Critics and criticism.

It’s easy to be a critic, to criticise, and it’s easy for me to criticise the critics.  So here goes:

I follow Robert Parker on Twitter, along with Jancis Robinson, James Suckling & Neal Martin.  Twitter for me is about choosing your news, choosing what you want to hear, and I want to hear what these guys say.  Robert Parker has been described, quite accurately, as “the most powerful critic of any kind, any where”.  He is the Daddy, the Don.  Jancis Robinson, wine writer for the Financial Times, is probably the leading UK wine critic, though Neal Martin (now employed by Robert Parker’s “Wine Advocate”) is snapping at her heels.  James Suckling of the Wine Spectator is top of my list as he’s the only one that I can say for certain has been to a Crystal Palace match.  The influence of the Wine Spectator might not be as strong as that of the Wine Advocate but that Mr Suckling is a journalist shows: he can write, and write well, and he can taste.  Bear in mind that George W. was the most powerful man on Earth for a few years…

Back to Twitter.  Just before the Oscars, Big Bob tweeted his picks for who should win.  His best film pick: Avatar.

I’ve seen Avatar and I’ve seen The Hurt Locker.  The former in 3D, the latter on DVD.  In terms of what’s best it’s not even a question as far as I’m concerned: Hurt Locker.  A plot.  Drama.  Nervous, nervous, tension.  Brilliant acting.  And truly, truly thought provoking.  What on earth are our guys doing there?  After watching it I recommended the film to a friend with such force I frightened him.  And he’s a big bloke.

Avatar: for me this is a celebration of technology rather than anything else.  Awesome effects, yes, but I did rather feel that I’d lost a couple of hours of my life to a long advert for computer generated imagery.  It’s the technology, the creation behind Avatar that impresses, the only thought provoked was: it’s amazing what they can do these days.

My point here: I think The Hurt Locker better than Avatar.  Robert Parker thinks the other way round.  Neither of us is right.  So, if Robert Parker thinks 1996 Lafite-Rothschild better than 1996 Latour, and I think the other way round (it’s about class) then is this the same?  Yes.  Neither of us is right.  It’s an opinion.

Mr Parker has already tasted the 2009 clarets.  I’m going next month.  I’m not sure of the timing though Ms Robinson and Messrs Suckling and Martin will taste them too (though JS is going to have to write fast if he’s to be first out of the trap with his scores).  Mr Parker’s take on the vintage, along with his scores on the wines, should be published at the end of April, and then we should see the wines being released for sale.  No serious chateau, save maybe for the odd renegade, will release their wines before the judgement of Bob is released.  This is the man’s power.

I have the privilege of being able to taste these wines myself.  I will be able to make my own mind up about what’s good, what’s better and what’s best.  When prices are released, I’ll also be able to make a decision on what’s worth it and what’s not.  But the end buyers will not.  So who do you trust?  If you’re speculating then it’s almost certainly Parker (and I have a feeling he hates this) because it doesn’t matter if you like it or not: you just want the return.  But what if you’re not?

What fascinates me about this is who people follow, and why.  A number of my customers know that (a) I know what I’m talking about and (b) I know what they like and dislike.  This is the old-fashioned trust in one’s merchant that doesn’t seem to exist in the same way that it used to.  But not all do, and maybe not all trust me (my job is to sell them something, after all).  So, if you’re not going to trust me then who do you trust?  It’s the same question as to trusting me but compounded.

Of the four “critics” mentioned so far I know who I rate and in what order.  I’ve tasted the same wines in the same place at more or less the same time as all of them; I’ve done same in exactly the same place and at the same time as three of them.  I’ve seen a very impressive blind pick from one of them.  I know who I rate but, if you’re going to take my word for that, then why not take my picks?  You’re still lost.

This is one of many flaws in the en-primeur system: so much relies on trust.  I find it remarkable that someone might not trust me, but is happy to trust some bloke in the States that he’s never even spoken to.  This without the whole palate thing (do you like coffee or tea?).

What’s my beef here?  What’s my chip?  There isn’t one really.  If Robert Parker likes Avatar more than I do then, well: it’s the tea or coffee thing.  You put sugar in it?  Weird.

And if you want a real trip go see “Shutter Island”.