The True Significance of Robert Parker, Jr.
I wanted to get that fact out of the way as I address one of the most interesting articles of 2018: Lisa Perrotti-Brown’s “The Big Parkerization Lie”. Ms. Perrotti-Brown is a longtime associate of Robert Parker, editor-in-chief of The Wine Advocate and a part owner of this publication at which she has penned a stout pushback against the derogatory use of the term, “Parkerization”.
First, Ms. Perrotti-Brown’s definition of “Parkerization”: “Parkerization is the perceived phenomenon of a global wine production trend that sought to achieve an ‘international style’ of wines that would garner high scores from Parker, mainly during the peak of his tasting career between 1990 and 2015.” In addition to this, “Parkerization” is the idea that, as Perrotti-Brown puts it, a “villainous critic…brainwashed the masses into drinking wines they loved but ought not be drinking.”
This is a fair rendering of what the idea of “Parkerization” means when it is offered up as a slur, which it often is. Furthermore, Perrotti-Brown does not deny that wineries and consultants did indeed work to produce more opulent, riper, more “hedonistic”, fruity wines, nor that Robert Parker, Jr. promoted the best of these wines, nor that consumers followed Mr. Parker’s advice and bought the wines he recommended in droves. This she concedes.
However, her primary point in the article is this (and she’s correct): “it was not Parker that created the (Parkerization) trend. Consumers did.”
What she means to argue is that Robert Parker was the messenger. Robert Parker was the first wine critic to validate a taste that consumers loved and that consumers wanted. He did not create the affection for what came to be known as the “international” style of wines. He did not convince a gullible wine drinking public to elevate a riper, more opulent style of wine. Rather, “Parker was the critic that validated consumers’ palates when very few other wine writers would and helped his readers to find the best examples of the styles that they wanted to buy, drink and cellar. And Parker became extremely popular among consumers because of this.”
Again, I want to point out that Ms. Perrotti-Brown is absolutely correct in her assessment of the role Robert Parker, Jr. has played in the development of wine styles over the past 30 years. To argue otherwise is to say those wine consumers who followed Mr. Parker’s advice and drank in copious amounts of the wines he recommended were blindsided by a Svengali-like critic with the power to hypnotize a generation of wine drinkers and persuaded them to drink what they did not like. This is a patently foolish perspective.
Perrotti-Brown provides a more accurate assessment of Parker’s legacy: “Parker should remain a liberating symbol as the palate of the people for steering consumers toward countless wines of greatness and wines that they actually wanted to drink, again and again. And let’s not forget, he helped to put many regions on the wine map and boost, enormously, global wine interest, consumption and spending.”
And again, she is correct.
She finishes her defense of Robert Parker with an assessment of why the “Myth of Parkerization” has persisted: She blames 1) the need for a villain among those who did not like the “international style of wines” but did not want to blame consumers as being stupid for drinking them, 2) winemakers that need an excuse for why their wines may not have sold well, and 3) critics and writers who know that writing about the influence (good or bad) of Robert Parker would result in higher readership.
I’m not convinced this is a fair assessment of why the idea of “Parkerization” is still used as a slur. There is a degree of bitterness and defensiveness in Perrotti-Brown’s article that is both understandable and regrettable. In my view, Robert Parker is a convenient and obvious scapegoat for elements of winemaking, wine drinking, and wine writing that many don’t appreciate. Robert Parker, Jr. has often been a target of criticism for those who don’t like the more opulent style of wine, don’t concur with the palates of the majority of wine drinkers, and don’t like the idea of a critic or reviewer being so precise in their assessment of a wine that they are willing to attach a number rating to their review.
Let me end by reiterating that Perrotti-Brown does have a vested interest in seeing Robert Parker’s reputation bolstered. While this fact explains in part her reasons for writing “The Parkerization Lie”, it does not explain the fact that her assessment of Mr. Parker’s influence and the meaning of his influence is absolutely correct.