This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Friday, Dec. 7, 2007 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20071207.php.
Parker swings, misses
American wine critic Robert M. Parker Jr. has been dubbed "The Emperor of Wine." He reportedly has a $1 million insurance policy on his nose, and his print newsletter, The Wine Advocate, is influential far beyond its 40,000 circulation.
I respect Parker for his consistency. But, like a lot of other wine geeks I know, I find the wines he rates in the 90- to 100-point range to be too big, alcoholic and fruit-forward for me. The wines he dismisses in the 80-point range tend to be the kind of more subtle and elegant wines that I enjoy.
That's all right. Different strokes, etc. But Parker's Aug. 29, 2007 report on six new 2005 releases from one of my favorite California wineries, Edmunds St. John, crosses a line for me.
Parker rates these wines from 84 to 87 on his famous 100-point scale, which seems fair enough. Edmunds St. John is one of the few California producers that makes wines with a consistent European sensibility, respecting the soil ("terroir") in which they're grown. They're wines meant to age, and wines meant to go with food; and thus perhaps not to the liking of a critic who seems to prefer amped-up, concentrated wines better suited for cocktail-style sipping.
But the language accompanying the reviews reads not merely as critical but mean-spirited, almost snide. "There appears to be a deliberate attempt to make French-styled wines," Parker wrote. "Of course, California is not France, and therein may suggest (sic) the problem. If you want to make a French wine, do it in France."
Then, "Edmunds St. John's current releases all possess good aromatics, but ... 'where's the beef?'" Pejorative terms like "the wine doesn't deliver," "little weight or depth and virtually no finish," "innocuous" and "one-dimensional and superfluous in the mouth" (huh?) pepper the reviews. "... a low brow (sic) version of a French Côtes du Rhône"?
It almost seems as if these wines made Parker angry. You're tempted to visualize the Emperor of Wine stamping his foot and yelling, "Off with their heads!"
Yet in another respected wine journal, Steve Tanzer's International Wine Cellar, critic Josh Raynolds had reviewed the Edmunds St. John 2005 releases in May and, with surprising consistency, rated them five points above the lackluster ratings that Parker would deliver in August.
Raynolds' tasting reports were consistently laudatory where Parker's would be pejorative. The wine that Parker dissed as "lowbrow Rhone" earned Raynolds' praise as "Southern Rhone in style ... a great value." Parker's "doesn't deliver" became Raynolds' "Bright and energetic ... elegant, very refreshing." And so it went, from one end of the line to the other.
Who had it right? There was just one way to find out for sure: Taste them myself. I asked Steve Edmunds to send me a set of the wines (which weren't yet available locally); and to help temper my own prejudices - I'm a great admirer of Edmunds and his wines, and I know it - I asked a group of my regular tasting pals, local sommeliers and wine experts, to join me in tasting through the six wines, first analytically and then again with appropriate food on the table.
To put it mildly, we could not concur in Parker's findings. As with any opinionated group of serious wine "geeks," opinions varied on individual wines. But overall, as the evening-long tasting wore on, the disconnect between the Parker commentary and reality became too obvious to ignore. These are honest, well-made and consistently enjoyable wines, wines that focus more on elegance and subtle restraint than in-your-face fruit, and that's the way we like them. The more "serious" single-vineyard Syrahs will benefit from significant aging; all of them, again in the European tradition, hit their stride when served with food.
But "innocuous"? "One-dimensional"? I don't think so. I don't do points; I'd rather tell you how I perceived the wines and invite you to use your own judgement. But they certainly win my strong recommendation. Buy 'em if you can find 'em. (Prices shown are suggested retail. Street prices may vary.)
Six '05s from Edmunds St. John
Edmunds St. John 2005 Shell and Bone Paso Robles White Wine ($20)
Edmunds St. John 2005 Rocks and Gravel California Red Wine ($18)
Edmunds St. John 2005 "Red Neck 101" Eagle Point Ranch Mendocino County Red Wine ($25)
Edmunds St. John 2005 Bassetti Vineyard San Luis Obispo County Syrah ($40)
Edmunds St. John 2005 Parmelee-Hill Vineyard Sonoma Valley Syrah ($25)
Edmunds St. John 2005 Wiley-Fenaughty El Dorado County Syrah ($25)
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