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Why do bloggers hate Parker?


The blogosphere has all but pronounced Robert Parker dead as a Rift Valley bone, but The Man Himself just proved he’s still relevent (if there were any doubt about it) by raising $1 million in advance sales for charity scholarships for his big Oct. 22 tasting of Chateauneuf-du-Pape at the Culinary Institute of America, in Napa Valley.

Could anyone else do that, even Gary V.? I don’t think so. Not bad for a fossil. So I guess pronouncements of Parker’s demise have been exaggerated.

So many people want Parker dead and buried, you have to wonder what’s driving the anger, which at times is reminiscent of the birther’s hatred of President Obama. Leading the charge have been Dr. Vino and Slate’s Mike Steinberger, who last week issued his latest fatwa against the Man from Monkton, resurrecting the increasingly tired charges of “ethical lapses” and “missteps” and warning, not only Parker but others of his Baby Boomer ilk, that they’re going to have to tread “a lot more lightly” and even then, they shouldn’t expect to “command quite the deference” they’re used to.

Well, that would include me, I guess, since I’m basically Parker’s age and a certified Boomer wine writer. Not that I think I’m remotely in Parker’s league…

Look, have we Boomer critics really been so terrible? We helped popularize wine with the American people, writing about it and explaining it the best we could, scrambling to make a living in a job that doesn’t pay all that much (unless you’re Parker), trying to figure out how to be honorable, and considering ourselves lucky every step of the way. We had the baton passed to us by our predecessors, whom we gave proper respect to, and now we’re happy to pass it along to the next generation. So what’s the problem?  How else, besides an unseemly jealousy, to explain the vituperation, which sometimes gets expressed in an almost violent way against Parker and others?

I’ve always believed in fundamental fairness. When the Wine Spectator was busted in that phony restaurant wine list scam last year, even though the Spectator is Wine Enthusiast’s competitor, I blogged that it could have happened to anyone, so let’s cut Spectator some slack. Of course, that didn’t stop some people from putting Spectator right down there with Hitler. When Dr. Vino revealed some of the practices at eRobert Parker, I said that it wasn’t the worst thing in the world; writers need the largesse of the industry because otherwise we couldn’t afford to travel and taste wine. I asked for a sense of balance.

So once again I have to say, come on you bloggers, get a grip. Chill. Don’t be so pissed all the time: it’s not good for you. Just because Parker is rich and famous and you’re not doesn’t make him the bad guy. He’s had an honorable career, and you’re not going to advance any further or higher in yours than he has by insulting him, so get over it. Look, I’ve chastised the wine industry for years for supporting (wittingly or not) the hegemony of Wine Spectator and Parker, to the exclusion of every other legitimate wine periodical, including Wine Enthusiast. California wineries in particular stand justly accused of such short-sighted snobbery by buying into Parker-Spectatoritis. But I never felt I had to delegitimize the Spectator or Parker themselves. Just because you don’t like the message doesn’t mean you have to kill the messenger.

So everybody, lay off Parker. Call off the witch hunt. Bloggers, do your thing without having to slime anyone or build your career on someone’s corpse. It won’t kill you to be nice.

  1. Steve, re:unqualified contractors, I think a better way to put it would be that some WA contractors are less qualified than others. If you take Parker as the gold standard–he is an expert and is extremely reliable–not every contractor he has hired is up to that standard. When I see a WE tasting note, I know what I’m getting whether it’s an S.H. or a P.G. Not so with WA, IMO.

    Randy, re: decadence, great point, Parker does seem to be a reflection of the American zeitgeist in the last decade. One might even argue that the boom of wannabe cult wines before the bubble burst was related to Parker’s influence as wealthy newbies saw the opportunity to manufacture big, oaky, syrupy wines that garner high scores in their first vintage.

    Steve, re: big, ripe, oaky wines, this is another major criticism of the critical establishment, not just Parker. The best wines of this genre are impressive. But the low-price knock-offs are lame. Nothing is worse than a $10 wine that’s oak dusted and syrupy trying to imitate this style. The thing that sucks is it’s hard to find a decent New World table wine that isn’t attempting this style.

    On the flip side, some “blobbers” view low alcohol and no oak as absolute virtues. In certain contexts, yes, but these wines can be as dull, thin and underripe as “Parkerized” wines can be ponderous, fat and overripe. Hopefully everyone will compromise on balance as the real goal.

  2. Greg, you’re totally right that “low-price knock-offs are lame.” That’s why I give them low scores! And we can all agree that “balance” is the key to wine.

  3. “And we can all agree that “balance” is the key to wine.”

    No argument on that score–so long as we can agree on what constitutes that “balance.”

    Speaking of the ‘baby boom’ phenom that you mention in the post, Steve: first, I’m one of them, so I’m not complaining about us. But think about the following.

    As we age, we supposedly lose some of our aroma/taste abilities, which some say might have to do with RP’s leaning toward bigness (although he’s been leaning in that direction for some time).

    Anyway, if the boomer critics and reviewers are working with a diminished apparatus, wouldn’t it make sense that those in the thirty-something group should have a different set of preferences by the very nature of how difficult it is for one group and how easy it might be for another group to pick out certain elements and components?

    If this is the case, then no amount of cajoling will get the oldster and the youngster palates into calibration–God, I hate that word when the sycophants use it, why did I use it?

  4. I never heard that wine tasters lose aroma/taste abilities as they age. On the contrary. I think you develop a greater appreciation for balance, subtlety and harmony.

  5. Steve,

    Not that I don’t agree with you, since I like to think how great my abilities have held up, but you should check with the scientists. Start here:

  6. Thomas, maybe so, but perhaps a slight physical decrease in sensitivity is compensated by a greater understanding of what you’re tasting. Wisdom.

  7. Steve,

    I can buy that…

  8. Thought maybe you might. It’s true. Anyhow the more and longer you taste the more context you have for any one wine. Harry Waugh was thrown from a car in his 80s and lost his sense of smell, but he was still a great taster.

  9. This is absurd….

    I challenge you all:

  10. Randy: not sure what you want, but am willing to work with you.

  11. Steve,

    Just saw this and agree with you completely re: Parker. I think what you are seeing is representative of our society now – call it a “breakdown” or slight breakdown, if you will, of civility and logical, rational, discourse. As a sometimes blogger, extremely tiny boutique wine producer, and gratuitous giver of advice on several websites (generally advice to people about California Wine Country), I have found that people often times – in fact, most of the time, attack the messenger, not the message. Because, in many instances (notice all the qualifiers), people are not able to logically, cohernetly defend what they are saying, so they say “you’re an idiot” or “you’re insane” or, as you have touched upon “you’re a socialist.”

    While I tend to agree with you re: the Republicans (I am neither Dem or Rep, used to be a Rep, but eight years of George Bush changed that), tend to be the biggest abusers of this – they always say “no” but don’t have a plan to improve and instead attack the messenger. In the same way, if someone doesn’t like what you or I say, they attack you or me, not the message.

    I do tend to believe that much, not all (another qualifier) of the critique of Robert Parker is jealousy. If one disagrees with Parker, simply state why, but don’t attack Parker. Unfortunately, I think that eight years of fear under “W” and a feeling of helplessness with our current economic climate has made a large majority (not all) of people in the US angry and willing to lash out at others.

    So, keep up the good work, and please, do not moderate your thoughts or comments. I like to hear what you have to say, whether I agree or not, it is always interesting.


  12. Steve, although you and most critics are adept at rooting out the cheap rip-offs, judging by the oceans of 90+ rated Spanish and Aussie plonk arriving here, not every critic is so adept. To quote Eric Asimov’s latest blog post: “I would love to see more often from California: honest, pure and unburdened by the all-too-common oak-chip mimicry of expensive wines.” Somehow it seems the big producers are convinced this is the way to go.

    Do these wines test well with consumers? Or do they just bank on fooling the consumers into thinking a wine is more expensive? I guess life would be easier if slightly rustic country wines made from Zin or other appropriate unpretentious grapes were more prevalent. For the unpretentious quaff, it seems stuff like Provence rose and southern French reds are more on target. It’s sad a simple wine must travel so far when it could be made here. I’ve heard good things about what Gallo Hearty Burgundy once was . . . .

  13. Greg, for me it’s really hard to generalize about California wine, beyond the fact that they tend to be riper than most continental European wines. It’s very easy to say “California is not honest and pure,” but when you taste as many wines as I do (at least 4000 this year) you understand there ARE many pure, honest California wines. However there are many more that are too fruity, too sweet and too oaky. On the other hand, what you call “rustic country wines” all too often are unbalanced in their own ways (residual sugar, green tannins, over-cropped fruit, high alcohol). I do love a great Provence rosé and some of those Languedoc wines are wonderful. But we can’t copy them in California. Finally, yes, Hearty Burgundy was a good wine and Gallo’s old Sauvignon Blanc in 1.5s was fantastic.

  14. Richard, many thanks. I needed to hear that. Sometimes the only thing that gets through is the carping and criticism. I’m honored and flattered by your remarks.

  15. Great article. It really gets the blood flowing. You nor anyone else should be standing up for RP. He is a big boy and has got himself into this mess.
    That’s what happens when you become famous.

    I don’t think any one man should have such power over the wines of the world. He does and your right WE THE READERS HAVE GIVEN IT TO HIM!!! The point system is a joke and even more so here in Sacramento. It sells wines and it ruins wines. I believe, he is controlled by greed as are many who gain such power.

    I did work in Napa for many years and around 2000 I believe it was Robert Parker who rated the ’97’ George De Latour Reserve Cabernet (GDL) 97 points only to comment after the fact, that many of which he rated highly including the GDL Cabernet had TCA and went on to mention the winery specifically in the first page of his column. HOW COULD ANYONE GO BY WHAT HE SAYS AFTER THIS. HE RATES A WINE 97 POINTS AND IT HAS TCA.

    Although there were many wines that had TCA he only mentioned one Winery. WHY IS THIS?? I’m sure he is guilty of many other things like all of us and that is why people dislike him, not because they are jealous.

    Good for him he raised millions. I have personally never written a thing about him. I don’t even blog. Just wanted to comment on this.

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