Wine tasting usually rhymes with friendship, memorable moments and harmony. It is hard not to remember the deep purple color, the unusual nose and blended flavor of a 1985 Côte Rotie Côte Brune. Wine is distinctly magic. It is a subtle hyphen between people. However, when it comes to the 1989 Bordeaux things seem to go completely upside down. The harmony is gone and leaves the way to intense discussions, not to say harsch exchanges.
Why? Simply because two wine experts agree to disagree. One thinks that you cannot predict how well a certain vintage will age just by tasting it; the other has the exact opposite view. To be fair, these experts are not any kind of experts.
To my left Princeton University economist and former editor of the American Economic Review Orley C. Ashenfelter , heavyweight of the economics profession. He publishes a newsletter entitled Liquid Asset. For Ashenfelter, finding a good bottle of wine is as easy as – 12.145 + 0.00117*winter rainfall + 0.0614*average growing season temperature – 0.00386*harvest rainfall. Mind-boggling, isn't it! A little less than thousand subscribers contribute some $20,000 a year.
To my right, world famous wine guru Robert Parker. Parker publishes The Wine Advocate with more than 30,000 subscribers and a yearly turnover over $1million. No need to say that Parker does not use econometrics. He usually tastes the new crop in March. He then revises his commentary and garde by further tasting as time goes by.
Ashenfelter decries what he perceives to be a sense of elitism in the wine industry: "Writers whose palates we respect act as if they were able to pick out the qualities in young wines that will emerge a decade or more from now,". Parker Jr., an influential wine critic, calls the professor's methods "Neanderthal," not to mention "ludicrous and absurd".
In an article entitled "The case of the 1989 Bordeaux" and published in 1994 by the Journal of Legal Education (Vol. 44, Number 3, September), University of Maryland Law Professor Garret Power gives a rather nice illustration of the conflict between the two men. Question is the following: "Is 1989 the greatest Bordeaux vintage of XXth century?" Ashenfelter thinks it is, Parker disagrees. To put it in Power's words, Ashenfelter "pooh-poohed the notion that anyone could sample young wine that tasted like turnip juice and pronounce its greatness ten years hence." Ashenfelter backs his point by comparing the rankings given by Parker and those given by Michael Broadbent, former Head of Chrsitie's wine department. The two rankings are inconsistent with each other. Ashenfelter also observes that Parker's initial grades are always upward biased. For Ashenfelter, the trick is simple: Parker follows the prices. He doest not lead them.
According to Power, the conflict between the two men is obviously tense. However, he thinks that the disagreement between the two men is in fact a profound professional disagreement between a judge (Parker was a law student at the University of Maryland) and an economist. For Power, Robert Parker is a wine judge: "He employs the method of the common law. He sniffs, sops, and spits his way through a number of cases each week." New evidence will make him change his mind. Ashenfelter is undoubtedly a wine economist. Tput it again in Power's words, "he simplifies the world of wine and gauges the quality of a vintage on the basis of variables that are subject to objective measurement."
Who's right then? "In vino veritas"? But, it seems like "veritas" is not for now yet if one is to believe The Wine Spectator. Ashenfelter is heading the race though: Wine Spectator says HOLD!
Any insight for me?