Defending Robert Parker
Article By: DAVID SINGER
In my humble opinion, the constant noise about the “Parkerization” of the wine world is wearing just a little thin. In fact, it is getting on my nerves. Just in case, by some fluke, my dear reader, you are unfamiliar with the term, please allow this explanation. If a wine has higher alcohol and extraction than average, with soft tannin and low acidity, tasting of a high percentage of new oak versus old and is very fruit forward, the wine, or even the entire region, has gone thorough Parkerization. This tasting profile reflects the preferences of world-renowned Robert Parker.
For many critics the term Parkerization is a near curse. At least according to Hugh Johnson, who called Robert Parker, the “Dictator of Taste”. I can’t help but think that there are some professional competitiveness issues here. These grapes are so sour they seem green with envy. No doubt Robert Parker is an influential critic, and he has a strong following for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the man has a highly knowledgeable palate. He can do barrel tasting with impressive accuracy, not something even very experienced palates can necessarily do. Certainly his call of the 1982 Bordeaux vintage is a testament to that.
The individuals that use the term “Parkerization” with distaste seem to forget or want to disregard a very important point: his magazine is widely popular for what he writes about, his writing style and the unbiased account he provides of whatever he is reviewing.
And for his popularity to be as widespread as it is, and has been for so long, for so many people to insist on knowing his opinion of a wine before they will even consider a purchase, there must be many people who agree with his assessments of the wines he is reviewing. Simply put, quite a number of people like the Parkerization style of wine.
So who is Hugh Johnson really upset with? Apparently, a philistine market. Coincidentally, for better or for worse, Mr. Parker’s sense of taste is really very well-aligned with our changing world-wide climate. With the continuing problems of global warming, the riper styles of wine will be more and more prevalent because by the time the grapes reach philonic ripeness, the sugar levels will be beyond their traditional levels. Unless the world’s famous producers begin to branch out into other (read: cooler) regions or even entirely new, cooler countries, Parkerization is a process rooted in events far beyond the influence of Mr. Parker. Lucky for many vintners, the popular opinion is building a taste for what they have, or soon will, become.
What I really have a problem with is what Parkerization happens to really be, namely Peynaudization. As in Emile Peynaud, who in the 196Os and 197Os advocated risking the September rains to make sure the grapes were ripe, reducing yields, green harvesting and the use of new techniques like micro-oxygenation. Doesn’t that sound a lot like good winemaking practices? Is there some homogenization? Granted there is an international style and I am certainly a fan of exhibiting terroir, yet how many regions are better off now because of the above wine making techniques?
A sous-chef who I once worked with in New Orleans used to joke that the wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon were historically so bad that they used to be drunk with two hands, one to hold the glass, the other to hold your nose. Parker’s influence drove significant improvement to these wines in the ’8Os. Where would many of these ‘traditional’ regions be, if the market had not spoken?
The bottom line, as far as I’m concerned, is that if you don’t like the wines he influences, don’t buy them. If you don’t like how he reviews wine, don’t buy his magazine. It’s pretty simple. There is an almost elitist quality to the “Parkerization” term and its use, that a wine is similar in style to what Robert Parker likes carries a derogatory air about it. Somehow it is a lesser wine because of that influence. As I mention to everyone I teach, “You are the expert of your own palate.” Coining someone the Dictator of Taste does seem a might silly, don’t you think? Can anyone really tell us what we taste?