When Spectator and Parker ratings wildly disagree: Whom to trust?
Spring Mountain Vineyard
Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher is the author of Uncorked and a writer for the Dayton Daily News.

It was an intriguing idea for a wine tasting: Take a half-dozen wines on which Wine Spectator and Robert Parker disagreed substantially on their ratings, and figure out which one was right — and which was wrong.

That was the premise of a recent tasting organized and hosted by Dayton-area ophthalmologist Michael Kunesh, who found six wines with scores that diverged in score anywhere from 6 to 14 points. In three cases, the Spectator rated the the wine higher, and in three cases, it was Parker who was more generous with his score.

Here were the wines:

– 1997 Merryvale Vineyards Proprietary Red (Parker 89 points, Spectator 97)

– 2003 Branson Coach House Shiraz (Parker 98, Spectator 92)

– 1997 Antinori Guado al Tasso Bolgheri (Parker 88, Spectator 96)

– 2003 Dominus (Parker 95, Spectator 81)

– 1995 Phillip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon (Parker 96, Spectator 88)

– 1997 Spring Mountain Estate Reserve (Parker 88, Spectator 95)

Kunesh served the wines blind for us to make our own determination (on the 100-point scale, naturally), and to give us the chance to guess the identity of the wines. That task was made more difficult when one of the wines — it was revealed later to be the Antinori — was corked. The level of TCA was substantial enough to make the wine impossible to evaluate.

My favorite of the night (95 points) was the ‘97 Spring Mountain — a wine with just a smidge of brett-like barnyard in the aromas, and waves of complex flavors that just kept coming over the course of a long, luxurious finish. Both the Merryvale and the Dominus (94 points) came in tied for second on my score sheet.

None of the wines showed poorly (with the exception of the corked wine, of course). None seemed to contain elements that I would think would be controversial, with the possible exception of the whiff of brett in the Spring Mountain. So in essence, I have no clue how two such influential tasting conglomerates such as Parker and Spectator could diverge so dramatically, especially on the Dominus, with its 14-point difference.

Who “won” the credibility battle? Alas, there was no clear-cut winner. My selection of Spring Mountain aligned me more with the Spectator rating, but I was almost equally impressed with the Dominus, which the Spectator scored an 81. I didn’t like the Australian Shiraz nearly as much as Parker did, but my score on the Togni aligned with his more closely than the Spectator’s.

So … could Parker and Spectator both be fallible? Sacrilege!

Oh, and I correctly identified only two of the five wines, the Merryvale and the Branson (the Aussie was close to a gimme). Oh, the shame and humiliation of the blind tasting….


Mark Fisher