Howard Cooper wrote: ↑
November 17th, 2019, 6:26 am
Tom Reddick wrote: ↑
November 16th, 2019, 8:57 pm
There is a great deal of objectivity in the evaluation of wine.
The notion of Leoville Las Cases, Leoville Barton or Lynch Bages being elevated in the 1855 Classification makes no sense to me. Sure they have all made some great wines, but they lack the breed and full potential of what the firsts offer. There have been times in history when the firsts were lesser wines in terms of overall quality due to a lack of care in the vineyard and in elevage- but the breed of a first growth is always there, even if only barely visible, and its hallmark of greatness. I do by the way agree with the elevation of Mouton FWIW.
1. I agree that their is a great deal of objectivity in the evaluation of a wine. But, I don't drink wine solely with objectivity. I like to drink "better" wines but only when they conform with my subjective preferences. Shouldn't subjective preferences be more important in buying wines than some objective standard. I always think of the ultimate in this - the wine that somehow is objectively perfect, only nobody likes it. What good is this wine?
As to your discussion of the 1855 classification, I think it has a few flaws. First, you seem to assume that the 1855 classification was objective and absolutely "correct." As I understand it, it was largely based on prices at the time, which deal with terroir but also with care in the vineyard and in elevage AT THAT TIME. Why is it absolutely "correct" that Lynch Bages should not have been say a second growth because for longer periods of time (most of the 20th century and what we have seen of the 21st century) it has performed at this level? Similarly, Margaux performed very poorly in much of the 1960s and 1970s. If that had happened in 1855, it might not have been classified as a first growth. Does that mean that the classification should not have been "corrected"?
Second, unlike in Burgundy, estates were classified, NOT terroir. As I understand it, part of the reason Palmer is better than it was classified in 1855 is because of parcels bought and sold. Shouldn't that be reflected by reclassifications? Wouldn't it be a better system if the classification was done by specific parcels, as it is in most places in the world?
Good evening Howard,
To your first point- I totally agree that subjectivity should be the driver for what one purchases and cellars. And I would also say that even within the realm of the subjective, there are many reasons to buy and drink wines that a person- and the wine world at large- find to be objectively less "great" even within the genre of what they subjectively like.
Making myself an example- let's talk Pomerol. Objectively, I think Lafleur is arguably the greatest wine of the region. If in my choice of lifestyle I regularly dined on fine French cuisine, Lafleur would probably be very heavily represented in my cellar. In reality, when I open nice bottles I am usually at an offline that is a more casual setting, or I am cooking at home. And if I am cooking at home, I am more likely to be making a boeuf bourguignon or steak frites versus the really lofty dishes like- to give a classic example- Tournedos Rossini. More generally, I tend to like simple and hearty food.
And so most of my Pomerol holdings are in L'Evangile and La Conseillante. I love those wines. They are also great wines. Objectively, I do not think they are on the same level as Lafleur. But at the end of the day I have all 3 and will enjoy them at the appropriate juncture in their proper context.
This is true for me broadly in Bordeaux. Lafleur is the only really top end Bordeaux I own in any quantity any more. Magdelaine is the backbone of my Bordeaux cellar, followed by Montrose, La Conseillante, L'Evangile and Lynch Bages because those are the wines I personally enjoy drinking most in the various environments in which I am most likely to serve wine.
But that does not change the fact that I personally think Lafleur and Lafite are the two greatest wines of Bordeaux- whatever that ultimately means (which is not much other than a personal declaration.)
To take your question of an objectively perfect wine that nobody likes and what good is that wine- the answer is in practical terms that such a wine is the greatest wine in the world, but of no practical use or enjoyment to anyone.
And I think I can provide an example of such a wine for you- if a theoretical one. What if the great Ausones of the 1920s were being made today in exactly the same manner as they were back then? We now life in a time when most high end wine drinkers are first generation enthusiasts and buying wines they want to drink for themselves. They are not European nobles drinking the wines their grandfathers laid down as they lay down wines for their grandchildren.
If 1928 Chateau Ausone could be somehow reincarnated in its original form today as a new vintage, given how painful the wines were to taste young and even at 20-30 years of age for most of the 20th Century (by reputation admittedly- Gilman's article in issue 79 speaks to this), and given we are in a world where people are buying wines they plan to drink in their own lifetimes and most wineries have shifted their winemaking practices accordingly (and not necessarily in a spoofy way)- where would 1928 Ausone fit into the grand scheme of things? I know many people who claim it is one of the greatest Bordeaux ever made- but even if you knew in advance that was what the future held, how interested would you or anyone else be in buying a wine at release that would be practically undrinkable for the next 50 years?
Point being I agree that subjectivity should drive purchases, and I also do believe that it is theoretically possible for an objectively great wine to have little or no practical use, following or secondary monetary value if it does not offer any subjective pleasure or practical utility (which I think a nearly perfectly subjective concept.)
As for the 1855 Classification, I readily concede there was much money and politics in the works at the time- as there would be at any time when creating a set of standards that would set the general price ranges and levels of prestige for a population of products in what was intended to be a very permanent and enduring manner.
All I am saying is that in general I think it has proven out reasonably well for the era of Bordeaux which with I am most familiar (1959 to the present for the greatest concentration of tasting notes- and reaching back sporadically to 1924.)
And by proven out- I mean the inherent breed and potential of the wines. Yet as you say, not everyone is always at the top of their game. Even though the breed of Lafite is evident in the 1970 and 1971, and even in 1970s Margaux- though just barely- I would rather have Magdelaine and Figeac from the 1970s than Lafite or Margaux (and happily I do for that matter.)
The core of my argument rests in looking at the potential and the degree to which it is evident- ie the nature versus the nurture. And so in that sense a wine could be objectively great, but in a particular vintage or range of vintages be something neither you or I would want in the cellar.