The Marxist Truth Behind Wine & Robert Parker

At the risk of becoming circular and responding to blogger’s post that was a response to a post of mine…I’m going be circular.

Huge Johnson, responding to to a point I made about about the slow turn in wine styles away from the heavy handed use of oak, made the point that homogenization of wine style is not the problem many think it is. Along the way in making the point Huge gave us a nice visual to work with. You need to read what led to that visual yourself, because this is a family wine blog. (read end of his first paragraph)

But, the issue of the homogenization of wine styles has become a talking point across continents and for some, the most obvious indication that the end of wine as we know it is at hand. Huge’s point was that homogenization of wine styles isn’t the problem many people make it out to be. He’s right.

Yet I think we can say that over the past 20 years there has been in the United States at least a stylistic move among winemakers toward making wines bigger, softer, more oak centered. Chardonnay is the best example. It seems sometimes that the highest rated chards tend to deliver the same profile over and over: tropical fruit, oak, buttery/fat texture resulting from 100% malolactic fermentation and too long a time in new oak barrels.

Yet although this winemaking trend is unquestionable, the other side of the stick is the dramatic increase in the number of wineries in the United States. This is a story that hasn’t been touched on nearly enough given the truly dramatic rise in wineries. And most of them are not new labels by big wineries, but small wineries started by individuals. So while the stylistic trend has seemed to narrow, there have been such an explosion of wine entrepreneurs that anyone worrying they can’t get their hands on something a little different simply hasn’t had their eyes open.

Still, the point about homogenization deserves a little deconstructing. I believe that the cry over homogenization is really a back handed slap at Robert Parker’s influence and, to a degree, that of the Wine Spectator. If the word used for wines seemingly become too much the same is not “homogenization”, it is “Parkerization”.

The path from Parker to homogenization usually is explained like this: 1. Parker’s best scoring wines sell out quickly 2. Parker’s best scoring wines are all a particular style. 3. Winemakers want to use Parker to sell wine. 4. Winemakers decide to make a “Parker-style”wine. 5. Parker likes these wines and gives them high scores. 6. More market-minded winemakers are influenced by the success of peers who get good scores from Parker and duplicate the style. 7. More and more wines are “Parker-style” wines. 8. The homogenization of the wine industry is upon us.

The truth of this path is partial. But, it is not a path so wide that enough winemakers have trod down it to create the homogenization of wine styles so many decry. Styles come and go. And the Big Fat Chardonnay style, while still enjoying partial hegemony (is “partial hegemony” possible?), has lots of competitors. Yet Parker is still reviewing wine and helping to drive the market. So why, if I am write, is there a move away from this style of wine?

The answer lies with Karl Marx (or was it Hegal?) who explained the dialectical. That is, with any idea or thesis (Big fat wines) eventually an opposite or antithesis (unoaked chards) emerges, that eventually leads to something like a synthesis (this suggests a coming balanced style of wine). And this is indeed what is happening. With so many new wineries there was bound to be leaders who said that there were other styles of wine just as valid a the Big Fat Wine style. To prove it, and to soothe their own palates, we have unoaked chards emerging from many directions.

However, this explanation probably isn’t as satisfying as visual image Huge Johnson gave us.

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