In any competition, there are the winners on the podium and the losers skulking in the shadows, muttering darkly about how they were robbed of a prize they believe was their due. In Bordeaux last week, most of the buzz was inevitably about the dozen-and-a-half chateaux that had just been beatified by Pope Robert I (or given 100 points, in wine-speak), and how much demand there was or wasn’t for these wines. And about the “fairness” of the marks.

What, at least one sub-100-pointer wanted to know, if the 2009 sample Pope Robert tasted was not actually typical of the chateau’s production in that year? What if a special bottle had been prepared for him to taste? I’m not sure whether the person making this suggestion (their wine had lost a few points between Parker samplings by the way) was saying that a wine that got a deserved 95-points in barrel had been dishonestly doctored to be given an extra five, or whether it was perhaps not even a genuine 95-pointer in the first place. After all, if you believe that your competitors are responsible for dirty tricks, there’s no limit to the misbehaviour you might imagine them coming up with.

And if producers tinkered with 2009 wine that had every possibility of being naturally pretty good, what might they do to next month’s barrel samples of a 2011 vintage in which few have any real confidence?

Of course people like me are not really supposed to pass on this kind of gossip, but if it comes from highly-experienced people at the heart of the region’s wine trade, I see no reason not to do so. The chateaux and negociants of Bordeaux have all colluded in giving insane levels of influence to the occasional encounters of one liquid and one human palate. Some Bordelais – and others – have sometimes benefitted hugely from some of these encounters, Some have not. On the occasions when the referee rules in their favour, they leave the pitch with a smile. When they don’t, they shout “foul”. Simple as that.

Of course other industries seem to make do quite well without a referee or Pope…

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