Rethinking Parker

This week, Lisa Perrotti-Brown published an article on The Wine Advocate entitled "The Big Parkerization Lie." She starts out by acknowledging her obvious position of bias and then makes a well-reasoned argument. While I don't personally agree with everything she says, it is absolutely worth reading and considering her perspecitve.

Also, here are two responses I've seen so far.

“Parkerization” is real. Lisa Perrotti-Brown has it wrong!

The True Significance of Robert Parker, Jr.

  • Interesting read and she makes some good points, but I'm still not completely convinced.  While I do think Parkerization is real, I don't think it as all negative. For one, it made wine more accessible to more people, and the whole industry has benefitted from that. Now, you could say that it also created score snobbery on the flip side, but at least there were more people into wine because they had a guide that they otherwise wouldn't have had especially at a time when the internet was non existent or just a fledgling system depending on the time frame.

    Secondly, it also inspired a lot of growers to become producers. If you look at the Northern Rhone, Parker's 100 point scores of '85 and '88 La Turque and Mouline put the region on the American wine drinker's radar and created demand for the wines of the region. Following that you see families like Ogier, who were selling fruit to Guigal, now start making their own bottlings.

    The stat regarding Alsace is fascinating!

  • Really interesting discussion. However I'd argue that in the grand scheme of things, most people don't spend over £10 on a bottle of wine, and Parker points don't mean anything. 

    This wine industry has an inflated perception of it's own influence.

    Although this is an English perception on a American cultural movement

  • To deny "Parkerization" outright is silly. As Chris pointed out, it has done a lot of good for the growth of the wine industry and in another regard has bastardized some (not all) of the "art" in wine production. Robert Parker has always been a fascinating topic and will continue to be for decades to come, Wine Spectator too. Lets take Lisa's Dunkin Donuts analogy a set further. She starts off by saying she ate Dunkin Donuts a lot in her youth as the flavors appealed to the mass' due to their "big, bold, often sweet, in-your-face flavors". It sounds awfully familiar to Robert Parker has done for wine production for the mass' via his point scores. As Napa winemaker, Anthony Bell, was cited for Parkers direct influence to make a philosophical change in wine style. Lias's argument for Parkerization v. Peynaudization is hollow at best. I'm not writing to bash Lisa's piece but reading it through I felt frustrated as it read willfully ignorant and dishonest. Steve Heimoff seemed to have a more grounded approach when discussing the phenomenon of Robert Parker and point scores. Weather your a fan or not of what Robert Parker has done over the past 3 decades it is naive not to acknowledge his influence.

  • I got a little lost at "Olive oil has pretty much replaced butter." I currently have five different bottles of olive oil in my pantry and use it judiciously and often, but a house without butter is a house without love in my opinion. Don't let Parker and his cronies take your butter from you!!!!

  • My only problem with Parkerization is that he simply exposed a style that was being made already. The 82 Bordeaux and 85/88 La Las weren't being made for Parker. He simply found them and told anyone who would listen about them. Whether winemaking shift to imitate the wines or to appease Parker is certainly an interesting question. 

    As far as the article, does Lisa Perrotti-Brown really want people to stop talking about Parkerization? Writing a detailed article about something isn't necessarily the best way to end a conversation on that topic. 

  • Look no further that the auction market to get an idea of how much power Mr Parkers scores hold. 

  • The issue I have with Perrotti-Brown's line of reasoning is that she wants to celebrate the impact that Parker had on consumers while simultaneously denying that he or his scores had any impact on producers. While it might be a bit of oversimplification to ascribe the success of certain wineries or regions entirely to Parker's influence, there's no doubt that Wine Advocate came along at the ideal time to shape a generation of American wine drinkers, especially at a time when the frontiers of wine were widening.

    Perrotti-Brown seems to propose that Parker's consumer-focused style and personal kindness to her in some way serve to diminish his impact on the industry, at least now that those styles of wine he champions are no longer in vogue. In doing so, she seems to be willing to greatly diminish his historical importance. If Parker was just "the critic who validated comsumers' palates," if this trend towards riper, fuller, boozier wine was an unstoppable force that Parker was just commenting on or noting, then what exactly makes him all that special? Seems like a curious claim to make when you work for his publication.

  • The problem has never been Parker's taste. He can drink and admire whatever the hell he wants.

    The problem is that everyone (producers and consumers) listened to what he said as a gospel. Chasing his ratings was an expedient business decision for wineries (see: Napa pre-'97/post-'97). For consumers around the world, while they may not understand a wine or speak a western romance language, everyone understands that a 94 is "better" than a 89. 

    It was synergistic for both consumers and suppliers. Consumers could feel they were drinking the "right thing" because they had been told it was the right thing, and I think a lot of what consumers worry about is drinking the "wrong thing" rather than drinking what tastes best to them, because, well, they can't try what's in most bottles. I don't mean this to be derogatory to consumers, but having an all-powerful authority allowed people to "set it and forget it" on their wine purchasing decisions, which, hell, I think everyone today's hectic pace has decision fatigue, so I get why people gravitate to it.

    Likewise, a lot of regions, especially ones that had the climactic conditions necessary to produce wines to his liking, saw making wines that would appeal to him an easy way to boost the bottom line. 

    At the end of the day, the "sage" of Monkton is just a guy who everyone paid a lot of attention to, who was in the right place at the right time. To his credit, he has hired some people whose taste in wines I like quite a bit, principally Antonio Galloni. He and the critical establishment just now being to some degree supplanted by the fact that millennial consumer's prefer peer set recommendations to all-powerful critical/authority figures. I appreciate what he's done to make America more of a wine drinking country, but holy hell, does he really like some wines that I find super nasty. 

    By the way, if you ever want a good chuckle, go read the glossary on the Advocate. It gives you a very strange and particular window into how exactly RP thinks about wine. 

  • Well, all in all, she scored the point by putting Parker back in focus of wine writers and garnered attention to her publication and her status in it. Objective achieved.