Friday, February 03, 2006

The Problem with Parker

In a comment on my most recent wine post Gimlet brings up Robert Parker and the dilemna he poses in the wine industry.

For those of you who are not aware of Robert Parker he is the author of "The Wine Advocate", a wine review he started in 1978, yes they actually made wine way back then. Parker had a small cult following among wine enthusiasts until he declared the 1982 Bordeaux vintage as "superb" - flying in the face of most established critics who questioned the vintage's lack of acidity and over ripeness. The line was drawn and Parker's influence was felt by the huge increase in Bordeaux prices for the '82 vintage.

I subscribed to the "Advocate" in the '80's but stopped when it became apparent that Mr. Parker and I had widely disparate views on wine - he loves the fruitbombs while I require more acidity and less ripeness in my wine. All fine and good - we disagree. Robert Parker has a very specific vision of what wine should be and his criteria has been extremely consistent for over 25 years - fruit first, ripe, lush fruit before all else, and that is fine. As with Gimlet I often enjoy the less expensive end of the "Parker wines" because their simplicity makes them easy drinking.

The problem is that Mr. Parker's influence is now so strong that he is changing the way wine is made, winemakers the world round know that the magic 90 points from Parker means financial success and so they are deliberately structuring their wines to meet Mr. Parker's "fruit first" conditions. A whole new generation of sommeliers and wine buyers are convinced that these wines are the only wines to sell and promote and that is just wrong.

The wine world requires diversity, we need "fruit bombs" and "big tannic monsters" and "lean acidic little bastard" wines to all be made and appreciated. The other problem I find with the "Parker wines" is that the fruit forward component makes these wines unlikely to age well, which of course plays well in our "immediate gratification" society.

Robert Parker expresses only the opinion of one man, and one with no formal wine education it might be added, and the fact that one man's opinion is changing an industry I love is disturbing to me.

Think globally - drink diversely.


  1. What did you think of Mondovino?

  2. Gimlet4:13 PM

    I haven't seen Mondovino, although I'm always up for a little treatise on Coca-colanization.

    There is a genuine downside to the homogenization of wine - making and consumer profiling. Witness California Chardonnays for example. These are examples of school of fish wine-making to the extreme. Parker has had some positive influences I will grudgingly admit. Riccardo Cotarella ,"In December of 1998, Robert M. Parker, Jr. named Riccardo Cotarella one of the most influential wine personalities of the last 20 years calling him, "a gregarious, highly-talented oenologist ... Italy’s answer to France’s Michel Rolland . . ."
    Now despite the endorsement of evil I happen to like Cotarella's wines. He consults on a wide range of wineries and wines in Italy. His wines are decidedly fruit forward , lush, and charming as an overdeveloped teenager. Check his Vitiano for its uncompromising value. He seems always to be on the lookout for the heretofore overlooked viticultural areas or the challenged terroirs. As such he can be considered that rare modern pioneer in an ancient arena.