Article By: David Singer
IT HAS BEEN AWHILE since the British and the United States have clashed in a violent fray. Since the 18OOs, England has been our staunchest ally. Through thick and thin we have stood side by side, until now. The bond between our two countries is under threat, being torn asunder over egos and . . . fermented grape juice.
Articles and commentary have been written on both sides of the Atlantic with hardly a stiff upper lip over the Parkerization of the wine world. "Over-extraction!", "Too much alcohol!", "Too much oak!", and "Fruit bombs!" are the cries of some, with the piece de resistance this year from Mr. Hugh Johnson calling Robert Parker, "the dictator of taste". As if challenged to a duel, Parker was compelled to shoot back on the battlefield of the new york times.
Until this much ado about nothing started late last year, the difference in the American and British palates always amused me and was completely understandable. Comparing a review of the same wine by two different critics in the same country can reveal some interesting differences in taste, but between England and the US, the variation can be quite humorous at times. I truly respect the knowledge, experience and palate of the many critics involved in the wine shooting war. They have forgotten more about wine than I have (as of yet) learned. Still, to read a review of, let's say, California Cabernet by Mr. Parker or the wine spectator versus the famous English magazine decanter, you can't help but wonder if the winery shipped two different wines and slapped the same label on both of them.
Case in point: a certain winery made the wine spectator's top 1OO for their Cabernet. This is no mean feat. Yet in a review by decanter, the same wine was given one star, or a rating of "poor". And this is not an isolated incident. Others would cite the infamous tete-a-tete by Jancis Robertson and Mr. Parker over the 2OO3 vintage of St. Emilion's Chateau Pavie. For those not familiar with the "l'affaire Pavie", a quick summary of the event: Mr. Parker gave Pavie 98 points out of 1OO, while Ms. Robertson called it an aberration of St Emilion. It was nearly a Celebrity Death Match. Fortunately, the humor of both individuals prevailed in this case. Lately, though, we've seen less graciousness. Why is this such a big deal? Since when has Bacchus handed over his wreath of grapes to someone else and pronounced a new god of wine? Since when can't two, or even two-dozen critics have different opinions? We've all come from different backgrounds, have experienced different things and even, gasp, like different things. Personally, I think Monet couldn't paint in focus to save his life.
One of the first things I do when conducting a wine tasting is almost hammer it into the participants that they may not smell the same aromas as the person next to them is picking up. I also emphasize the importance of speaking up. If you like a wine say so, don't let everyone else in the room influence you. Your nose and mouth are yours; they're connected to the brain in which your life experience is imbedded. For example, I was speaking to a fairly sophisticated wine aficionado whose colleagues gave him two wines in a blind tasting: Screaming Eagle (a $1OOO-plus per bottle cabernet) versus Two-buck Chuck Cabernet (the name says it all). He preferred the latter, with far less tannin. To each their own, I said.
Why have more than a few of the notable wine critics forgotten this simple unalienable truth? The individuals involved in this war and you, the reader, are blessed to be involved in a luxury good industry. We get to drink for a living! Does it get much better than that? So in parting words to these very knowledge men and women, I say, with all due respect, "agree to disagree." And for heaven sakes, remember: it's fermented grape juice already.