Aren’t you tired of it yet? I sure the fuck am. Tired of reading blogs or online articles the comment section stuffed to near bursting with bashing, blaming, outrage, implications of impropriety and hearing the envy rich whines of people who are likely licking their chops just waiting to be anointed and plunk their pimply ass upon the still warm throne of the recently ousted “King”. So annoying. Annoying and that, “The consumer has the right to know” costume these asshats are wearing, well you might as well have wrapped yourself in plastic wrap because all your business is showing.
Look, I’ve gone after Robert Parker before. I have said and will say over and over again, I think his palate is damaged. Wines he gives astronomical scores to often make me gag, literally. To this day I can still remember tasting a wine he gave something like 98 points to and that glopular wine still has the glowing distinction of being one of, no, the worst wine I’ve ever tasted that wasn’t flawed. Fucking thing tasted exactly like one of those cherry cordial things, like exactly. Chocolate, sickly sweet cherry juice, coconut and marzipan…yeah, just felt the, “I think I’m gonna barf” hairs stand up on my neck thinking about it. Vile, truly vile and that was a nearly 100 point wine?! Well I don’t huff Jello pudding cups and I’m not about to shovel dessert into my gullet under the guise of wine drinking refinement. Figured out long ago that Parker’s palate and mine was kinda like that Mars and Venus thing. Two different planets, and seeing as I’m not sleeping with him, well I’m not about to try and find some kind of compromise for the sake of getting along. Would just as likely take wine advice from Mr. Parker as I would the checker at my local Vons that has Tourette Syndrome. Sure he is abusive to the keys of his register, blurts out gibberish, has been known to snort and takes 45 minutes to take a personal check but at least Bob, (his name too by the way….hmmm) has a smidgen of an idea how I eat and never seeing any fucking cherry cordials and a daily purchasing of lemons and leafy green stuff, he probably has a better chance of spastically grabbing something off the shelf and having it match my palate than Parker does. Ah, but there’s the thing….
For years I, somewhat mistakenly, blamed Robert Parker for the placeless wines being cranked out by some of my favorite regions, in France specifically. Ranted and stomped my feet, my throat red and finger extended as I pointed to the indisputably most influential wine critic on the planet and blamed him for wrecking my beloved wines, rendering them “International” and soulless. Now before anyone starts thinking I’ve changed my opinion on that, let me just tell you, I still find many Rhone wines utterly undrinkable for their plump extraction, sweet fruit and excessive oak treatments but um, is that Robert Parker’s fault? Last I checked he was just a dude with a palate and mouth-wide-open readership that was lapping up any and everything he deemed drink worthy. He isn’t making the wines, just lavishing praise upon the wines that speak to him. If a region loses their shit and trashes tradition in favor of pleasing his palate instead of adhering to like a hundred years of tried and true winemaking, well I think we should be giving that finger to someone other than silly Robert Parker.
I shunned Alsace when they started pushing ripeness, sweetness and began oaking their wines to shit, have done the same with Rhone. Alsace has seen a reckoning in the past few years, funny thing about those lemmings, they aren’t so loyal. Just because they bought cases, on the recommendation of a certain critic, in one vintage, doesn’t mean they will do so again…in fact, without those numbers, they won’t. Kinda hard to sustain yourself when playing to the whims of one palate right? Yeah, so Alsace has once again gone back to making the wines that had them placed on every bistro menu, the light, balanced and not mind-blowing but multiple bottles ordering because they taste so damn good with food. The simple food friendly wines that put them on the wine drinking map in the first place, I can only hope that the great producers in the Rhone will one day do the same. As someone that has had numerous conversations with winemakers in the region, I have a hunch they will. Big, rich and powerful is being done the world over, can those wineries compete on a world stage or might they want to consider embracing what makes them special and different? Keeping my fingers crossed for sure.
In an effort to avoid the internet and any kind of exchange or writing, (been in a pissy and raging mood…probably reading too many wine blogs) I tuned into Top Chef Masters this evening, the finale. Huge Top Chef fan but I confess that the Masters edition isn’t nearly as compelling to me, but tonight I was looking for mindless entertainment so I nuzzled my chunky ass into the corner of my couch, glass of Tempier Bandol Rose in my hand, television slack jaw perfectly set and my day weary frame ready to be numbed. Watched as the final two contestants busted their asses making a meal that would please the surprise panel of judges. It was fierce, dramatic and for a time did what I wanted, spun my head with nonsense but as the plates were being finalized, last minute zesting and flourishes being administered, I saw what is every chef’s and likely winemaker’s worst nightmare happen, a table full of critics. Ack!
Not fellow chefs or frequent diners, critics. These cats were cooking the meal of their life for people that get paid to judge and criticize, critique their food even though most of them have never even worked in a restaurant. Ugh! I was even starting to sweat. A table of 10 or 12 people geared and trained to break what is in front of them apart, find fault with the tiniest of details and in their defense, are paid to do so. The chefs saw who they were cooking for and nearly crapped themselves….cannot say as I blame them. My interest was piqued and my mind was far from that whole numbing business I was hoping for. I was on the edge of my seat as I watched these two, tremendously different chefs prepare dish after dish in a competition that asked them to show who they were, gave them the freedom to use whatever they wished to share their story. One guy a very traditional chef, known for refined food, the other a wild child that pushes people to eat outside the box as it were, a champion of offal and extreme dinning. Found myself torn as I would rather eat the more traditional food, offal makes me queasy and not in that good way, but feeling the passion and unapologetic, “This is what I do” snarl of the far more inked and emotional other guy.
Plates presented and within seconds I knew what was going to happen, half the room was made weak in the knees by the perfectly prepared traditional food, the other wowed and swooning for the racy, raw and more rustic offerings. Watched as one critic said, “It was embarrassingly bad” only to have another say, “That was the most thrilling thing I’ve eaten in 30 years” my face all scrunched as I thought, “Well…who’s right?” the answer the same as it has been in all my years in the wine business, dealing with critics and customers, the answer is, you are. If it gets you off, then it is the best, period. Doesn’t matter if it’s the story that grabs you, the flavors, a pairing or just a general style and if you can find a critic that seems to be lit up by the same things that you are, by all means, follow them.
I’m no critic. I am charged with tasting wines, far more than I want most days, and while I always buy with an eye for our customers there are things that scream out to me, shake me, thrill me and I’d be a fat, slack jawed liar if I didn’t concede that I’m able to sell those wines just a little faster. The words in my shelf talker expressing my excitement and those customers that have come to trust or find themselves agreeing with my palate, well they gobble them up. So what kind of hypocrite would I be if I were to sling poo at others doing the same thing? Same is true of the stuff I do here. I don’t take samples because I refuse to feel beholden or obligated to anyone and my standards, they are high. I was lucky enough to skip that whole college wine drinking phase, never perused the local CVS or Trader Joe’s for wine. I was fed at the teat of traditional French winemaking and while I will forever be swooned and swayed by wines the world over, it is those place wines that will always speak to me. They will be the ones that dig their teeth into my flesh, get me fired up and cause my verbiage to bubble over with varicosity. The kind that hopefully and thankfully brings people in seeking them out and knowing exactly what I mean…and they want it too. No different than the cherry cordial Parker fans, just a different palate. Kinda thinking there is room enough for all of us…
Siskel or Ebert, Heimoff or Galloni, Parker or Dugan, (look at me putting myself with his majesty. My blog dammit) Olken or Kemner, Washam or Fiering, just follow your heart and palate, stop with the political rhetoric and criticizing of the critics. Find out who moves you, inspires your thirst and drink richly from them.
Now pardon me as I slip even further into this bottle of Tempier Rose…