Sunday, 8 December 2013

The Wine Critic's Critic: Burghound and Allen Meadows: The wine industry’s CFO, Head of Compliance and Audit. 83/100 points.

'I am sure Allen means it when he says he is passionate about Burgundy but I can’t help feeling that he sounds like an accountant who says he is passionate about numbers. He is clearly very knowledgeable about Burgundy in particular, but I find this site a bit boring. I wish he would liven it up and reveal a bit of love and soul for the subject matter. You can tell this site has been created by a former CFO'.

He is everything you would expect from a former CFO - fastidious, serious, conscientious, thorough and detailed. He prepares his notes and journals like he would the annual report and accounts for a Fortune 100 company, knowing that he will be held to account if there is a serious error. Like every good CFO, he clearly manages the business meticulously and maximizes all subscriber led (not advertiser led, I stress) revenue opportunities.

‘Fastidious’ is my first impression of Alan Meadows as I read the ‘Promise to you’ section on the first page of his site and the ‘statement of principles’ on the front of every quarterly journal which lay out his impeccably correct approach to tasting and scoring.

Meadows protects his business with all the zeal that you would expect from an American former CFO. There are rules, terms and conditions, legal definitions, licensing fees, threats if rules are violated, copyrights and warnings about what is strictly prohibited (web crawlers, spiders, robots) and what is expressly forbidden. Al Capone would have been intimidated.

I always need a drink, smoke and lie down after reading all this, followed by 10 minutes watching a video by James Suckling extoling the beauty of a Monte Cristo No 2. Only then can I relax.

In this world of piracy and copyright infringement, I empathise with his feelings of insecurity and fear that people will rip him off and use his copyright. But I do find it depressing. Has the world of wine been reduced to all this legalise? Has it just become another boring business run by accountants and lawyers rendering it soulless, technical and dull? I’ll just throw that out there to you. Maybe it is one for another posting. Perhaps I am just suffering from Pangloassian syndrome, a romantic at heart who loves an old fashioned handshake as the basis for a deal as practised by so many growers and importers.

However, in terms of content, burghound is a stellar example of the online specialist site. I doubt there is anyone in the world who knows the wines of Burgundy and more generally Pinot Noir (he covers California, Oregon and some champagnes and sparkling wines) as well as him.

It is packed full of information – a considerable database, tasting notes, how the wine was made in the year, quotes from the producer, a glossary of terms, special reports on multiple vintages of rare wines and a travel guide (extra cost unless 2 or 3 year subscription is taken out). He also produces a pdf which you can download and print. Q3 2013’s issue (no 51), just out, is nearly 200 pages long and it covers 193 producers.

He provides audio and video, information on speaking engagements and wines of the week. He also writes books and travel guides.

Its look, feel and the functionality all work very well. Whilst his area of focus is small (confined to burgundy, a few other pinot noir growing areas and Champagne) his coverage within that specialist area is first rate. He covers every nook and cranny of Burgundy.

It is a very impressive source of information in its specialist areas but more suitable for the trade and expert amateur looking for depth of content and tasting notes rather than consumers looking for general information and updates.

If I were to reproach him on anything, it would be his delivery, as seen in his video clips. His delivery is, well, like an auditor delivering the final audit report to the PLC Board – dry, soulless, wooden, dull. I do recognize that he addressing detailed, technical and serious subjects such as dry extract, green meanies (come again?) and premature oxidation but he is no Jamie Goode when discussing these. Allen could take some tips from Jamie on how to communicate technical subjects like a great teacher and from James Suckling on how to bond with the audience in video and bring some of these subjects to life.

Returning to my point about his passion, I can see he is genuinely committed to the cause. He is a serious on-site taster, committed to spending 5 months a year in Burgundy. Looking at his list of appointments, he must have a considerable appetite and energy for the cause; in April 2013, he spent 9 consecutive nights at tastings and dinners in Asia. He must have needed a serious detox afterwards.

I think Meadows is an outstanding taster and writer although some find his notes very repetitive. He uses evocative, accurate and clear language in his tasting notes and your mouth starts watering just reading them. He is also a tough marker so if he score highly, you really know the wine is good. Here is an example:

2011 Puligny-Montrachet “Les Folatières”: This is sufficiently ripe that the nose flirts with the exotic with its notes of tangerine, pear, white peach, acacia blossom and spice hints. There is flat out stunning intensity to the extract-rich medium weight flavors that seem to be directly extracted from liquid rock, in particular on the penetratingly saline-infused and forcefully explosive finish that seems to go on and on. This is textbook Folatières. 95/2021+.
I also like the way he identifies wines against other criteria such as ‘top value’, ‘drink now’, ‘sweet spot’ and ‘don’t miss’.

Here are my scores for Allen and Burghound:

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