This past Friday night I was in Boston, dining at a surprisingly great restaurant, Clio. There, chef, Ken Oringer uses bells and whistles-- nitro for the gazpacho, liquid parmesean expoding ravioli, that sort of stuff. The evening was lots of flash but also provided an imaginative, well executed and expensive food experience. I give it a 91. But the wine list was major crap, (according to me) which I give a 78.
I found it exquisitely difficult to find something to drink... at any price point. I zeroed in on 2000 Pommard, Clos des Epeneaux from Compte Armand for $85. The wine had no middle palate, but never mind (84). The only other contender was a 2000 Graillot Crozes Hermitage at $60 (should have ordered it instead). I haven’t tasted it so I shouldn’t give it a score, but ---let’s say 89 just for the hell of it.
The doe-like, springy sommelier, trouncing around on high heels all night, was very officious. Like them or not (heels? I give them an 81), I admired how well she knew her list. I overheard her spinning a tale to our neighboring table. The wine she wanted to sell them received a 95 score by Robert Parker. She then proceeded to tell them just why Robert Parker was so great, just in case they didn’t know. (Her delivery? I give it a 99).
After eavesdropping, my friends started to dig their teeth into the ‘role- of- a- wine -critic’ topic. My friend Liz was pleased that there were critics advising people what to drink, at least it gives them something to go by. Lucky for Liz she can (and does, like my other friends) call me wherever she is in the world for wine advice when the wine list comes along. She likened the ‘points guys’ to theater or book critics.
But there is one important thread missing in this line of reasoning; today's wine critics tend to give points on a 1-100 scale (see above). Would you pick a novel on points? This seems antithetical to any literate browser. Wouldn't that rare person who still loves to read pick up a book and scan the first graph or the book jacket or even better, take a real recommendation from friend or salesperson? After all, if books were rated, what would be the difference between a 96 and 98? And who's yardstick would be the measurer? And what kind of imbecile could call a book –“perfect?” What about film? Would you spend your $12 bucks because Anthony Lane gave it a 100?
I adore Lane. He’s brilliant. He is one of the few film critics who gets my attention, (Manohla Dargis is the other). I will consider going to anything he likes. Knowing he liked it, however, isn’t enough for me. I want to know what he has to say about the film before I committed my money but even more, my time and I want to read more than a seventy-five-word note. And wine, like film can't be reduced to a point system assessing acid, weight, tannin, fruit and color.
Criticism has always been analytical and not reductive. So there's nothing the matter with the points givers, but maybe they should call themselves just that, and not critics?