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Dublin, Ireland
Hi, I'm Dermot Nolan, and I became a Master of Wine (MW) in 1997, and resigned from the Institute of Masters of Wine in 2023 after being an MW for exactly 26 years. I opened a wine shop in Dún Laoghaire, Ireland, called The Wine Library, which closed in 2018, and this is my personal wine blog. I will do my utmost to be fair and responsible in my posts – please read my Who Pays article in re the ethics of wine trips and writing. I have worked in wine education, retail, and consultancy since 1990. I was a Director of the Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) from 2008 to 2014 and was also a member of the Events Committee, founder of the Trips Committee, and member of the Governance Committee. Having had problems with potentially libellous comments from unidentifiable posters, I now require that if you post a comment, you must identify yourself properly or it won't be published. Please note that I do not review products or services on request so kindly don't ask. I value my independence and I believe my readers (few that they may be) do so also.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

See what happens when you try to regulate quality?

The admirable Jane Anson has an article in Decanter in relation to a new "classification" system to be introduced in St Emilion for the 2012 vintage. Apparently, a number of producers got a bit annoyed the last time the rankings were evaluated and now, a whole new system has had to be put in place.
You see, St Emilion prided itself on its 1955 classification as properties could be promoted or demoted according to how their wines performed over a ten year period. Much more democratic than the 1855 classification of the Medoc which has only one change, and that by presidential decree no less! Never mind, by the way, that two St Emilion properties - Cheval Blanc and Ausone - cannot be demoted, it's as democratic as French wine law gets.
But now, alas, some people don't agree with the various promotions and demotions and so a new system has been put in place, involving no judges from the Bordeaux region. The idea is that the new system, an exam rather than a competition apparently, will be more transparent and less vulnerable to legal challenge.
However, this raises a simple enough question: can one legislate for quality? The key idea of the original classification was that by having promotions and demotions then quality was guaranteed. But, since human beings will always claim their wine is better than someone else's then no system can truly guarantee quality. I can well appreciate why the French have such a bewilderingly large number of AOCs (I don't agree with it, necessarily, but I can understand it) but why then try to legally guarantee quality? I can think of many so-called Grand Cru Burgundies that, to my mind, were worthless rubbish (on one occasion I walked out of a dinner hosted by the Syndicat des Grands Crus as I believed most of the wines presented for tasting were appalling) and there are a number of similar examples in Bordeaux, the Rhone - indeed, anywhere there is a quality system in place.
In Pomerol they have no classification and no hierarchy - yet everyone knows who's good, who's over-performing and who is no longer fetching a good price. It may seem like socialism (in contrast to St Emilion's meritocracy and the Medoc's aristocracy) but it works - well and simply!

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