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04.15.2005

Taste Testing The Mondovino Premise

If you've been poking around here the last few weeks (or anywhere else in the wine writing world) you'll know that Mondovino has created a bit of a stir, and that its director, Jonathan Nossiter is catching all sorts of flack from lots of people, including yours truly.

Apparently the criticism has gotten to him lately, and prompted him to write quite the counter-attack in the public forum of Robert Parker's web site. It's a 4300 word venting spree that would make the Unabomber jealous.

Elsewhere in the world people are putting some of the claims that Nossiter makes in his film to the test, so to speak. Apparently a group of people in France recently put together a tasting of all the wines that he references in his film, spanning the gamut from wines he would consider to be homogenized, Parkerized monsters to the most romanticized small artisan wines.

These wines were then blind tasted by a panel of lots of people, including, I believe, Jancis Robinson, among other critics and non critics alike.

The result, as far as I can tell from the Google translated version of the French newspaper story (sorry, my French is atrocious) is the following:

1. People thought the wines tasted very different
2. A lot of people liked the wines that Nossiter worries over in his film
3. Nothing is really proven, and no one is really vindicated because at the end of the day, Nossiter is just putting forth his opinion. Which makes you wonder why he's so upset that people are disagreeing with him.

Well, it all makes for a pretty good story. Here's the overview of the tasting, and here's the scorecard for all the wines.

Comments (13)

Bertrand wrote:
04.16.05 at 4:01 AM

Very interesting, Alder . This shows that these french "antimondialistes", the likes of Jose Bove, judge things through their political agenda, and don't check the facts, and for what concerns us here, the wine . Making the effort to go taste these actual wines they affect to despise would shake their dogmas...

Jassmond wrote:
04.16.05 at 8:48 PM

Alder,

I am sorry I couldn't figure it out on my own, but is the tasting you are referring to the same one that Nossiter refers to in his post by the Revue des Vins de France Magazine? If so, it seems pretty "subjective" that you are not mentioning his response to it.

Likewise, have you read any of the criticism that is out there, besides your own? I trust you have. I disagreed with you strongly when you suggested that the documentary was subjective, simply because all such films are. I still thought that you kept your review professional, and appreciated what you had to say. If you look at the Parker board and some other print reviews, this is not always the case. I think he had good reason to respond as he did, and was remarkably restrained considering his detractors remarks.

In response to Bertrand I will say again what I said before: If this really is all about how a wine tastes, then why don't we all drink what comes out of the perfumeries? It would meet all of our superficial desires and get us as drunk as we want to be. Wine is art, and if not, then I need to get out of this business and start appreciating site specificity in poppy fields.

Truly,
Jassmond

Alder wrote:
04.16.05 at 9:17 PM

Jassmond,

Hmm. I must have missed where Nossiter referred to the tasting in his posting. Now that I look at it again (thanks), the tasting that he was referring to is not the same one that was conducted by the paper "Liberation" which is where I'm pulling that article from. He's referencing some paper called the "Revue de Vin" which I don't see mentioned anywhere in the Liberation article (though the Google translation could well have stripped it out or the reporter could have omitted it).

In terms of other criticism out there I have read every piece of it that I've come across in my trolling of the wine web, which is pretty thorough. I've read both positive and negative, and I believe I've read every article which Nossiter refers to in his posting.

With regards to subjectivity, please go back and re-read my review of the film, because I have zero complaints about Nossiter's subjectivity. Shooting and editing a film is fundamentally a subjective act, and I do not expect even documentary filmmakers to be objective. Here I'll quote from my own review, when I say that what Nossiter lacks fundamentally is respect:

"That word respect is important because it's not objectivity. I'm sure Nossiter and many other documentary filmmakers would never make any claim to objectivity, per se, but all of the good ones would say that you have to treat your subjects with respect."

Not sure what you mean by the "perfumeries" comment but with regards to Nossiter's "right" or justification for responding as he did, I ask you to consider when the last time you saw any film director launching a counter attack against people who say the movie is bad. Now I don't mean Michael Moore responding with fact checking research to rebut the accusations that the claims he makes in his movie are lies, but a director countering movie critics who are saying basically the documentary equivalent of "your plot sucked and the dialogue was atrocious." Everyone in the world said that about Gigli. But no 4,300 word public rebuttal from Martin Brest there.

Of course, I'm being a little flippant. Just because no one has ever done it before, doesn't mean that Nossiter doesn't have the right to do it. He has the right to do whatever he pleases, but it's a little unusual that he's gotten so bent out of shape about other people's subjectivity about his own subjectivity, if you follow me.

Alder

Jassmond wrote:
04.17.05 at 10:42 AM

Alder,

Just to get it out of the way, the perfumeries reference is to a couple of articles I've read, and a couple of mailings that winemakers I've talked to have mentioned, about consultants from the perfume industry who offer their services to correct wine with flavor and scent components derived from their research in the perfume trade. Sounds like brave new wine to me, and my mention of it was simply to say, in response to the other comment, that this is not just about how a wine tastes.

I have re-read, and re-read your initial review of the flick, and I really think that the difference between "respect" and "objectivity," is hairline at best, and with my cynic shoes on, merely semantics. A critic, a filmmaker or any of the ilk should not have so much respect for their subject that what is said is ignored. I think that Nossiter answers that well in his post, though his lack of commentary on those "positively" portrayed is perhaps a fault.

His post might be unique, but I don't think that should get in the way thinking about why he did it. I am obviously a cynic, but I want to like the guy based on his response alone. Now, maybe, I am naive, but I don't think he is trying to boost ratings, but rather, that he is trying to engage the community he spent months trying to document. Rather than a dialogue, he is being ridiculed for showing his perspective. I am not talking about reviews like yours or Asimov's, but the kind that write him to task without admitting the author's own role in the industry. This is wine. This is something to think about, but for the love of god, it is a commodity. No one should die, weep or even feel bad about paying attention to it. Dionysus would not have wanted it that way, nor would Robert Mondavi.

This is a knee-jerk subject, in a way I never could have imagined, and I am grateful for the forum you have provided for illuminating it to me. I never would have imagined that the old/new (or however you want to paint the dichotomy) perspectives could have such a hard time talking to each other. I hope this continues to be a conversation.

Truly,
Jassmond

04.17.05 at 10:44 AM

I thought the tasting was pretty interesting. I guess it came out about like I expected, with good wines showing up from all over the world.

Now, as for Nossiter's screed on the Robert Parker web site - WOW! I mean, the man comes across as more than a little unhinged. I mean, "Gestapo-like", "the Comintern", "McCarthyite smears", etc. My favorite part is when he basically blames Karl Rove for all the attacks on his film. It seems like everyone, according to him, is a liar. Not saying that he doesn't have a right to respond to his critics, but he comes across as a complete paranoid.

Enologix wrote:
04.18.05 at 11:35 AM

Fluxmoxed by eRobertparker.com's critical comments regarding Nossiter's film, largely because Mondovino clearly places Robert Parker in a good light. In fact, of all the Americans, Robert Parker comes off quite well; he is the recognizeable consumer advocate, albeit in human form. eRobertparker.com's reactivity must therefore be about something below the surface of the discussion. Our fantasy is that like any media based critcs, the critics are sensitive to critiicism.

Geoff Smith wrote:
04.18.05 at 11:43 AM

Personally, I think all this controversy about "Mondovino" to be, "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." I am looking forward to checking out the film which I'm sure is insightful, no matter what implied or inferred opinions might be represented.
Regarding the "Mondovino tasting", I found it interesting to note that the Napa Cabernets performed amazingly well against their Bordeaux competition----I guess I'm in the right business! Cheers from St Helena, Geoff

Roberto wrote:
04.19.05 at 6:52 PM

Alder, Martin Brest is a customer of ours, a Barolo lover and he enjoys fine Belgian ales as well (but lower alcohol ones as he drinks them while writing). On the morning that the s#!t hit the fan over Gigli, I sent him a bottle of the strongest Belgian Triple (12.5% ABV) I could find to help him get through the day with a note that said, "Marty, someone still love you". He was gracious and very appreciative.....a real gentleman.

gwenita wrote:
04.20.05 at 1:55 AM

Hi all,

For those of you who read French, the tasting notes Liberation wrote about is at http://www.lapassionduvin.com, click on "La Grande dégustation LPV". What comes out of it is that good wines are good, regardless of where and how they were made (who would've guessed ?)

About Mondovino, I saw it in November and what I liked most about it was its balance. I have yet to read the posts on Parker's web site, but I thought the movie presented clearly the feelings and visions of the various players about wine making, without ever becoming judgmental about them or taking sides. It is an excellent and entertaining documentary that highlights yet another collision between old-Europe type approaches and new world entrepreneurship. Both are capable of the best and of the worst. One is clearly more successful from a business perspective.

Regards

Alder wrote:
04.20.05 at 6:51 AM

Gwenita,

Thanks for the link. It's interesting that you found the movie balanced. I'm glad, because that was definitely not my impression. It was great, though, that Nossiter talked to such a wide range of people in the industry and around the world.

Roberto wrote:
04.20.05 at 3:55 PM

Alder, If I went and interviewed the guys who grow organic food for the Farmer's Market and some top regional chefs and then the guys from the Marketing department of McDonalds and a plant manager from Tyson Chickens, I would not have to do any "slanted / biased" editing for their respective ideas about food production to be self evident. I think Jonathan has done a similar thing....BUT, it is too frigging long and will bore most people out of their skulls.

Alder wrote:
04.20.05 at 7:43 PM

Roberto,

Perhaps the thrust of my critical review is being lost in all the back and forth. My criticisms of Nossiter are not that he manipulated the film to create a caricature or distortion of people's beliefs or ideas, but that his camera work and editing tell the story at the expense of some of his subjects' dignity -- which I argue he should have respected as a filmmaker, rather than deliberately and rudely undermined.

Alder wrote:
04.21.05 at 9:06 AM

Leo/Enologix,

Well, it's important to remember that 1) there was no "official" response to the film from Robert Parker or the wine advocate. 2) Pierre Rovani published some commentary on the film which was critical of it not because of how it portrayed parker, but because of the overall premise. 3) most of what Nossiter was railing against were the comments of dozens of individual members of the bulletin boards hosted at eRobertparker.com who certainly don't speak for Parker.

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