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Bad taste is killing good wine The diversity of the wine industry is being crushed by one man's palate

Credit: Alexander RekaTASS via Getty Images

Credit: Alexander RekaTASS via Getty Images


October 15, 2020   6 mins

It is one of the required talents of the professional wine taster that he or she can intuit how a young wine will develop in ten or 15 years time. They have a palate that can project into the future, figuring out how a wine will open out, how its tannins might soften, how its fruit may come through. Perhaps this is why debates in the wine world, dating back at least to the release of the film Mondovino in 2004, and even long before that, prefigured the concerns many of us now share about globalisation.

In the world of fine wine, the focus of these arguments often circle around the influence of the mega-star wine critic Robert Parker Jr., a man who has more influence on the taste and price of wine than anyone else has, or ever had had. Now in his seventies, Parker is retired. But back in 1975, the former lawyer, taking his lead from former presidential candidate, Ralph Nader — a consumer rights advocate — began to publish The Wine Advocate, a kind of consumer guide to fancy wine.

The world of wine had never seen anything like it. Parker was on a mission to demythologise all the snobby and obscure terminology under which fine wine was clouded and developed a simple 100 point scale on which wines could be judged.

As his influence grew, a Parker wine score in the 90s would pretty much guarantee considerable financial success to a vineyard. Inevitably, so the argument goes, those who made wine started to adjust the taste of their product so that it would suit the arbiter’s palate.

Parker generally likes big, dark, gutsy, jammy, tannic wines that can, his critics say, be engineered to taste that way in post-production, often by use of imported yeasts or through the use of young oak barrels. It’s more about clever chemistry than the particular charisma of the local terroir. Parker’s taste favours the muscular Californian Cabernet wines and the great ChĂąteau wines of Bordeaux, yet has little appreciation for the lighter, less tannic, more subtle Pinot Noirs from Burgundy or Gamays from the Loire Valley. “Bad critics look at Pinot through Cabernet-tinted spectacles and so criticise it for being something it never set out to be,” writes Clive Coates, in a not so subtle dig at Parker, in his encyclopaedic The Wines of Burgundy.

Those who bewail Parker’s phenomenal influence speak of “parkerisation” as the wine equivalent of globalisation. The New York Times wine critic Alice Feiring writes that this is how “Rioja loses its Spanish accent”: parkerisation leads to an increasingly homogenised style of wine in which the diversity of grapes and wine tastes come to be submerged under the over powerful influence of Parker’s very particular palate. Those, like her, who prefer subtlety in their wine speak dismissively of Parker’s love for “jam bombs”.

Those who defend Parker, argue that his 100 point scale works as a kind of bullshit detector. It’s cutting through all the fancy talk and obscure (often) French classifications, to focus on the taste and the taste alone.

Parker famously refuses the kind of overly generous hospitality that can influence some wine critics. He pays his own way, and takes as he finds. Reputation does not matter to him. His Nader-like political philosophy is simply to deliver value for the consumer – and he is not going to be suckered by pretentious Europeans making overly expensive wine that doesn’t actually taste all that great. It’s a noble democratic mission with an ever so slightly Puritanical, characteristically American disdain for class, high culture and over-intellectualism.

This same democratic spirit is taken to a whole new level with the advent of social media. I have the Vivino app on my phone. It enables me to take a photo of a wine label in a shop and to receive an instant crowd funded score – out of 5 — as to the wine’s aesthetic value. With a database of over 10 million wines, and now 35 million or so users, Vivino is the ultimate in wine de-mystification.

The Vivino app was developed by techie people who know nothing about wine. Credit: David Silverman/Getty

Labels are confusing. In Burgundy especially, the mind bogglingly complex classification system, built around thousands of small farms, makes Hegelian philosophy look like child’s play. But with this handy myth buster, I can reduce hundreds of years of wine growing history to a simple number. Today, my Vivino app suggests that I might like a Gran Corte (VIII) 2013 from Argentina. It gives the wine a very high 4.5 score and describes it as “a fantastic ‘Bordeaux’ from South America”. That bothers me. I want my Bordeaux to come from and to taste of, well, Bordeaux. Vivino was first developed in Denmark by techie people who freely admit they know nothing about wine. The photographs we take of the wine are uploaded onto their database by office workers in India. The headquarters of the company is now in California, where else.

Last month, the influential Decanter magazine placed Parker in their Hall of Fame. I imagine there will be readers spluttering into their glasses of RomanĂ©e-Conti all the way from Beaune to Berry Brothers. Some of this will come from a certain snobbishness, a dislike of brash American straight-talking. For others, Parker is resisted out of a desire to retain some sort of mystique for wine and not reduce the whole wine experience simply to one of mere flavour. As Andrew Jefford writes in the same issue of Decanter, some people “taste morally” – seeking authenticity. As a Loire wine grower and one of the leaders of the biodynamic wine movement, Nicholas Joly once commented: “Avant d’etre bon, un vin doit etre vrai” (before being good, a wine must be true). I have some sympathy with all of this view myself.

The crunch issue between wine globalists and, lets call them, wine communitarians, is probably what one makes of the French term “terroir”. Beloved of communitarian conservatives such as Roger Scruton, terroir is the name for the way in which the local environment, micro-climate, soil composition, historic farming practices, and so on come to shape the way a wine is made. It is as much a spiritual idea as an environmental one.

The political import of terroir is that every wine is a somewhere, an expression of place. Part of the reason why descriptions of French wine can be so dizzyingly complicated – especially in Burgundy – is that local appellations often develop their own systems of classification. It is against all this local arcane and highly fragmented complexity that the globalist stands with their universal system of standardised aesthetic judgment. For some, then, terroir is little more than “vinecultural voodoo” with no basis in science. For others, it is more a question of wines having a soul, and that they receive their soul from a place, and loose it when they are heavily manipulated in post-production.

Parker’s taste buds were famously insured for a million dollars. For him, it was all about the taste – a highly subjective experience that required most of all absolute honesty, a refusal to be swayed by extraneous concerns, and a laser like focus on the sheer aesthetic experience of the taste itself and nothing else. In a way, his philosophy was a highly educated way of saying “I know what I like”.

But with the influence of the market, and now through information technology, it has become obvious that subjectivity can be schooled. We learn to like certain things. Those who grow up drinking Coca Cola have taste buds schooled to appreciate sweet and fizzy things, whereas those in, say, tea drinking cultures will generally appreciate more bitterness, like tannins in red wine. The problem with “I know what I like” is that what we like is partially learned, and is thus more changeable, and so more subject to manipulation, that we might assume. In other words, simple honesty about saying what one tastes is no prophylactic against the threat of a homogenised, global style.

In Mondovino, the issue of globalisation is seen as one of American capitalism versus the plucky French farmer. It is obviously more complicated than that. Parkerisation has inspired a whole new audience to love and appreciate the pleasures of the grape. And his scoring system has enabled a number of small boutique vineyards to compete commercially with their larger and more established competitors. To this extent, Parkerisation is not all about American capitalism flattening the little guy.

That said, the problem is not so much with Parker himself, but rather how the wine industry too often plays to his scoring system. And that creates the threat of all wine tasting more and more the same – a little too macho, too in your face, too brash. As Alice Feiring writes, what she really wishes she could say to Parker is this: “Please do not contribute to the dumbing down of the wine world. And if my Loire Valley Cabernet or Cot or Pineau d’Aunis or Gamay start tasting like Barossa Valley Shirazes, I’ll have to switch over to Calvados.” And I will be joining her.


Giles Fraser is a journalist, broadcaster and Vicar of St Anne’s, Kew.

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Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

I think this article, while broadly accurate, is a little bit out of date. Anyone who tastes a lot of wines (and I taste at least 2,000 wines each year) knows that there is a greater diversity of tastes than ever. Young people across Europe and elsewhere reviving long-neglected indigenous grapes. Then there is the entire spectrum of emerging orange wines and ‘volcanic’ wines, not to mention wines made at ever-higher altitudes to compensate for climate change. And so on and so on.

The writer does have a point in the sense that, say, a Mersault will not always taste like a Mersault these day, Depending on the wine maker it might taste more like a Puligny, and vice versa. And the level in, say, Auxey Duress is now so high that the wine might taste like a Puligny or a Mersault. But there is still very much a sense of place as these areas are just a few km from each other.

Moreover, wine makers are moving away from the over use of oak, which is one of the reasons why wines were converging to some extent. And many wine makers are more distinctive than ever e.g. the recently deceased Alain Voge in Cornas, or Eric Texier. So, skilled tasters can often pick out their wines in blind tastings. I recently identified of every aspect a 2007 Voge Les Chailles in a blind tastng, and I am not the most skilled in my group.

That aside, I recently remarked (to a frequent contributor to Decanter) that one of the more amusing things I had read this year was Andrew Jefford writing about, and having to justify, Parker, in the Decanter article to which Giles refers. For those who don’t know, the very subtle and sometimes anguished Andrew Jefford is probably the world’s best wine writer, while Parker was probably the world’s best taster but not especially subtle in his preferences. (I will acknowledge that describing Parker as ‘not especially subtle’ is a simplification). Anyway, imagine Douglas Murray trying to write an appreciation of John Prescott and you get the idea.

Pierre Brute
Pierre Brute
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

When I saw the title I immediately thought of Robert Parker, having read about many vintners’ propensity for creating wines he’d rate highly. Not having a smartphone I wasn’t aware of Vivino, but my preference is always to talk to the dealer to find something I’d like.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
3 years ago

I would argue that the reverse is broadly true. 20 years ago had you written that we risked losing our diversity due to the Parkerization of the wine trade, I would have agreed with you. But the problem isn’t so much Parker, as the fact that so many people want the status associated with being a ‘wine connoisseur’. And they can either put in the work to develop the discernment, i.e. actually becoming one (unless, alas, they are one of those unfortunate people, ‘non-tasters’ who have a shortage of taste buds and thus find this a skill they cannot learn) or they can buy some books by Parker and start swotting up his opinions. The second is a whole lot quicker, easier, especially if you are part of the hoard whose only real skill is the ability to regurgitate correct answers to tests. In the time when the Wine Advocate was a printed newsletter — I think it is all online now — you could also litter your living room with the things, every single one of them signalling to your acquaintances that you are a member of that elite whose rank you aspire to. And since, most likely, you think that ‘all wine is pretty much the same’, you see nothing dishonest in doing what you are doing, since you think that everybody is putting on a status show for the sake of putting on a status show. Otherwise it is all hokum.

But for the people who were willing to put in the work, Parker was a godsend. You cannot learn to discern more until you have some idea of what there is (supposed to be) in this bottle, in this glass, so you can practice trying to discern it. And since you are doing this in order to improve yourself, not to impress your friends, you can take pleasure as your discernment improves, without worrying, as Giles Fraser did in an earlier article that you are becoming a wine snob. The snobbishness is all in how you treat others, not a function of the amount of discernment you have. Plenty of wine snobs — really wine swots — have little or no discernment at all. They just know the appropriate things to say. If you cover the bottles with dark bags and serve the wine in black glasses you can expose these people quite easily, but it is only fun the first few times. Then you begin to feel sorry for them …

Fast forward 20 years to now. A whole lot of people have used the intervening time to actually become discerning. They think that wines that are grown to the Parker scale are boring. So what do we get? An explosion in new interesting wines made by growers all over the world who are trying to do something different. People like me have never had it so good.

So, Giles, if all your wine is tasting the same then your wine importer/seller has a problem. You need to get out more, because there has never been as much variety. Of course, you then run the risk of getting wine that is genuinely bad, but isn’t that exciting too?

Cheers!

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Great post! I toned down my initial post below but initially I made the same statement – rather angrily – about this article being 20 years out of date. It’s always the same. Whenever one reads an article on a subject about which one knows something, it will be inaccurate at best and nonsense at worst. There is actually a name for this law but I can’t recall it. Anyway, it is the reason one should never trust a word that is written in the media.

And now they have altered the headline for the article, and not for the better.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
3 years ago

This morning it occurred to me that the problem Giles Fraser’s wine seller has might be that he or she is unaware that Giles is getting bored. So if Giles Fraser is reading this — make sure you let them know!. Otherwise, the default is to assume that people who want to try a new wine want something in some aspect new, but also something a lot like other things they have liked in the past. ‘A wine from a different region that tastes like the wines I have been selling you’ fits very well. Not only is this idea of ‘what it is that people want when they tell you they want something new’, broadly speaking, true for most people but it avoids the problem the wine seller wants to avoid at all costs — you sell somebody a wine they dislike, and they transfer their dislike to your business and shop elsewhere.

Jonathan Smith
Jonathan Smith
3 years ago

I once sat in a Caffe in Montalcino, the epicentre of the (in)famous Brunello. A group of New York wine snobs pontificated on the best wines. When their conversation got too strident, an Australian woman leaned across to their table and said, “I’ll tell you what the best wine is. The best wine is the one you like, you bloody fools.”

Ian Bond
Ian Bond
3 years ago

Great news! I love Pinot Noir, and the last thing I would want is some American like Parker making it more expensive.

Andy Whiteman
Andy Whiteman
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Bond

Ian Robert Parker has reviewed Burgundy for years. Burgundies have not been changed by Parker flavour, weight etc are similar. What has changed over the years is price. That, to some extent has been driving by Parker. However the biggest change has been the growth of the super rich. What to them is loose change is a small fortune to me.

Gary F
Gary F
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Bond

Readers may find it interesting that Parker is a co-owner of Beaux Freres vineyards, which produces some of the finest Pinot Noirs to cross my palate.

Gerald gwarcuri
Gerald gwarcuri
3 years ago

I live in California, with access to every conceivable wine on the planet. 95% of the wines I sample – including ones offered to me at gatherings and restaurant offerings – are barely drinkable. I have subscribed to wine clubs with nearly the same results.

My brother and sister-in-law, with the best of intentions, signed me up with the Martha Stewart wine club as a thank you gift for caring for our aging parents. After three shipments, I now no longer even open the bottles. I cannot in good conscience give bad wine to friends. So, what to do?

I am turning some of these awful wines into wine vinegar. But a person can only use so much vinegar. The rest? It goes straight down the drain… where it belongs.

I do have a few favorite wines, which are consistently good, reasonably priced, and available locally. I am no longer willing to play “wine roulette” and I find that most people who consider themselves “into wine” will drink almost anything if some “expert” informs them that it is an “excellent” wine, with all the flowery adjectives to go along with their breathless explanations. Bah! It’s wine sophistry. Snobbery without a cause.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

I believe the pioneering and very tasteful Kermit Lynch still imports a lot of good wines from Europe into California.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
3 years ago

Some wines that are unpalatable actually cook very well. Overly sweet white wine + really excellent sharp (not sweet) mustard + a bit of this and that == marvellous braise for rabbit or chicken, for instance.

paulcorrea57
paulcorrea57
3 years ago

Gerald, out of all the comments yours hits it right on target!

David Zersen
David Zersen
3 years ago

The numbering system may tend to draw us into a parkerian taste-bud rut, but in a
world that has so many vineyards, varietals and blends, not to mention cockamamie labels, it’s helpful even for mature winebibbers to begin by checking the numbers. At one point I gave up on returning to favored vintners or regions or countries because what began an an experiment in many countries turned out to be an eruption. Overwhelmed by growing numbers of difficult-to-categorize wines in California and Europe, I dabbled with those from Chile, Australia, South Africa, and Argentina. And then I considered Oregon, New York, Texas and Washington. Then there were the vineyards in former Communist countries that no longer had to work with collectives and could finally produce better Tokaj (Hungary), Traminec (Slovenia) or Sonnenberg Riesling (Thueringen). I can still be attracted by something unusual on a shelf like an Israeli Cabernet from the Tzora Hills of Judea or a Nero d’Avola from Sicily. But I’ll probably start to forage by looking for parkerian 92s before I pick up too many bottles that may have been labeled by a marketer who knows a lot about words that turn people on, but nothing about wine.

Duncan Hunter
Duncan Hunter
3 years ago

For all the positives associated with the Parker system, I believe it’s the case that any and every wine starts with a score of 50.
So even vinegar in a corked bottle – and who hasn’t on occasion endured such an experience? – would attract such a score.
Just a bit of context!

Bruno Noble
Bruno Noble
3 years ago
Reply to  Duncan Hunter

Yes, he starts at 50. Then up to 5 for a “wine’s general colour and appearance” and another possible 15 for “aroma and bouquet’. Up to 20 points for “flavour and finish” and up to 10 for “potential for further evolution”. (The Wine Buyer’s Guide, 5th edition)

Bruno Noble
Bruno Noble
3 years ago

I remember a dinner party in Sheen when a guest said, “My wife and I drink 85s to 90s during the week, 90s to 95s on weekends and over 95s on special occasions.” I said, “That’s odd, the more special the occasion the younger the wine?” He replied, “No, I’m talking Parker points of course.” It’s a good thing my dining chair had arms to keep me from falling off it.

donlindsay8
donlindsay8
3 years ago
Reply to  Bruno Noble

Lovely story. With your permission, I’ll keep this one to deflate some pompous wine fundi in the future.

Chris Taylor
Chris Taylor
3 years ago

I only drink red wine and Ouzo. I can’t get precious about wine and can’t take anyone seriously who does. It’s either good glugging wine or only fit for cooking and that’s it. No I can’t explain the Ouzo.

Tony Reardon
Tony Reardon
3 years ago

When I first started drinking wine back in the mid-1960s, there were some truly awful red wines around, virtually vinegar, but I do not think that is still the case. I cannot recall the last really bad bottle of wine (well I can but that was the fault as to how an old, very expensive wine with a great reputation had been stored).

In the 60s, if offered say Chilean or even Spanish, one would be very dubious as to what to expect but who would demur based on this today. I share the Parker predilection for big, jammy and tannic reds and, as I now live in Australia, I cannot really find a reason to drink red wine from anywhere else but have no reservations when travelling to drink local wine (well maybe not English wine as yet). I especially enjoyed South African wines when I visited and they were fantastic value due to the weak Rand but still find it difficult to go past out local produce back home.

I confess I struggled a bit in the US. I lived there for a couple of years in the early 90s in Chicago and ended up nearly always buying French. The American wines, at least at my price points, all seemed to taste as if they had been matured in steel vats but American friends have disagreed, sometimes vehemently.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Reardon

‘When I first started drinking wine back in the mid-1960s, there were some truly awful red wines around, virtually vinegar, but I do not think that is still the case.’

If you get nostalgic for the truly awful wines of the mid-60s you can always try some of the so-called ‘natural wines’ that are out there. This is not to condemn them all, as some of them are very good and/or interesting.

opn
opn
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Saddam Hussein’s favourite wine is said to have been Mateus Rosé.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  opn

Mateus Rose is a Wine of Mass Destruction if ever there was one. Perhaps Bush and Blair had a point. Still, invading a country and causing the death of millions to take out a few bottles of wine seems a little excessive.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Oh yes! 🙂

Richard Hunter
Richard Hunter
3 years ago

Well Giles. I agree with you, but this is an article that should have been written ten or even 15 years ago when it might have influenced opinion. Parkerization is now so ingrained into modern wine culture, its influence cannot be undone.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Hunter

There were many such articles written 10 to 15 years ago. They were all over the wine press and even the mainstream press. As Giles points out, there was even a film made on the globalisation of wine. And those articles did influence opinion. So much so that there has, in general, been a turn away from Parkerization.

Anyway, Parker doesn’t even rate/score the wines any more. He has retired. And I don’t think he ever rated them in Italy and one or two other places. He has also admitted, I think, that he never really understood Burgundy.

Jonathan da Silva
Jonathan da Silva
3 years ago

Does the author not recognise Parker’s rep’ comes from people agreeing with him? If he recommended sink water would anyone drink it and still buy his ratings? People like wines like that [and I do largely albeit not Jammy] and then producers try to meet that demand and basic supply and demand capitalism does the rest. What is the complaint? That people who would not even try more than wines they trust/know now drink more wine?

The amazing irony of highlighting his massive influence then being snotty he is in a Hall of Fame…. I’d not have Geoffrey Boycott in a cricketing Hall of Fame as I did not like his batting form of illogical? He is as famous as almost as anyone in wine if not the most famous person in wine. Define wine Fame any way that does not include him?

The idea that people try 1000s a year that they can’t afford in the hope of finding some good ones. I’d argue the scores may direct people to try more wines rather than stick with one or two they like.. It may not be to esoteric tastes that so many people drink so much wine and are led by Parker scores but as others say this means there is more of everything else for the subtle connoisseur. Indeed the prices for Parker’s favourite wines now almost force one to look elsewhere.

Weak iconoclasm for me despite bulldozing in some nuance at the end. It’s just lecturing people for not having the time, money and taste buds they ‘should’ and being led.

David Zersen
David Zersen
3 years ago

I love the word “sink water.” I grew up in the U.S. drinking “sink water” all my life and when I finally visited London in the 1960s, I ordered tap water and was told “they’d have to go in the basement to get it!” I still laugh at our differences– as well as the folly of Americans drinking bottled water today.

Colin Haller
Colin Haller
3 years ago

None of this matters very much to most people whose wine drinking options are highly constrained by availability and price — they make do with what they can afford from among the options locally available. In my case I prefer cheap Italian reds (whites give me heartburn and South American reds give me a headache) for daily drinking and something a little pricier on the weekend, mostly Pacific northwest with the occasional Australian.

Andy Whiteman
Andy Whiteman
3 years ago

I’ve always rated Robert Parker really highly. I always remember my wife, many years ago, tasting some Haut Marbuzet. I asked her to describe it. She said, chocolatey, smokey,
oakey. She loved it. I then read her Robert Parker’s tasting not for the same wine (which she had not) and he said “Chocolatey, smoking and oakey”.
Personally I always chose wines in the 87-89/100 category. As long as I either knew the grower or the appellation/region/varietal.
Wines were “Parkerised” by the Wine Industry in my view. Additionally the Wine Business is so based on fantasy and incredible hype – some would say with a large dollop of BS added I think it’s a bit rich to blame one critic.
As for citizen wine reviewers I’m not sure about that. A bit like Trip Advisor for the hospitality business. Everbody is now an expert critic – not.

ralph bell
ralph bell
3 years ago

One of the best wines I have tasted was at Xmas, a French Cotes Du Rhone and the other was a welcome box sent by the Spectator, about 10 years ago, of 12 bottle of a french red that was light, minerally and a touch of tannin’s. Wish I could find out what it was, so simple and so perfectly french.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  ralph bell

‘…light, mineral and a touch of tannin’s (sic)’

It might have been a Beaujolais, perhaps a Beaujolais Cru from Morgon or Moulin a Vent.

Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson
3 years ago

I’m amazed that no-one on this thread has made the very obvious point that most people who drink wine can barely tell a white from a red (me included) and that cultivating a taste in fine wines is the best possible way to waste a large amount of money very quickly. Please tell me that I’m wrong, but at present I’ll stick with this summary from wikipedia, which supports my own experience of a blind wine tasting, where the buyer of a £55 French wine could not tell it apart from the cheapest wine I could find in Morrisons, which cost under £3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wi

johnpower90
johnpower90
3 years ago

If Parker’s such a taste maker these days then why are so many people drinking disgusting natural filth?

donlindsay8
donlindsay8
3 years ago

I lived in South Africa for 30 years, a country where excellent wine is widely available and where imbibing it is very much a part of everyday life. Then I moved to Brazil which, on the surface, appeared something of a vinicultural desert. I went from a country where even rural supermarkets sell good wine to having to scour wine boutiques in big cities to find anything other than low quality local and regional wines. In wine drinking countries like South Africa, you don’t need to think much about what to buy, wine knowledge is pervasive and you just kind of absorb it.
I thus have had to develop my knowledge about wine. People around me generally drank poor quality wine and I knew nothing about South American producers. In such as undiscriminating market, even price was also not a reliable guideline. My journey over the past seven years has been a costly, if very enjoyable, exercise in a country where tax on wine can be up to 40% of the purchase price and, I have to say, Vivino has been a life saver.
As with all apps, one has to consider who is doing the rating. A R$30,00 wine that gets 3,8 is nowhere near as good as a R$100,00 wine that gets 3,5. If in doubt about the veracity of an overall rating, one can also look at the detail of individual reviews to gain more insight.
Parker et al don’t focus all that much on South America and are only useful down here when one is going for the very top wines from major producers. They are, furthermore, almost completely absent in the case of the nascent, and often surprisingly good, Brazilian wine industry.
As regards trends in diversity in the region, I would agree with what some other commentators have mentioned here in terms of the planting of less well-known grapes as well as the appearance of vineyards in areas not previously considered for wine production.

Toby Webster
Toby Webster
3 years ago

An interesting article, and one which, as several contributors have already pointed out, seems to exhume a debate that was taking place in wine circles at least 20 years ago. Parker’s influence was undoubtedly considerable, and whilst it undoubtedly led to a worrying homogenisation of style, and often a lamentable loss of the ‘originality’ encapsulated in word ‘terroir’, I suspect it will also have been seen to have played a part in the widespread game-raising that has undoubtedly taken place in the wine world in recent decades.

We have moved on a long way, with the explosion of the artisanal and low-intervention wine styles which have gained huge popularity amongst sommeliers and a new generation of enthusiasts. I don’t suppose that many of the latter have even heard of Robert Parker.

Parker, incidentally, who has long retired, stopped reviewing Burgundy a quarter of a century ago, where he became persona non grata for having trodden on too many toes, most famously those of the highly estimable producer Francois Faiveley, who sued him (the case was settled out of court). He has since expressed regret for having been excessively aggressive in his critique of the wines, though it might also be acknowledged that Burgundy was often at the time notoriously unreliable, if reliably expensive.

Clach Viaggi
Clach Viaggi
3 years ago

French and Californian wine normally sucks, regardless of Parker taste

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Clach Viaggi

Well that’s nonsense, for a start. The standard of French wine, overall, is higher than it has ever been. From experimental wine makers in remote regions to the highest levels of Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Northern Rhone, French wine is both fascinating and of a very high quality.

I don’t drink a great deal of Californian wine because it is not, on the whole, to my taste and it is very expensive. But objectively, at the higher levels, it is very good. And there is some very drinkable stuff a the lower price levels.

Gerald gwarcuri
Gerald gwarcuri
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

California wine is expensive? Where do you live? Texas?

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Europe. The few Californian wines that make it over here tend to be very expensive. And I have often seen one of my wine groups literally pour $100 dollar CA wines down the sink as they were so ‘Parkerized’ for want of a better word.

I attended a trade tasting of US (mostly CA) wines last year. To be honest, most of them were very ‘big’ and overpriced, but I found a few OK ones around the $10 mark.

There are some drinkable ones from Virginia – we even tried a sparkler from the Trump vineyard that was perfectly OK. But again, very very expensive.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Mr Bailey, I’m glad you’ve tracked down some Virginian wine – I remember some very creditable Viognier and Nebbiolo from that state; and I once organised a tasting of Virginian wine in Stockholm, where, of course, people are usually limited to the Swedish state monopoly’s list. I’ve also enjoyed the odd Finger Lakes Riesling from New York State.

But for me the great American wines are from Oregon – some wonderful Pinot Noir, and if the Abacela Vineyard Tempranillo is half as good as I remember it being ten years ago (Mark Savage used to import it, though it’s not on his current list), it’s well worth seeking out. I also remember an extraordinary Chardonnay (Vickers Vineyard) from Idaho, which showed amazingly well at fifteen years of age. That again was about a decade ago (I think it was the 1996 vintage), but you can fine more recent vintages in the UK, and it’s still earning surprisingly favourable comparisons with some of the more celebrated Burgundian appellations.

Toby Webster
Toby Webster
3 years ago

The Vickers Chardonnay was 1996, it had an almost searing acidity which gave it that amazing longevity, and from which the most refined, Burgundian fruit gradually unfurled.

Bruno Noble
Bruno Noble
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

You may find the vinous “judgment of Paris” interesting – https://en.wikipedia.org/wi…. There’s a book by George Taber about it that I really enjoyed (while the film of it (Bottle Shock) is best avoided…).

northernobserverdv
northernobserverdv
3 years ago
Reply to  Clach Viaggi

French Wine has really turned around in the last 12 years. I can’t speak for Californian.

Bruno Noble
Bruno Noble
3 years ago
Reply to  Clach Viaggi

Er, really?