This year, there won't be any controversy when Robert Parker isn't inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame. That's because Parker, the critic who invented the 100-point scoring system and is the most most important person in the wine business, wasn't nominated for the 2012 hall.
You'll recall that there was a stink last year when Parker, who was nominated for the 2011 and 2010 classes, wasn't chosen. I wrote then, and I still believe, that "keeping Parker out of the Vintners Hall is like keeping Babe Ruth out of the baseball Hall of Fame because you don't like home runs." The Wine Curmudgeon, who gets to vote, voted for Parker. But not enough of the other 73 voters did, and he wasn't one of the five inductees. Somehow, the others didn't think Parker was someone whose "collective vision, determination, and hard work have been responsible for the growth and worldwide prestige of the California wine industry."
More, after the jump:
? Certifying wine writers: Slate's Mike Steinberger weighs in on this winter's cyber-controversy about credentialing wine writers at the end of a longish piece about the value of earning the Master of Wine title. Says Steinberger, who does a better job than most of writing about the bits of the wine business that have nothing to do with tasting wine: "However, wine appreciation is an almost wholly subjective endeavor, and while some palates are more discerning than others, even the most experienced and knowledgeable critic is merely offering an informed opinion." Given Steinberger's stature, I guess I'm safe for a while longer from the certification police.
? Spanish bubbly sales rising: Which is not a surprise to anyone who has tasted the wines. Sales of Champagne in the U.S. are down more than 20 percent from 2007, according to Impact Databank. Know what has made up the difference? Cava, of course. Sales for the three biggest Spanish sparklers are up 12 percent since 2007, pretty impressive given the recession. In fact, says Impact, more cava is now sold in the U.S. than Champagne.
? Too expensive for Parker? An odd report from the French news agency AFP, in which it quotes Robert Parker, the most important person in the wine business, as saying Bordeaux wine prices are too high. Which would be like the Wine Curmudgeon saying $10 wine prices are too low and should be higher. Parker is the main reason no one, save the world's wealthiest people, can afford top-end Bordeauxs. In fact, if that's not bizarre enough, Parker says the top producers should cut their prices 10 to 20 percent, and should not rely on the Chinese market to boost sales. It was enough to make me reach for a bottle of cava.
? What’s in a private label? We’ve had discussion here over the years about the difference between national brands and store brands and private labels. This article, from an Alabama newspaper, is a sound, easy-to-follow explanation of private label and who makes the wine for retailers like Walgreen’s, Wal-Mart, and Costco. And, notes wine columnist Pat Kettles, Dollar General is going to have to find someone to make the wine it wants to sell.
? When critics collide: Eric Asimov in the New York Times has the story of two influential critics and their reaction to Chateau Pavie, a hip and with-it red Bordeaux blend that is usually well received. Robert Parker calls the 2010 Pavie brilliant, while John Gilman calls it, believe it not, bad and unpleasant. Which is, of course, one of the great things about wine, that two such reputable critics can completely disagree. The Wine Curmudgeon has actually tasted Pavie, and while it wasn’t the 2010, I can see where Gilman was coming from. Which means I can also see where Parker was coming from.
? Love that cheap wine: Decanter, the British wine magazine, has released its annual wine awards. Many of the award winners will be difficult to find in the U.S. or too expensive or both, but one of them is a favorite around here — the French chardonnay, Cave de Lugny, which sells for abut $10 in the U.S. It was not only the least expensive among the top 10 chardonnays, but it shared the list with some high-dollar white Burgundies from Montrachet and Chabilis and an $80 Aussie label.
? Riesling and petroleum: For years, we’ve been told that fine riesling should have a bit of a petroleum smell — nothing off-putting, but enough to be recognized. The Wine Curmudgeon used that fact to score some points at a big deal wine dinner several years ago. Now, says renowned Rhone producer Michel Chapoutier, that aroma isn’t an asset, but a flaw. “That is a result of a mistake during winemaking,” he told Decanter magazine. It’s difficult to believe Chapoutier really meant that, and it’s probably significant that he is releasing a line of riesling. Could this be a marketing ploy?
? Wine powered by solar energy: We’ve heard of organic wine, but how about solar wine? The Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group for solar energy companies, has launched what it calls “the Solar Wine Review. … This exciting venture shares … reviews of solar-supporting wineries, information about the wineries, an exclusive members-only discount code for purchasing the wine, recipes and more!” Among the wineries featured is Randall Grahm’s Bonny Doon. The Wine Curmudgeon, who writes about wind energy, immediately called his wind editor and asked how we possibly could have been scooped by the solar people.
? Lost in translation: The Hong Kong website for the Wine Future consumer event has an interview with Robert Parker, the most important person in the wine world, that re-ran from a Lithuanian wine site. It’s odd, to say the least, and I’m wondering how much of the interview was garbled in the differences between Lithuanian, Chinese and English. Parker, for example, notes that he is a “world-famous wine critic,” which doesn’t feel right. And did you know that if he couldn’t be a world-famous wine critic, he wanted to be a guitarist?
? Grape crush third highest ever: California crushed 3.7 million tons of grapes in 2010 — the third-largest crush to date, reports WineBusinessNews.com. The good news for consumers? California grape prices fell by almost seven percent, and so wine prices should continue to be "consumer-friendly" for the next couple of years. Otherwise, the figures are quite contradictory, and trying to make sense of them is not easy. Some of the numbers show that the price for Napa grapes declined by more than seven percent, which would be a crisis of epic proportions. On the other hand, says the magazine, looking at another set of figures, maybe they increased one-half of once percent.
? Changes in the Robert Parker empire: Jon Bonne at the San Francisco Chronicle details key changes in the way Robert Parker — the most important person in the wine business — will review wines. The story is very long, and a lot of it is very inside baseball, but there are a couple of things worth noting. Parker is going to review fewer California wines, which Bonne called "stunning news," and the critic who will take over California probably won't be all that different from Parker. "Those awaiting the demise of big, hedonistic cult wines are probably out of luck," wrote Bonne.
? Corks to shoes: Our friends in the cork business, who keep insisting that you're not one of the cool kids unless you drink wine that has a cork closure, have enlisted the Grammy Awards to spread their message. Wines sealed with cork will be served at a fundraiser honoring Barbra Streisand and at the official Grammy celebration. Plus, the corks will be recycled to make shoes. Which raises an important question: When did the Grammy awards become cool again?
The news this week that Robert Parker was not elected to the Vintners Hall of Fame was not surprising. Too many of us who write about wine hold a grudge the way Scrooge McDuck holds onto his cash — and we’re just as silly about it. Or, as wine guru Doug Frost, who voted for Parker, said: “I’m sure jealously had something to do with it. It has been fun and easy to bash Parker for years.”
Parker invented the 100-point scoring system, which gives every wine a score from 1 to 100, with the higher the score the better. As such, he is the most important person in the wine business, and may well be the most important person in the history of the wine business. The 100-point system, for better or worse, has changed changed the way the wine world works. It has been copied by almost every influential wine critic and publication in one form or another, and retailers use it to sell cases and cases and cases of wine (often without regard to quality). Perhaps most importantly, winemakers not only covet a Parker score, but make their wines in a style that Parker likes so they can get a Parker score, a process that’s called “Parker-izing” them.
In this, keeping Parker out of the Vintners Hall is like keeping Babe Ruth out of the baseball Hall of Fame because you don’t like home runs. But Parker’s not in. Why this happened and what it says about the wine business after the jump: