Last week saw the circus that is UGC week in Bordeaux. The wine trade: merchants, critics, hangers-on: the whole lot in Bordeaux tasting these 2009 clarets that are going to dominate the next couple of months if you do what I do for a living. I’m afraid that they’ll dominate here for a while, too.
We could all save ourselves a few quid and just wait for Big Bob’s scores and the prices. So much of the buying at the top end is going to be Parker-score-dependent that, to be honest, it doesn’t really matter what I think, nor most of the critics. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that, as far as the UK market is concerned, my office and its collective residents have more influence and swing than the UK wine hacks. And rightly so: writing that Chateau X is brilliant and that Chateau Y isn’t is relatively easy, and has little comeback. We’ve (a) got to get the chequebook out and (b) encourage our customers to do the same with the confidence that we know what we’re on about. Get this wrong and we’ll have no customers with chequebooks – not the best long-term view.
Reading what the hacks have to say is very, very interesting (twitter again). Robert Parker is letting very little out on the 2009s, save for that he reckons they’ll be pricey (really? No…). Jancis is as ever quite honest: saying that she likes some wines very much, but holding back on the vintage of the century stuff. James Suckling loves them.
The trouble is with being a wine critic is this: ideally, we’d like them all to be saying the same thing. If all of the trade and all of the hacks like and/or dislike the same thing then our buying decisions should be easier. But they don’t. Now, half of this or more is probably down to the taste thing: the Coca-Cola American palate vs the educated English palate, the best example of which is/was the 2003 Pavie debate.
But the other half, or more or less, is journalism’s curse. Wine hacks might knock the trade for, say, hyping a vintage, but we’ve all got something to sell. In the case of the journos it’s the words, the opinions, and if you’re selling the same stuff as everyone else, well, what’s the point? And the nature of the journo’s job is that speciality, niche work – such as cask samples of Bordeaux – is tricky, too focussed to be profitable. My point? They don’t all know what they’re on about, they can get things wrong.
If there is a specialist in this field – calling the success of a vintage while it’s still in nappies (or, more accurately, diapers), it’s Robert Parker. But I wonder, wonder many things. Such as: just for how long can a man stay at the top of his game? Just how much does age change one’s palate (at 39 I reckon mine is just starting to motor, and to understand. To appreciate both sophisticated austerity and beguiling puppy fat)? And, here’s the thing: just how long can you keep your ego in check?
Big Bob (and, I have so much respect for what this man has done I have to note it) rated the 2008s when no one else did, not even the guys that made them. Talk to anyone in the trade and they’ll tell you that he underscored the top 2005s (Margaux 98+ points? More like 101…). Why? This has to be more than taste. But is it a change of palate or something else? Is there some swagger in the scores?
I repeat: it’s easy to be a critic, and easier still to criticise the critics. Take the plank of wood out of your own eye before removing the splinter from someone else’s is, roughly, what Jesus said. So: remove plank and go and taste these bastards for myself is the plan. But why on earth should you believe me? I’ve got some wine to sell….