Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A new Jay Miller controversy?

Three months ago, Dr. Vino broke a story questioning the impartiality of Jay Miller's reviews published by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. The issue was centered upon the appropriateness of Miller accepting hospitality from importers and producers when reviewing their wines, particularly when Parker's own policy is to pay his own way. Miller's tendency to rate a surprising quantity of wines highly no doubt added fuel to the fire. Whether or not Miller actually accepted gifts in return for positive reviews, there was still an appearance of impropriety.

Fresh on the heels of this public black eye, Miller is now caught up in an ugly incident where it appears a producer pulled a bait and switch with a wine he rated at 96 points, the 2005 Sierra Carche. Message boards here, here and here are discussing the likelihood that the wine Miller reviewed was substantially different than the wine imported into the US. While it seems unlikely Miller was involved beyond tasting the wine, his tendency to taste under conditions determined by importers certainly exposes him to ugly situations like this one. He certainly didn't help himself by sitting on a bottle of this wine a collector asked him to re-taste for nearly a year.

The emerging story seems to be that the producer bottled multiple lots, with one of the later runs being vastly inferior to the original wine Miller tasted. Adding to the intrigue, apparently there are bottles numbered XXXX out of 20,000 and XXXX out of 16,000, while the importer claims 20,000 bottles produced. Something certainly seems fishy here, though perhaps there's a sensible explanation for the bad bottles and non-standard math.

The moral of the story: don't buy on points! The wine in question here seems to be a blend cooked up by a marketing group in partnership with a Spanish producer. In all likelihood, the label/brand was made first, then Parkerized (or perhaps Millerized?) wine was contracted to fill the bottles. If there's no vineyard source known and the producer has no history or a reputation to uphold, how do you know what's actually going into the bottles that aren't presented directly to a critic over a nice business dinner?

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