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Parker’s new business deal, and a reflection on Zinfandel



Everybody’s going to be jumping on poor Robert Parker because of this deal he struck over the “Robert Parker Selection” Bordeaux.

Actually, it doesn’t seem to have been Parker who struck the deal but his new bosses in Singapore, who appear set on maximizing the money they can make off the Parker brand.

Robert himself no longer seems like the towering figure he was just two years ago. He’s become a mere player within his organization, a kind of chess piece being moved around by his masters (“Go back to California.” “Let the French use your name,” etc.), and I wonder how he feels about all this, being (as I believe him to be) a man of integrity. It’s easy to paint him as a mercenary who sold out, and many will. It’s also easy to suggest that, as the Parker/Wine Advocate brand loses steam in the West, it’s turning to the inscrutable East for a new breath of air and cash.

Well, what’s wrong with that? Wineries are turning East, too, because that’s where the customers are. I figure Robert knows that his time is almost up (simply as a function of his age and health, not his intellectual capacity), and wishes to make as much as he can before the well runs dry. Would anyone in his position do differently?

* * *

A note on Zinfandel. I was thinking how nice it is that we have cool-climate Zins, like the ones from south of River Road in the Russian River Valley (exemplified by the likes of Joseph Swan) and warm climate ones from places like Paso Robles and Napa Valley.

Wine experts usually point to Pinot Noir, Riesling and Tempranillo as being acutely sensitive to the slightest changes in terroir, but so is Zinfandel. In fact, I think Zin shows its origins more clearly than does Cabernet (which may be a function of everyone making their Cabernet identically these days). In the interests of critical objectivity, I have to say that both cool- and warm-climate Zinfandels can be good, because they can, and each consumer will have his or her preference. For myself, I’d happily drink a southern Russian River Valley Zin any day. They’re wines of powerful dryness, and will age well. I’ve had Joe Swan Zins well over twenty years old and they were great: delicate, sweet, feminine, airy, charming. Those are words you’d never apply to a young Zin!

To Maui today for the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival. I’m co-chairing the Pritchard Hill event, so on the flight I’ll be brushing up on my notes. I have 10,600 words in interviews and fact-gathering I took for my Wine Enthusiast article last Fall, which I’ll be reading as we fly westward over the Pacific. And I’m sure I’ll have plenty to report on from Hawaii.


  1. Coincidentally, I opened and drank a 2002 Joseph Swan Lone Redwood Zinfandel over the last two nights. Full of life. Loads of acidity that softened between days one and two. Would be a much more versitile food wine than many heavier Zins with less acidity. I have to respect wines made this well and at a really great price.

  2. After reading Lisa Perotti-Brown comment today on e-Bob, it seems a lot of people were quick to jump to conclusions about the Parker brand becoming the next George Foreman Grill. Bob, (who is recovering from major back surgery) made an early comment on the same forum that made it sound like ‘no big deal’. If he wasn’t on a steady diet of painkillers currently, it would be alarming that he didn’t defend his intellectual property more vigorously. LPB outlined the parameters of the usage under their Commercial Account scheme and made it clear that there will be no more branding of Parker’s name on wine assortments from BVS. Depending how many have been ‘built, packaged and sold’ they could be quite rare.

  3. Bill Haydon says:

    I for one applaud this decision by Mr. Parker and his Glorious Chinese Masters. While stuffing his pockets full of remnibi, it will have the even more important effect of destroying what last remaining shreds of respectability he, his publication and his palate still enjoy in the markets I work.

    I say, “well done,” Bob. I eagerly await the next bit of crass hucksterism to emerge from your secret Asian lair.

  4. Barbara Lardizabal says:

    Happy, safe trip!

  5. Steve, Hopefully you will update your post 9as soon as you land) since based on the clarification from TWA as to what is being done concerning this matter, it is a non-event. I realize it may have been too tempting to lay Bob out, even as he is recovering from major spinal surgery. You aren’t alone there as several other blogs and boards have jumped on the story too but evidently there is nothing to see here, move along. Enjoy Hawaii!

  6. Keasling says:

    Mahalo nui for the Zin tease Steve. Would like to see it elaborated on when you get home. A great example of Zin’s diversity based on locale is in Larry Turley’s line-up. Looking forward to what Tegan Passalaqua brings to them in the coming years and what they can do with the old Karly winery up in Plymouth (Amador County). Cheers and have a good time over in the Islands.

  7. Doug Wilder: But it appears there already has been branding of the RMP name.

  8. In this instance, Steve, I just don’t see it being authorized (and that is key)… Lisa Perotti Brown issued a statement on the Parker site today quashing the whole notion of Bob Parker ‘signing’ anything. I can’t see how it could be any clearer. The story, according to Pujol, has been largely discredited. Admittedly France is not my playground, but has anyone else heard of this guy, or his company? Just wondering.

    According to Lisa, Pujol has subscribed to the commercial level access which accords him some privilege to quote Parker, but not to the extent of branding a box as a Parker Selection, even though it essentially is. Apparently, the party in question simply lifted Parker’s signature block in order to capitalize on it at VinExpo.

    Having said that, I have made no bones what I think of the new commercial subscription contract for TWA. There is an entrenched culture that has historically used the Parker Brand (is this what you were referring to?) in order to sell wine, mostly by in-store POS, or through phone conversations, yet also online. Without effective monitoring and enforcement on violations, the whole idea threatens to weaken the perception of their brand into a ‘paper tiger’. I am keenly interested where this goes because I feel it pushes aside the core communicators of the brand’s street-level influence.

  9. Jason Carey DWS says:

    River Road Zin.. specifically Harvest Moon.. I know they don’t put their wines out for review.. but they are zingy, elegant and very RRV in style.

  10. Hi Steve,

    Recently, a good friend who manages sales at Easton/Terre Rouge came by for a bbq. We opened a 2003 Swan “Mancini” Zin. It was insanely good. Pleanty of fruit, spice and backbone. My friend Terry was blown away by this wine. I am going to sit on my 2005’s and 2006’s for a couple more;-)

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