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    Mark Squires: version anglaise

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    LPV a créé le sujet : Mark Squires: version anglaise

     What name would you give to the profession that you exercise ?
    Wine Writer/educator, and also an attorney

     How does your passion have conducted you to become professional ? Were there circumstances, key people, chances, opportunities or other ? Since when do you live this professionalism ?

    I became obsessed with wine after meeting Robert Parker online, and after traveling through France in the early 80s. French sommeliers convinced me all good meals had to have wine. Robert Parker showed me how and where to find good wine.

     What differentiates a professional of a sharp amateur, as sharp as he/she can be ?

    There are several differences, which do not necessarily relate to talent. The first: the professional has more time to spend on wine. He learns more just by being around it. Secondly, the professional is usually more rigorous and treats it more seriously. The bottles are often opened solely for the purpose of evaluation—not just at dinner, not just at a big tasting. The tastings are often better controlled events, with variables affecting the wine eliminated to the extent possible (same glasses, same temperature, same breathing time, etc). Finally, the professional, over the years, accumulates a mental database of information that provides helpful clues to the development of wine. SO: time, seriousness, and experience. I am more serious than most, and I know Robert Parker, for one example, is far more rigorous than I am. For me, it is not a full-time job, for one thing.

     What are the sides of your profession that you adore ?

    Learning new things, meeting winemakers and others who really care about what they are doing.

     And those than you hate ?

    I hate most those who have no soul. They seem to have no fun with wine. It is all mechanical and scientific to them. This is not the right way to view wine. I do also reject an overly romantic view of wine, but what we should strive for is having that great experience—not reducing wine to chemicals, molecules and science. It is art, not science.

     What are your favorite regions in terms of wine ?

    Bordeaux and Northern California, for cabernet and merlot based varietals. And the Rhone Valley for both syrah and grenache based wines. In whites, Alsace and Germany. I love gewurz, pinot gris and Muscat from Alsace, and German riesling more than any other whites, although Loire chenin is not far behind. For sweet wines, Germany again, and Sauternes.

     Do you think that there exists a different approach to wine on both sides of the Atlantic, or is this Franco French rubbish ?

    There is no one answer to this. But I would make some observations. First, many French regions were mired in tradition when I started getting interested in wine in the early 1980s. You could hardly find a bottle of Burgundy in Bordeaux, let alone find anyone who knew anything about Burgundy then. Things are changing. Tradition is still strong, but a new generation of winemakers is much more involved in the whole world, and they are much more inquisitive.

    Second, now that tradition is weakening, there is another problem. It is simply access to wines. The cost of imports, particularly American imports, means that in fact the French do not know very much about some of their competitors. This makes sense. France makes some of the best inexpensive wines in the world. Why pay twice as much for something no better? Still, this problem also promotes a certain lack of knowledge. When I introduce some new world wines to French friends, opinions vary, just as they do in the USA. Some think they are too big or too oaky. Others love the accessible fruit and exuberant flavor. In France, after all, opinions range from a Trimbach to a Olivier Humbrecht on how wines should be made. Stereotyping the French as only being willing to look at one type of wine is in my view incorrect. I think tradition still plays a part, to be sure, but the biggest problem is that other wine styles and New World wines do not get enough exposure in French circles. Traditionalists vs. Modernists---it is not just a nationalistic issue. You can find people on both sides of the argument everywhere.

     Can you name for each of the big classic regions a wine (in a precise vintage) which represents according to you the almost ideal expression of its region ? (say for Bordeaux Right Bank, then Left Bank, Côte-de-Nuits and Côte de Beaune, Rhone Nord and south Rhone, Loire ?

    This is not easy because styles have certainly changed in recent years—and there are more choices in terms of styles. It is harder and harder to say there IS just one style that has to be followed.

    Bordeaux, left bank: 1970 Latour, or a 1986 Mouton, perhaps.
    Bordeaux, right bank: 1998 Trotanoy

    Cote de Nuits: 1990 La Tache
    Cote de Beaune: 1959 Corton (Drouhin-Laroze) or maybe 1990 Corton "Clos Rognet" (Meo-Camuzet)

    Northern Rhone: 1990 Hermitage La Chapelle (Jaboulet)
    Southern Rhone: 1990 Chateauneuf du Pape Reservee (Domaine Pegau), or a 1989 CdP “Celestins” from Bonneau

     Some regions and countries emerge currently and progress qualitatively: what is the one according to you that has the biggest potential, and how do you see it evolve?

    I think the emerging giant is Spain. They have an array of fine vineyards and enthusiastic producers, low prices, and they will challenge many wines at their price points. I would also add Italy, which seems odd, since the Italian revolution has been well under way for a generation now. But lesser regions in Italy keep evolving and turning out better and better wines, like Sicily and Apulia.

     You note wines on 100 : a recurring debate on our website deals with absolute and relatives noting: what is your feeling about this subject ?

    I think people get way too excited about it. People just like to argue. On my own website, I have my fullest answer,

    But it is really simple. Most critics of the system create straw men and then knock them down. They impart meaning to the system that the system itself doesn't attempt to create.

    Also, the fact is, if you want to do a reader of a wine note any good, you have to make some attempt to rank a wine hierarchially. If you don't, are you really doing much good if you just tell your readers that “1990 Haut Marbuzet, Margaux, Latour, Fourcas-Loubaney and Poujeaux are all recommended, read the notes for style differences…?” Of course not. These are radically different wines in terms of quality. You can write “nose of raspberries and crisp palate” 8,000 times on Burgundy. If you put a 98 at the end of one note and 89 at the end of another—you've quickly made a good point that helps a reader understand what you were actually thinking—and recommending.

    Once you accept that wines are going to be, and HAVE to be (for the reviews to really be helpful), ranked hierarchially, then you are just arguing about the best way to convey that information. Those who don't use the 100 point scale, immediately begin to cheat. 18 to 18.5. Or 3 and a half stars to four. A five star system simply doesn't make significant enough distinctions. The 20 point scale, in fact, really isn't that different than the 100 point scale. Almost everyone uses one of these three forms. So, what's the big deal?

     What definition would you give to the term “Great Wine” ?

    Something that makes you think you should send a check to the winemaker for providing an experience you will always remember.

     Some state that the wines of Burgundy don't win to age more than 10 years. What do you think about that ?

    As with all generalizations, there is a kernel of truth to it---and so many exceptions that it would be impossible to live by the rule. It also depends on what YOU want from wine. Some people love that fragrant nose, and fruity taste of young Burgundy. Others love (and some detest) the earthy, forest leaves, strawberry notes that begin to creep in with age and oxidation. What you like will guide your answer.

    I do think that most average wines in Burgundy should be drunk within ten years, to err on the side of freshness. But certainly the great wines have no problem going a LOT longer, or a great vintage or great producer can change things, too. I don't see how you could justify drinking, say, 1990 La Tache in its first 10 years. It needed more time to show its best.

     Do you prefer wines at their peak or like to drink them in their youth ?

    That's a loaded question—the rabbit is in the hat. I like drinking wines when I think they show best, which for me is automatically defined as “peak,” whether that means young or old. Not all wines improve with age, although all wines change with age. This is a point some don't understand.

     When one tastes scorer of samples in a row, as professional, only giving few seconds, to best some minutes to a bottle, isn't there any risk to pass besides a wine that would have required better airing, for example ?

    Yes. Increasingly, I am wary of tastings like this. I have seen too many wines dramatically change in a couple of hours—or even the next day, revealing secrets that a quick tasting could not possibly tell you. This is not true of all wines, of course. And as tasters get more experience, they get better at estimating which wines are likely to trip them up. But I think we need to be more careful. Robert Parker, for instance, says that when he tastes Bordeaux in barrel, where he is allowed to, he takes samples back to his hotel room to taste over several days. It's important to be rigorous… especially when tasting from the barrel…to obtain the best view of young, great wines. It becomes less important when dealing with lesser wines, or even fully mature wines. They don't trap you as often.

     And doesn't the order of wines in a tasting risk to play against certain of them ?

    Sometimes. More experienced tasters can fight against that, but a good order helps.

     If it appears obvious that your professional's statute allows thinking that you have a complete enough knowledge of the French vineyard and the typicity of every vintage. However it is not illusory to think that one can have an exhaustive knowledge? It is not a barrier sometimes ?

    I learn new things every day, and I'm certainly not as good in some regions as in others. There is so much wine knowledge—it is a like a game show trivia contest at times. No one can know everything.

    At the same time---in order to taste and evaluate, knowing everything about the ins and outs of a region is not always important. The truth is in the glass, not in the newspapers, or history books.

     How would you define the notion of “terroir” ?

    A concept that has become increasingly impossible to define as fanatics attach more and more romantic notions to it. Terroir is a simple word that now means too many things to talk about in a few paragraphs, another of its problems. I do believe its importance—in some of its senses—is grossly exaggerated by some who would like to believe romantic fairy tales. I strongly disagree with those who don't recommend wines with words like these: “Very well made, but doesn't seem like an expression of its terroir.” I think often that (a) they have no idea what an appropriate expression of terroir is, and (b) that they ignore more important points to achive their personal, and often stubborn, ideal of what this terroir can produce.

     Does this notion of terroir appear critical for you or is this again a French fixation ?

    It is not critical to me. Either the wine is good or not. There are many factors that go into that besides nuances derived from terroir. And it is very much a French fixation. After all, with the oldest and most complicated terroir laws and regulations, the French have made a fetish of terroir.

    A new world winemaker will always want to focus on winemaking style. A French winemaker will always prefer to talk about terroir—hopefully something unique to him or her that can't be duplicated in the new world.

     How do you situate yourselves in the debate between frantic technicians and naturalistic stubborns ? Is it reasonable to think that non-interventionism can generate some great wines ?

    I hesitate to answer extreme questions because there are always exceptions to everything. But the old canard of “great wine makes itself” is hilariously wrong, and a romantic myth. A great wine is made by a person who makes a 1,000 decisions on how it should be made, from whether it sits in barrique or metal, to how long, to when to pick, and so on. Decisions we do not like are called “manipulation.” In fact, every decision is a manipulation of some sort.

     The debate exists with the vintage 2003 : can one make great wines if, for example, the balance and notably the acidity was corrected ?

    Again, the truth is in the glass. Why do you care how the wine is made? Taste it. Can you tell it from others in a double blind tasting? If not, who cares how we got from vineyard to glass?

     What do you think of biological culture?

    I have not yet formed an opinion.

     And on byodamics ?

    Some things seem to be common sense. Some things might work in spite of themselves. Tying it up with mysticism scares me, though.

     Today, one speaks of yield, with often a race to the one that shows the lowest one to praise the qualities of his/her wine. What do you think of this interrelationship yield /quality ?

    I think great wines are made from great vinification practices at the outset, and this will include low yields as a rule. There are, I suppose, exceptions to everything, but I think on the whole, low yields are important, and more important for some varietals than others.

     What do you think of the evolution of the techniques in vinification : inverse osmosis, micro bubbling, use of the hogshead, concentrators, freezing, etc.

    See answers above: the truth is in the glass. It either works or it doesn't. You can tell the difference or you can't. If you can't, why care?

     Some domains, notably in USA and South America opt for synthetic corks: do you believe yourselves that in the future the regular cork will disappear ?

    It seems hard to believe that we can't find a better closure. I suspect there will be an answer, and slowly, gradually, real corks will diminish in use. I predict that within a decade or two, all inexpensive wine will be screwcaps or synthetics. The issue is long term use for great wines.

     As taster, how do you approach the hypothesis that some samples that reach you can be “prepared” ?

    With rare exceptions, the only samples I've accepted have been wines that have already been bottled, numbered, the market, in other words. Most wines I taste are not in fact samples. I do taste wine after bottling when I taste from barrels and look for differences. Tasters aren't stupid and they eventually catch on if there are consistent differences. Winemakers deliberately playing games eventually wind up on secret lists of people to watch.

     One evokes big gaps sometimes between bottles due to different fillings: does a domain from Bordeaux of 80 hectares have the technical means to achieve only one filling ? Did you note important gaps from bottle to bottle that one could impute to this practice ?

    I know that sometimes I have come across very troubling bottle variations. It is difficult to point a finger at one thing and say “THAT'S why!” That's the problem in answering this question.

     On the contrary, certain wine growers who have some small productions do a direct filling to the barrel : do you think that the different lots are allowed to carry the same name when one knows the differences that exist from one barrel to the other ?

    See above.

     When you judge a wine, how do separate between your personal taste and the intrinsic quality of the wine ? Can one make abstraction of its personal taste?

    This is the most difficult question for a reviewer. First, I try to point out the objective qualities of a wine, and I often say, “Those who like wines in this style will like this better than I…” But I feel my reviews SHOULD reflect my point of view. A critic SHOULD have a point of view to be consistent and reliable. That's what a good critic is.

     What is the appellation that corresponds the more to your personal taste ?

    Pauillac? Napa? This is a pretty broad question. I am an eclectic drinker. I love wines from many places. I would say about half my cellar is French. In terms of varietals, about 40% is cabernet or Bordeaux blend wines.

     Can you mention your 5 more beautiful tasting souvenirs ?

    There are so many, it is hard to narrow them down. One of the great tastings I went to was a showing by Olivier Humbrecht of his entire 1994 vintage, plus 1993 SGNs. Individual wines…? 1990 Cdp Hommage—Beaucastel. 1989 Celestins Bonneau. 1970 Latour. 1990 Margaux. 1982 Mouton. 1986 Mouton. 1994 Dominus. There's such a long list of great wines, it is hard to say.

     Is there a bottle that you never drank and of which you dream of ?

    Yes, I'd love to taste 1945 Mouton, or 1931 Quinta da Noval “Nacional” Port. I also, oddly, have never had a Romanee-Conti itself. As time goes on, the older wines get more rare—and perhaps less interesting, so maybe I should focus on a relatively new Romanee-Conti. Send me the 1990. 

     What is the white vine than you prefer ?

    I have a soft spot in my heart for gewurz, and would annoint Zind-Humbrecht as the world's greatest producer. But there is so little gewurz, I'd have to say, German riesling.

     What is the red vine than you prefer ?

    Cabernet based wines.

     What do you think of the crazy prices reached by some bottles ?

    We all get too carried away as collectors. It doesn't really taste any better because it is expensive and/or rare. Sometimes, I think some wealthy people PREFER to spend more, so as to feel more comfortable that they bought a “good bottle.” The prices are simply ridiculous these days. You know, it's only wine!

     Lately, some amateurs worry about the inflation of Parker's notes. Some wines getting scores superior to 90 that many can't explain. (Cuvee Mythique, Hecula Yecla, Falesco, etc.. ) Isn't it more a problem of style that of integral quality ?

    I think it's an issue of personal preference and taste. Some of the wines you name, like Falesco, are fully deserving of high scores. It's those who disagree that need to come up with some rationalization for criticizing brilliantly made wines.

     What do you think of the influence of a comment on its price ?

    In some areas, it obviously happens. In others…it doesn't. It is hard to make a general comment. So, what's the answer: tell no one, and then you don't get the wine, but it's cheap. Or tell everyone, and maybe you'll find something you weren't aware of? It's like being on vacation at a pretty place and thinking “If only no one else knew about this.” But of course if it were that secret, you probably wouldn't know either…If it's good, people will find out one way or the other, whether via Parker or others. And prices will rise accordingly. C'est la vie.

     What do you think of the producers who modify their vinifications to please a particular critic ?

    I think in a specific sense, this rarely happens—and never with great winemakers. Now, I will say that I think Robert Parker has had a very positive influence in a GENERAL sense on winemaking. His refusal to accept poor winemaking, unripe fruit, weedy, and astringent, just because the winemaker was famous, has, in my opinion, had a significant impact in helping practices modernize in regions.

     You own and actively participate in a forum of discussion on wine. You accepted to answer the questions of LPV. Does this form of communication please you ?

    Well, it's been a lot of work answering questions this way, but it was fun to do.

     Don't the forums risk becoming a sort of competition for the guides and the revues ?

    Yes, but I think that is often a mistake. Fifteen casual tasters commenting on wines does not necessarily equal one professional critic who reviews them more seriously and rigorously. Remember the answers above on how a professional critic differs from an amateur. Still, there are a lot of professionals on my forum who have useful things to add. And professional critics are not always right, and can miss a wine.

     What would you like to add for the readers of LPV that this questionnaire doesn't evoke: lemon price, blues, heart price, etc ?

    You've covered most everything, so let me just add this: I hope everyone keeps an open mind, and remembers that not everyone has to like the same things. You are not an idiot if you like X. Nor are you a genius if you like Y. Tastes differ! Vive la difference.

    Please note my comments are solely my own, and I am not employed by the Wine Advocate. My own website is at , The E-Zine on Wine.


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