Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A note from a reader with an eye for detail:

Q: Two interesting tasting scores have raised some discussion among my group and I thought it might be interesting to get your take. The two wines in question are the Columbia Crest Reserve Cab 2005 and the 2006 Cadence Tapteil. You rated each an 89 and 91 respectively. Harvey Steiman (WS as you know) rated them 95 and 85. Those numbers seem really fall apart from the usual differences when a wine scores well. Anything unusual in the ratings to you? Care to opine?

A: Happy to opine, as always. Harvey and I have known each other for 25 years – he was my first wine editor and gave me a big break when he signed me up as a stringer for W/S back in the mid-80s. But he and I have never sat together on a tasting panel, so I do not have a good “read” on his palate, other than what I see in print and blog. He does visit Washington at least once a year, and has for quite some time. I certainly think he’s knowledgeable about the wines. So, why the discrepancy?

In the case of the Columbia Crest, I liked the wine quite a bit. I wrote: “Scents of tobacco enhance the ripe, lush black fruits, which amply demonstrate the power of Washington grapes. The winemaking is polished, the barrel aging adds vanilla and smoke, and at this new, lower price ($27), it’s a good value as well.” The 89 may have been a bit too low; but I do think 95 is waay too high. The 2005 vintage in Washington was ripe and sweet, so the California style of the wines may have had more appeal to Harvey’s California palate than to mine, which always prefers more vertical, sleek, compact, complex, slightly herbal cabernets.

In the case of the Cadence, I am baffled by the discrepancy. I wrote: “These vines are now 20 years old, and the wine seems to gain in detail as a result. Tapteil is distinguished by a certain dustiness, and an elegant structure whose lightness belies its power. Not the darkest, nor the biggest of the Cadence wines, the Tapteil vineyard designates may be among the longest lived. With its spicy, acidic berry flavors, and hints of smoke and leather, this might almost be Italian.”

I did not taste the wine blind, and I know the vineyard’s terroir “stamp” pretty well, so perhaps my score is more indicative of what I personally like and where I believe the wine will go. If tasted blind and quickly, it would be a fairly easy wine to mistake for one that is simply a bit lean and simple; and my comment about it almost being Italian (thinking sangiovese here) indicates that it was not especially Bordeaux-like, though the blend is half cabernet, one third merlot, one sixth franc. So, again, a wine that really seemed to put the spotlight on the specific palates of the individual reviewers. Perhaps I was a little generous, but I know Tapteil and I really like the vineyard. Perhaps Harvey was a little curmudgeonly, but I suspect he was comparing it in a blind peer group tasting, where it might not show very well.

This is my gripe about blind tastings. They seem more fair, but in fact they strip wines of their individuality, almost forcing them to fit the group. If they don’t, if they stand out in some way, it’s easy to downgrade them. But if you are drinking that bottle by itself, and you really spend time seeing what it can do, you might find it remarkable.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bravo on your description of descrepencies. I for one do not care for critic scores unless 1) I am buying a wine that is new to me and the tasting notes are something I may like which also happens to get a good score, or 2) I am looking to unload the wine sometime in the future at a profit.

Since I am primarily a wine drinker (that has accidentally collected a rew bottles that has received rave reviews by critics), I find descrepencies in scoring the best way to judge and align myself to a palate this is similar to mine. Mine is much more like yours (and Steve Tanzer's) than Harvey's as he is averse to tannin and loves fruit over finesse. Cadence wines are much more about finesse, and I can see why he does not "get" them. Harvey also severely underrated Betz, which in my opinion is THE BEST winery in Washington.

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