Parker and RJ pictured at a Latour tasting in 2003
Hey, Robert Parker says stupid things to get attention, so I’m stealing a little page out of his (admittedly corrupt) book for a moment to get yours. I promise not to make a habit out of it.
I don’t want to spend any significant bandwidth on this blog belaboring Parker’s undue and, in my view, largely negative influence on the wine world. There are books, movies and lots of thoughtful articles and blog posts by others that make that point abundantly and effectively. Frankly the man is just too big a target and writes too many patently ridiculous things for it to be that interesting anymore to attack him for his endlessly pompous statements and dumbfounding reviews. Nonetheless, the man has, as is his wont, done a couple of things in the past week that read as a very desperate demand for the wine world’s attention. I therefore feel the need to make a short and succinct response to them, to go on the record as to where I stand, if nothing else. The bottom line is that people, like me, who used to look up to the man as a consumer advocate and reliable authority (at least on regions that he has long admired, like Bordeaux and Chateauneuf du Pape, if not on regions that he never demonstrated any understanding of whatsoever, like Burgundy), can now, increasingly, only see him as a narcissistic zombie, desperate for our attention but lacking any useful and reliable information to give us in a world where there are dozens of more accurate and reliable critics and wine experts.
The first move, April 27, was to suddenly, with no warning whatsoever, essentially shut down the wine world’s most active bulletin board, limiting activity on the Mark Squires board on eRobertParker to only those with paid eRobertParker subscriptions. As a result, people who have added much content to that site over the years—content that others, who have no particular interest in Parker’s predictable take on wines, came there on a regular basis to read—now have no access to what they’ve written without paying Parker for the privilege. (I’m not in that boat, I should point out, because I had already pulled everything I’ve written and wanted to keep off the Squires board in setting up this website. I also stopped posting there last Spring, when the purges and arrogant censorship of board “dissidents” made it a place I could no longer justify contributing to.)
The second obvious cry for attention, April 27, was to publish over-the-top ratings for 2009 Bordeaux based on barrel tastings, including lots of 96-100s and 98-100s, and a new “*” addition, indicating that the wine he tasted in the barrel was the best from that producer he’s ever tasted from barrel. A lot of people are taking the * to mean that the wines so indicated have broken the 100-point Parker system—that he’s now going to 101 points, and beyond. Parker made a similar calculated move to grab attention in October 2008 when he declared that the 2007 vintage in Chateauneuf du Pape was “the vintage of my lifetime for this region,” which he followed up a year later with the claim that ’07 in CdP “may be the most compelling vintage of any viticultural region I have ever tasted,” a pronouncement that no other serious wine critic agreed with. That move was an echo of his extreme high scores for souped up, over-concentrated and high alcohol wines from Australia and Spain in years past that have turned out, more often than not, to be duds. At any rate, Parker’s extreme praise for Bordeaux made apparently in his image—i.e., super concentrated, extracted, and high in alcohol—stands in contrast to the more moderate praise and measured critique of the vintage that is coming from the other critics who tasted similar samples. (See the excellent summary yesterday by Dr. Vino on his blog.)
I think both of these recent moves are calculated attempts by a former lion of the wine world to remain relevant and important in the eyes of others. Unfortunately, because they are so calculating and, in the view of many, corrupt, their likely net effect, in the coming months and years, will simply be to hasten Parker’s fall as a reliable wine critic, and to increase the public’s awareness that the former “emperor of the wine world” is now sauntering around in no clothing whatsoever.
The walling off of eBob, effectively turning it into the wine world’s East Berlin circa 1961, reflects Parker and Co.’s extreme frustration for the past 12 months at trying to contain dissent and negative comments there about Parker and a couple of his longtime cronies, Jay Stuart Miller and Mark Squires, whom he hired as reviewers about three years back. Parker has, over the years, demonstrated that he has an extremely thin skin by regularly employing his paid employee, Mark Squires, to censor and ban those who posted critical comments about him, whether those comments were made on eBob or on other sites, like WineSpectator’s wine board, which Parker and his staff regularly monitored for comments about him. Although eBob had developed a huge following, with some 15,000 registered participants, and periodic posts by other major critics, like Allen Meadows, and revered winemakers, like Olivier Humbrecht, when Parker and Co. could no longer control the increasing negative reaction to the Man Himself, Robert Parker ultimately chose to close it down. And in keeping with the arrogance with which the Board has been run over the years, it was shut down with no advance notice to longtime participants and contributors whatsoever.
The major beneficiary of this move is likely to be an independent wine board that got going over a year ago and that now has 2700 registered participants, including lots of refugees from the Squires board from the purges that preceded this latest move. The board is called WineBerserkers, and it is moderated in a very light and fair style, in stark contrast to that of the politburo that has policed the Squires board over the past year.
As to the Parker 98-100* scores for barrel samples, suggesting that these are the greatest wines Parker ever tasted in his career (hey, what about those ’07 CdPs that were supposed to be the “most compelling vintage of any viticultural region” you ever tasted?), these fly in the face both of good taste and common sense. Personally, I think high end Bordeaux itself has been in serious decline over the past 10 years, as a result of having affixed itself so tightly to Parker’s preferences and making itself so dependent on his ratings. Bordeaux-the-commodity made its pact with the Devil (RMP) many years ago by altering traditional winemaking techniques to produce the more concentrated, fruit bomb, heavily oaked wines that Parker has lavished with high scores. Even former stalwarts like Cheval Blanc have climbed on board the Parker juggernaut. The result are wines that have become indistinguishable from big Napa Cabs that have likewise been Parker darlings, even though they’re increasingly out of balance, impossible to enjoy with food, and have prices based more on their Parker scores than any intrinsic quality. I stopped buying and going out of my way to taste these wines a few years back, so Parker’s extreme gushing this week over the latest batch of Bordeaux in this style has no effect on my wine habits other than to confirm that the region has become a toxic mess of dangerous proportions. People with more money than taste will pay ridiculous amounts for these wines thanks to Parker’s inflated scores, and Bordeaux-the-commodity will see some short-term gains. I predict, however, that those gains will not last, and that others who really love wine—authentic, balanced, wines of place–will continue to drop out of the Bordeaux market in increasing numbers. I predict that Bordeaux ’09 (and other similiarly hyped vintages) will become a bubble, not unlike the sub-prime housing market bubble the world has been suffering for the last couple years, and that, ultimately, those who spend ridiculous sums on these kinds of commodity wines will end up holding toxic assets—stuff that is as undrinkable and undesirable as the Aussie crap Parker overhyped up until just a few years ago.
RJ next to a French poster ridiculing Parker (taken at tasting room in the Languedoc in Feb. ’06)