For example, British critics that came up through the usual channels tend to have an affection for traditional aged ‘claret’ and port. Perhaps other biases will emerge based on a given critic’s training. It does seem that those coming from less financially lucrative professions tend to be more analytical and less collector-driven. There seems to be a similar phenomena in producers, where ultra-rich vintners seek to produce a ‘point-y’ collectors’ wine while self-made or family-based vintners focus more on expressing their vineyards.
I didn’t make your list, Greg, but FWIW, I’m a lawyer specializing in state and local taxation. More pertinent to wine criticism, I have an A.B and an M.A. in art history (and also a separate A.B. in mathematics).
Steve Tanzer started out as a business journalist.
David Schildknecht has a background in philosophy.
Remington Norman, who also didn’t make your list, has a Ph.D. in philosophy and taught it. His recent book Sense and Semblance: An Anatomy of Superficiality in Modern Society may be taken as an indication that he is still practicing it. He also owned a wine shop in London.
Going into other languages, Michel Bettane taught Greek and Latin classics at the famous Lycée Louis-le-Grand and at one time wanted to be a conductor.
Don’t see how you’ll ever be able to say anything even close to definitive, with so few critics and all the other possible reasons for why their tastes are what they are. But it’s interesting to know anyway, IMO.
Lisa Perrotti-Brown: Poor family (I believe), went to college on scholarship (English major?), worked in London (partly at a wine bar), had a play produced, MW.
I agree, there is nothing definitive one can say. Meadows and Parker both started in high-paying professional fields, yet have vastly different preferences. But perhaps the financial leverage they had permitted them to calibrate their palates to the best of Burgundy and Bordeaux, respectively. Kind of like how today wealthy collectors will calibrate their palates to highly rated wines. In the past, however, there was only price and classification.
I guess my expectation is that experience and training will affect a critics’ preferences. A MW, who has undergone a broad palate training, will likely be able to understand a broader range of styles. An ITB type will probably be less biased towards reputation since he must move wine at all price points. A wealthy professional turned critic will probably be most helpful with ‘big name’ regions and wines because these are the currency of their social class. But these are just hypotheses.
A critic will often say knowing the producer’s history helps in evaluating a wine. So why not apply the same thinking to evaluating critics? Calibrating to a critic’s palate does not have to be done blind.
Greg – There’s so much here that I would take issue with and I don’t have the time to do it here. All I can say is that I find your speculations “interesting” but lacking lots and lots of factual background. Should you find yourself in San Francisco sometime, contact me, I’ll pull a very fine bottle or two, and we can sit down and discuss it.
Yes, he did – until 1983, I believe – but from what I know, it wasn’t a very high-paying position. One should also understand that we’re talking ancient history here – the salary spread among lawyers was very different back in the 1970s and 1980s from the way it is now.
He worked at a bank. It wasn’t like Boston Legal. And the wine was very different then. There was no such thing as “cult” wine, most of the new Spanish producers didn’t exist, Tuscany hadn’t figured out how to make great wine, Lancers was a big seller, and Burgundians were still peasants compared to the Bordeleais. Nobody was likely to buy Gruner Veltliner, CdP was full of brett, and the south Rhone was doing the equivalent of jug wine, while the Languedoc was putting out an ocean of stuff that might make its way into Burgundies from time to time to give them a little body.
I don’t see anything at all that one can point to in a critic as a guide to his or her palate, other than possibly the MW certification, which provides a nice Brit view on the world of wine. It doesn’t make one a better or more knowledgeable taster, but if one is susceptible to being influenced, it MAY steer them in one direction vs another. But I think it’s absolutely impossible to extrapolate from an interest, a career, a hobby, or a background to taste in wine.
And FWIW, and I will never ever find this info, I remember many years ago reading a survey that had been done about the readership of what were then the three leading “men’s” magazines. One positioned itself as the height of sophistication - Playboy. It’s readers had the lowest level of education and tended to be in hourly jobs. One was considered the raunchiest - Hustler. Its readers included more professionals and professors and people with advanced degrees than the others. So it had the “widest” appeal and I’ll leave that one alone.
The Burgundians, because of their history, the way they work and the size of their holdings, have always considered themselves more as peasants than the rich, uppity, often absentee château owners from Bordeaux (particularly from the Médoc). The word ‘paysan’, BTW, doesn’t carry the same pejorative connotations in French as ‘peasant’ sometimes does in English. I very much doubt that either Jacques or Aubert would be offended by being called ‘paysans’, and I know that Anne-Claude Leflaive, Jean-François Coche-Dury or Michel Niellon wouldn’t. They are all ‘vignerons’, and a ‘vigneron’ is just a specialist ‘paysan’…
BTW, I’ve just realized in this thread that I may be the only wine writer around who is a full-time non-wine hack. Curious.
Victor – Given the context, Aubert and Jacques might not disdain the term “paysan” if it implied contact with the vines and the vineyards, but you know that by interests and world view, they are not in broader sense. Indeed, when I was tasting in Burgundy in Oct-Nov 2008, one could rather easily distinguish the rich paysans from the true sophisticates by those who understood that there was a global economic crisis vs. those who thought it all a hoax.
I’d contrast them with those in Bordeaux from monied families who hadn’t a clue, but I guess that’s never been a distinction from the paysans.
As for your BTW, in case you didn’t pick it up, I’m still a full-time lawyer in addition to my wine writing.