Pavie 2010 isn’t a wine I had time to taste during the 2010 primeurs campaign, so I can’t offer my own opinion of it, but plenty of other critics have done so. And it is a wine that, once again (a reference to the spat over the 2003, when Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson developed diametrically opposite opinions of the wine, a good few years ago now) is at the core of a Bordeaux controversy. Again we have critics with differing opinions of the wine. Although it is the reaction from Parker ‘followers’ that, in my mind, is the real issue this time.
For the 2010 fight we have in the blue corner Parker (Wine Advocate), with “Since Perse acquired this estate in 1998, most Pavies have possessed off the charts richness and the 2010 is no different” and dishing out a score of 96-98+. Whereas, in the red corner there is John Gilman (View from the Cellar), who described ths wine as “absurdly overripe, unpleasant to taste, and patently out of balance” (he has a lot more along the same lines to say about this “high-octane cocktail”), and he settles on a score of 47-52+.
In all honesty this should be no big deal. John doesn’t like the wine and I think we would all agree that he expresses this in an unmistakeable manner. Concentrating on the tasting note, the critic is critical; this hardly seems inappropriate for someone whose CV surely has “wine critic” written at the very top. OK, the score is certainly open to question; what exactly does 47-52+ mean? (Aside – surely it means he really thinks the wine is 50/100, i.e. zero, nil, zilch, nul points? – in other words it has no resemblance to wine whatsoever?) Some have questioned whether this score could be replicated tasting blind. Why can’t he say it’s a good wine but “not his style” and give a score of 82-ish, others have asked (with a question about whether critics should be objective or subjective – there are good arguments for both). All these questions are valid, but ultimately it all comes down to the right of the critic to be critical. John has an opinion of the wine, and he has expressed it through words, and through numbers. I will concede that some aspects of his review don’t sit well with me, but John certainly has a right (a duty, perhaps?) to say them. If you don’t like it, leave it. If you adore Pavie, then take note that Gilman clearly isn’t the critic for you. Move on.
Some don’t see it that way though. On the Berserkers board, there is a post about the issue entitled “John Gilman eviscerates 2010 Pavie”, but on the Parker board, hidden behind the paywall introduced in April 2010, closing the forum off to subscribers only, there is an evisceration of Gilman from Pavie and Parker fans.
The most remarkable comments come from the keyboard of Jeffrey Davies, an American-born merchant based in Bordeaux with not unknown to Parker – according to William Echikson in Noble Rot (W.W.Norton, 2004, p.57) “Every winter, on one of his two annual visits to Bordeaux, Parker spends four or five hours tasting in Davies’s office in the city”. Davies wades into Gilman; his comments are “off-the-wall” and “vitriolic” and he accuses Gilman (referencing his obviously negative review of Cos d’Estournel 2009 which I haven’t read) of now focusing his “jaded tastebuds” on Pavie. And he concludes that Gilman “seeks to exist by espousing a diametrically opposite view to that expressed by Robert Parker” with his “calamitous diatribe”.
I doubt very much that’s true. Gilman is being critical of a wine, he isn’t starting an anti-Parker movement. Why do some feel that anyone who dislikes a wine loved by Parker is having a go at Parker? The world, believe it or not, doesn’t revolve around RP. Gilman loves acidic and challenging wines such as aged López de Heredia, and doesn’t like modern, alcoholic Bordeaux. Should he not express that? And is it really so shocking that wines like Pavie and Cos d’Estournel (and Troplong-Mondot, Pavie-Macquin and others) should prompt such a negative review from some quarters? After all, these are all extreme, high-alcohol versions of Bordeaux.
Davies goes on, now turning to Gilman’s other more negative reviews. Commenting on Troplong-Mondot, the evisceration continues. Gilman rates Troplong 68, drawing attention to its “absurd alcohol level”, while Davies disagrees concluding that Gilman’s goal is to “draw attention to himself”. Personally, having tasted Troplong, I can see where Gilman is coming from on this one. The sample of 2010 Troplong I tasted had a hot midpalate, and although my score out of 20 would probably never convert into 68 on the 100-point scale my opinion was certainly less effusive than Parker’s note and high-90s score. Meanwhile, Davies goes on to deliver the coup de grâce, concluding Gilman is a “non-entity in the field of wine criticism”. Ouch! Obviously Davies is unaware that Gilman’s 2010 reviews are set to appear in the next edition of the World of Fine Wine, the world’s most cerebral wine journal (where, as the journal operates on a 20-point system, Gilman’s score for Pavie has been converted to 0-3 out of 20 – although I think -2 to +1 would have fit better).
Personally, with my tastes perhaps somewhat broader than Gilman’s, I doubt I would rate Pavie as low as he has done. I only say this by looking at our reviews of Troplong-Mondot, by ‘extrapolating’ my tasting note for that wine; note that despite my concern over the alcohol, I still saw many positives in the wine. And I also think critics should have a modicum of reservation about sticking the knife into barrel samples, which although representative of the final wine are certainly not exactly the same as it. Gilman’s ranged score around 50 gives a nod to this uncertainty, but his opinion is so scathing this range takes on an almost comical quality. Nevertheless, despite my reservations about the review and despite thinking I might have something different to say, I still strongly support Gilman’s freedom to express his personal opinion of the wine, and he should not be subjected to the ‘evisceration’ he has been the subject of for doing so. Critics must be allowed to be critical, even if their writing comes across as occasionally ascerbic and not to the liking of some individuals.
Speaking of which I also think that Parker’s pal Jeffrey Davies, the man behind wine importer Signature Selections, should declare – before he gets into any flogging of critics dishing out a negative review of Pavie – that for many years his company has been responsible for the import of Pavie into the USA. His friends at the Wine Advocate should be able to give him some tips on transparency and ethics; they have given it a lot of thought in the past year or so I think.