Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Emperor Has No Clothes?
Mike Steinberger, writing in SLATE, has used his review of Elin McCoy’s The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker Jr. and the Reign of American Taste to voice his own opinion on Robert Parker, Jr. Seems Mr Steinberger thinks that Parker’s “palate doesn't quite command the authority it once did.”

To prove his point Steinberger drags up all the old news on Parker like Tony Hendra’s myopic diatribe, the attention catching excerpts from Hugh Johnson's upcoming memoir, Wine: A Life Uncorked, and Jonathan Nossiter's Mondovino. He then adds that Parker was slow to realize the potential of California Pinot Noir. And that he is now outsourcing his reign among people like Pierre Rovani (who has responsibility for the Burgundy, Loire, Alsace, New Zealand, and the Pacific Northwest), David Schildknecht (Germany and Austria), and Daniel Thomases (Italy).

Plus Parker is approaching 60 raising concerns not only about his ability to continue his mammoth work load, but also whether his palate may be suffering. According to Steinberger “Many oenophiles, as they get older, tend to gravitate toward more subtle wines, but Parker appears to want them even brawnier and bawdier. His growing predilection for freakish wines (Australian Shirazes with 15 percent alcohol and the consistency of sludge) and freakish vintages (the 2003 Rhones, the product of a lethal heat wave that nearly turned the grapes into raisins) has raised eyebrows even among some of his most slavish followers.”

While I have been concerned about Parker’s sometimes scathing criticism of certain Australian wineries (viz. the acidity in Penfold’s wines in the last WA to focus on Australia) I don’t believe his love of the essential character of Barossa Shiraz is freakish. I don’t believe that Australian Shirazes with 15 percent alcohol are freakish. Simply put, 15 percent alcohol is not something limited to Australian wines. And I have yet to find a wine, anywhere, that has the consistency of sludge. Could it be that someone slipped Mr Steinberger a glass of motor oil in the guise of an Aussie Shiraz? Or perhaps he is confused between Shiraz and Muscat. The latter has loads of alcohol and can look like motor oil. To the uninitiated the wonderful complex aromas of raisins, toffee, caramel and coffee and rich, seductive taste might appear freakish. Parker certainly gives the wines high scores, so I guess they must be freakish, freakishly outstanding!

Steinberger’s comments are really those of yet another devotee of “subtle, distinctive reds and whites” who seems to think that Parker, by favoring wines with flavor, has tilted wine in the wrong direction. However the last time I looked grapes were a fruit, a flavorful fruit that with care and attention can be turned into something with extraordinary aromas. I say leave subtle and austere to the old world of wine making.

Yes I have read The Emperor of Wine, and yes there will be a review posted in the near future.

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