To wit…On Sunday evening I opened one of my last four bottles of 1996 Chateau d’Ampuis Côte Rôtie from Guigal, duly condemned as “old” by The Wine Advocate. I had thought, “Well, I guess I had better check then,” and I couldn’t agree less.
I couldn’t agree less, as I find myself doing ever more frequently with regard to common wine criticism, and particularly that of the media starlets that are Suckling, Parker and Galloni.
If I read one more time that a wine is drop-dead gorgeous, “I’m a 100 points on that!” or feel threatened again by (the distinctly unappetizing image of “gobs of fruit” I think I really will weep.
I remember tasting the quite mesmerizing 2000 Chateau Latour in the spring of 2002. One of the most remarkable wines ever to have passed my lips; but it did not remind me of Mr Parker’s vintage port (a remark I now see has been edited from his website), and nor would I have wanted it to. Port is port, Pauillac is Pauillac, and never the twain shall meet, except in hyperbole.
Wine criticism is widely and gratuitously open to exaggeration. Like tom-cats marking their territory, famous wine critics outwit each other (sic) with their turn of phrase, inflamed adjectives and febrile grip on reality. The Hosemaster satirized it well in granting the Wine Spectator’s James Molesworth a Pullitzer (was there ever a wine that didn’t reek of persimmon a fruit fortuitously unknown to most?)
I recently took part in a WSET exam where their SAT (systematic approach to tasting) was put to the fore, and frankly to the test in practice tasting notes by what I can only describe as wanton bouts of imagination and wishful thinking from a few of my peers. I have written it before, but just what does liquid stone smell and taste like, and how the f*** would anyone know? To the best of my knowledge, any empirical imbibers of molten lava are unlikely to have survived long enough to relate the experience.
The SAT process is interesting because it lays down firm fault lines; and there is no need to stray far beyond, and far beyond is squarely, and often fatuously, subjective.
But back to that 1996 Chateau d’Ampuis, I am happy to relate suggestions of the wine’s death have been wildly exaggerated. Vintage port, or Madeira for that matter, it isn’t, but it nicely evolved, with a marked acidity, sweet black fruit persona and plenty of endearing charm. And that, if you have some in your cellar is all your really need to know, or hope for.
Of course, it’s just my point of view, and many, nay most, would rather believe Mr P. But there is only one way to find out really, and that is to taste the wines yourself.