Thursday, March 27, 2014

Robert Parker grumps (again)

In case you're following the clash of old and the new wine criticism. (See also

     By Blake Gray     

from his excellent blog, The Gray Report


Wine Advocate bares its teeth; here's why

      After a brief cease fire for the professional wine writers' symposium, the war of words in wine criticism flared up hotter than ever last week, with a barrage of insults from the Wine Advocate for a tasting of leaner-style California wines curated by Eric Asimov and Jon Bonn√©, and later at least one lawyer letter.
      Sadly, Robert Parker seems to have become bitter, trying to hang onto what he long believed to be his position as sole arbiter of taste in the wine world. It was pathetic, but no longer surprising, to see him upset about a tasting he didn't even attend. He wrote, "Any defense of 'different tastes for different writers' ain’t gonna’ fly either….they are alleged to be professional writers…and this dribble misleads their readers."
      Please note that though the Advocate's lawyers sent Wine blogger Tyler Colmana letter demanding that he remove  longer quotes than this one, I believe I have the right to publish it under the Fair Use principle. I'm not going to fight Parker in court over this sentence, though, so if I get a letter, I'll switch to a paraphrase. Yes, it has come to this. 
      Parker's outbursts have become commonplace, but it was surprising when Lisa Perrotti-Brown, an MW and now the Wine Advocate editor, chimed in with a wine-by-wine trashing of the tasting, which I'm not going to quote, because, see the previous paragraph. And new Advocate critic Jeb Dunnuck piled on as well. 
      I didn't go to the tasting, and while I deplore any writers threatening legal action at other writers, I want to try to stay independent at a time when much of the wine writing world seems to be choosing sides. 
     But I think I can explain what would motivate the Advocate to be so aggressively negative about wines other critics like.
     The Advocate is making a play for China; this isn't a secret. They see China as the future growth market not just for wine, but for consumption of wine criticism. 
     Parker is still the world's most important wine critic; his scores are still news. But you look at photos of him and think, he's not going to be around much longer, which is why the Advocate's new owners need to parade him around China now so they can capitalize on his personal brand to popularize theirs. 
     When Parker retires, there will be a scrum to be the most influential critical voice on wine in the US, but also in China.
     Perrotti-Brown and her bosses aren't particularly worried about Wine Spectator, Antonio Galloni or James Suckling. They are all doing the same thing the Advocate does. Competing against them is like trying to win an election.
     The leanness movement, with Asimov as its figurehead: that's a revolution. They're not trying to win power through using the same system; they're trying to eliminate the 100-point system, and even the very concept of critics telling people which wines are best. Asimov is thoughtful and intellectually generous, but many commenters with similar views are, as revolutionaries tend to be, loud and tediously dogmatic.
     If the Advocate wants to establish dominance in China, it needs not only to parade around its figurehead, but to ensure that the system he established takes firm root -- not an easy task in a country that has its own long-established ideas about food and drink.
     It's easier to understand the Advocate's actions viewed in this light. It's doubtful that three Advocate critics would pile onto a tasting of wines that Galloni or Suckling likes; that's a country-club disagreement. But when your grip on power feels tenuous, and you hear people shouting slogans outside your door, perhaps it's time to call in the tanks. 

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