocate, went off on his own a couple of years ago, and while he has a few followers, he essentially was stalled. The other day, he purchased Steve Tanzer’s newsletter and the staff and resources along with it. That move does elevate Galloni’s standing because it allows him to stand on Tanzer’s shoulders. But, time will tell whether it allows Galloni and company to emerge as a power player in the wine review field or whether he will remain, as he has been, in the second tier along with Tanzer, Connoisseurs’ Guide, California Grapevine, Burghound and a handful of others all making a living but only occasionally moving the needle the way Parker and the slick-paper, pretty-picture wine mags can.

Parker and The One-Hundred Point Scandal

In the most recent edition of The Wine Advocate, Mr. Parker personally set about to review the wines of the Napa Valley, and, in so doing, he managed to throw around 100-point scores like they were candy corn on Halloween. Here’s a handful for little Timmy and some for Brittany, and, oh, while we are at it, let’s toss in one-hundred points for a couple of dozen others. “I like your costume (label), here is a bag of centuries for you and you and you”.

What this largesse has done is to make a mockery of itself since there are now more one-hundred point scores in Napa in one review than there has ever been in history. It used to be that Parker/WA undervalued California wine relative to the rest of the world. It is tempting to say that he now overvalues it, but frankly, 100-points has become the coin of the realm. If you don’t have one, you ain’t nothin’.

Now, aside from the fact, that I personally decry this incredible extension of grade inflation, what it has wrought in the blogosphere are several attempts to say that California wine in now so much better than ever that it now earns those corpulent ratings. Well, not so fast. Regardless of my personal admiration for Mr. Parker’s knowledge, hard work, career, I am simply dumbfounded that he is undoing the value of his work this way. One needs only to go back and taste older wines to know that whatever advances have been made in the recent wines, they are not scads better than say, the 2007s or the 2009s or lots of earlier vintages.

To his credit, Steve Tanzer never engaged in out-and-out grade inflation. Galloni, on the other hand did. Parker is forcing their collective hands, and ours as well. In one going-to-bed moment last night, it occurred to me that what CGCW could do to keep our scores au courant would be to go back and simply adjust everything upwards by three or four points or five points. I smiled at that mad thought and went to bed. As I write this in the morning after, I am still amused. Parker has changed the world again, and he has made most wine ratings into utter irrelevancy if they do not carry numbers starting at 95 or 96.

When it comes to ratings, the world has gone mad, and, sadly, Mr. Parker’s is the first and most obvious cause of this phenomenon. If there is anything that will ultimately undo his empire, it is the notion that any wine that does not score 96-100 is to be ignored. It must be thus since nearly every wine he reviews from Napa rated at 90 and above, and, folks, as good as they are, they are not that good.

The Petaluma Gap

I think you can tell from what Steve Eliot wrote two days ago, and from my appended comments, that we like the idea of redefining the exaggerated Sonoma Coast AVA into smaller and more workable, identifiable, meaningful pieces. It is worth saying again. This proposed AVA is mostly about wine coming from an area with consistent weather influences and thus has the ability to produce wines that are more or less consistent when made in the predominant style.

We are hopeful that more and more of the so-called Sonoma Coast, which runs from the Pacific Ocean to the Bay, will get more specifically defined. That would be a good thing. It is the most hopeful thing that has happened this week.


 

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Comments

A Tip Of The Hat
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:11/20/2014 10:32:05 AM

In my morning haze, as I penned this morning's screed, I forgot to give a giant tip of the hat to the single best commentary on the 100-Point scandal.

It is offered by Ron Washam over on the Hosemaster of Wine blog.

Click this link:

http://www.hosemasterofwine.blogspot.com/

The Hosemaster has got it spot on.

I must have been inspired by his words, although truth be told that my version of The Wine Advocate just arrived yesterday so I had not seen the excess that is found in those pages until I sat down with them last night.

Parker/Wine Advocate
by Bob Noyes
Posted on:12/3/2014 3:15:57 AM

I have said for many years that you have to routinely subtract 3 or 4 points from Parker's ratings to get them close. Because of this, I do not usually make purchase decisions from The WA ratings. Now it's 5 or 6 or more? How are even Parker loyalists going to use that new skewed scale ?   

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