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   Copyright © Ric Einstein 2009






Yanks get their Knickers in a Twist (4Aug)


It seems some of our American friends have got their knickers is a right, royal twist over a comment made by James Halliday in his 2008 Companion.


The thread that has caused the ruckus is on the Mark Squires bulletin board, which is hosted on the Robert Parker site, can be found here.


In essence, the comment that caused the outrage was in relation to the Mollydooker wines. Halliday said, "As the tasting notes will make clear, the primary market for the wines will be the US, and that market should add 5 points to each of my scores."


Halliday scores for these wines were as follows:

The Boxer 2005 - 89 points

Enchanted Path 2005 - 89 points

Two Left Feet 2005 - 89 points

The Maitre D' 2005 - 88 points

Carnival of Love 2005 - 87 points


There was much speculation about the possible motives for Halliday’s comments. It appears some readers thought Halliday was having a cheap shot at Parker, whilst others thought Halliday was criticising Americans’ taste. Apparently the thread became so “heated” with “political” comments that the moderator had to nuke a number of posts and felt it necessary to lock the topic.


This is another example of people being quite happy to comment without letting the facts get in the way of their thoughts.


Here are a few facts that will put Halliday’s comments in their true light.


Firstly, readers should understand that not all hundred points systems are the same. In 1995 I wrote an article titled  “That Old Hoary Chestnut Again” which detailed the differenced between various 100 point systems. Some of the differences between Halliday’s and Parkers systems are illustrated below.


Halliday’s system is as follows:


94 - 100            Outstanding. Wines of the highest quality, usually with a distinguished pedigree.


90 - 93              Highly recommended. Wines of great quality, style and character, worthy of a place in any cellar.


87 - 89              Recommended. Wines of above average quality, fault free and clear varietal expression.


Parkers System:


96 –100             Points are “extraordinary wine of profound and complex character displaying all the attributes expected of a classic wine of its variety.”


90 - 95              Points are explained as “outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character.”


80 - 89              Points are deemed to be wines that are “barely above average to very good.”


At first glance, the differences may not appear to be that great but consider these facts.


When I did a review and an analysis of the 522 South Australian wines that Parker reviewed in edition 161 of The Wine Advocate, the break up of his top scores was as follows:


Bracket                                                        Number/Percentage


96 – 100 Extraordinary wine                        41 / 7%

90 – 95 Outstanding wine                           323 / 58%


In the 2008 Companion, Halliday scored about 7,200 wines. In the “Best of the best by variety” section, I counted 245 that had been rated 95 or higher. In reality, there are probably well over 300 that qualify as the 95 point wines were not listed in the Shiraz and Chardonnay sections, as there are too many of them. That means about 5% of wines tasted were rated at 95 or above.


5% versus 7% may not look like a big gap, but the gap is much larger than it first appears. For a start, Halliday’s numbers include 95 to 100 whilst Parker's are 96 to 100. If you include all the wines rated 95 point in Parker's numbers, his percentage would probably be close to 10%. One other point need to be noted which also influence these numbers. It is extremely rare for Halliday to ever rate wines over 97, and when he does, they are invariably old wines at their peak. He does not rate young wines 98, 99 or 100 period. Halliday’s top bracket, for young wines is 94 - 97. Parker’s is 96-100. Naturally everything then cascades down from there.


It should also be noted the general US consumer has a sweeter tooth than many other nations. That is not a criticism; it’s a fact. Some Champagne houses export curvees to the US that are slightly sweeter than those sent to other countries.


The Marquee Philips wines which were so hugely popular in the US were made for the US market and were virtually unobtainable in Australia. When Sparky split with the Grateful Palate, the Mollydooker wines were born and were made in the image of their forefathers. Whilst the Mollydooker wines are available in Oz, they are essentially designed and made for the US market.


If you take these facts into account, Halliday’s comments were quite accurate and not a shot at either the US consumer of Robert Parker. Unfortunately Halliday  does not have unlimited space to explain his every action and rating. Finally, for the record I am not a "Halliday apologist" and have frequently been critical of some of his work;  this will again be evidenced by the review of his 2008 Companion which will go live on TORBWine on 15 August. 


Feel free to submit your comments!

From: Mike

08/03/2007 20:33:03 Ric

Haven't seen the eBob thread, but I'm sure it would just be deja vu all over again!

I wouldn't disagree with Halliday on his scores for the 2005 wines; certainly not in the 95-99 range. But I would put the CoL above the Boxer. Still have the two 2005 Cab based wines (Enchanted Path and Two Left Feet) sitting in the cellar. Looking for an excuse to drink them.

So far I have only had the 2006 Boxer; Two Left Feet is in the cellar as is the Blue Eyed Boy Shiraz and their Sparkling Shiraz; the last two were both $50USD each from memory! The wines sold out quite quickly even without Parker scores.

The 2006 Boxer was a difficult wine to drink, and not as good as the 2005 IMHO. Be interesting to see what Halliday gives it!

For some interesting comments and scores the eBobers should check out what Gary Vaynerchuk of WineLibrary says about some of the 2006 MollyDookers


From: smithy

08/04/2007 01:50:53 Halliday's Companion is bang on the money.

To calibrate Parker to my palate I subtract 5 for Barossa reds and then subtract up to another 7, depending on who the importer is. Hence an RPJ 99 pointer becomes an 87..or 17.4/20

A Good Silver medal.

Haven't seen anything better than that.

From: GraemeG

08/05/2007 20:46:26 Orwell would have appreciated this as the perfect example of "doublethink"; the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in your head at the same time, and believe both of them.

Halliday recognizes that these wines are aimed primarily at the American market, and that Parker bequeaths large scores upon them. Halliday reviews them as he finds them, and makes a comment for the benefit of their intended audience.

Squires and Leve bend over backwards to defend Parker's view of the wine, despite their own personal opinions more likely agreeing with Halliday. JH could equally have said "If you agree with RPs palate, add 5 points." Would that have satisfied Squires and Leve? How would they reconcile their own scores for the wines with Parker's? On the one hand he's the infallible critic, on the other they disagree with him on the wines.

Doesn't this kind of mental gymnastics hurt their brains? Or did they trade them in some time ago?

From: Andre

08/07/2007 02:13:56 JH wrote about Mollydoocer:

"...launching Mollydooker with RP their number one ticket holder. Everything about their wines and their business is bigger than life, with 65000-case virtual winery having no credible challenge from within Australia. ...Oh, and incidentally, 'mollydooker' is Australian slang for left-handed, an attribute shared by Sarah, Sparky and Robert Parker. As the tasting notes will make clear, the primary market for the wines will be the US, and that market should add 5 points to each of my scores."

There is no doubt here that JH was targeting RP. Also, after this description of the Mollydokers is quite difficult for me to accept JH tasting notes of the Dookers as impartial.

Also what is the point about "having no credible challenge from within Australia"?

In my opinion the whole description was quite xenophobic.

From: TORB

08/07/2007 03:00:52 Andre,

In relation to your comments, whilst Halliday did say that, the first point I would like to make is that none of those comments, except for those quoted in the initial story in relation to the points (see above,) were actually made on the Squires Forum thread.

Secondly, perhaps rather than selectively quoting, we should have a look at everything he wrote about Mollydooker wines.

"As Sarah and Sparky Marquis wound their way through Fox Creek, Henry's Drive, Parsons Flat, Marquis Phillips and Shillington, they left a vivid trail of highly-flavoured, medal-winning wines in their wake. After 10 years they took the final step, launching Mollydooker wines with Robert Parker their number-one ticket holder. Everything about their wines and their business is bigger than life, with the 65,000 case of virtual winery having no credible challenge from within Australia. They draw grapes from McLaren Vale, Padthaway and Langhorne Creek, restricting themselves to the verdelho, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and -- most importantly, of course -- Shiraz. Oh and incidentally, 'Mollydooker' is Australian slang for left-handed, an attribute shared by Sarah, Sparky and Robert Parker. As the tasting notes will make clear, the primary market for the wines will be the US, and that market should add five points to each of my scores."

The first few sentences are completely factual. It is also probably true that Robert Parker is one of their greatest fans, and has been since Parker rated the Fox Creek wines very highly, when Parker first discovered them and they were being made by Sparky.

From a personal perspective, I don't see being called larger-than-life has anything negative. As far as the virtual winery is concerned, that can just as easily be taken as a compliment; no wine in Australia is doing it as well as Sparky. The explanation of the name Mollydooker is purely factual, and it is possibly only the association of Parker in with Sarah and Sparky that causes your concern in this regard.

Finally, my comments in relation to the scores explained above. Yes, I guess it can be seen as xenophobic, but it can equally be seen as purely factual.

From: Murray Almond

08/07/2007 17:39:19 I think there's also some wry payback on JH's part on what Parker said about Mount Mary.

Interesting that this didn't come up in the Squires thread, perhaps they'd forgotten that Arpy also indulges in some regional slapping on occasion.

From: Tony

08/07/2007 17:39:30 Why does JH even need to mention RP in his Companion? He obviously rates all wines according to his own palate...hence there is no need to compare his rating system with that of Parker's.

IMO all he is doing is trying to justify his lower scores, which he shouldn't.

From: Rich

08/07/2007 19:06:16 It has started up again, and the WS scores are up there ...

Keep up the good work Rick!

From: fred

08/08/2007 00:01:27 Ric, The original ebob segment was really quite restrained by their standards - with only a small parochial cultural cringe/rejection of stereotyping.

That is really not so unreasonable as the USA is a VERY large place with some very good palates indeed (not surprising given the wealth, size of population etc).

I happen to agree that the more general US taste in shiraz is for a sweeter style than I prefer (or JH appears to prefer much less JO) but not surprisingly the relative cognoscenti objected to being typecast.

The later ebob thread reflects a clearer appraisal and relative maturity despite the WS high marks, more are willing to simply state that it is not their style of wine.

Generally that Board has matured pretty well over the last few years compared to the sort of reaction they used to have!

From: Deborah Gray

08/08/2007 15:25:59 I read your most recent newsletter with interest, as I do all of them. As an Australian and in the wine biz over here I am also quite familiar with Mark Squire's Bulletin Board and check it frequently, but only to see what they say about my wines! I find that the threads on that board can become inexplicably contentious quite quickly and you need a thick skin to air your comments, even ones that are innocently stated or meant to generate some candid dialogue in a spirit of sharing wine knowledge.

I also feel I understand the American palate quite well, after fifteen years as an importer, and it is very often true that they "talk dry but drink sweet" as the saying goes. Therefore, Halliday - who I hold in high regard as a reviewer - was quite justified in making the assessment. But why say it at all? Why bring another reviewer's propensities into your own piece? Why not talk about Steve Tanzer or Harvey Steiman, both well known and widely read Australian wine reviewers in the U.S. if you're going to say anything at all?

If it's a treatise on American reviewers, certainly I can see making the Bob Parker comment, then expanding on it and rounding it all out with a broad assessment of the U.S. market, but if there is limited space, as was stated, and you make a comment that's bound to generate controversy, however innocent the remark, I'm just left wondering what the point was. To say, perhaps, these are my ratings, but when you see Wine Advocate's scores are higher, understand that I already know that they will be and I am the one telling you that ahead of time to forestall further comment?

And furthermore, Bob Parker isn't reviewing Aussie wines any more. It's now Dr. Jay Miller. I was just there in Maryland with him last week, presenting the wines of my portfolio and I believe it's a new day at the Wine Advocate. Certainly he has been with RP for many years and holds many of the same wine views, but he's another palate and I think he's approaching Australia with a broader view - at least I hope so, since many of the wines I represent are cool climate, elegant and nuanced.

He did, by the way, purchase a case of Wayne Thomas Petit Verdot 05 from his local bottle shop whilst I was sitting there with him, which was surprising and gratifying. Our late Thommo would have appreciated that if he'd been there.

I don't want to generate further controversy, believe me. This business has become difficult and challenging enough for all of us these days! But I did feel compelled to add my two cents as perhaps food for thought.

Deborah M. Gray
The Australian Wine Connection, Inc.

From: Bruce Maryanoff - July 27th

I have never agreed with Parker on Aussie reds, because his scores are too high in general for this class. The Wine Spectator is more trustworthy in this area. I must say that I have a very broad wine experience, from wine regions all over the world, as well as a very refined palate, and I rate the 2006 Mollydooker Enchanted Path, Carnival of Love, and Blue-eyed Boy in the 95-point zone. There is no doubt in my mind that they drink now like exciting, concentrated, multilayered, technically balanced, highly structured wines. However, I cannot judge how they will turn out in 5-10 years. We will just have to find out with the passing of time. My wine cognocenti friends (in the USA) agree with this viewpoint. There is no doubt that these wines are produced in a very exuberant style, but what would be wrong about that. In my opinion, ratings in the high 80's show unmitigated bias to a specific style that is leaner and tightly focused. I can appreciate, and gauge, wines on both sides of the spectrum.


Copyright © Ric Einstein 2007