On Saturday night we went to a 60th birthday party at El Nacional, an Argentine restaurant in the centre of Bordeaux. Recently opened it is owned and run by Hugo Naón, who used to work for ChâteauCordeillan-Bages, the stylish and swanky hotel just on the southern edge of Pauillac, owned by the Cazes family.
The evening was a great success – the food simple and delicious and all three wines ideal for the occasion. This got me thinking more about scoring wines, particularly as I had seen the hilarious second teaser video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYOzr0YlBeM) from James Suckling that afternoon. He used to be the European Bureau Chief for The Wine Spectatoruntil July 2010 and is about to set up his own website.
There were some 40 of us and we kicked off the evening with Brut Platine, a Premier Cru Champagne from Nicolas Maillart (http://www.champagne-maillart.fr/histoire.php). This is a grower’s Champagne from a domaine in Ecueil just to the south west of Reims. The Brut Platine was perfect for the occasion – refreshing, lemony and with some weight, although I can’t claim to have tasted it with great attention. This was the moment to greet old friends and say hello to other guests. The Champagne was there to facilitate conversation and it was soon clear that it was doing just that.
Over dinner we enjoyed the 2009 Cuvée Rémus, Montlouis from Jacky Blot’s Domaine de la Taille aux Loups. Richer and softer than the very precise and fine 2008, the 2009 has immediate appeal, although long term 2008 Rémus is likely to show as the better and more complex wine. But I suspect that 2009 gave more pleasure on this evening than 2008 would have done with its more steely minerality and acidity probably proving divisive.
With the deliciously flavoursome rack of lamb, the soft and generous but mid-weight 2007 Château l’Eglise, Montagne Saint-Emilion again was absolutely right for the occasion. 2007 was a difficult vintage but it is drinking well now – almost certainly better than other more stellar recent vintages.
So three wines that might well not attract high scores when tasted in isolation from point scorers like Suckling but which were absolutely right for the evening. Suckling’s taster video brilliantly but unintentionally demolishes the zest for points and demonstrates only too clearly its vacuity. Is a soi-disant 97 or 98 or even 100-point wine really that if it doesn’t match the occasion?
Suckling’s video shows that the point scoring approach has much in common with train spotting. Will the rise of blogs move us on from the childhood era of wine criticism? Perhaps Marvin Shamken, the proprietor of The Wine Spectator, recognised that ‘times they are a changing’ when he commented on Suckling’s departure suggesting that the magazine would be strengthened by his leaving:
“He will be missed. We are very fortunate to have significant depth in our editorial team. Moving these tastings to New York, where we have a larger staff and better logistical control, will allow us to strengthen our coverage of these important wine regions."
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