Points about Parker, www.erobertparker.com
In 2005, President Jacques Chirac of France decorated Robert Parker as an Officer of the Legion d'Honneur (he was already the first wine writer to be made a Chevalier of the Order) for his extraordinary contribution to the quality of wine writing and the education of wine consumers around the world.
Parker has been called ''the Emperor of Wine'' by a recent biographer, and ''a fierce champion of the consumer'' by another, but he has also had more than his fair share of rocks thrown at him, mostly from England and France.
It was his opinions and his controversial points system that has raised the hackles of other wine commentators. When Parker tastes a wine and gives it a score of 90 or more out of 100 in Wine Advocate the price of that wine will automatically soar. Because of this, wine makers have been accused of ''Parkerisation'', making their wines with characteristics liable to be favoured by Parker and therefore open to a good score and vastly enhanced sales.
Needless to say, he deplores this.
''Wine producers love me and hate me, but they can't ignore me,'' he says.
''They want good reviews because good reviews sell wine. I'm not too happy about that and even less happy when a less-than good review means someone can't sell his wine and he loses money. I understand them. I come from farming country and they're farmers, too. They have to make the tough decisions about when to harvest, and take the risks with the weather.
''I have to be fair and make the best judgements I can. If those judgements are manipulated, I disapprove, but I can't be responsible for that.''
Mind you, he has never been shy of expressing his penchant for generous, fruity, 'hedonistic' wines. ''What is wine for?'' he asks. ''For pleasure,'' he answers.
His arrival in Bangkok for a gourmet dinner at The Mandarin Oriental Bangkok's Le Normandie was an opportunity to question the Parker phenomenon and discover how it had emerged and developed. In the hotel's small library wearing a comfortably rumpled black suit and polo shirt, he was happy to take questions and respond at length.
Robert Parker Jr. arrived on the world wine stage at the right time, in the early 1970s, a wine writer driven by the desire to cut through the rhetoric that had obscured wine like the dust in an antique cellar so that consumers could see through to what was good rather than what was trumpeted as good.
When he first became interested in wine he was studying law at Maryland University. There was already a wine revolution going on at that time, and the New World was interacting with the Old and presenting it with new ideas. Australia's ''flying winemakers'' were showing their counterparts in France how to make richer, fruit-driven wines with more appeal and the Old World - some of it - was listening.
The stage was set for the entrance of the Prince, and onto it strode Robert Parker, armed with the values of his background and a lawyer's ability to spot evasions and conflicts of interest in the wine trade that acted against the consumer's interests.
Coming from a farming community background in Maryland, no one drank wine at home and it hadn't really showed up on his youthful radar. So what started him off?
''My girlfriend at university told me she was going to do a year at the University of Strasbourg in northeastern France,'' he said. ''Well, I didn't want to lose this girl and the thought of her being surrounded by Frenchmen - they had a reputation at that time - was disturbing. So we agreed that I should go out to stay with her during the vacation.''
He clearly enjoyed telling this story. He has a big, affable voice and the somewhat bulky build of an athlete who long ago shed the shackles of training to enjoy his life. Meeting his girlfriend in Strasbourg, going to cafes and little restaurants and discovering wine - ''Her family was more sophisticated than mine'' - it sounded idyllic.
''It was only carafe wine but I liked what it did,'' he said. ''It wasn't strong like liquor or heavy like beer. It was mildly alcoholic and drinking it seemed to stimulate ideas and conversation.''
Arriving back at university, he decided to start a wine club with other students keen to learn. Each one brought a bottle of wine of an agreed kind - Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone, Alsace, and so on, which they earnestly tasted and discussed while observing a strict no-smoking rule.
Then one day Parker decided to lavish an enormous sum for a student on one of the great names, a first growth of the 1851 classification, Chateau Lafite. There was excitement at the club when Parker respectfully drew the cork of Lafite '57 - and then dismay. Whether it was a bad bottle or a false label is not known, but something was wrong.
''It was over-acidic - nasty,'' Parker recalled. ''Everyone agreed, and we surely couldn't all be wrong.''
Could it be that great wines were not always as great as was claimed? Had they been misinformed? The crus classes of Bordeaux were often described as ''lean'' and ''austere'' but could these not sometimes be euphemisms for thin and acidic?
The law student's professors had drummed into him their post-Watergate revulsion for underhand dealing. It was also the time when Ralph Nader was waging war against the big auto companies on behalf of the consumer, and he was very much influenced by these events.
''The books on wine that I'd I read, and I'd read many by this time, were by people I admired and still do,'' he said. ''They were immensely knowledgeable and well written, but none of them treated wine as a consumer product."
He disputed the romantic and elitist treatment of wine, and came across as a straight-talking American hero winning the day against stodgy Brits and the snooty French. Some American writers cheer him on for this, but he insists that his aim was simply to be an unprejudiced, independent voice commenting on wine in understandable English, as this is what consumers needed.
He began to think about publishing his own consumers' guide in 1975, while he was an attorney for the Farm Credit Banks of Baltimore, and he knew that his legal work would have to pay the bills for some time to come. In fact, he was to be assistant general counsel for the banks before that day dawned; but in 1978, he produced the first edition of his consumers' guide, which he called Wine Advocate.
It netted 600 subscribers, but it was obviously filling a need and the numbers grew with every issue. That number is probably closer to 60,000 today, in the USA and 40 other countries. An interesting point here is that the wine lists of several high-end Bangkok restaurants include the number of Parker points awarded to the wines they display, if they're in the high 80s and 90s.
Soon his life became one of travel, mostly to France, tasting, and writing, returning to Maryland to write up his tasting notes and assign his points out of 100.
He was regarded as an outsider by the Bordeaux establishment, but his need to tell the consumer what he/she was getting and to clear away the fog of pretension was deeply felt, and it may have seemed like idealistic naivete.
But in 1982, he showed he was a force to be reckoned with. At the time he was still practicing law as well as writing Wine Advocate, which was now bringing in some money.
"My wife said when it's brought in enough to pay the mortgage you can give up law and be 100% devoted to wine," he explained.
He went to Bourdeaux to taste the 1982 vintage and he was enraptured by it. It was a year of ripeness and the wines were powerful and concentrated. He couldn't wait to get back and record the many tastings he had made.
"It was the first time in my life that I worried about a plane crash in case I lost my notes," he said.
But in the USA the leading wine publications all said he'd got it wrong: 1982 would never be a good vintage. However, Parker confidently advised all his readers to buy 1982 Bordeaux. They believed him, and found they had made a wonderful investment, or at least bought some very good wine at a low price, on the strength of his review.
But how did he know? How could he tell?
"It's the palate, or rather, the nose - that's the organ that carries taste to the brain," he said. "I always had a good sense of smell and this total immersion in wine every day trains the palate. If I'd spent as much time playing the guitar as I've put into wine, I'd probably be quite a good musician by now.
"But I have to be careful with my nose. I like to ride a bicycle around the countryside and one day I hit something and went over the handle bars. I fell so hard the impact shattered my helmet. On the way to the hospital I kept thinking, 'This will be the end for me: I'll never be able to taste again.'
"When they let me go home, the first thing I did was open a bottle of wine, and thank goodness, I could smell it! But I resolved right away to insure my nose for a million dollars. It wasn't enough, but it was the best deal I could get at the time. Later, I tried to ensure it for 50 million, but there were no takers."
So he remains "the man with the million-dollar nose."
"Yes, and I don't think it's getting any worse. I'll go on tasting and writing as long as I can. It's still fun, still what I love to do. When I think about it, I must be the hardest-working wine writer in the world."
He spends three months of every year tasting in vineyards and the other nine months devoted to solely tasting and writing in the country house in Maryland where he lives with his wife and daughter and several bulky British dogs.
And at this final point in the narrative, if you have a sentimental imagination you might be wondering whatever happened to the girlfriend who introduced Robert Parker to the delights of wine and set him on the path that led to his phenomenal success?
Reader, she married him, and they have been together for 40 years now.
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