Q&A with Neal Martin

Neal Martin is a wine critic and author based in the UK. He reviews the wines of Burgundy, South Africa, Sauternes, Tokaji, Port and Madeira for The Wine Advocate and eRobertParker.com, the bimonthly wine publication and website founded by wine critic, Robert Parker. In 2012, Martin authored the award winning book, Pomerol, widely acknowledged to be the definitive book on one of Bordeaux’s least known appellations. In 2013, it won the inaugural André Simon John Avery Award and the Chairman’s Award at the Louis Roederer Wine Writers Awards 2013. Ginsberg+Chan was proud to host him for a special night in the Spring of 2015.

 

Thank you so much for being with us.  I was surprised with few questions there were about the Wine Advocate considering the recent announcement from Robert Parker that you were to take on the 2014 En Primeurs tasting.  How are you feeling about this on a personal level?

A few people have commented to me that I must be “feeling the pressure”. However, I’ve done primeur for so many years, traveled regularly to Bordeaux so many times, that I don’t feel any more pressure than previous years. I’m not going to change the way I taste or what I look for in a wine. I think if you feel pressure then it skews your judgement. “Responsibility” is probably the right word.

There have been some very challenging years with the En Primeur process.  What do you think the future holds for the EP system?  Will it be relevant with the likes of Latour and others pulling out of the system?

It depends on those that set the prices in Bordeaux. They must realise how a whole generation of wine-lovers is turning their backs on the region. They have to understand that price is not the be all and all, it’s not the barometer of a great wine, and cease the one-upmanship that goes on between competing château. En primeur works well at the correct price and the correct price is when all parties in the distribution chain are happy. That’s clearly not the case at the moment and consumers react accordingly.

What is it like to work with the big man?  What has he taught you?  (What have you taught him?)

There is an assumption that Parker and I spend our 9-to-5’s tasting alongside each other, comparing notes and arguing about the best Neil Young album. On the contrary, all the WA reviewers work independently and we are all so busy, travelling here and there, that as a consequence we rarely get to see each other. He’s never once edited anything I’ve written or asked me to re-think a review. His policy has always been to allow reviewers to stand on their own two feet. I think that makes for a stronger publication.

Talking about tasting styles, what characteristics define the perfect wine for you and can you discuss what wines you have given 100 points on.

I am not a person that NEVER gives 100-points, but it’s VERY rare, perhaps once in a year, twice maybe. A perfect wine for me has to be something that goes way beyond sensory attributes into the realm of the spiritual and religious. I’ve witnessed bottles that have silenced people. I’ve tasted bottles that redefined the heights that wine can achieve. The first bottle I ever have a perfect score to was Latour ’61 back in 1998. Since then a handful have been worthy of that magical figure, off the top of my head: La Mission Haut-Brion ’55, Lafleur ’50, Yquem ’45, Haut-Brion ’89, Hermitage La Chapelle ’49, Cheval Blanc ’34, Grands Echézeaux ’62 from DRC, Penfolds Bin 60A ’62, Gruaud Larose 1870, Mouton-Rothschild ’45. They’re mostly old bottles (not wines). I’m not averse to scoring a young wine a perfect score but I do feel that they have to prove their longevity. One prerequisite for me is that a perfect wine has no element of doubt. It is undeniably perfect. If I find myself procrastinating whether it is 100-points…then it gets 99.

What wines would be served at your last supper and what music would playing in the background?

Perhaps Petrus ’61 as I’ve never had it before and I was fascinated how it was made when I wrote my book on Pomerol. Music? I’m quite into Father John Misty and Sufjan Stevens at the moment, but I’d like something more upbeat that I can dance to. Maybe the full 10-minute version of “Mountains” by Prince or Tyra Hammond & the Tornado’s funky “You Got Me Thinking”.