A Guide to Wine, Food & the Good Life


John Tilson • 9/13/11        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share

. flock of birds

There are a lot of things in the world that can go whacky from time to time. Some of you may think that there are a lot of whacky things going on at the moment. I know I sure do. And, without question, that includes the world of wine. Here we have such things as alcohol, what goes into wine, how wine is tasted, the role of a number, how wines are described, etc, etc.  Recently, Eric Asimov, wine writer for the New York Times, spoke at a wine bloggers conference. Forgetting for a moment about what wine bloggers might have left to say at a conference, he was asked a question after his speech. The question he was asked was what sort of collective action he’d like to see wine bloggers take. His answer was for wine bloggers to refrain from writing tasting notes for a year. That’s sound advice in my opinion. I am not a wine blogger so I only occasionally see some of the notes.  But, I am constantly subjected to ridiculous wine descriptions written by “professionals” and then quoted mindlessly by merchants trying to sell wines. I describe many of them as ridiculous because they bear no relationship to the wine that was supposedly tasted. No one, including the writers of the notes, could come up with the name of the wine by reading the note. So much for the notes having any descriptive value, but some of them are really funny. I described a few in an earlier article entitled “Birds of a Feather.” You can read that article by clicking here.

So with the big numbers “professionals” as mentors, I can sympathize with people who are trying to learn and follow. In frustration, many turn to numbers. This is sad because numbers tell you nothing about what is being rated. Start rating any other beverage or food with which you are very familiar using a 100 point scale and see what you learn. Not much. What if it is a food you don’t like? Let’s say spinach. Do you give that a 100, a 90, an 80, a 70, a 60 or something down to zero? I mean if you don’t like it, you don’t like it. So what do you score it? And, who gives a big one anyway? But, OMG what if a big numbers professional rated spinach a 100 and described it as tasting like an ethereal tropical elixir with a perfume of Chanel Number 5 and saddle leather mixed with beef  blood and a celestial taste of angels floating on a cloud? Then would you like it? Or would you just give up? Geez, if you don’t get that maybe you don’t know squat!  But, because there are so many wines, and people do not have enough experience to know, they are intimidated. However,  it may be that because there is only one spinach, people have firm opinions. This creates the conundrum where many wine drinkers are stuck. To get out you have to taste for your self and form your own opinions. You have to describe wine in terms that are real to you. What do you see, smell, and taste? And, if you are going to follow some else’s advice it has to match up with yours. Otherwise, it is simply garbage in, garbage out! Once you have figured this out you are on your way to real wine knowledge. And, do not try to do it all at once. Gigantic tastings prove nothing. See my article on this subject by clicking here.

So that’s my advice. And, now let’s have some more fun. Here is round two of birds of a feather. They are still flocking! And, as you might expect, they are leaving quite a mess! If you are underneath the flock, you might want to change your location! Here is a wine description from a big numbers critic with a 100 point score:

“What a nose of tangerines, dark fruits, spices and cigar box. Full bodied, with incredible concentration and power. It goes on for minutes. Mind blowing. Meat, dark chocolate, dried fruits, mushrooms. Turns to aniseed and black licorice. It is a wine with soul. How can ………. be better. Better in 2014.”

Hmmmm. Let’s see. “Tangerines, dark fruits, spices and cigar box.”  Excuse me, tangerines and cigar box? Maybe these are flavored cigars? OK. It’s BIG! So what? So is the 1000 pound man in the circus.  “Goes on for minutes.”  Where is it going? “Mind blowing.”  Blowing what? “Meat, dark chocolate, dried fruits, mushrooms. Turns to aniseed and black licorice.” Excuse me. Is this meat raw or cooked? It sounds like mystery meat. And, “…dark chocolate and mushrooms and black licorice and dried fruits with mystery meat”? YUK! I don’t want to taste something with this disgusting combination of flavors. Sounds more like the garbage pail. “It is a wine with soul.” What’s that – a medical term? Or maybe just some kind of reference to an ethnic preference?  “How can… be better.” Simple – just wait until the magical time of 2014 when this ………. is supposed to be even better than 100 points! So what is this wine? Is it California Syrah, Cult Cabernet, Chateauneuf du Pape, Brunello, Bordeaux, Barolo, California Chardonnay, Amarone, Pinot Noir, or Burgundy? Give up? Come on. You have 100 points and you have a description. Is it the Tangerine that is a dead give away? Or is it the mystery meat? Would you want to drink it with this description? I’d say no. Or would you want to drink it because of the number? Again, I’d say no. Why would anyone want to drink something described in this manner? Beats me! The number has nothing to do with the description. Is the taster that bad? Or did something else cause the description to have so little to do with reality? Either way, it’s a pass. But, just for the record, it’s a Brunello – a 2006 Luce Della Vite Luce to be exact. Did you get it? Is this a joke? This is one of the greatest wines in the world? Gimme a break. As Forrest Gump famously said, “Stupid is as stupid does”! So if you are still undeterred, and want to drink numbers, go for it!  And, be sure to enjoy your mystery meat!

And here’s another good one. This time it’s from another big numbers critic with another 100 point score:

“…This fully mature wine possesses a port-like richness…the color revealed considerable amber and garnet, but the wine is crammed with viscous, thick over-ripe black-cherry, mocha-tinged flavors. Extremely full-bodied, with huge amounts of glycerin and alcohol, this unctuously-textured, thick wine makes for an awesome mouthful. Imagine a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup laced with layers of coffee and cherry, and encased in a shell of Valrhona chocolate!…”

Let’s see. This wine is “port-like”. Is that sweet? It is crammed with “thick over-ripe black-cherry, mocha tinged flavors” How about “thick over ripe cherries”? What is a thick cherry? Is there such a thing as a skinny cherry? And, I don’t like my cherries over ripe. The taste changes for the worst and they get mushy. “…huge amounts of glycerin and alcohol.”  Is it a medicine?  “…unctuously textured and thick…” Sounds like syrup to me. Maybe it should go on pancakes? And the clincher “…a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup laced with layers of coffee and cherry and encased in a shell of Valrhona chocolate….” That seals the deal. Don’t you find that instantly recognizable? Can’t you just imagine a wine that you have loved  that tastes like this? Not!

This big numbers critic has chosen to pick on a wine that many would consider to be great. But, what the H is it? So here are a few choices: 1929 Chateau Latour, 1961 Hermitage La Chapelle, 1945 Romanee Conti,  1870 Chateau Lafite Rothschild, 1931 Quinta Noval Nacional, 1961 Chateau Petrus. And, if this description evenly remotely matches something you have tasted, please add that to the list of choices. So go ahead. Pick one! OK. I’ve tasted maybe a few hundred thousand wines in my day (who’s counting?). But I have never tasted a wine that even remotely resembles the description of this wine. So I don’t have the foggiest idea what it is. Have you ever tasted any of the wines listed above? Did they taste anything like this description?  I have tasted all of them and for sure I’d say no.

So where did this description come from? Was it based on actually tasting the wine? I have no idea. Except for this big numbers quote I have never known anyone who has ever described any wine this way. So if you do taste this 100 point wine and can’t quite taste the same things, should you give up? Maybe your palate is off. Maybe you just don’t have a palate? Maybe you need therapy? All are possibilities I suppose, since so many people just forget about descriptions and go for points. How strange is that? If one’s taste is such that wine is described like this, what is the value of 100 points? I’d say zero. Based on this description I would not want to drink the wine. And without a description that matches what I am looking for in a wine I don’t care about the 100 points either. Thank goodness I did not read this description of 1961 Petrus before I first tasted the wine. But, that would have never happened for at least two reasons. First, I would have dismissed it as sheer nonsense. And, second, I first experienced 1961 Petrus in the mid 1960s long before this description was written. I feel very privileged to have enjoyed many bottles of 1961 Petrus over the years. It is a great wine. But it tastes NOTHING like this description. Thank goodness! And, I’m sure that Christian Moueix (who just happens to be the proprietor) and Bordeaux lovers all over the world would agree. That is, if they could admit that the emperor has no clothes!


Yikes! If you don’t move this could happen to you!!  Ladies and gentlemen, may I suggest that you start your engines and get out of the line of fire!

In Vino Veritas,Sig

John Tilson

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  • To John Tilson

    A friend of mine, Richard Banks, forward this and also “Drink What You Like…” to me. Very enjoyable, and I couldn’t agree more.

    I have always been amazed by the Word Salad and Adjective Cocktails blended into most wine reviews. Road tar, saddle leather, pencil shavings, dust, cigars and their boxes, minerals, stones & gravel, and everything else Mother told you never to put into your mouth. My favorite was a 100 point Chateauneuf du Pape that was redolent with “animal fur.” Wet or dry? Wild, feral or domestic? With or without mothball overtones? Parker didn’t go it that thoroughly. Hope he had a nice “palate cleanser” for the rinse.

    How do I go about subscribing to The Underground Wineletter?

    Best Wishes,

    Mort Maizlish
    Santa Barbara

    • John Tilson says:

      Hi Mort,
      Great to hear from you! You have some great thoughts. And your questions are spot on. I wonder if the big numbers boys have an answer?
      To subscribe is easy (and free). Go to http://www.undergroundwineletter.com, enter your email address and then respond to the confirmation email you will receive. That’s all there is to it. Wecome to the Underground!
      In Vino Veritas,

  • Chris Foskey says:

    Who on earth wrote that krapp ?!!
    Another reason why I don’t read “wine critics”
    & rarely have during the last 40-50years !!!

    • John Tilson says:

      Hi Chris,
      This is just another indication of how far ahead of the curve you are. You have missed very little. And, that is especailly true since you have been with the Underground for the entire trip!
      In Vino Veritas,

  • RICK says:

    I recall reading a similar review last December
    while looking for cough syrup.

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