Monday, May 4, 2015

Rating Bordeaux 2014: My Methodology

Before the unveiling of my anxiously anticipated scores for 2014 Bordeaux (many of which fall between 90 and 98 points, and have pretty much been randomly assigned), I thought it might be appropriate to outline my methodology. The real question is, which comes first, the methodology or the outline? I never even realized I had a methodology until I began the outline. I find that my methodology is a hindrance at primeurs week in Bordeaux, and that, for a methodology, it’s pretty much improvised anyway. For example, I taste all the wines blind, except the ones that I’m not able to. I’d tell you which are which, but, frankly, you’d misinterpret that information because you’re simply unqualified.

It's important to understand how we major wine critics review and rate wines, especially from an important region like Bordeaux. In this brief essay, now appearing in full over at Tim Atkin's legendary site, I discuss my methodology. As one of the world's leading wine critics, I endorse transparency, especially in silk panties. Which chafe, by the way, and I think I'll remove them. 

As always, please make my British publisher happy and leave your always witty comments on his site, or, if you don't have a six-year-old handy to show you how, feel free to leave them here, as is your custom.


I have had this perverse thought lately that Rosé’s popularity might be mirroring the once popular Beaujolais Nouveau’s. Walk into many small wine shops these days and you’ll see a large display of Rosés. Dozens of Rosés, of all shades of pink. It looks like some sort of display of lipstick shades, or a dermatologist’s guide to sunburnt white people. And those displays are going up earlier and earlier in the year; the pressure on producers to bottle and sell their new vintage of Rosé as quickly as possible is nuts, but tangible. Consumers’ taste for Rosé seems unquenchable. There was a time Beaujolais Nouveau was that drink.

It wasn’t that many years ago, let’s say about 25, you could walk into a wine shop and see a couple of dozen Beaujolais Nouveau for sale. All of them damned insipid and uninspired. And somehow people had become convinced that Nouveau was the perfect Thanksgiving wine. Where did that come from? It’s a terrible match for Thanksgiving dinner, like every other wine. Beaujolais Nouveau is not a food wine. Hell, it’s not a wine wine.

When I was first a sommelier and the Beaujolais Nouveau release in November came around, I had to order 30 or 40 cases to pour by the glass, and then usually have to reorder. By Christmas, no one cared, but in that month or so, we’d sell a lot. Then the Beaujolais Nouveau craze just died. By the time I was nearing the end of my career, I wasn’t ordering any at all. And no one asked for it either. Demand just dried up. In the words of the great Clara Peller, “Where’s DuBoeuf?”

Rosé, of course, has a long tradition, and is far better wine than Beaujolais Nouveau. But I wonder if the current fad for Rosé isn’t a lot like the old days of Nouveau. Only a few years ago, you’d have been hard pressed to find more than a few California Rosés, now there are hundreds. I don’t make it a habit of tasting that many domestic Rosés. I don’t have to. I don’t envy those of you who do (you have my love and condolences, Samantha). Too many are outright terrible, a ringing memory of so much Beaujolais Nouveau. Rosé is in its heyday right now, up front in large floor stacks, pink and ready. I wonder if that will be true ten years from now.


Unknown said...

Sounds like a nightmare.. can never understand the fellatial drivel wine bloggers give these barrel tasting trips.. oh change that, I do, they wanna go on another freebie trip.. but why?? the whole thing seems about as much fun as sticking pins in your eyes, you ever do one Ron?? You seem to know the drill...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I've never had any reason to taste Bordeaux en primeurs, and it's been a really long time since I've been on a junket (unless you count my freebie room at WOPN). I don't need to know the drill, really, it's painfully obvious.

This piece was inspired by a piece Jancis wrote:

I found it rather amusing and oddly presumptuous--the presumption being we care. So I wrote my own version.

I was recently invited on a junket to Chile! Yikes. Haven't decided whether to go or not. But I do love me some baby back, baby back, baby back ribs.

Charlie Olken said...

I have always loved pink wines--about twice a year--served very cold on hot days.

We used to have a pink wine in these parts made by every winery that was looking for cash flow, including Ridge and David Bruce, if memory serves. It was called White Zinfandel, although some upscale wineries preferred to call theirs Vin De Gris as if Grey were somehow more classy than Pink.

By the way, I was disappointed to learn that you did not review manipulated Bordeaux samples the same way you review books. Why go to Bordeaux when you can review the wines from you easy chair up there in Healdsburg?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

White Zin is not Rose, of course. Is White Zin still as popular as it was fifteen years ago? Does Sutter Home still sell a zillion cases a year? I hope not.

I don't recall Ridge ever making a White Zin, but you'd know. I just can't see Paul Draper giving in and making one, but anything is possible.

Stephen Brook did rate the 2014 Bordeaux without tasting them on his guest post here. I have to compare his numbers to the "real" ones from critics who were at en primeur week. I know they're pretty close in most cases. The en primeur tasting is one of those old wine rituals that just won't die, though it has long outlived its usefulness, sort of like tastevins. And yet everybody who is somebody attends. Except Parker, who has the common sense to know when a ritual is pointless. So he sends a flunky. So "Downton Abbey"

Aaron said...

I'll agree with you on Rose. There are some wonderful Rose's out there, but there a whole lotta fad crap that tastes like fat, bloated sweet grape juice that happens to have alcohol.

Of course, I just had a perfectly lovely Rose from Tavel this weekend, and I think I'm going to like the style from there so I'm going to go have to pick up some more next time I'm in the mood.

Paul in St. Augustine said...

I sold David Bruce wines in the late 90's and through the middle of the oughts. On one of my visits he told the story about making White Zin around 1964 in a slightly dry style and commenting "I really like this kind of wine, but I don't think it has any future".

Ron Washam, HMW said...

At least in CA, there are a lot of folks making "Rose" that don't seem to have a clue. They should be the ones tasting Tavel. Rose is just so hot right now, I wonder whether it will go the way of Nouveau. Just as a marketing example and not as a measure of quality. I love good Rose, but never had a Nouveau worth talking about.

That's interesting. One would assume it was saignee, but with the lower Brix prevalent in those days, it might have been pretty tasty wine. He was only about ten years too early and a couple million cases shy of getting rich. Not that he cared.

Unknown said...

You mean you don't care what Jancis goes through to taste en primeur.. went and read the drivel she wrote, jeessuss.. hard to parody that, but nice try.. in my suggestion that Jancis Robinson could morph into a giant metal monster in a Michael Bay movie, maybe it could just be her ego instead..

Ron Washam, HMW said...

The response I got from Tim Atkin to my piece was, "Fantastic piece. And everything you say is correct." And yet the entire Bordeaux spectacle will be repeated next year, and the year after, and the year after that. If only we could get some Michael Bay Transformer to destroy the whole thing--though then how would I know which Bordeaux to buy on futures? Oh, that's right, I don't care. Like pretty much everyone else on the planet.

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron Love,
I'm a french wine specialist and even I can't seem to muster up a steaming shit to give about Bordeaux. Never been my circus that mess and thankfully our market drinks deeply from the limestone soils of Chablis and the Loire far more than they do those fucked with and clunky wines of Bordeaux. Not sure if we learned them that-a-way or our lack of shit giving chased off the buyers but, well we have a small and very unfancified Bordeaux department, and a bottle here and there of fancy locked up in a special case for those that need to dump a ton of cash, and integrity.

Feeling my pain isn't one I hear often so I will take that for sure! By early February I had already tasted nearly 200 roses this year. 200 for fucks sake! I'm not sure you remember my Zin Face, well the "I've got a Rose you need to try" face is pretty damn close.

We will sell between 600 and 800 cases of Rose this year, just like every other year of the 18 we've been stocking them. Our shop took the lead on Rose nearly 20 years ago so as I assume you know, (hence the condolences) I taste more Rose than anyone, and each year not only does it double, the wines are shipped to market way before they are in fact Sweet Ron, your comparison is far more astute than you might even know. Been on more than one rant about that one and flipping through my notes I promise you, there are lots of, "bananas" and "bubblegum" as the majority of aromatic impressions. Now what does that remind us of?!

That said, I don't see Rose going by way of The Duboeuf, not completely anyway. I forsee a drop off in the Domestic market, and after looking at, and discounting piles of rushed to market, so-so, Rose, I think the number of skus will drop, but for the great, crispy, mouth-tingling summer Roses, that as I stated earlier, we will move through hundreds of cases of, those won't go away, simply because of their usefulness with food and as ultimate refreshment. Now, Our Adorable Funny Man, grower Champagne....some of those could, and should, be Duboeufed and STAT! Importers done gone plum loco for the stuff and just because it is made by a charming little farmer, in lots less than 500 cases, doesn't make it good. Just tossing you an extra nugget of my pain to feel. Shitty bubbles are for worse than craptstic and insipid (which is not synonymous with Pinot Noir Rose love) Rose.

Reddangel said...

Ring a ring of Rose, pocket full of pose - atishoo, atishhoo - they all fall down.

The winemakers are the sneezes here, they don't make it as a wine (mostly) just a cash cow that will go out of fashion as quickly as the bare look of no mascara. Ron I am sure you are always fully blacked up and bare arsed, just as you should be.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

"Blacked up and bare arsed" is the title of my upcoming autobiography! How'd you know?

There's a lot of bad domestic Rose on the market, which hurts the folks making the good stuff. As you say, it's cheap to produce and quick to market, so wineries will ramp it up until there's a huge Rose bubble, which will burst like a month-old zit. And then they'll begin to talk about how much better Rose is with a year in bottle...

Bob Henry said...

Ridge White Zin:

Who'd a thunk it?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Well, when Charlie said Ridge once produced White Zinfandel, I just assumed it was true--Charlie's never wrong about CA wine. But thanks for the link. Paul Draper's explanation is priceless. I love that they made some of it just to keep some empty barrels moist. So it DID have a purpose! Ah, the good old days.

Unknown said...

Is Rose the nouveau Nouveau? (grammer joke!)

I think rose was cool when you could walk into a wine shop that carried three, and two of them were really good (and cheap). Now every local winery is making a $20 rose, and they're usually just okay. I can see why you're losing your excitement for rose. Can I suggest a nice gruner veltliner?