Robert Parker, Parkerization, and the judgment of history
Dear Mr. Parker:
I smiled when I read details of your recent interview with the French wine magazine Terre des Vins, where you said you didn’t think Parkerization – the idea that wines should be richer, riper, and more alcoholic, a practice that has become de rigueur for many high-end producers in France and California – existed. It reminded me what Joan Baez once said: That she never wanted to be famous, just well known.
Yes, Parkerizaton exists (as even your wife has apparently noted). Why else would I get a sample of $50, 15.2 percent California pinot noir, other than to impress you? It’s not like anyone else would want to drink it.
Frankly, denying Parkerization is too Shakespeare – you are protesting too much. Instead, you should acknowledge the influence you had on the wine business over the past 20 years, when even the greatest French producers would accept your verdict as gospel. That’s pretty damned impressive.
Before Ernest Hemingway, everyone wrote like Henry James. After Hemingway, everyone wrote like Hemingway. Papa reveled in that, and never tired of reminding the world that he was behind it. See the scenes with F. Scott Fitzgerald in “A Moveable Feast” for evidence.
My guess, and it’s only a guess, because we’ve never met and I don’t know you (though I greatly respect your work) is that you were having a Baez-like moment. Could all the changes in the wine business and the way wine is made have really happened because of you? You were, all those years ago, just an attorney who loved wine. There’s no way you, one man, could have changed so much, is there?
Afraid so, and you only have a couple of choices now. Accept your role, like Hemingway (without the looniness, hopefully). There are an almost infinite number of wine writers who wish they were in that position. Or, if you really think Parkerization is wrong, say so. Say it forcefully and often. Look back at what you wrote and see where, maybe, you opted for unctuousness (one of your favorite terms) over subtlety. And did it happen more often than you remember?
Regardless, accept that most of us would not be doing this sort of thing if not for you. I, for one, am grateful for that.
The Wine Curmudgeon