The Great and Powerful Shnoz
Does the emperor of wine have any clothes?
Parker's grip on the wine world may be starting to loosen, however. It used to be that only the Burgundians, who make minute quantities of highly coveted wines and therefore have little need to placate the press, had the courage not to kowtow to Parker (indeed, he is now a persona non grata in Burgundy and recently handed over coverage of the region to an assistant). But other winemakers are beginning to speak up. Last year, for instance, Parker was publicly slammed by the Mondavis, the first family of American wine. He had alleged, in print, that the Mondavi winery was slipping because it was not fashioning the kind of blockbuster Cabernets that are currently Napa Valley's stock in trade (and that Parker loves). The Mondavis pointedly replied that their aim is to craft elegant, food-friendly wines, not critic bait. More interestingly, the buzz at this year's annual Bordeaux barrel tastings was that several prominent winemakers known for turning out turbocharged wines have now renounced that approach and are embracing a more traditional style that emphasizes finesse over power.
The ever-sensitive Parkerati point out that he is not putting a corkscrew to anyone's head. They insist that the cultlike devotion he commands is a function of honesty, industry, and all-around superiority. No question, his sheer profligacy—in addition to the newsletter, he has written books about Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhone and occasionally puts out a 1,000-page buying guide—is another reason for his enormous reach. Parker has also done the consumer many favors. His battles against excessive crop yields and filtration (a practice that removes suspended solids from wines but often strips them of flavor and character, as well) were enormously helpful. And it is true that many people share his predilections.
However, it is also true that a huge number have simply made his preferences theirs or have substituted his for theirs. Parker has spawned a generation of lemmings. This may not have been his intent, but it is his legacy: Untold thousands of wine drinkers have come to believe that his judgment is more trustworthy than their own.
Michael Steinberger is a free-lance journalist.
Illustration by Robert Neubecker.