Nice Nose

A brief thanks to Santa, who delivered Elin McCoy’s 2005 book The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr., and the Reign of American Taste. It’s not a perfect book, but it offers lots of informative fun if you’re interested in the subject, as I am. In her prologue, McCoy argues that Parker is not only the most power wine critic in the world, but the most powerful critic period.

If a New York film critic pans or praises a film he may influence its reception in that city, but his view won’t have the same effect on moviegoers in Paris or Tokyo, nor will film directors around the world create movies to appeal directly to his taste. But over the past twenty years Parker’s passions and ideas have influenced how wine is made, bought, and sold in virtually every wine-growing and wine-drinking country on earth, and there are winemakers who consciously aim to make a wine that will seduce him.

There are some memorable details (a young, just-married Parker insisting that he and his wife keep their home at 55 degrees, for the good of their 100-bottle collection) and a retelling of the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976. At that famous event – the subject of a recent book – wine merchant Steven Spurrier organized a blind tasting of eight highly regarded French wines alongside twelve bottles from that American state of California. Nine elite French judges couldn’t wait to pounce.

The whites were poured first, then the reds. As the judges swirled, sniffed, sipped, spit, and rated each wine on a scale from 1 to 20, some were quick to pronounce smugly on a wine’s origins. “That is definitely California. It has no nose,” exclaimed one about a wine that turned out to be a 1973 Batard-Montrachet from Burgundy. “Ah, back to France,” sighed gastronome Raymond Oliver, owner of Le Grand V√©four, after a sip of a Napa Valley Chardonnay. The judges’ confusion extended to the reds. One called a Napa Valley Cabernet “certainly a premier grand cru of Bordeaux,” evidence of “the magnificence of France.”

When the results were tallied and announced, several judges behaved badly, refusing to give up their notes, and one even tried to change his numbers before Spurrier whipped away the scorecards.

I by no means guide my bottle buying by Parker, but I did see his name – and praise – attached to two cheap buys recently: a 2005 Di Majo Norante Sangiovese, which I really disliked, and a 2005 Pillar Box Red, which tastes like a steal at $10. The tasting goes on.