Wine guru Robert Parker Jr. knocks critics, defends opinions, at Napa Valley symposium
The night before wine guru Robert Parker Jr. spoke to wine writers at Meadowood Resort in St. Helena on Feb. 19, one of his critics, author James Conaway, told a small gathering at a downtown Napa book store that he wished Parker would renounce his endorsement – some call it “Parkerization” – of “high-alcohol, $500 wines.”
The next morning, Parker attempted to set the record straight.
“Some say I only love fruit bombs and oak bombs, but it’s a gross simplification, an effort to pigeonhole my taste,” Parker told the 10th annual Symposium for Professional Wine Writers. “People who know me are shocked by what they read, by what I’m supposed to drink.”
First, he said no wine publication covers more wines under $25 than his widely-acclaimed publication, The Wine Advocate. And, when asked about his favorite wine, he told the writers about the time he shared a grilled steak and a $15 bottle of Petite Sirah with his wife, Patricia.
“At that moment,” he said, “that could have been the best wine of my life.”
Next he said that, although there are styles of wine he does not like, he does not base his opinions on alcohol content.
“I’ve never used alcohol as a criteria,” he said. “It’s just not that important to me. Most of the labels lie anyway.”
Rather, he said, he uses flavor.
“Flavor intensity is critical, and I look at what the wine is going to be. You need some power, richness, intensity. Otherwise, the wine will fall apart because there is nothing there. I am looking for a wine that will be better in five to 10 years.”
For example, Parker praised Sebastopol vintner Steve Kistler’s new wine, Occidental, for getting “exceptional flavor concentration in his Pinot Noirs at 12.5 and 13 percent alcohol, due to the microclimate and viticulture.”
Parker, 66, said the press misrepresents him as someone who uses his power to make or break wineries.
“There are styles of wine s I don’t like — orange wine, natural wines and low-alcohol wines. As a consumer advocate you are required to state your opinion,” he said, admitting that he sometimes gets carried away with his opinions but always stands by them.
“Some of the thin, feminine, elegant wines being praised today will fall apart,” Parker said. “You can’t expect soft, shallow wine to get any better. You need some intensity.
“It’s a mistake to have a formula to pick grapes at lower brix just so you can have low alcohol and slam the word ‘elegant’ on it. You just have wine with low alcohol. I don’t think people making those wines should trash those that are big and alcoholic.”
Parker said many of those big wines are enjoying a golden age in the “viticultural Shangri-La” that is California.
“California is making more world-class wines than ever before and can rival the best France has ever made,” he added.
The Parkers live in Maryland, where they own a vineyard with Patricia’s brother.