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.
11 thoughts on “I\’m Glad I\’m Not Robert Parker”
This is how I feel about Coors Light. Judge me if you will, but I’m content
I’ll never judge someone for drinking what they like! Coors Light is a great light lager imo.
And a guy that used to work in the beer industry said that sometimes breweries are flexible on what they can – he said that the “low end” beer for many is just the higher end beer in a new can. We did the Pepsi Challenge with Keystone Light and Coors Light, and although we could tell a slight difference in taste, we couldn’t actually tell which one was better [insert European joke about American beer here]. Lots of people make fun of me for drinking Keystone, but any who have accepted the challenge have failed a blind taste test 🙂
Very interesting post. I had a similar talk with a friend this week about rice. I told him that I really enjoy rice and that is the base of our food. He asked me about what kind of rice I use to buy and I told him that I do not know the name, just that it is the blue box that cost € 0.8/kg at the supermarket. And then I got a class about how the rice I was eating was not the best one, that I should experience a rice A or B that cost € 5.xx/Kg, because the smell of the rice was amazing, that the tasty was better,etc, etc. By the end he realized that I would not change my cheap rice for the expensive one.
Going back to the wine, my classification goes from “I liked” to “I did not like”, with an aggravating if the same generate headache the next morning. I had my moments in the past when I use to buy more expensive wines (€20-€30), but I realized that I could not differentiate those from a € 5.00 bottle. Sometimes I really would like to have a more refined tasty for it, but it is not for me. Once I asked a sommelier about the people that go to the restaurants and do the entire “procedure” before give the ok to the wine. He mentioned that most of them have no idea about what they are doing, that they just do it o show off…. ha ha ha ha.
Have a nice week. All the best.
You’re preachin’ to the choir. I too love rice, but being married to a Japanese woman, it’s like I’m seeing her technicolor world in black and white. I just don’t grasp all of the intricacies and wonders that she seems to observe and enjoy. I like rice that is just cooked, and if it’s been sitting for a while or has been reheated from the fridge, less so – that’s about it for me.
I’m glad to know I have company in enjoying cheap wine. I certainly don’t dislike expensive wine – it’s just there’s a huge premium for something I can’t apparently appreciate. And I’m right there with you on the restaurant spectacle of serving wine – I’ve been told that all you need to do is sniff the wine to make sure it hasn’t turned to vinegar (and the waiter would have already caught a whiff if it’d gone bad), but we definitely need a bunch of made-up protocol so whoever ordered can say, “Look at me!” and justify the heady investment 🙂
Many thanks for the note – have a great week!
Paul – you’ve written some brillant, funny, and brilliantly funny blog posts. I think this one may be your finest in the third category. I tip my keyboard to you.
Many thanks Joe! I’m not always sure if my more eclectic posts will hit the mark, and I really appreciate the feedback and kind words.
I’m reminded of the phrase “ignorance is bliss”. Clearly as a non-drinker I’m ignorant in the ways of wine and how to gauge a good one, but I don’t feel like I’m missing out on much either.
Clearly hedonistic adaptation has to play a part when attempting to review a wine with a 90 instead of an 85. Me, I’m happy with a $0 ice cold glass of water.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder too … That $4 wine can taste like a million bucks if you’re thirsty enough! Use this to your advantage!
I think I can say with some authority that you haven’t missed out on much!
Now coffee, on the other hand, is a different matter 🙂
I don’t drink that either, to the dismay of many co-workers in the Seattle area. 😉
Seems like there are a lot of like-minded folks reading this entry, in particular. I agree with all of the merits of Coors Light, sensibly-priced wine, and easily-accessible rice. I’ll throw out one more, just to show how much I swim against the stream – give me a pair of Wrangler jeans any day. I’d opt for those comfortable jeans every time over the offerings at the high-priced “cool” upscale stores – and I’ll find other things to do with my money that I saved after spending about $20.
Indeed – and jeans may be even more of a marketing gimmick than wine. I suspect the denim is nigh-near identical, so the premium is just for the awesome commercials, beautiful models, and impressive retail shops.
Marketing does make the world go round, and we’d probably end up with lower quality stuff at every level if there weren’t a lot of people willing to pay those steep premiums for imaginary benefits. But as long as the masses do that, some of us will be able to get great / comparable quality on the cheap. Go Wranglers!