Home > Winedr Blog

Robert Parker Had It Right

Robert Parker’s reputation relied almost exclusively on three regions. There was Bordeaux, there was the Rhône Valley there was the Napa Valley. His ability to call wines as he saw them, to consistently remain true to his palate, and to enthuse about those wines he liked, from these three regions at least, resulted in a loyal band of readers and subscribers who knew they could follow his recommendations.

I know Robert Parker wrote extensively on other regions, but I am not sure how much weight these reviews carried (although I would wager it was probably more than you might think). And I know things didn’t go well in Burgundy. But that is all pretty much irrelevant. You didn’t take out a subscription for the Wine Advocate to read about the latest releases from Georgia, from the upper reaches of the Mosel, or from Burgundy or the Loire. It was when he wrote on his trio of ‘expert regions’ that you placed your trust in him. He had decades of expertise. He had a track record. And if you didn’t agree with his opinion on certain styles, he was consistent enough to still be of use as a critic. You knew where he was coming from. You knew what to buy or, alternatively, what to avoid.

I think paying consistent attention to a small number of regions, for many years, is valuable experience for a critic. You get to know which winemakers to watch, who is making waves, who has suddenly improved, whose wines are going downhill, and you get to review your assessments – and learn from your mistakes – by returning to the wines as they age. I wonder how newcomer critics parachuted into unfamiliar regions – by the journal or magazine they write for, perhaps – cope with this. When you encounter unfamilar wines, from unfamiliar styles, how do you rate them? Where is the context?

The risk is that you might rate wines too high, entranced by unfamilar flavours and different textures and structures. Or perhaps too low, being unwittingly mean as you just didn’t get the style. And there is a risk that, not tasting blind, you subconsciously award high scores to famous labels. After all, they’re wines from domaines you’ve heard of, so these must be the benchmarks, right? How easy it is, I think, to get that wrong.

Robert Parker definitely had it right. To be credible, critics should write about what they know (and love).

Loire Valley 2016: Frost Solutions

The 2016 vintage has been a very difficult one in many regions of France, and although I suppose it is inevitable that stories about the decimation of Chablis, or six famous growers combining their few bunches of grapes to make one cuvée of Montrachet (link in French), my first thought on encountering such stories is to think of all the Loire vignerons, huge numbers of whom are also facing devastated yields this year.

As I have already described in Loire Valley 2016: The Frost, many domaines are predicting a loss between 50% and 70%. During my most recent trip to the Loire I was able to add a few more data points (no good numbers I am afraid). I also learnt a little about how a couple of vignerons are planning to balance the books after more than half their crop disappeared.

Most of my visits were in Chinon, but I did call in on Philippe Boucard, of Lamé Delisle Boucard in Bourgueil. He didn’t give any predicted figures, but it was clear on the lower vineyards below the domaine they have lost almost everything. The higher vines, up the limestone slope behind the domaine were better protected. In Chinon, Olga Raffault told me she has lost 50%, although this is just an estimate and most of her peers provide higher figures.

Loire 2016

Yves Plaisantin (pictured above), of Domaine Jaulin-Plaisantin, lost between 60% and 70%, sadly this is a more typical figure. As usual it was the lower-lying vineyards they have around Briançon which were hardest hit, those up on the slopes around the domaine were protected by their position. Yves and his business partner Sébastien Jaulin have come up with one interesting solution; they have managed to source Cabernet Franc from Bordeaux (if I recall correctly, I think he said 3 hectares) which he was readying the cellars for when I visited last week. The vats, hoses and other equipment were all being subjected to a deep clean. The fruit was picked this week, driven up to the cellars in Chinon in a refrigerated truck and the fruit will now be safely fermenting in vat. Yves is a talented vigneron with a lot of experience under his belt, and I am sure the results will be worth the effort.

I also called in at Domaine Grosbois, purportedly to see Nicolas Grosbois, although I knew – having spoken to Nicolas just a couple of days beforehand – that he wouldn’t be there to meet me. I checked things out here, both vineyard and cellars, with his talented and charming oenologist and assistant Delphine. Nicolas experienced true devastation in the vines this year, as he is predicting a 90% loss. Indeed, I struggled to find many bunches on his vines (this is true of many parcels though, especially when I hunted around on the sandier sections of the Chinon vineyard later in the day between appointments). In order to keep things ticking over Nicolas has been busy in the south of France, where he has negotiated the purchase of some grapes. He was there overseeing the vinifications, hence his absence when I called.

I am looking forward to tasting both these cuvées next year. More than that, I am already hoping that 2017 brings better luck for all. The 2016 really has been a frosty, mildewy, rainy, rotty endurance test for so many of the Loire’s good people.

Domaine de la Noblaie 2016, Before the Harvest

Earier this week I spent a few days in the Loire Valley, making a few visits in Chinon and Bourgueil, and checking out the state of the vineyards prior to harvest. Most will start picking the Cabernet Franc soon, probably the second week of October.

It is going to be a very short vintage after the disastrous frost in April. But it is far from non-existent.

Domaine de la Noblaie 2016, Before the Harvest

I took a walk around the vines of Jerôme Billard at Domaine de la Noblaie. Jérôme is predicting a 20% loss, and some of his vines (like the one pictured above) are carrying a good crop. The fruit looks healthy and although I found one or two berries with really convincing flavour (usually in exposed bunches on the ends of rows) Jérôme says they need more time to ripen fully. The main problem I see in the bunches are numerous small, unripe berries which will need to be selected out. Jérôme picks by hand, so this will be time consuming but achievable.

Domaine de la Noblaie 2016, Before the Harvest

Pictured above, more healthy Cabernet Franc in the lower sections of the vineyard (still well above the alluvial plain though, where the frost hit hardest).

Domaine de la Noblaie 2016, Before the Harvest

Pictured above, some more healthy Cabernet Franc, this time on an even higher section of the vineyard, looking at vines that provide fruit for the Chiens Chiens cuvée.

Domaine de la Noblaie 2016, Before the Harvest

The main task ongoing in the vineyard during my visit was removing the grapillons, like the one pictured above. These small secondary bunches sit high in the canopy, maybe a metre above the ripening bunches pictured above, and are derived from the vine’s second flowering. In terms of ripening they are clearly lagging behind, the berries still bright green, but in a couple of weeks when harvest comes they may well have changed colour. The best course of action – before all the saisonniers arrive to pick the fruit – is to pluck them off now.

Domaine de la Noblaie 2016, Before the Harvest

The weather throughout July and August has been very dry, and yet despite that the vines still looked verdant and green. Jérôme, who manages the entire vineyard using organic methods and is fully certified, sprayed the canopy several times with an infusion of comfrey during the drought, which he thinks helped protect the vines.

Domaine de la Noblaie 2016, Before the Harvest

This final image shows an unhappy vine, but it was nothing to do with the frost, or the drought; damage to the trunk when cutting the grass did this.

There is no denying this is a difficult vintage, but despite the very short vintage there is still the potential for some verygood quality here.