With great power comes great responsibility
Author: Simon Staples
I was utterly bewildered when I sat down to see Robert Parker’s scores the other night! If you’ve been following our progress in Bordeaux then you will know that we were genuinely surprised by the ’08s – some of the wines we tasted were excellent and many surpassed our expectations. But the blunt fact of the matter is that, on the whole, this vintage was not legendary, exceptional or outstanding – it is simply surprising. Yes, there were some gems, but it was patchy; the now infamous weather during the vintage has still left its mark, and only those with nerves of steel, who risked everything on cutting back their crops and waiting for those last days of Autumn sunshine were rewarded with remarkable wines, and few would deny that. The success of the campaign relied on the chateaux getting the prices right and it’s been encouraging to see that those who have released their prices, for the most part, have been sensible.
However, Parker has deemed 2008 as ‘a notch below 2005, but it is better than any other vintage of the last decade except 2000’ and, as a result, certain wines are rocketing in price and are jeopardising the whole 2008 en primeur campaign, which was shaky at best in the first place. My belief is that it should be the market that dictates the price, not Parker.
We respect Parker as an independent critic but he is only one person and he has been crusading, virtually on his own, with his opinion being poles apart to almost every wine journalist and wine merchant on 3 of the last 6 vintages and we simply don’t agree with him. In 2003 he rated this huge, hot vintage as astonishing as the rest were perplexed to find finesse. In 2005, where the entire wine world hailed it as legendary he was initially lukewarm. Now it’s the turn for 2008 and we see another electric review in the face of all other wine professionals and even the Chateaux themselves.
To the point of the”release of the scores” the campaign was going far better we had ever hoped with so many chateaux dramatically dropping their prices to ensure “drinkers” get back into the market even the mighty First growths. I can only hope the properties yet to release their wines prices will continue in the same, sane way their peers had done up to “Crazy Tuesday”.
Its a great shame that this Mr Parker doesn’t adhere to his name sake’s code: ” With great power comes great responsibility ” Peter Parker aka Spiderman !!
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It has been interesting to watch several merchants jump on the ’08 band wagon this week in response to Parker. Including some that notoriously and publicly shunned the vintage only a few weeks ago. Times may be hard, but this feels cynical and less than customers deserve. So thank you for the post Simon!
It is an interesting divergence of views. Like most people I will not get to sample the ’08s for some time yet. Not having the pockets for the first growths, I haven’t felt any urgency to jump in the water en primeur. I very much look forward to tasting the wines and coming to my own conclusions. By then, I hope that I can still afford them!
So if a château has already set its price before Mr P gives his assessment, are they able to charge more to merchants who have already agreed to buy a certain number of cases, or are ‘rocketing prices’ applied just to unsold wine? If it’s the former, isn’t that at best rude and at worst breaking a (perhaps only spoken) agreement? If it’s the latter, I suppose it just encourages you to get your orders in before RP announces his scores.
Do the bordelais have any respect for their partners in the wine trade at all, or is it simply about getting the most money for their product?
You say in your final comment that Parker has acted irresponsibly. What would you have him do? You may not agree with his assessment of the vintage, and it may be different from the consensus view, but surely he is obliged to call it as he sees it? If he thinks it’s good, he must say so.
Similarly, he is not responsible for your ability to sell wine to your customers. While his scores may influence sellers, the price at which wines are released remains ultimately a matter for the chateaux.
Yes, his scores may be accorded disproportionate respect in the industry, and unhealthily so, but is that his fault? I assume that Berry Brothers prices its wine according to the price that it believes it will command in the market. You will seek a higher price for a wine that Parker rates very highly, even if you personally disagree. So you are as complicit in the process as anybody.
If you want to say Parker is wrong about 2008, then fine. But the rest of your various criticisms are unfair.
What I was really referring to was the effect that Mr Parker’s report will have on the Chateaux who have yet to release their prices. For example with today’s release of Pontet-Canet, I would have been astonished if Mon. Tesseron would have released at the same price as last year, as he has, without the huge score from Mr Parker (96-98+). His peers, such as Lynch Bages, had reduced by approx 25% and had released before the Advocate’s release. I did not mean to give the impression the Chateaux had reneged on any deal done. They haven’t.
Matt, thanks for your post. This whole thing becomes very emotive as you can imagine. Believe it or not we all got into this business because we are wine lovers first and merchants second, and what we really want to see are great wines being sold at great (I mean reasonable) prices, and having a good long-term relationship with our customers and the Chateaux and Domaines we buy from.
On En primeur and most Fine Wines the margin is 10% which is woefully small considering the costs involved. So in essence we don’t set prices at all, it is the market that dictates. What has happened now is that the sense that was being seen in the release prices has gone, as we thought it might. I would have guessed that before the scores, Pontet-Canet would have released at Lynch Bages prices and we would have been selling at c.£360/390. We have released this morning at 10% Margin (£540) because the Chateaux has reacted to the scores. So customers get excited by the score and speculate in it. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not a purist and there is nothing wrong with this but if it’s only Parker who sees this as a magnificent vintage, and this particular wine will be “in superb form in 2060”, what do we advise our customers apart from “proceed with caution”?
I have absolutely no issue with Parker voicing his opinions, I read them with gusto myself, but the issue I have is that he knows what his scores (and it really is the scores not the notes I have an issue with) do to prices and he should take responsibility in this. Over the years his tastings have usually been in the same two-week window (end March) and he invariably changes the format of release ie. sometimes end of April, sometimes end June, sometimes scores, no notes. Surely, during a global recession, he could have come up with a more sensible way to drop such a bomb? We have people wanting to sell blue chip 2000’s and 2005’s to “get into” this new “amazing” vintage etc. What should we advise? He is the self-proclaimed advocate for the consumers, he knows what these scores will do, and they will drive them out of the hands of the drinkers.
I’m just saying that he really should have thought harder about timing of release rather than content of release of the Advocate. That’s a whole other issue. I hope this helps show you a part of where I was coming from. It’s almost over now. Many thanks, Simon.
When it comes to deciding what to buy from Berrys I normally base my choice on advice from the cellar team and by reading all of the reviews & scores provided (BBR, Jancis, WS etc). I figure that if a wine gets good scores from all sources it is better to buy this than a wine which only gets a good score from one reviewer.
I assume that if Parker’s scores are so influential the majority of wine drinkers and chateaux owners do not compare nis scores to his contempories?
It would be interesting to know which wines have the biggest difference in scores. ie, what did Parker rate highly and BBR give a low score to?
I think the timing was the problem. RP should of course say what he believes, but he knew what his scores would do so why not hold off for a while until all chateaux had released at least their first tranche at “drinker friendly” prices and then announce his views? Everything I had my eye on (e.g. Pontet Canet) came out after his scores at prices I feel are too high and subsequently I haven’t bothered…
BBR should be commended for its coverage of the 2008 vintage, where its analysis has provided a refreshing perspective within the UK market. Not only have you been able to maintain your integrity by making a conscious decision not just to release individual wines with the accompanying Parker score and commentary, but by providing ‘independent’ and, at times, frank perspectives/comments on wines, customers have been offered an alternative point of view based on BBR’s reputation and experience, that few other merchants have been unable (or unwilling) to provide.
Furthermore, I have never known an industry complete such a ‘turnaround’ in sentiment following publication of a certain critic’s scores, which has resulted in various other merchants sending out numerous ‘highly-recommended’ wines in what is viewed as essentially a good, but not exceptional, vintage.
I just had an opportunity of taking a wine structure tasting done by Pontet Canet. We tried 01 all the way to 08. Sorry to say but I found 08 is better than 05.
Bobby, I have to say the 2008 is the only vintage from the last 10 years I didn’t buy for myself. I’m delighted it’s showing well – I’ll revisit and may well add to my collection. Thanks for the tip!