Undrinkable Now, But Not In 20 Years? What is Going On Here?

Consider this: 1995 Beaucastel 93 pts. Robert M. Parker, Jr. “The classic 1995 Chateauneuf du Pape will require discipline. Like most top vintages of Beaucastel, a decade of patience will be warranted before this wine will be enjoyable to drink….The 1995 will have three decades of longevity, but it will not be approachable before 2006. It exhibits a deep dark ruby/purple color, and a provocative (probably controversial) aromatic profile of animal fur…etc…etc.”

I’ve often wondered how it is that someone can taste a wine out of a barrel (or even a bottle) and declare that while it’s nasty now, it will be glorious in 15 years. I guess I assumed that the only way to do this would be to have incredible sensory memory. That is, if you had 30 or 40 years of history tasting wines when they were in the barrel and then were able to consistently taste those same wines a decade later AND (this is the crucial point) remember what they tasted like in their youth) then you might be able to learn how certain wines change with age and be able to reasonably predict how new wines from the same estate might follow the same pattern.

It all hinges on that sensory memory and an incredible history of tasting consistently and constantly. Perhaps Parker has it — I go back and forth about whether the guy is the oenological equivalent of a polymath or an emperor with no clothes.

It turns out that this particular aspect of his criticism, the rating of wines early in their lifespan is a particularly contentious issue between Parker and another critic Orley C. Ashenfelter, a professor of Economics who publishes a newsletter about wine investing. I have Professor Bainbridge and his wine blog to thank for pointing me to this fabulous posting which runs down the long standing conflict between the two critics over the 1989 Bordeaux vintage with juicy barbs like “neanderthal” and “ludicrous and absurd” being traded.