Jancis Robinson versus Robert Parker - a Slurp Taste Off!

Review note by Slurp fan Dr Jeremy Howard

The lack of consistency between wine critics can be both baffling and infuriating, and nowhere more so than with the leading US and UK critics Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson. Given that much of the difference in how these critics score wine is down to their own personal palates, we thought that the only way to settle the argument of who was more reliable was to arrange a tasting of a few wines they gave very different scores to.  We chose four French candidates for the exercise:

                                                                                 RP Score         JR Score
Chateau Veyry 2002 Cotes de Castillon                     88-89                  14/20

Chateau Pontet Canet 2001 Pauillac - Bordeaux       89                      18/20

Chateau Pontet Canet 2003 Pauillac - Bordeaux       95                      17/20

Chateau Gazin 2001 Pomerol - Bordeaux                   94                       16/20

Chateau Veyrey 2002 – Cotes de Castillon (RP: 88-89 , JR 14/20 )  Chateau Veyry 2002 is a 100% Merlot wine that displayed a new world accessibility young in its life. Lots of juicy black fruits on the nose were supported by a full bodied, licorice infused palate that we felt made the wine approachable and a good food partner now. JR’s 14/20 points suggested a wine barely drinkable.  But whilst we felt that the wine had somewhat limited interest and aging potential, the general agreement was that a score in the high 80s was probably a fairer reflection on the wine-maker’s success in making a well balanced and pleasant wine in a generally difficult vintage.  Round one to the American.

Chateau Pontet Canet 2001 – Pauillac - Bordeaux (RP: 89 , JR: 18/20)  The first Pontet Canet of the evening was the only wine JR scored more highly than RP. In the glass the wine was elegant, balanced and refined. We noted vanilla but not a whole lot else.  Whilst the finish was long (30 secs plus) we wondered about the lack of complexity and about its potential to evolve further. There was heated debate around the table about the ‘correct’ score for this wine. But the consensus was that while the purity of style was laudable, there simply wasn’t enough going on in the glass to merit JR’s elevated 18/20 rating.  We were also critical, however, of RP’s lowly 89 rating – feeling that perhaps something in between would have been fairer. No score draw.

Chateau Pontet Canet 2003 – Pauillac - Bordeaux (RP: 95, JR: 17)  Two years on and the wonderful Pauillac terrior of Pontet Canet (Mouton Rothschild is just the other side of the little lane that leads up to the chateau) produced another beautiful wine: Pontet Canet 2003. For the 2003 the scores were virtually reversed, with RP offering a whopping 95 points and JR a more modest 17/20. So what did we think?  Personally, I was in no doubt that the 2003 was the superior year.  The wine appeared denser and deeper purple in the glass, and offered a lot more red and black fruit to the nose.  It was generally more concentrated and certainly had more pronounced cedar and vanilla (read ‘oak’) characteristics.  But the bottom line was that the wine just seemed interesting. Whereas one sip was really enough to define the 2001, with the 2003 I found my hand drawn again and again to the glass to see how the wine would present itself this time. So whereas with the 2001 we were prepared to say that both our critics had it wrong, with the 2003 all but one (Roger) felt that the 2003 was the superior wine.  Chalk another one up for Mr Parker!

Chateau Gazin 2001 Pomerol - Bordeaux (RP: 94, JR: 16)  Our last wine was the Gazin 2001. Again, this was a wine rated much more highly (on their relative scales) by Parker than Robinson. The wine diffused strong perfume even from the decanter and in the mouth it was wonderfully full-bodied with an almost Graves-like palate of scorched earth and roasted black coffee.  We felt the full impact of the 13.5% of alcohol on the wine, but noted that the acidity was doing its job of ensuring that the fruit did not show as jammy or stewed. Overall, we felt this was a delightful wine with a great future ahead of it. 16/20 seemed very unflattering and once again the general consensus was that Mr Parker was probably closer to the mark.  But it should be noted that Mr Parker's associate at the Wine Advocate Neil Martin scored this wine a dismal 86+ recently!

So what did we conclude?

Well this was obviously nothing close to a scientific or controlled experiment - just a bit of fun with some friends, and so the results should be ‘judged’ accordingly.  It did indeed seem that a large part of the discrepancy was down to the personal palates of the critics.  Mr Parker did, true to reputation, seem to favour the larger and fuller bodied offerings, with Jancis Robinson marking up the purity and finesse of the Pontet Canet 2001 but marking down the unmistakably fuller and sweeter 2003. But I was certainly not alone in awarding the prize overall to Robert Parker for consistency and coherence.

But this was only a tiny sample, and we all agree to organize a re-match with a wider selection of wines at an early opportunity.

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