Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Wine Critic's Critic: James Molesworth (Wine Spectator): The Wine Industry's Alchemist. 92/100 points

'His tasting notes are the literary equivalent of a sugar rush (admit it, we all love that feeling), words gushing from his frontal lobe as he disappears into a vinous-fuelled orgy only to reappear having described every fruit known to Del Monte. You can tell that he just loves wine and the people who make it'.

I have a good idea what James drinks because I read the WS, but I don’t know what his magic potion is. Whatever it is, I want some. He has the olfactory receptors of a great white shark, able to detect, for example, 1 part Jonagold apple to a 1,000,000 square hectares of New York orchard. He is the sensory alchemist who can turn a standard Cote du Rhone into a core of crushed plum, linzar torte and Lapsang souchong tea. He has the vivid imagination of Sid Barrett (former singer of Pink Floyd) on interstellar overdrive.

James is a Senior Editor for the Wine Spectator covering Bordeaux, Finger Lakes of New York, Loire Valley, Rhône Valley, South Africa. I write about both him and the Wine Spectator here, and score them together.

Eric Asimov and others have criticized critics like James Molesworth (and other critics) for using words in tasting notes which, in their view, are essentially meaningless, exaggerated in their jargon and contain obscure references. Some believe he and others are guilty of overwriting, deploying hyperbole and reaching for superlatives in his notes.

I don’t care what the others say. I love reading James’ work not only because I like his prose but most importantly because his notes seduce me into trying the wines and visiting the growers. I look at his writing like the lyrics of a song – they may be, sometimes, obscure but the singer gets away with it because the overall sound and melody are very easy on the ear. Some of my favourite singers (Van Morrison, Talk Talk, David Bowie,…..) regularly wrote and still write obscure lyrics but I love what they do nevertheless.

To James, his tasting notes are the verbal expression of his sensory perceptions and these are underpinned not just by his knowledge but also by his passion, notably for the Rhone.

Some people read critics’ notes just for their educational value but I look for more than just opinions, knowledge and experience. I also want to feel the critic’s love and passion for the subject matter. I want him or her to draw me momentarily into their sensory world and let me experience what they can experience regularly. The role of the wine critic, in my view, is not just to educate and inform but to entertain too. For me, James does this with great success.

By informing, educating and entertaining the world about wine, the end game of the critic has to be to encourage more wine drinking (responsible of course) otherwise what is the point?

I love James’ passion – it is one of the defining human characteristics of successful people and can paper over any cracks. I use it all the time to paper over mine.

Here are some examples of James’ tasting notes from the WS:

This white cuts a bold swath, delivering flavors of dried Jonagold apple, fig, creamed pear, hazelnut and persimmon. Creamy and lush, held together by a finely beaded spine of acidity, with strong minerality kicking in on the lengthy finish. Showy and suave, yet balanced.

This is gorgeous, with lush linzer torte, boysenberry pâte de fruit and plum sauce notes that captivate, while anise, Lapsang souchong tea and singed apple wood notes fill in the background. The long finish is fleshy and driven.

Ripe and lush, but very pure, with gorgeous yellow apple, white peach and Cavaillon melon fruit aromas and flavors, lined with honeysuckle, heather and quinine and sailing through the long, stone- and mineral-framed finish. A really beautiful combination of weight and purity.
On the WS site, he uses video very effectively covering all his areas and includes interesting topics such as food and wine matches, differences in types of wines (e.g. Gigondas and Chateauneuf du Pape, Tavel and Provence roses, Cote Blonde and Cote Brune on Cote Rotie), discussions with growers and tastings). These excellent videos and they are very intelligible to the viewer.

The WS accepts wine advertising and some purists would argue that this affects their ability to score objectively. I don’t subscribe to this view. I think they have a huge vested interest in ensuring their readers believe their integrity and I would be amazed if commercial interests affected editorial judgement. Money doesn’t always corrupt – it can be very powerful at holding commercial interests to account as well.

Here are my scores for James and WS:

Read on. The Wine Critic's Critic: Jancis Robinson and Robert Parker will feature next, after Christmas.

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