The world’s most famous wine critic is not happy. His claim of “wannabe” scribes hell-bent to focus on obscure wines most consumers can never find has raised a maelstrom of retort. Robert Parker published a diatribe last month about ”a vociferous minority” of “euro-elitists” vying for journalistic market share “perpetrating nothing short of absolute sham on wine consumers.”
Them’s fightin’ words. No, not that rant by Robert Parker about Robert Griffin III. Wine critic Robert Parker Jr. railed against a bevy of unnamed bloggers on the natural, honest and low-alcohol wine supporting bandwagon. His claim? Natural wines will be exposed as fraud. Parker’s would-be assailants are an outspoken generation who would seek to bring down those classic grapes capable of ripe extraction and elevated levels of sugar and alcohol, namely Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The intensity-loving reviewer has positioned himself as the establishment, a victim agonizing over the sanctification of “godforsaken grapes,” like Blaufränkisch and Trousseau.
Alder Yarrow of Vinography took exception and proposed a cage match. His column: Debating Robert Parker At His Invitation. Rebecca Gibb’s take: Should Robert Parker Have Listened to Disraeli? Jamie Goode put in his ever-wry two cents: Novelty at the expense of quality? This after Jancis Robinson chimed in with Bottle fight: Novelty v classic wines. Talia Baiocchi had this to say: The Robert Parker Tirade, Continued. Eric Asimov brought it down to a New York state of mind with Why Can’t You Find That Wine? Meanwhile, Steve Heimoff took the other side: There are some kinds of blogs we just don’t need.
There isn’t a writer in the bunch I wouldn’t read, can’t learn from or don’t find funny, but the need to chime in on what is obvious and already understood leaves me dumbfounded. In wine, as in life, there are some things that just are what they are, like them or not. Mr. Parker, you carved your niche. Those who lay with you ate cake. The model worked. It held water and was extremely successful for a long time. You are this week’s Napa Wine Writers Symposium keynote speaker, where you will feel the love. No one will ask, what have you done for me lately? You created the establishment and are of course trying to protect the status quo. You’ve been ridiculously prolific. Integral to the high-frequency, high-end wine buyer. And you are just a writer. Really. So what if the dogs are seeing signs of Queegish dotage. You named no names in your rant, so who exactly did you mean to insult? The world is your oyster. What’s with the bitching?
Perhaps Parker touched an insecure spot, the one where self-doubt creeps in. The one that drives writers to defend themselves, even if the attack is not a personal one. The need to tear him down is strange at best. It smells of poli-campaign slander. If he’s no longer relevant, as a vehement bunch seem to scream and shout, why bother? Why is the wine writing community one where sides desperately need to be taken? To both sides I caution the high road. Let writers write and if you think they are wrong or have nothing to say, ignore them. Like a tree falling in the forest, is an unread writer ever really heard?
It’s understood that controversy sells and lively discourse is healthy. In this case it has produced more than a novella of interesting reads. The current generation of critics, bloggers and reviewers is replete with some stupidly smart writers who have chosen wine as their raison d’écrire. That they chime in and offer their take on everything from varietal obsessions to tasting bans and producer/journalist relationships is certainly fascinating. Arguing the merits of varietal worthiness is fine. Discussing the pros and cons of esoteric versus classic wines on restaurant cards is relevant. Throwing sticks onto the ice, choosing teams and starting fights simultaneous to the debate loses sight of the original topic. I am not suggesting a wine writer’s love in but would more levity and space not foster an environment where the wines themselves matter more than the people who talk about them?
Tasting, talking about and writing up wines seems the course to stay, whether it be reviews on varieties never heard of or an obnoxiously fat glass of buttery Chardonnay. Richard Auffrey fights the good fight but still takes a stab at the beast. The always dry W. Blake Gray floats on in his singular, ethereal way, and by doing so, gets it right. He wants you to know I’ll have some Roussillon, hold the Rivesaltes. With Tuba and Alto Sax. Perhaps Gray would agree with me. If I need a dose of scathing criticism or irony I’ll turn on Bill Maher, or put on a Bill Hicks Rant in E-Minor.
Music and wine can work magic when paired together. Jamie Goode has been exploring the possibilities. Sometimes it’s just a matter of breaking wine down to the base, choosing grapes from places where they are made in straightforward and simply powerful ways. Likewise, clicking an uncomplicated, three-chord arrangement on YouTube or the I-pod can really change the outlook of a day. Here are six rock ‘n’ roll wines, in four-four time, ready and willing to ease your mind.
From Salta in north west Argentina, what is so appealing about this well-priced bottling is the salinity and outright humidity it always displays. Torrontés gives so much away aromatically, by way of flowers and the verdigris of mountain ferns. This Catena entry-level wine achieves all of the above and for a song. This Alamos is medicinal, reeks of orchids sweating in a greenhouse and teases with white pepper. It’s short and quick but efficient. Excellent value. 88 Tasted January 2014 @CatenaMalbec @MalbecLife
Entry-level Rioja was nothing but a house party. Was surely rocking a year ago but now a fading, dry cake of rusticity, with the slightest hydration of charred sour cherry. Solid Crianza, though short-lived, with some bitter notes and good acidity in tight corners. Where once it “said move it, groove it,” now it laments “baby, don’t you lose it.” 87 Tasted February 2014 @HHDImports_Wine
Frothy, gregarious sparkler from New Zealand with extraordinarily large bubbles, a soft downy texture and a cottony nose. Gentle spice, sweet easy bake brioche and juicy grapefruit is inviting, if advanced by mechanical means. Mellow, smooth, pure and clean with no obvious toast, soap or bitters. Well-priced, drink now fizz. 89 Tasted February 2014 @Select_Wines
High powered, ocean size aromas here, expressing the power and pomp inflection of the Barossan attitude. Very berry and not alcohol shy though it’s a gathered heat and nothing shocking. Swirl this wave of big juice for long enough and though it will feel “like a tooth aching a jawbone,” it’s fleeting and releases to a softer finish. Still, a Shiraz more John than Jane. 88 Tasted January 2014 @GrantBurgeWines @TrialtoON
Surreal, impossibly dense and terrifically complex Barossa Shiraz, full of dark fruit blues and hard-rocking rhythms. Metallic zinc tincture, causing heavy breathing, steaming like a locomotive with “no way to slow down.” Steals words and all sensitivity from teeth and gums. Such a big expression but certainly not one of the all-time one-dimensional losers. So much more than jammy fruit. To put aside and revisit in 20 years. 91 Tasted February 2014 @pontewine
Pure Nebbiolo currency, bankable Barolo. This ’08 confirms the old-school austerity of the Colla caste and genre. Parlous handsome perfume, stark, raving Barolo, exact and definitive in angular tannin. Racy, deep and unctuous, nowhere even close to settled or responsive. There is a lurking depth of flavour not yet willing to cooperate. My kingdom for your Bussia graces. 92 Tasted February 2014 @glencairnwines
Good to go!