Au Revoir Parker?


News last week that Robert Parker will be stepping down as the editor-in-chief of his Wine Advocate and shifting operations to Singapore rocked the wine world- everyone weighing in on what this all means. The end of an era? Have American wine drinkers lost interest in his point system? While the answer is unclear- look, I love a list and a shortcut just as much as the next guy, we are a list-obsessed culture and point systems fit right in with that mentality- it may signal a changing of the guard.

While point systems make wine buying easier for some, they don’t do much toward engaging the drinker. I think this generation of wine drinkers may be more interested in the romance and the story behind the bottle than the “importance” of it. Less interested in showing off a pricey bottle deemed important by a wine lord- you can picture Gordon Gecko proudly gifting a 100 point bottle- these days foodies and wine drinkers alike (witness the Top Chef phenomenon) are interested in the person and the place behind the drink. Who made it? Why does it smell like that? Where exactly does it come? Is it indicative of its terroir? No one really talked like this 10 years ago. Well, ok, I know some did but generally speaking, not really. Now it is not uncommon to hear people speak of terroir-driven wines and wafts of hawthorne and gooseberries, as if anyone outside the UK really knows what a gooseberry smells like. (It always reminds me of Veruca Salt’s “Snozberry, who ever heard of a snozberry?”) While it may border on annoying to some, I like the direction it’s going. To me it signals a genuine interest in wine as opposed to a follow the leader mentality.

Not that I’m going to get all anti-Michel “MICRO-OYGENATE” Rolland on everyone, there is certainly a place in the world for everyone’s palate, but that’s just it. Parker is purported to be an amazingly nice guy with a terrific palate. It just so happens that his palate is, in my opinion and many others’ (see: Alice Fierling’s The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization)- extreme, favoring high alcohol, big, jammy and manipulated wines. Which is fine. It just always seemed odd that that particular palate represented the market in such an influential way.

While there will always be a place for critics, as they can give something (a bottle of wine, a painting, a movie) its cultural context and sometimes its relevancy, it’s a fine line with the power that they can wield. Case in point: the spike in Bordeaux and cult California Cabernet prices during Parker’s reign. Coming from the theater world, I have seen creative careers demolished with one powerful review. On the upside, critics are said experts and we definitely need those guys around whether we agree with them or not. They taste a lot of wine, go to a lot of gallery and museum exhibitions and see lots of movies. There’s something to be said for that.

Critics aside, for me, Parker takes the mystery out of wine. Having one person judge and rate a wine so systematically seems kind of, well- dull. People want more that that, it seems. They want the experience, the story that they can bring with them when presenting that bottle of wine. Not just that, but the point system seems cold and somehow finite in relation to the artistry that goes into winemaking.

I got into the wine business after reading Neal Rosenthal’s Reflections of a Wine Merchant. I just couldn’t stand it- the stories about his instructions from an Italian winemaker to hike up the sheep-laden hillside and shout out his name for their tasting appointment, the proper way to spit in a gravelly cellar (on an angle toward the corner), the way he swears he can smell a wild hare’s wet fur in his Barolo- all of it is just so romantic and fun. While winemaking is certainly not all fairy tales, wild hares, charming domaines and gooseberries, as it is also the stuff of blood, sweat, tears, financial highs and lows and high stress- either way you cut it, it’s full of drama. And we love drama. It seems we may embracing wine for its story. What fun. So, so long Robert Parker, well at least in the way that we knew you. While I truly admire his tenacity for single-handedly and most impressively carving out his place in the wine world, and while his future may very well be big and bright in Asia, it seems that the tide may be turning and we may be romancing the bottle. Or- maybe he was just tired of that gig, and none of it really means anything. We’ll see…


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2 comments | Tags: vino

2 Responses

  1. Cheryl Crandall says:

    Love this article. I learned quite a bit in just today’s blog. Thanks.

  2. toni says:

    As usual I finish your blog feeling somehow a bit smarter and more educated…now if I can just hold
    it in my failing memory bank!

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