Q. Bear, you have about 200 notes here and the scores are all in the 90s. You didn’t taste any bad wines?
A. Well actually, it is 207 notes here and you’re right, the scores are mostly in the 90s (on the oft-maligned 100-point scale). But I did taste some bad wines. In fact, I tasted rather a lot of mediocre and bad wines. So what gives?
During my two weeks in Bordeaux from March 20 through April 4 (and during a subsequent trip in late May), I tasted over 1,200 wines and took tasting notes on over 800 of them. The wines I didn’t take notes on were either served where it was impractical to take a note or were wines where there was no point as the wines were either bad or not interesting.
Of the 800+ notes I took, about 500 were on wines Spec’s might (could?) buy now or eventually from the 2014 vintage. Of those 500 or so notes, a number are duplicates as I tasted some wines on two, three, or even four different occasions either because a sample may have been iffy or off or to confirm a really good or really bad impression. Eliminating the duclicates gets me down under 400 notes. Eliminating the notes on the wines that were just good and most of those that we (Spec’s) have no plans to buy gets me down closer to 200. That’s 200 or so, mostly from a particular subset of the fewer than 300 fairly well-known chateaux – and second wines – out of more than 6,800 total wine producing chateaux in Bordeaux.
So since I’m writing only about the best of 500+ of the better and best known wines of Bordeaux, these are going to tend to be the wines I score the highest. So in a fine vintage such as 2014, most of the scores that I publish are going to be at the B+, A, and A+ level.
Q. What qualifies me to comment on and score these wines?
A. I began tasting and drinking Bordeaux in college in 1976-1977 and have been following it avidly since then. I started my first job as a sommelier (back then we said “wine steward)”) was at the Rotisserie for Beef and Bird in 1979 and I went to work on the distribution side of the business (at Glazer’s) in 1983. I have been the fine wine buyer for Spec’s since 1996. During that time, I have paid as much or more attention to Bordeaux and its wines than to any other wine producing area in the world. Since the early ‘80s I have tasted several hundred Bordeaux wines each year. Beginning in 1997 (to taste the 1996s and re-taste the 1995s), I have gone to Bordeaux every year for (in most years) two or more weeks to taste, visit, observe, and learn.
Q. How do you choose what to taste? Do you taste everything?
A. There are some wines I don’t taste. I have given up on the Perse wines (Pavie, etc.) because they are usually too extracted (for me) and, failing stratospheric scores from Robert Parker*, they have not sold well for Spec’s. I also don’t taste a number of the higher-priced, tiny production “Garagista” St. Emilion wines and a lot of the “technical” (as opposed to terroir) wines for the same reason. I used to taste everything but as I have gotten older, palate fatigue has become more of a factor and I have to draw the line somewhere.
*It should be noted that Robert Parker himself has not published any 2014 Bordeaux notes this year. The notes attributed to “the Wine Advocate” are from Neil Martin who has a different palate and set of likes and dislikes than Robert Parker. In the 2014 Offers on the Spec’s Fine Wine site, I have included scores from Neil Martin and Jancis Robinson along with my own scores.