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Snooth User: dmcker

Best wine guides (in any language)

Posted by dmcker, Aug 29, 2009.

A topic that began in another thread got me wondering. What is the best wine guide(s) for each major winegrowing region of the world? In the local language or otherwise? We've got Hachette for France, Veronelli for Italy. Who for Spain, etc., etc.?


Reply by Philip James, Aug 29, 2009.

Penin Guide by Jose Penin for Spain (both English and Spanish versions)

Reply by po54, Aug 30, 2009.

Also reliable for France : Bettane et Desseauve

Reply by GregT, Aug 30, 2009.

What do you mean by "best"? Do you mean the most complete in that it covers the most wines? Or do you mean a guide with scores that you agree with? Or a guide that has a tasting methodology you favor? Or something in English?

I ask because it's pretty hard to be "good" in all of those respective areas. So it really depends on what you want from the guide. If you want basic information, that's different from rankings or scores or current reviews.

I don't want to get into the politics behind Penin, but OK, he covers a number of wines, although not all. As to whether it's the best or not, that's a different issue. La Verema for example, also ranks Spanish wines and there are a great many very knowledgeable people who post there. It's maybe the best source of information regarding Spain, but it's in Spanish. There's an English side on the bulletin board, but it's sparsely populated.

The Tre Bicchieri rankings of Italy have a following, as does Galloni's Piedmont Report, which is now part of the Wine Advocate.

The most complete guide to Hungarian wine is in Hungarian, so it's useless for most Americans, who wouldn't be able to find the wines anyway. But they have a bulletin board on which they post rankings from time to time. I know a number of participants and they're far vastly knowledgable than any American or English writer on Hungary. Again, the language barrier makes it less useful for an American.

James Halliday does regular reports on Australian wines in the Australian Wine Companion, and he's fairly well respected.

Hard to find a better site for Port than Roy Hersh's

For Germany, there are actually quite a few decent sites. Peter Ruhrberg used to have a nice site. It was a solo effort as far as I know but it's not been updated for a while and he may no longer be working at it. But for overall information, German Wine USA is fairly complete. They're political, so won't do much in terms of rankings and scores, if that's what your interest is.

They're at

For reviews and rankings of those wines, the WIne Advocate's David Schildeneckt is both knowledgeable and fair, IMO, but he doesn't publish much.

I haven't really found anyone who thrills me much on Washington, but I'm able to keep up with those on my own. Probably won't for much longer though, because there are just too many these days.

In CA, Robert Parker is still one of the better critics IMO. He's written extensively and covers many of the wines.

Argentina and Chile don't have much that's really comprehensive that I know of. There are many sites devoted to their wines, but there isn't really great coverage. The people here write about what they can obtain and the industry there is dominated by a few "official" sites. Smaller ones are more interesting but they don't get into many wines.

Potentially Snooth can become a great source of information but it also has some limitations. Again, depending on what you're looking for, they may or may not matter.

Reply by po54, Aug 31, 2009.

I consider the french wine guides as very partial.
I mean, they are good directories of winemakers, BUT, as I discussed yesterday with a winemaker, what is the process for a Domain to be in the Hachette, for ex ?
Well, the winemaker send samples to the guide, then they taste and rate the samples.
1) All the winemakers don't send every year samples.
2) OK, but the thing is that winemakers often send samples that do not match at all their wines.
Let's say they make samples made especially for the taste of the guide.
I could confirm in tasting several 2 stars + heart on the Hachette. It was very difficult to identify the wine bought at the Domain according to the specs and rate written in the Hachette...
Think that a good rate in the Hachette increase 50% or more of wine sell...

Reply by dmcker, Aug 31, 2009.

Very good explanation, Pascal, about the relations between prestige wine guides and the wineries...

Reply by po54, Aug 31, 2009.

Thanks dmcker !
I need to practice my written english !
Consider the couple Parker / Michel Rolland
Rolland makes the wine Parker loves, and the trick is done.
The wineries pays a lot of money to get Rolland's advices, but the game worth it.
A nice Parker's note, and the sells of the winery go up and up.
Wine business...
I consider Rolland as the guy that killed the specificities of Bordeaux wines.
I drank last year in Mumbai an indian red wine made by Rolland.
Same taste as those Bordeaux wines made by Rolland for french supermarkets !

Reply by GregT, Aug 31, 2009.

po54 I have to respectfullly disagree. Roland is a consultant to many wineries and he's made a number of wines that Parker liked, but so do many other people. I'm not sure how he killed the specifities of Bordeaux, which is a huge place and he isn't making wine for everyone. Moreover, if you think that Indian wine is the same as Bordeaux, then maybe there really is a future in Indian wine. I found it undrinkable and almost thought it was some kind of poison.

Parker does have a great deal of influence but how did he get this influence?] Bordeaux wines were selling long before Parker arrived. They sold based on the idea that there is a first or second or third growth. You know that those distinctions were not made based on the quality of the wine, but only on the price the wines sold for in the London market in 1855. The cost gave them prestige and that's what many people buy those wines for - the prestige of owning them. Many wealthy people collected and still collect these wines because of the reputations, not because those individuals could tell one from another in a blind tasting.

Parker did two very important things for French wine. First, he pointed out that the mere fact that a wine had a famous name did not mean the wine was necessarily better than another. Although the existing establishment resisted his ratings, which were really just comparing one wine to another, the fact that he had was not part of the established order and yet he had the nerve to publish his opinions was very important. To this day he is still vilified for upsetting the nice relationship between the old critics and the winemakers.

If the vintage was no good, the winemakers simply said that it was a "classic" vintage for the grandchildren. The English critics often sold the same wines they reviewed. If you didn't like the wine you were told that you were unsophisticated and didn't understand it.

So when Parker started, people were looking for an independent assessment of the wine and someone who spoke plainly. The producers were no longer able to rest on their past reputations. This caused many of them to upgrade and improve their wines and gave a chance to the smaller chateaux that were not rich enough to have been part of the aristocratic elite.

Second, Parker is very largely responsible for the incredible growth in popularity of the south Rhone, particularly Chateauneuf du Pape. The English critics of thirty or forty years ago, and even the very few American writers, frequently referred to the CcP wines as "fruity" and more rustic wines than those of Bordeaux. Even as recently as 25 years ago they were mostly much cheaper than the Bordeaux wines, at least in the US. I can't think of one that was over $100 then, but of course there may have been one or two.

Parker loved those wines. He loves grenache. As a result of his enthusiasm, in the US today some of those wines sell for hundreds of dollars a bottle. I don't believe that would have happened without him. For example, he has never been a big fan of the wines from the Loire and those wines are consequently some of the cheapest on the market (and I am very happy to buy them at the low prices).

Roland tends to like a rather soft and fruity style of wine, at least based on what I have tasted of his efforts in France, Washington, and Argentina. I suspect that he would like that style with or without Parker, and many people in the world apparently like that style as well.

As far as the relationship between the producers and the guides, you raised an important point. The stories you hear are simply unbelievable. One of the things that Parker did initially, was taste the wines blind at his office before assigning a score, and in many cases, he purchased the wines at retail shops to ensure that he was not sent a special cuvee. I don't believe he does that much any more, which is a shame.

Many reviewers charge money to review your wines. You pay either directly or indirectly. Most do not taste the wines blind, so they know what they are tasting. Some taste with friends and producers and importers, which further compromises their results in my opinion.

The consumer who is looking for some advice or guidance? Good luck. Personally I taste a lot of wine so I don't make any major purchase based on a review. If you taste little wine but you don't want to simply buy the same one all the time, you are probably better off talking to your friends and family. In a way, that is what you get when you look at the rankings by Snooth. But the problem then is that wines with mass popular appeal are likely to be rated highest. So you're really stuck. It's enough to make you drink!

Reply by po54, Sep 1, 2009.

I knew I should have contradictors with my thoughts on Parker and Rolland ;-)
I'm part OK with you !
Did you see a movie called "Mondovino" ?

Reply by GregT, Sep 1, 2009.

Yes I saw it. The long version over several days no less. The director wanted to make a point, which was his right, but I don't think the movie is particularly educational. It's like watching a movie made by one political party about the other. I think now that Parker is so important in the wine world, many people want to build their own reputations by trying to damage his. But I suppose that is inevitable.

Speaking of movies, there is a movie called Viva Zapata from 1952. Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn are poor peasants who are treated unfairly by the local landowners. They bring their complaints to the president and he tries to have them arrested. So they lead a revolution and they eventually become the leaders of the country themselves. At the end of the movie, some poor peasants come to Brando to complain about their treatment by the local landowners. The script was written by John Steinbeck, who was a socialist kind of writer and it was done during the Cold War, so there is an obvious and fairly heavy-handed message, but it's still enjoyable.

Anyway, the arriviste always irritates the existing order. But sooner or later, that arriviste becomes the order himself. Then he has his own challengers and detractors.

Therefore we need to be very careful!!

Reply by po54, Sep 1, 2009.

OK ! But all this power in the hands of one guy...
And when Parker will be "off", what is going to happend ?

Reply by GregT, Sep 1, 2009.

It's only power because people pay attention to him. What does he do? Stop talking about wine because too many people listen now? He's too old to start a new career as a ballet dancer and if you've seen him, you wouldn't want to see him dance!!!

He will eventually leave or retire. Probably not very soon. I think the wine world is going to be increasingly balkanized. In the 1970s, in the US, there was not much in the way of wine. Serious wine was usually Bordeaux. There was only Vega Sicilia from Spain that very few people knew about, there was some terrible Chianti and German wine was basically Blue Nun or Schwartz Katz. In the late 1970s the few California producers won some fame because of the 1976 Paris tasting, but people really just talked about that; nobody really drank much wine. The only people who drank wine were usually people who had family roots in Italy, or a few eccentrics. Most of the people of French descent had been here many generations, whereas the Italians had come in the very late 1800s and early 1900s, so everyone had a grandfather who made his own wine.

Then wine became increasingly popular and more American producers appeared. Germany, Austria and Italy all made vast improvements in their wines and began sending more to the US. The Australians laid out a 25 year plan to increase exports and they executed on that plan better than they ever dreamed. Burgundy became highly sought-after and Barolo and Barbaresco appeared on the radar of collectors. US production exploded. Franco died, the Spanish took a generation to shake off the dusty, tired winemaking habits and EU money flooded Spain to help them upgrade. The same thing happened to the countries of central Europe recently and there are now some outstanding wines from Hungary, Slovenia, Romania, Serbia, etc. Portugal is now making table wines with the grapes that they were using for Port. I even have some wine from Great Britain!

In this world, there will never be another Parker. It simply isn't possible to keep up with all of the wine. Moreover, today people are less likely to accept the idea that some wine is more "important" than other wine. France is no longer supreme in the wine world. The Bordelais have the money and intelligence to adapt and they have. They have created a frenzy with the en primeur sales, but they should remember what happened with Beaujolais nouveau - it was a fashion for a while and now it is ignored. This has happened with some Australian wines too and I think it will happen with other wines in the future.

Emerging countries like China and India will be purchasers but eventually they will have enough confidence in their own cultural histories that they will not try to adopt European habits like wine-drinking. Today they copy what the wealthier people do, but tomorrow who knows?

I think there will be critics who are influential in smaller areas and nobody who will cover all of the worlds wine. It will be more like popular music. There will never be another Beatles. Instead, people identify themselves by listening to this or that performer or type of music. Parker has already abandoned many areas. He has hired other people to write about those areas but in some cases the writers started out as specialists in those particular areas and in other cases the writers knew nothing and made valiant efforts to learn while in other cases the writers made little effort.

I think producers will look to see what their neighbors are doing and if the neighbor sells his wine, they will make their wines in that way. So you have winemakers like Roland or Helen Turley or Heidi Barrett or Paul Hobbs or Riccardo Cotarella or Stéphane Derenoncourt or Chris Ringland. These people make wines all around the world because the wines they make tend to sell.

Reply by dmcker, Sep 1, 2009.

Very good exposition, GregT, over many points. So you don't think that the opportunities that the Internet presents to Snooth will mean that our GregDP will become a wine rating/introducing powerhouse non-pareil? ;-)

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Sep 1, 2009.

As much as I am smiling, ear to ear in fact, I neither want nor expect to be a wine rating/introducing powerhouse non-pareil!

I am very happy helping people find wines that they enjoy and love to talk about almost any wine but my over riding message is that we are all great critics, for our own palate.

Many people have developed their palate by calibrating with the scores Parker assigns. They love 94 point wines because when the began buying wine, they understood that 94 point wines were great and thus have created a self fulfillin prophesy!

I use the 100 point scale.

Here is my explanation on what my 100 point score means.

It is equivalent to a single frame of a movie viewed through my eye.

It's a fun game to play but, just as with a single frame of a movie, it only conveys a tiny slice of information.

With an opinion like that I don't expect to become a wine tasting eminence.

I do hope to be invited to a vertical tasting of DRC though.

Reply by dmcker, Sep 1, 2009.

Greg, methinks ye play yourself down a wee bit too much. ;-)

Never done a vertical of Romanee Conti, though I have done a few single bottle dinners/tastings and once even a horizontal of the domaine's R.C., La Tache, Richebourg, Romanee St. Vivant, Grands Eschezeaux and Eschezeaux (no Montrachet that evening). Was in Tokyo nearly 25 years ago, and of a slightly off vintage, but it, and a similar horizontal of similar bottles of LeRoy with the same goup on another night, still sticks in my memory. Absolutely superb wines, without a doubt, though whether their prices are warranted is another discussion.

Oh, and my frank opinion about whether there will ever be another Parker falls with GregT's, though due largely to another reason than those he mentions, and that is the fragmentizing (if that's a word) power of the Internet. More cream can rise through its empowering capabilities, but it will never be in one place due to the vast seas of lower-quality 'info' it has to trickle up through...

Reply by po54, Sep 2, 2009.

Come on boys, let's return to the original topic ;-))

Reply by Philip James, Sep 2, 2009.

oh wait, i was going to comment on the 'new' topic - let me start a new thread.

Reply by Philip James, Sep 2, 2009.

I started a new thread here:

Reply by dmcker, Sep 7, 2009.

GregT, regarding wineguides on Spain, what are your thoughts regarding the info and ratings by these? Besides Penin and La Verema, these were some who showed up when I did a search about wineguides to the Valencia area:
--Anuario Gastronómico de la Comunidad de Valencia (don't know if similar Anuario Gastronomicos are out for other regions)
--El Boletín
--Guía Campsa
--La Guía Todovino

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