Roadkill: Highly Rated Wines of Dubious Quality, by John Gilman

Apropos to the over-rated if not bait n’ switch wines under discussion these days, an esteemed fellow Berserker and wine critic/reviewer?, John Gilman, published the following. I just happened to stumble across it while wine-surfing. Enjoy!" onclick=";return false;

Critical and Historical Commentary of a Vinous Nature
January-February 2007 Number Seven

Roadkill: Highly Rated Wines of Dubious Quality. (pages 84-93)

I have occasion to taste a numerous wines throughout the course of a year that
are not necessarily within the general focus of View From the Cellar, and hence do not
find an outlet within the normal flow of articles for the newsletter. Many of these notes I
simply tuck away in my files in the hopes that I will eventually find a use for them in
future features, or at the very least they will be included eventually in the database that I
plan to offer to subscribers. However, over the course of 2006 I tasted a number of very
highly-touted wines that I could not believe were so egregiously made, and given that
many are purported to be wines for extended cellaring, my expectation are that there may
well be subscribers to View From the Cellar who are sitting on these turkeys in their
cellars. A large number of these “trophy wines” are available in such limited quantities,
that it is highly likely that many are resting in cellars without ever having been tasted,
with the owners simply relying on the accuracy of the commentators that have praised
these wines. Given the fact that many of these are very expensive wines, it seemed to me
that it could be a service to readers to start a feature that spotlighted these rather
spurious bottles when I crossed paths with them; my hope is that my rather contrarian
views on a number of these well-known bottles might at least spur people who do own
them to taste them and make their own evaluations of the wines (if they have not already
done so), and if they find them as flawed as I have, then to move them out to auction
where they can find homes where they really will be loved.

I fully understand that many of these wines may well be adored by owners of the
bottles, and it is absolutely not my intention to rain on their parade. As one subscriber
said to me at a tasting not too long ago, if people are out there that really like this kind of
wine (my memory conveniently has let go of which monstrosity we were tasting at the
time that found me railing against the entire genre), then what is the big deal? And on
one level this is certainly a very valid observation, for it is no big deal if a certain type of
wine is made and finds an audience that is appreciative. However, I am also certain that
there are thousands and thousands of bottles of highly-praised wines resting comfortably
in collectors’ cellars that have not been tasted with any degree of thoroughness by the
owners of the bottles, as the wines should be too young now for primetime drinking, and
my hope is that this feature may spur them to pull some corks and make an evaluation of
their cache of trendsetters. It is my expectation that many may not like what they find.

I remember vividly my days as a rare wine specialist when I would appraise
cellars of collectors thinking of selling off some or all of their collections. Many would be
shocked and disappointed to find out that this or that “highly scored” bottle had lost
significant value in comparison to what they had bought it for during the selling season
of the wine, and that many of these so-called stars could not find a home at any
reasonable price, as the wine market was now fully aware of just how over-hyped that
particular wine had been, and how poorly it had evolved. What is more disturbing than
the inevitable market correction with many of these wines is the critical inertia that many
of these labels maintain, vintage after vintage, despite the obvious deficiencies in the
earlier examples of the wines. Once the critical ego has been engaged, the path of least
resistance is to continue to pile on the praise for these conceptually flawed wines year
after year, rather than step up to the plate and admit that the early predicted potential of
these wines has simply not materialized with bottle age. All of which would not really
matter if these incomprehensibly praised wines were simply off on their own in the
market, and still finding happy customers that really liked the stuff. But unfortunately, the
producers of these wines have neighbors who are quite cognizant of the new fleet of
Mercedes in the next door driveway, and if a certain recipe or some “hot” consulting
winemaker can upgrade the ride, then what is the harm in that?

The real danger is that without some accurate reporting on these wines (which a
good friend has dubbed “the spoofulated wine club”), the entire world of wine may one
day be reduced to one fat and happy spoofulated wine club. And whether we know it or
not, we will all be much the poorer if this comes to pass. The cultivation of the vine and
its transformation into the noble beverage of wine is one of humanity’s more noteworthy
achievements, perhaps not quite up there with the taming of fire and the wheel, but
certainly of great ancillary benefit if the happy hunter happens to have something good
roasting on the aforementioned fire. And it is under attack. Not by demented market
forces and their invisible hands, but by the blissful sloth of a wine trade that has been all
too happy to ride the wave of the last twenty-five years as the international wine market
has exploded in price. This is true of every level of the market, from producers to
shippers to merchants and sommeliers. How often have I heard off the record (and
usually at the butt end of some particularly good tasting of serious wines far removed
from the realm of spoofulization) well-known members of the wine trade state that they
are well aware that a certain wine sucks, but so what if it sells? And of course we cannot
forget the wine journalists who have served to drive the bus of spoofulization over this
same time span. Whether the critical he or she chooses to hide behind the chimerical
shield of “objectivity” or embraces spoofulization in wine as a “modernization” or a
“market rationalization” is utterly immaterial, for it is not the intention that matters,
simply the resulting vinous wasteland that seems all too likely to one day swallow up
much of the world of wine.

The goal of this feature is simply to highlight the examples of spoofulated wine
that I cross path with over the course of my many tastings. For a wine to qualify for
inclusion as road kill it needs to meet a few criteria: to be highly touted somewhere
prominent in the world of wine journalism, to command a stiff tariff, and to be so fatally
flawed to my palate that questions of drinkability at any age and at any price are quickly
called into question. Some of these wines are relatively new products, and their lack of
track record for aging should allow them a certain grace period prior to their being
consigned to the spoofulated scrap heap. Of this genre, at the present time I have only
included the most obviously flawed wines, and many that I have little doubt will
eventually find their way into this ignominious grouping have been left out to give them
the benefit of the doubt. A second subset of this genre, and by far the more disturbing to
my mind, are the once great wines that have fallen into the trap of spoofulization in the
last several years. Many of these wines continue to trade on their indisputably glorious pasts, and seem to be given a hall pass in the circles of wine criticism simply because
they were once among the most brilliant and important wines in their respective regions.
For many of these one may hope that this period of spoofulization will end up only being
a brief historical blip on their illustrious biographies, as the vineyards still remain, and it
is just as easy to not buy new oak and fancy cellar gadgetry as it is to buy it and use it.
Consulting contracts can be bought out, foolish advice can be scorned, and the will to
once again produce great wine can be regained on the turn of one vintage, so these
properties are not yet destined for the scrap heap. But this does not mean that there are
not recent releases of these wines that should be absolutely avoided.

The following list of wines to be avoided, or at least critically tasted and
evaluated, is by necessity anecdotal and cursory, as I have for quite some time sought to
avoid many of these wines. My years as a sommelier and wine merchant allowed me
ample opportunity to taste a very wide array of high end wines in the marketplace and to
form some historical perspective on subsequent cycles of the next hottest properties. One
kisses enough newly-minted frogs and one eventually learns to do without princesses, or
at least stop looking for them amongst the lily pads. And of course this list is highly
subjective, as wine tasting inherently is. What I personally think about the following
wines and the palates that concocted them and the palates that praised them is in the end
of no importance. The only thing that matters is what you personally may think of these
wines, if you are unlucky enough to have some in the cellar. Taste them. If you like what
you taste, excellent. But if you, like me, are rather surprised by the lack of quality of the
pricey beverage lurking on the far side of the cork, then at least you know what you have,
and it is possible (and probably still lucrative in many cases) to move these wines out
again into the marketplace where they will find a more suitable home. But the clock is
ticking, for wines this flawed cannot be kept secret forever.

John then proceeds to name names. [thumbs-up.gif]


Thanks for sharing. John appears to have a way with words.

I recently subscribed.

I just emailed link to John. That looks like a total copyright violation to me, unless he gave permission. Who is Cantina Rizzi? One or two notes would be fair use, not a whole issue (again,unless he said ok) (John said he ok’ed it)

that said, an enjoyable article. I’ll confess I did the Cab Franc tasting where he had the Pride and the le Dome, and if anything he was generous to them (I actually liked the Bourriquot, which is considerably cheaper than the other two).

I don’t always agree with John on wines he dislikes, but pretty much always likes wines he scores highly (my tastes are more catholic than his)

Vega Sicilia Unico is a spoofulated monstrosity. Yeah right. Very useful, thanks for letting me know. [scratch.gif]

I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy several bottles of Unico, each one has been outstanding. If Unico is road kill, well, I guess I’ll just take the rest of the list with a large grain of salt.

Edit: But I haven’t had the '94 so who knows, maybe he’s right. Some of the others I would agree with but certainly not the '89 La Chapelle.

IIRC he also thinks something similar of the Alión 04 and 01.


OK, edited. John said he told Enrico Dellapiana of Cantina Rizzi that he could post entire issue

Well the 79 in a mag was certainly the best “spoofulated monstrosity” I’ve ever had, then [whistle.gif]

It is good to learn something new each day; and I did by reading this write up. I now know someone else whose reviews I should not take seriously.

The author’s assessments of the '96 Unico and 1999 Marcassin Blue Slide, in my opinion/experience, are way off the mark as well.

I would say that the common thread in the wines he disses tends to be the levels of new oak that he feels predominates. But then he describes the 89 La Chapelle as dead and pruny. That hasn’t been my experience.


Bravo for Gilman to offer his own perspective, fully knowing the reaction he will get from most wine lovers.

It might help if the two of you actually read the article before spouting-off.

He starts off his comments regarding Unico with the following:

Some of the most memorable bottles of Spanish wine that I have ever tasted have been Unicos, and without any great depth of tasting experience with this wine, I can rattle off at least a half dozen vintages that I have tasted and which have been profound.

Clearly he’s getting at the idea that there may have been a stylistic change relative to earlier vintages. Whether he’s accurate, I can’t say personally. But I figured it would be worth putting some context out there to help those of you with short attention spans. [pwn.gif]


Dear Jim, I read the entire article and my attention span is fine, thank you very much. I have been fortunate enough to taste several vintages of Unico, including the 1970 which is arguably my all time favorite wine. The 1994 is among the very best Unicos I tasted. While I welcome diverse opinions, when what I read is so diametrically opposite to my views, and to those of the people I respect the most when it comes to Spanish wine, it gives me pause. Have you tasted this rendition of Unico or previous ones?

A great man. I really must subscribe.

That hasn’t been my experiance either…the four times I’ve had the wine have all been great and the wine seems to be getting better and better…but I will take his advice and try another bottle… [wink.gif]

Human nature in a nutshell right there.

I’m not a subscriber to Mr Gilman’s newsletter, but I was told some of his scores include not only the 71 points for Unico 1994 but also:
Alion 2001 - 84 points
Alion 2004 - 74 points
Pesquera 2001 - 82 points
Now I confess to be curious about his rationale behind these numbers. If he is so consistently apart from my preferences, all I can say is that his Spanish wine scores would be useful for me, although as an inverse indicator of quality.

My, this IS getting interesting. I may have to plunge for a John Gilman subscription as well. [wink.gif]

It was a thought-provoking read to say the least. When I saw the title/premise, the first wine that came to my mind was Martinelli’s Blue Slide Ridge Pinot. Given that John also notes the “qualities” of the Marcassin, is it possible that we have a nominee for most spoofilated vineyard [winner.gif]