Robert Parker is one of the most influential wine critics on earth and he popularized a one hundred point rating scale which dominates the US wine market. An American named Tom Wark did some data gathering about Robert Parker’s perfect scored wines. Basically, he looked at the 224 wines that had received a perfect score of 100 from Robert Parker.
Wark published the list of words that appear the most in tasting notes for 100 point wines. This should give us some insight into what sort of characteristics appear in wines that Parker thought of as perfect.
For words like “Elegan” or “Intens”, the reason they cut off like that is because Wark grouped Intense, intensely, intensity, and other nearly identical words into one word group labeled simply “Intens”. Fair enough!
What we get is that Parker uses the word rich a ton when he tastes a wine that merits 100 points out of 100. Intensity, concentration and spiciness also come up a lot. Minerality, massiveness, balance, complexity and length are also in there.
I think this is a really fun idea. Because I’m a data nerd.
Customer comments – Tastes Like Wine
So Parker often describes “perfect” wines as rich, intense and concentrated. What words do my customers use most?
Yes, rather hilariously, the most used words are Taste Like Wine. Not together mind you.
So I did an analysis of customer comments regarding Trah Lah Lah 2008 on Naked Wines, an online wine retailer that represents and promotes us in the UK. The word cloud above is a graphical representation of the words used most frequently in reviews, and the most common words appear in larger font size. I generated the word cloud above using wordle, although I did move some of the words around in a graphic program later on to emphasize the tastes like wine joke. But the size of the words is accurate! I just moved them to the top of the cloud. Wordle also automatically removes definite articles, personal pronouns, possessive adjectives and certain other words that are more about syntax than meaning.
Now, there is a huge difference between what Naked Wines customers say about Trah Lah Lah 2008 and what Robert Parker says about wines he rates as 100 points, namely because very few of the comments wine drinkers left on Naked are in “tasting note” form. Instead of striving for journalistic, objective tasting notes about richness or spice, people tend to write about their whole wine experience. It seems pretty normal that the most used words include “taste” “like” and “wine”. 😀 Personal pronouns and possessive adjectives (I, me, our, its) appear much more frequently.
Here is a list of the words that got used most (I think I might have taken out all the definite articles and certain words that only serve syntax) and the number of times that word appeared.
Is there a meaningful difference between Parker 100 tasting notes and Naked Wines customer comments?
So there is a huge difference in which words appear the most. But is this a meaningful difference? Well, for the most part, this is not a good comparison. But it is a very fun comparison and it inspires certain ideas.
For one thing, why are tasting notes built the way they are? Why do wine critics try to objectively describe flavors and odors in wines?
When they do try to refer to the overall experience of the wine, why does their vocabulary focus on richness, depth, complexity and so on? Wine drinkers don’t think this way (at least not according to this small sample from Naked Wines customer reviews of Trah Lah Lah 2008).
Again, this isn’t really a fair comparison because tasting notes aren’t the same as customer comments. Tasting notes are specifically built to describe the experience of a wine. Customer comments can be anything. They can be about an overall experience, they can be about a specific pairing the person tried, they can be simpler statements (eg I liked it, I didn’t like it), they can be congratulatory or simply grateful (eg Thanks!, Good job, guys!). This means that customer reviews won’t limit themselves to particular vocabulary like tasting note jargon.
Now, even if we limit the analysis of customer comments to only the descriptive words (like rich, intense, etc.) we get a list that’s pretty far from Parker’s. The most common are Really, Very, Good. 😀 Of course the statistics can be a bit misleading since Not is even more common than those! The first descriptive words that appear on the list which might be described as more precise are “French” and “Red”. 😀
Also, I’m only using the 100 point scores from Parker but I’m using all comments for my Trah Lah Lah 2008 on Naked Wines. One might argue that the reason Trah Lah Lah comments don’t have the word rich is because the wine is not 100 points. So I will admit right here and now that this is bad science. This is not a perfect comparison. However, it still illustrates my notion that wine critics use a vocabulary that is actually somewhat foreign to the average wine drinker.
You can also argue that wine drinkers lack the refinement or courage to say things like “intense and deep” while it’s very easy to say “tastes like good wine”. But I think that’s my point. Regular wine drinkers don’t necessarily understand or relate to tasting notes like “unctuous”. Maybe wine communication should use vocabulary more familiar to wine drinkers. How would most drinkers react if the back of a bottle said “This is a French red wine and it tastes good and could use some food”?
Apology and shaking my fist at Stephen Colbert
I was going to post these word clouds later with a lot more analysis of Parker’s reviews.. I would also like to do word clouds of Parker’s ediotrial content (instead of straight up tasting notes) and even do some for other critics and journalists. But Stephen Colbert recently beat me to the punch and I hate it when Stephen Colbert steals my ideas!!! 😀
I promise to talk about all of this in more depth and with more rigor if I get chosen to present at SXSW in Austin next year. The talk I suggested is about data analysis, reinterpretation, visual representation, infographics, and all sorts of other stuff that might help people in non-verbal jobs like wine communicate with the rest of the world online.
The change that has caught the most press is that Parker is giving up California which he used to taste personally. California wines will now be tasted by Antonio Galloni. This gets a lot of attention because Parker’s tastes have really shaped the direction of California wines and Galloni does not have identical tastes. In the range of 90-100, personal tastes can play a large role in the difference between a 99 and a 100 or a 93 and a 95.
But being a Languedoc-centric wine lover, I’m interested in another aspect of Robert Parker’s email. “Two new areas of responsibility for Antonio will include the red and white Burgundies of the Côte d’Or” Aha! Cote d’Or and Chablis, which used to be reviewed by David Schildknecht, will now be tasted by Galloni. This is interesting to Languedoc-Roussillon wine producers since Schildknecht is the man responsible for Languedoc and Roussillon wines. Schildknecht is super busy as he also tastes Germany, Austria, New York, Beaujolais, Loire, and the rest of Eastern Europe.
With the vast weight of Chablis and Cote d’Or shifting toward Galloni, Parker suggests that “sectors that merit dramatically more attention but have not had sufficient coverage, including Beaujolais and the Mâconnais (now economically as important as the Cote d’Or and Chablis) will be put under a microscope by David Schildknecht.” Intriguing.
So I asked David if he thinks that the Languedoc will benefit get increased attention from this shift. The short answer is “eh…” Actually David says, “In short, collectively there is a lot to be done. And this will involve writing about emerging regions including many that render some of the world’s greatest wines and or best vinous values yet get little journalistic attention.”
I’ve included David’s email below so you can see the full eloquent response. But in short, the Languedoc already receives a full bulletin every two years and an under $20 article every other year while some regions remain drastically undercovered or virtually ignored. While one article per year for the world’s largest wine producing region seems like too little for a Languedoc fanatic like me, I have to admit that the situation is even worse for other regions.
Regions Schildknecht will try to cover more
David mentions several regions where he plans on expanding his coverage including, “the Mâcon, the Southwest [of France], Corsica, Jura, and Savoie. And indeed, the Costières de Nîmes and Provence are also deserving of focused attention that they have not received in the context of my reports on the Languedoc or Bob’s on the Rhône, although that future focus might come from Bob or might come from me – this remains to be seen.”
David also mentions German regions outside of the Riesling Belt like “the Ahr and Baden as well as Württemberg and Franken”… lots of regions he wants to give more time to. Places that deserve the attention too. And he talks a bit about the Americas. “And then there are my many deserving countrymen and Canadian neighbors in the eastern three-quarters of North America, who with the exception of those in New York State have gone unmentioned in The Wine Advocate.” I suppose there are a lot of winemakers that fit into this. Virginia pops into mind. Lots of producers. Not as much as the L-R, but a lot.
Also, David reminds me that the deadline for the next Languedoc article is fast approaching. While I can hope that he will have slightly more time for us in the future, it’s unrealistic to think that the change can affect the upcoming article.
David Schildknecht’s email
Besides my continued inability to adequately (including in a timely manner) cover the wines of so many regions of the world, there were other valid internal reasons for the change in Burgundy coverage, which should free me to do a better job in covering the rest of the wine world that is my remaining “beat.” Yes, this will mean more time can be devoted to certain regions that I am already covering. But before either of us jumps to conclusions about how this will effect coverage of the Languedoc or Roussillon, please bear in mind the following factors:
1) My first priority is to be able to publish reports more rapidly. And it will take most of 2011 to get caught up to where I need to for my readers’ sake be in regard to those regions about which I have been publishing ongoing reports.
2) Since time has already been alloted for visiting in and tasting wines of the Languedoc & Roussillon, I’ll be publishing in the June issue the report on these regions essentially as I already planned. I cannot do more tasting or travel for this report than was already planned because of other commitments I have for later in the year. (I’ll start planning the precise days for my trip at the end of this month. Sooner is impractical as too much can change for the growers to ask them two months or more in advance on which days they will not be available to receive me.)
3) Relative to the vastness of the region (one it’s really a stretch to refer to it as “a region”), the Loire has come up even shorter in my coverage than has the Languedoc or Roussillon, and I have only tasted – as I wrote to you before – a minority of the wines in situ but have relied on samples for a higher percentage of my tasting than is the case in my coverage of most other regions. So I shall be looking to do a significantly broader as well as deeper report on the Loire during 2012 than I would otherwise have been able.
4) There are a great many worthy regions about which I have been completely unable to write in recent years and shall now get to.
These include, in France, the Mâcon, the Southwest, Corsica, Jura, and Savoie. And indeed, the Costières de Nîmes and Provence are also deserving of focused attention that they have not received in the context of my reports on the Languedoc or Bob’s on the Rhône, although that future focus might come from Bob or might come from me – this remains to be seen.
I have not had chance to write about any wines of Germany outside of the Riesling belt; and even though these are wines with relatively little international availability thus far, there is a lot of recent excitement in places like the Ahr and Baden (especially with Pinot) as well as Württemberg and Franken.
And speaking of great wines but wines with sadly little international distribution, consider Switzerland! I have been wanting to return to Hungary and Slovenia for some years now, and to writing about their wines. And then there are my many deserving countrymen and Canadian neighbors in the eastern three-quarters of North America, who with the exception of those in New York State have gone unmentioned in The Wine Advocate.
In short, collectively there is a lot to be done. And this will involve writing about emerging regions including many that render some of the world’s greatest wines and or best vinous values yet get little journalistic attention.
At the European Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Vienna, Elin McCoy spoke to us all about the future of the Ivory Tower wine critic. It was a keynote so we all got to sit in for the speech which addressed the rising number of voices in wine journalism and the effect that has on the old guard. Robert Parker got named specifically. (edit: I should mention that Elin knows her stuff. She literally wrote the book on Robert Parker.)
And Jim Budd uncovered an interview that Parker was doing just a week or so before where he shares his own views on the “white noise” generated by Internet wine writers. So this is a topical question being pondered around the world and it’s not limited to 200 wine geeks in Austria.
“”Taste a little less; think a little more.””
Obviously, there was a lot of content to Elin’s speech, but I’ll focus on one key point that I think is getting overlooked in some of the recaps. Elin specifically defines the Ivory Tower critic as somebody who stays far away from production. They sit in a tower and taste. Now, she picks Robert Parker as a sort of icon of this style, but Bob still does travel to wineries (and he did this a TON when he first started). But she harps on him because his style is sort of characterized by focusing on tasting notes and points.
I feel torn because I wholeheartedly agree that the wine world is overly focused on the retail/consumer end of things. But does my opinion actually matter? I left my life in the states, bought a vineyard, and live and breathe wine all day (as fanatical a wine nerd as it gets) so what I like in wine writing doesn’t necessarily correspond to your average consumer. Aren’t publications that focus on tasting notes more useful to the average wine drinker?
Most people who enjoy an episode or two of Love That Languedoc aren’t always going to be able to go out and buy the bottles I’m tasting on the show. They might go out and try another Languedoc-Roussillon wine that is available, but my website cannot be considered a useful consumer guide. Instead it’s more of a regionally themed travel rag. Something that gives behind the scenes access and can make them dream a bit. Is this useful? Does this model even compete with the Ivory tower critic or consumer advocate?
Hell, is the Wine Advocate even an ivory tower publication? I understand David Schildknecht (who tastes Languedoc Roussillon for the Wine Advocate) is coming to the Languedoc this December [edit: he’s not coming til spring], as he does every couple of years. So if there is an ivory tower, he’s obviously not in it all the time. It remains to be seen if he’ll come all the way out to Carcassonne to visit me, but the point is he’s visiting somebody.
Elin McCoy got us all thinking when she proposed that the Internet’s many voices will usher in a new era of wine journalism focused on getting dirty and really getting involved in every part of wine. I hope this is true, because I’m like the exact opposite of an ivory tower critic (using her definition). I live in the mud with the winemakers, making the stuff. My writing and videos are unpolished and barely edited. So I hope to god she’s right–that people really want this uninhibited sort of wine story-telling. But I don’t know that I’m in direct competition with more practical published tasting notes and consumer guides. I bet there’s a place for everybody in this world.
And a lot of people will enjoy looking up to whatever towers are erected. If you don’t believe me, check out Suckling’s new teaser which is literally just a montage of him scoring wines.
But then maybe his “I’m Here” video montage is an attempt to tear down the ivory tower stereotype. 😀
Domaine O’Vineyards, located in the North Arrondissement of Carcassonne, is just minutes from the Carcassonne train station, the Medieval City, and the Carcassonne Airport.
GPS coordinates: 43.259622, 2.340387
Wine, Dine, Relax at our Boutique Vineyard
Unique thing to do in Carcassonne
Wine Cellar. Winery Visits. Wine Tasting.
Wine & Food Pairing
North Arrondissement of Carcassonne
885 Avenue de la Montagne Noire
11620 Villemoustaussou, France
Tel: +33(0) 630 189 910
Best by GPS.
Follow the signs to Mazamet/ Villemoustaussou using the D118. At the end of the last straight part of D118, you will come to a roundabout with the Dyneff gas station.
Take the exit towards Pennautier. Continue 500m to a small roundabout and go straight over.
Look out for the second road on your right, Avenue des Cévennes which curves up hill (about 1km) to Avenue de la Montagne Noire on the left.
At the last juction, bear left. the road sign “Ave de la Montagne Noire” (confusing as it seems to show a right turn)
After another 500m you will see our red brick color building in the middle of the vines.