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On Tasting
A Parker Tasting Should Make Us Pause
Tuesday, 13th October, 2009  - David Farmer

Robert M Parker

Recently the superstar wine taster, Robert M Parker was the honoured guest at a masked tasting of 15 Bordeaux from 2005, wines he knows well. This tasting was, held by the Executive Wine Seminar in Washington, and the tasters were told the district, Bordeaux; the vintage, 2005; and that Parker had given all the wines a score of 95 or higher in 2007. Later he had a stab at guessing which were which and even knowing what the 15 wines were this is a frighteningly difficult task and as bad luck would have it did not guess one correctly.

The Parker performance was reported on the Dr Vivo blog and excited a good number of comments. This was picked up by Felix Salmon of Reuters who takes a sceptical view of many things.

“Parker has rated all these wines, of course. But would his blind ranking bear much if any relation to his official ranking? And how many of the wines could he successfully identify? The answers, I wasn’t at all surprised to hear, were “no”, and “zero”.”

That’s a bit harsh as I’m sure Parker while he has promoted himself as the most objective taster of all time, would have known he had little hope of picking many of the wines. Parker was very unlucky not to guess a few correct answers. He did not score the wines this time and as the spread only goes from 95-100, rearranging the order has little meaning.

The comments about Parker are not what interest me as much as the impressions we have built up with advanced drinkers that if they work hard they will be able to identify wines regularly. Well as this tasting shows it really is not possible though it is fun to try. This was also a simple tasting. Imagine if you sat down to 15 wines not knowing anything at all about them. Assuming they were all sound you would struggle to make any sense at all of them yet many tastings suggest the opposite and publish results with an exactitude that is alarming.

An interesting side issue was triggered by this comment from Salmon; “But the fact that wine changes, from bottle to bottle and from month to month, rather defeats the purpose of magazines such as Wine Spectator.” Well this caused a rapid reply from Thomas Matthews, Executive editor of Wine Spectator explaining how his judges are well trained. I remain unconvinced.

For the record here are the wines with Parker scores from 2007 and the group scores for September, 2009.

Parkers original scores from The Wine Advocate. He did not give scores for the Washington event.


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