Or put another way, I've met thine enemy and he is thou, not Robert Parker. Though you wouldn't know it based on all the bad press this most influential of the influential wine critics gets and has gotten for a number of years now.
In books, movies, articles and blogs, Parker takes a beating. He's blamed for the "Parkerization" of wine, for the loss of sacred terroir in sacred regions. He's the cause of prices going sky high for anything he gives a 90 or above to in his publication, Wine Advocate. He birthed the cult wine category. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Of course, because he’s a public figure, he’s fair game. He’d probably agree with that. And I’m hardly one to defend anyone in the wine writer business because I was in that business. The stories I could tell you, but that’s for another day. My defense of Parker isn’t so much a defense as it is an end around.
We, not he, caused winemakers to Parkerize their wines. We, not he, nurtured the cult category by insisting that we had to have certain bottles because he said they were perfect or nearly so. We, not he, made runs on certain producers’ offerings that in their intensity and desperation might have made the bank runs of the Great Depression seem like strolls.
When I was a fledgling wine drinker, I read his books and subscribed to his newsletter. As I went from being a consumer to an expert myself, I paid less and less attention to his writing (as well as the writings of the other experts in the field) because I was usually on deadline or hunkered down tasting and rating wines myself.
Periodically, I would be asked to review one of his books for Wine News, the magazine I was executive editor of. In doing so, it always struck me that Parker was simply misunderstood. Like all of us, he likes what he likes. The difference is that his likes move markets, and even make markets in some instances.
If it’s true that the Parker palate prefers big, ripe, round, extracted, juicy, fat, luscious, Botero-esque wines, I think it’s also true that he calls a spade a spade. I’ve read enough of his stuff to know that he praises the humble as well as the highborn.
Parker’s crime is that we made him matter. We drank the Kool-Aid, and then came back at him expressing our indignation at what he did to us. Each level of the wine chain shares the blame.
It’s hard to say which came first. Was it the blindly devotional consumer who sprinted to his or her local wine store and demanded the latest batch of 90+ wines? Was it the lazy retailer who figured it’s far easier to make a sale with a little sign around the bottle trumpeting a Parker score than actually knowing what’s in that bottle and being able to coax a customer into trying something unknown? Or maybe it was the so-called experts (like me) who figured we too could matter if we started rendering numerical judgments enough times or in the right outlets. Or was it the nervous winemakers, farmers after all, who realized that if they didn’t go along, they wouldn’t be able to get along.
Doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, people want to be led, and there will always be someone willing to do the leading, whether that leader wants to lead or not.