Robert Parker, for those of you who aren’t big oenophiles, is maybe the most successful wine critic ever. He’s kinda retired now, but he absolutely transformed the wine industry over the last few decades.
His website calls him, “The world\’s most trusted authority in wine for over 30 years.” He published the Wine Advocate which popularized the now-ubiquitous 100 point scale for rating wines. His impact on the industry can’t be overstated.
Parker was never formally trained, but even his detractors had to acknowledge his amazing talent.
Many years ago, The Atlantic wrote a piece on Parker and his mad skills. In it, Parker stated, “A wine goes in my mouth, and I just see it. I see it in three dimensions. The textures. The flavors. The smells. They just jump out at me…When I put my nose in a glass, it\’s like tunnel vision. I move into another world, where everything around me is just gone, and every bit of mental energy is focused on that wine.” The article noted that Parker sampled 10,000 wines a year, and “he remembers every wine he has tasted over the past thirty-two years and, within a few points, every score he has given as well.”
Me Versus Robert Parker
I sample probably 10 wines a year. In terms of recall, I remember most of the wine I’ve drunk in the last week. When a wine goes in my mouth, I don’t “see” anything. The complexity of my reaction is typically either, “Yum!!!” or “Meh.” Whereas Parker has a 100 point scale, all of my wines are enrolled in a pass-fail course. And it’s taught by a pretty lax professor.
Yet, I really do like wine. I enjoy it with a meal, and sharing a bottle of wine with friends is one of life’s great pleasures.
My favorite wine nowadays is this little Spanish number:
It sells for $3.99 at Trader Joe’s. We started drinking it because I served it to the missus without telling her the cost (she’s learned to accept my blind taste-test trickery). She agreed it was a fine table wine and was really surprised at the price.
Sadly, Robert Parker doesn’t appear to have reviewed it, so we’ll never know his thoughts.
However, I was able to find a a Wine Enthusiast review for it online. It reads, “Medicinal aromas of plastic and latex compete with simple berry scents on this pinched, blocky Tempranillo.” Mmmmmmmm…plastic and latex. I haven’t recognized those subtle aromas myself (maybe it was just that year?). Notwithstanding those harsh words, the reviewer and I both agree it’s a good wine – he gives it an 84 rating (a solid B in my book) and labels it a “Best Buy”. (No, I can’t reconcile his words and rating either – what does he say about wine he dislikes?)
It’s not that I haven’t drunk fine wine. I’ve had some really expensive bottles in my time, but I’m always left thinking, “This tastes exactly what I can buy cheap from the grocery store.”
I’ll gladly concede that some supertasters can indeed tell the difference between $5 and $20 and $100 wine. The abilities of experts like Robert Parker have been demonstrated in blind tests too often for me to doubt that. It’s just that I’m not one of them. And I’m so glad.
My Happy Comes Cheap
When I drop some food on the floor (by accident or by “accident”), my dog is in heaven. It doesn’t matter what it is – it can range from a choice piece of meat to a bread crust that my Little-Lord-Fauntleroy son doesn’t want to eat. If we could chat, I’d say, “Hey Bamble, there’s no reason to dance with joy. It’s just some gristle and fat from my steak that I don’t want.” As he devoured it, he’d counter, “Don’t care – delicious! Best food ever!” And he’d say that every time. Every piece of table food is 100 out of 100 to him. My palate’s not quite at that level, but it’s a lot closer than Robert Parker’s.
A candidate for my last meal might be hamburgers paired with my plastic / latex wine and capped with a Klondike bar. Say what you will about my philistine tastes, but it’s pretty cool that I can have that whenever I want, isn’t it?
There is no way to know whether Robert Parker’s enjoyment of an absolutely amazing wine is greater than my enjoyment of a $3.99 bottle from Trader Joe’s. I suspect they are the same. All I know for certain is that I can truly enjoy the $3.99 bottle, and he can’t.
Many would view Robert Parker’s sensitive palate as an unbelievable blessing. He’s used it to make a career and get rich, and it probably enables him to enjoy subtleties that I could never experience. But I’m very glad I’m not him. He and I are both in a quest for great food and wine, and mine is the easier by far.