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Emperor On A Ledge

2012 March 5
by Mike

So as you may have heard, Robert Parker just released his final, in-bottle reviews of the 2009 Bordeaux vintage and gave 100-point ratings to 19—count ‘em, 19—wines, a profusion of perfect scores without precedent in the annals of Parkerism (sorry, that orgy of alliteration just kind of wrote itself, and it’s so bad that I couldn’t resist the urge to keep it). By contrast, he awarded 100-point scores to just six wines from the fabled 1982 Bordeaux vintage, and gave only two wines from the brilliant class of 2005 his highest mark.  While there is generally a lot of enthusiasm for the 2009s, Parker, with his maximum, Nigel-Tufnel-crank-it-to-11 bullishness, has now turned this vintage into a referendum on the late-era Parker palate.

Anticipating the many raised eyebrows that greeted his Bordeaux report, which he titled “The Empire Strikes Back” (what empire he was referring to, and who it was striking back against, was not clear), Parker posted a missive on eBob late last week in which he proclaimed 2009 to be “the greatest Bordeaux vintage I have ever tasted” and suggested that it could go down as the finest Bordeaux vintage ever. He brushed aside concerns over grade inflation and said the astronomical scores speak to the dramatic improvements that the Bordelais have made in their vineyards and cellars over the last three decades.

He conceded that there is superlative fatigue with Bordeaux these days but said he’d be remiss in his duties as a critic if he didn’t scream the praises of the 2009s. “Perhaps the most remarkable thing about 2009 is that there is no ‘buzz,’” he wrote. “We are all tired of the newest Vintage of the Century, but when the real one happens, it has to be recognized, and someone has to point it out. That is not called hype, but accountability, fairness, and independent professional reporting.”

Despite Parker’s attempt to head off criticism, there has already been much snickering and second-guessing concerning his 2009 ratings. Some people have noted that carnival-barking seems to be his thing now; he’s become the Bob who cried whoopee. He gushed that 2000 was “the greatest vintage Bordeaux has ever produced.” After tasting the 2005 Bordeaux vintage from bottle, he declared it “the greatest vintage produced during my 30-year career.” Not long thereafter, he said that 2007 in the southern Rhone “may be the most compelling vintage of any viticultural region I have ever tasted.” His Riedel clearly runneth over.

However, I’m writing this post not to mock Parker but to express some admiration for him. Say what you will about his 2009 scores, he has made a bold call at a point in his career when he certainly doesn’t need to throw Hail Marys. By lavishing such effusive praise on the 2009s and dishing out so many 100-point ratings, he has now staked his reputation on this vintage (and he acknowledged as much in his comment on eBob).  If these wines start cracking up in 15 years, or just don’t turn out to be as good as he claims they are, his legacy won’t necessarily be destroyed, but it will be badly tarnished. The title of his report will need to be changed from “The Empire Strikes Back” to “The Emperor Commits Hara-Kiri.”

It has been suggested that Parker’s Bordeaux review is just an attention-getting ploy by a veteran critic who senses his audience slipping away. Sure, Parker’s influence has waned in recent years, but I can’t imagine that he would risk his reputation like this simply to get a burst of publicity.  I think he genuinely believes that 2009 is the finest Bordeaux vintage of his career and that it has the potential to go down as the region’s greatest year ever, and I give him credit for not hedging even one bit. It’s a ballsy thing to do at a stage in his life when prudence would suggest focusing on legacy preservation rather than legacy enhancement.

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  8. José permalink
    March 9, 2012


    I think you forgot to add the phrase “and had unlimited resources” after “if I were 20 years younger”. Plenty of wines from other regions that offer the same quality at a fraction of the price of Bordeaux without the need to overpay just for the sake of a name.

    When you state “clearly the greatest vintage of the modern era for Priorat, Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Toro” regarding to the 2004 vintage in Spain, I wonder when did that “modern era” began?

    If you think that 2004 was the beginning of that “modern era”, you may have a point. If the ” modern era” also includes the 1990s, you might be wrong claiming the 2004 vintage as “the greatest of the modern era”. 1998 and 2001 are as good or better than 2004 in Priorat. 1994 and 2001 are as good or better than 2004 in Rioja. 1996 is as good or better than 2004 in Ribera Del Duero. 2001 could be considered as good or better than 2004 in Toro.

    You probably have not tasted and followed closely that many pre-2004 Spanish wines as I have, but I could assure you that the other vintages I provided are contenders for the “greatest vintage of the modern era” for each of those regions. This is not one person’s opinion, many Spanish wine enthusiasts and experts would agree with me on the vintages I pointed out as contenders for the title.

  9. Dan McCallum permalink
    March 9, 2012

    I would always heed your sage advices, but at my age I cannot read and drink 2007 Chateauneuf at the same time. The words pass through my eyes but then seemingly evaporate (perhaps dissolve?). But back to the 2009 BDX… the events and spectacles of the past week have that certain apocalyptic feeling. The Bordelais elite and their messiah, are seeding the wind; we’ll see what they harvest. Meantime I have been enjoying reading John Gilman; 95 point Chinon, 74 point contrasts, etc,- feels like a vacation!

  10. Bill Klapp permalink
    March 8, 2012

    Dan, didn’t Forrest Gump say, “Bias is what bias does” originally? You are being unfair to Parker about Burgundy, by the way. He is very much a Jayer follower. He quotes, misquotes and misinterprets Jayer almost as often as he distorts the work of Peynaud. In Parker’s world, J. Robert Oppenheimer is the father of the atomic bomb, and Henri Jayer the father of the fruit bomb. There are two types of Burgundy in Big Bob’s view: DRCs and Jayers from great vintages, and lean, overly acidic, tannic and underripe Burgundies that will break your goddamned heart every time. You need to go back and read Parker’s magnum opus on Burgundy to get your head right. While drinking magnums of 2007 Chateauneuf-du-Pape…

  11. Dan McCallum permalink
    March 8, 2012

    Bias is what bias does.
    A search of the Wine Advocate data base on “Burgundy- all vintages- sort by ratings” yielded a total of 7 100 point wines. One from 1929, 3 from the ’80s, 3 from the ’90s. None since.
    So, either:
    – Pinot Noir & Chardonnay lack the nobility of the Bordeaux varietals, or
    – those centuries of monks fussing around with clonal selection and microclimates were wasting their time, better that they rafted into the Gironde estuary and worked on drainage, or
    – better to be lead by Rolland et al than follow Jayer et al, or
    – the Wine Advocate has a bias favoring Bordeaux.
    I didn’t bother with the life-to-date count of 100 point BDX. 19 in one vintage was more than enough to evidence the distortion that has been advanced as “criticism”.

  12. March 7, 2012

    Zack> I find your observations spot on! Along with those, my personal preferences in wine is strikingly different from Parker’s, so he has been irrelevant for me the last twenty years. Trumpeting vintages of ripeness and low acid has been his MO from the beginning. I just couldn’t continue feeding the Hedonist :-)!

  13. Jack Bulkin permalink
    March 7, 2012

    Sorry for the repeats in my statement. I don’t know how that happened.

  14. Jack Bulkin permalink
    March 7, 2012

    One of the problems with Parker and WS point scoring system is that there is no continuity from vintage to vintage in the numbers now thrown at wines scored. If one examines the WA scores for the past 10 vintages in Bordeaux, the only glaring difference in points is the high number of perfect or near perfect scores in 2009. Many of the Right Bank and Petit properties have received very similar scores in 2000, 20005 and 2009. Actually, there were uniformly higher scores in the Right Bank in 2005 than 09 except for the dozen or so most expensive wines. .
    The right bank in particular reveals very similar scores in 2008 and 2009. If anyone has tasted a few wines from both vintages, they don’t compare at all. O8’s tend to have some weird acidic issues and the 09’s are very much more ripe and alcoholic. If one buys merely on points like the pavlovian point chasers, the points are not vastly different in those two vintages. The outliners are the few of the perfect 19 in 2009 An additional failure of the point system is that points are awarded based on each separate vintage and not by a unified predictable scoring system that is applied in each vintage. The quality of the wines in 2008 cannot be compared to the quality of the wines in 2009 even for the same wines awarded similar points. Different styles and weird acidic issues in 08 vs. high alcs and very ripe in 09.
    I get that these are Parker’s scores and not mine, but I find it difficult to calibrate his scores since different vintages produce such different profiles.

  15. March 6, 2012

    Hi Mike – in regard to Axel’s comment below (“Someone should track Parker’s score reduction over the years”), I took it to refer to the tendency I’ve noticed for Parker’s scores of the same wine to reduce over time. I would love to see some statistical analysis of this, but from casual browsing of the eRP site, I would guess that at least 2/3rds of the Bordeaux wines I’ve looked at show declining scores over the years. Has anyone else noticed this pattern?

    If my impression is accurate, then either Parker is consistently over-exuberant when tasting young samples, or he prefers very young wine to quite moderately aged wine.

    In the latter case, re-assessing the 2009s in 15 years may be irrelevant, as Parker may not be particularly interested in 15 year-old wine. Anyway, instead of waiting for 15 years, can’t we start measuring Parker’s predictions by looking at how his picks from the 2003 vintage are holding up now? What has been your experience of the 2003 vintage? (My experience has been limited both by my budget, and my reluctance to invest very much of it in any 2003s based on the few that I have managed to try).

  16. Chris Wallace permalink
    March 6, 2012

    A couple of brief stats that some may find interesting and then I am outta here. Parker-bashing gets old quickly, if you spend any time at all on wine boards. Anyhow, in the vaunted 2009 vintage, Parker awarde 100 points to 19 wines. He tasted 500, so 3.8%. Two other great vintages before “score inflation” set in were ’82 and ’89. ’82 had 6 100 pointers and 150 were reviewed, or 4%. ’89 had 5 100 pointers out of 321 reviewed, or 1.6%. Gives some added context to the 19. Just sayin’.

  17. Zack permalink
    March 6, 2012

    I honestly think we’ve gone far beyond Parker’s palate here. We simply don’t trust him. And for good reason. He embraces bias and it permeates WA.

    Mike, you said he doesn’t have to make the grand declarations. I’d say, we’ve seen enough of him to know he’s someone who clearly has megalomaniacle tendencies. In reality it was these claims that brought him such acclaim, which started out with his statements about remembering every wine he’s ever drunk and now he needs to proclaim everything the best ever because there’e really no other superlative would do. He’s already used the rest of them all up. After initially calling this a vintage of whatever, he had to follow through with these big scores. I honestly don’t see how prudence is in his game.

    This isn’t to disparage the vintage. It’s probably pretty good, but I wouldn’t trust Parker to tell me how great. There’s too much bias, hints of grade inflation, and questionable ethic practices, which I don’t see nearly as much with other publications. I give Parker credit for making himself relevant (and wealthy) but I don’t trust him.

    The bit that really got me was his adamant stance on his ” independent professional reporting.” Just read AG’s interview on SH’s blog, which is a great read BTW, and you’ll clearly see that at a minimum WA embraces bias. End of discussion.

  18. Bill Klapp permalink
    March 6, 2012

    Mike, we are talking a tad at cross purposes. I agree with your comment about “tasting for yourself”, but I was trying to make a different point, which is that one need not taste the wines to get a sufficient impression of them to call a given critic’s assertions into question. For instance, if an Ian d’Agata, Molesworth or Suckling condemns, say, the 2009 Cos as a freakish, overblown exercise in winemaking, while Parker gives it a 100 and calls it one of the greatest young wines that he has ever tasted for more or less the same reasons, and if you have calibrated your taste against Parker’s (and dumped all of your Shiraz), it seems to me to be a canard to raise, Jeff Leve-like, the rallying cry, “But have you tasted the wine?” Collateral attack of palates like Leve’s and Parker’s does not require but so much tasting.

    As to Parker’s profound forced elevation of first-growth quality, if that is so, where did all those legendary Bordeaux from 1945, 1947, 1959, 1961 and 1982 (1986, 1989 and 1990 probably should be thrown in, too, since Parker was not being taken all that seriously by anyone through those vintages) come from, lacking, as they did at the time, Parker’s superior knowledge of vineyard and cellar best practices? And why do so many people consider those earlier wines to be vastly superior to what most of Bordeaux is cranking out today?

  19. March 6, 2012

    Charlie, I agree with much of what you say, but two points of gentle disagreement. The 09s are clearly not in the classic Bordeaux style, but most of the really legendary Bordeaux of the 20th century–I’m talking Holy Grail wines like the 47 Cheval, 59 Haut Brion, 61 Petrus, 82 Lafleur–were not in the classic style, either. Parker clearly believes that 2009 has yielded some wines that will eventually rank alongside those legends; we shall see. Regarding your point about Parker doing the consumer no favors–I’m being contrarian here, and almost Leninist you might say, but I think Parker has done consumers a favor by further exposing the numbers racket for the farce that it has become.

    Bill, the point about tasting the wines doesn’t presuppose that one’s palate is superior to Parker’s; it merely presupposes that it is different, and that the qualities he sees in these wines might not be qualities that you or I see and/or appreciate. To your point about the pecking order in Bordeaux: it is interesting/ironic that Parker, at the end of his career, has become a pillar (the main pillar, really) of the long-established hierarchy in Bordeaux. He would say that the scrutiny he applied to Bordeaux forced the First Growths, like everyone else, to raise their games. But, of course, he doesn’t taste blind, and the First Growths don’t want him (or anyone else) to taste blind.

  20. Dan McCallum permalink
    March 6, 2012

    I tasted some very nice 2009s yesterday. From a family based in Lussac and producing distinctive wines from each of three small Haut Medoc properties. They will sell retail @ $18-$24; would be 88-90 pointers in most reviewers mouths; and the producer is on US tour begging somebody / anybody to buy them. Bordeaux is not without humble honesty and hands on struggle.
    And then there is the Bordoleum industry. Parker (and others) are to them the equivalent of fracking. The free flowing money is near tapped out and is insufficient to fuel their hyper-inflated world. They need to pump in that slow moving sludgey money. They are getting some of that moving their way now.
    I am disinclined to view socio-economic patterns as 1% sucking the life out of 99%. But that is how it goes today in BDX.

  21. Bill Klapp permalink
    March 6, 2012

    Chris Wallace (and Mike), I do not agree that one must drink through the 2009 Bordeaux in order to be critical of Parker’s treatment of them. That presupposes that one’s palate is superior to Parker’s, and that one is prepared to issue one’s own numbers in rebuttal. The easier and better yardsticks are what Parker say now against what he has said in the past, and against what his contemporary wine critics are saying now about the 2009 vintage.

    Rating Bordeaux is not, and never has been, rocket science. Blended wines like Bordeaux and Chateauneuf-du-Pape (not surprisingly, the wines in which Parker is “expert”) are lowest-common-denominator, easy-to-understand wines in the main, from regions marked by a fistful of noteworthy wines at the top which are followed by seas of plonk below. The blending grapes employed, especially Cabernet Sauvignon, have clear-cut flavor and aroma profiles (graphite, tobacco, saddle leather, new oak, blah, blah, blah) that make all Bordeaux easily identifiable as Bordeaux (and New World Cabnernet-based wines likewise identifiable). There are variations, one wine to the other, but they are subtle, more about quality differences and the results of blending than unique character. That state of affairs is fueled by the fact that most of Bordeaux’s vineyards are landfill rather than legitimate terroir. And quality? It’s the first-growths, dummy. They garner Parker 98-100s from the barrel, and 100s, 99s or 98+s (the latter two usually destined to become 100s in time) from the bottle. Other than a shrinking base of mindless acolytes (who have not yet caught on to the fact that the handful of best Bordeaux are the stratified best every vintage, with only rare exceptions), people read Parker mostly to ferret out the Smith-Haut-Lafittes, Clos Fourtets, Pontet-Canets and Leoville-Poyferres of the strong vintages, so as to snap them up for speculation or because they are the only 100-point Bordeaux that most can afford these days. In either case, most buy such wines for the Parker 100s, not because they have tasted the wines from barrel or perhaps have ever bought the wines before. Cynical, you say? Not at all. If one has followed the insane hoopla and stupid comments on the Squires board surrounding Parker’s Bordeaux scores each year, a distinct picture of the blind leading the blind leading the deaf and dumb emerges…

  22. March 6, 2012

    Saúl, thanks for stopping by. I would love to have a hit and a glass when I’m next in your area, though I’m not sure I can give you much of a game (I haven’t played much in the three years since I tore my Achilles tendon, but I’m hoping to play a full season this year). I agree with you completely about Federer-Nadal; granted, most of their matches have been on clay, but still, how can someone be considered the greatest of all time when he has a losing record (and a lopsided one at that) to his foremost rival? Federer is surely one of the four or five greatest of all time, and he has revolutionized the game in a way that Nadal has not, but it is hard to make the case for GOAT when you look at the head-to-head record with Nadal. Re wines, you indeed have the good fortune to be in the Bay Area and to have Kermit’s shop and other great retailers in close proximity. I think fewer and fewer people are deferring to Parker’s palate these days, and that’s why this 2009 business is so interesting–can he still move the market as he did a decade ago? We’ll find out.

    Chris, as I said, there is general agreement that 2009 is an excellent vintage. But Parker has put himself out on a limb by declaring 2009 the greatest vintage of his career and possibly the finest of all time, and by handing out 19 100-point ratings, which is pretty astonishing. You make a fair point regarding quality across the board, but the same was true of 2005 (emphatically true, in fact–2005 had gems from top to bottom). The 09s are obviously very approachable, and have exactly the kind of profile that Parker likes–rich, ultra-ripe, relatively low in acidity. Some of the most celebrated wines of the 20th century–47 Cheval, 82 Lafleur, etc–had the same general characteristics. We’ll see in 20 years how the 09s have fared.

  23. March 6, 2012

    Let’s, for a moment, suspend rational belief and accept the possibility that the 2009 ratings are neither a case of outrageous grade inflation nor of bad judgment.

    We are then left with the notion that the 2009s are, in fact, the greatest wines in the last 100 years. I am all in favor of that on theoretical grounds and join Mike in suggesting that you would then have to give credit to Mr. Parker for his courageous call.

    He must surely have known that folks would be laughing up their sleeves at him. He has been the butt of bad stories and disbelief for some years now, and he cannot have missed that anti-Parkerism is one of the big-time topics in wine commentary.

    But, to get to that point of accepting my first two premises, you then have to also accept that very ripe, lush and deep wines are delicious and are the objects of perfection. I am okay with that as well. I am, after all, a writer about CA wine.

    You can see where I am going, of course. The 2009s, no matter how delicious they are, are not classic, tight, wait till they mature wines of the type that have been the normative standard for Bordeaux for many, many years.

    This is nothing more than another Parker “discovery” of the type that has been his standard “MO” for years. It is what separated him from the pack of writers thirty years ago, and he has done it again with the 2009s. Only this time, he had nowhere to go with his rating system so he had to call them all “perfect”.

    It is, to me, a mistake borne of hubris. It is over the top and not to be believed regardless of how good the wines are. He has made himself the center of attention by his own choice to once again inflate his scores. He may be right about the vintage. He has done the consumer no favors, however, because if everything is perfect, we might as well stop here, fill our cellars and forget whatever else comes next.

    No thanks. The next “vintage of the century” may be just around the corner.

  24. Chris Robinson permalink
    March 6, 2012

    Wow hold on guys. There are some sub-texts that you seem to have forgotten here. One is that Parker feels that across the board, from the lowest AOC wines to grand crus, the quality of wines from 2009 are outstanding. This alone is good enough reason to declare it as possibly a vintage of the century. The other comment made by some of your readers seems to suggests that some have not even read Parker’s comments on drinkability. A few of you say you will not be around to taste these wines at their peak, nor will Parker. But in fact what he says is how drinkable most of the wines are even at this early stage – another sign of vintage greatness for Mr. Parker. I think Mr. Parker has probably got it right. I am no fan of his but from everything I have heard from those who are trying these wines from barrel and bottle these are exceptional. Now they may not be edgy or with firm structures or that high acidity loved by many, but these will be around for years, drinking beautifully and confirming that the old Emperor’s palate ain’t as bad as we might like to think.

  25. Saúl permalink
    March 6, 2012

    Mike, I am also a huge tennis fan and player (rated 5.0). Not to turn this into a tennis discussion but I could not resist when you made reference to Federer as the GOAT. Contrarians and Rafa Nadal fans like myself simply ask: How can Federer be the best ever when he has a losing record against his contemporary Nadal? This should be a great year in tennis with the Olympics in the mix. I for one can’t wait for the start of Indian Wells later this week.
    Unlike other folks and as a proud member of the “anti-flavor wine elite” I thoroughly enjoy your posts about Parker. When I started drinking wine seriously 8 years ago, I found it very strange when I discovered that a large number of people made wine purchases based on the opinion of one man’s palate. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to steer clear of that game and of course in the SF Bay Area we are blessed with Kermit Lynch and a brigade of great wine shops. If you find yourself in the Pebble Beach area it’d be great to share a glass with you and play/discuss tennis.

  26. March 5, 2012

    I guess Parker is a contarian indicator for you, Frank? I think that’s true for a lot of people nowadays. That said, there’s a lot of enthusiasm for the 2009s, so I wouldn’t dismiss the vintage just yet.

    Chris, there is a lot of vitriol aimed at Parker these days, and I happen to think that much of it is deserved. But as I said in my post, I admire his go-for-broke call with the 2009s, and while 19 100-point wines strikes me as a bit outlandish, I agree with you that the wines should be tasted before conclusions are drawn.

  27. Greg permalink
    March 5, 2012

    @blake gray – are wines in competition with one another? I’ve always assumed that Parker, for the most part, judged a wine on its own merits against an “objective” list of characteristics, which added up to 100 points.

  28. Chris Wallace permalink
    March 5, 2012

    I find it interesting to read the vitriol that regularly occurs here and elsewhere regarding Robert Parker. There certainly seems to be a view that by bestowing 100 pts on 19 wines he has impugned his credibility (many would say again). But not one person here that dissed him mentioned having tasted a single 09 BDX. How can any of us say the wines were over-rated unless we had tasted them? Are his scores out of line with other wine critics? What is the point of reference for saying his praise was too lavish?

  29. Frank permalink
    March 5, 2012

    Bloomin Heck. I’ve got some 2009’s on order (no 100’s, thankfully) , and now I’ll probably hate them. Aaargh.

  30. March 5, 2012

    Blake, I agree. I’m not a fan of the 100-point scale, and 19 100-point ratings for a single vintage from a single region certainly strikes me as implausible. But because I’m not a fan of the 100-point scale, I’m not at all unhappy to see something like this, because I think it just moves one step closer to the day when the 100-point scale becomes obsolete. How can a consumer look at Parker’s Bordeaux report and not conclude that the numbers are almost meaningless? And you make a very good point about producers tailoring their wines to suit Parker’s preferences. I’ve always been amazed that he so vehemently denies this; it is like arguing about whether the sun rises in the esat.

    Christophe, thanks for stopping by, and I enjoyed the piece about you in the National Post.

    Axel, are you referring to the score compression–how narrow the range has become over the years? That is certainly a striking development.

    Charlie, it is the same question that arose when the Wine Spectator gave 100 points to the 2000 vintage in Piedmont–what if an even better vintage comes along? I think Parker once gave a 100+ rating, and given all the upward pressure on scores, someone should punch through the 100-point ceiling and start giving out 101 and 102 point ratings. It would be the very fitting reductio ad adsurdum for a badly flawed rating mechanism.

    Matt, glad you like the site, sorry you dislike the topic. What sort of stuff do you enjoy reading here?

  31. Matt In Chicago permalink
    March 5, 2012

    Jeebus — more Parkerphilia / phobia. Give it a rest.

    And I really enjoy the comments about having stopped paying attention to Parker, or that his reputation is gone.

    Stopped paying attention? You mean except for those citations of the 2000/2005/2007 vintages?

    His reputation is gone? The one you keep attacking?

    And surely citations of Wine Berzerker comments are proof — of nothing. A site that gained popularity because Parker destroyed his own bulletin board is hardly evidence of anything. Anything at all.

    Mr Steinberger, your blog is very interesting, when it isn’t about a soap opera.

  32. March 5, 2012

    Jay, that’s interesting regarding Parker’s palate. So you don’t think that all the wear and tear, so to speak, has dulled his senses? He’s logged a hell of a lot of wines over the last 35 years, and we do know that age slowly robs us of our tasting acuity. Are you still tasting with him, by the way?

    I find it amusing, too, that you took so much flak for handing out just 5 perfect scores, while Parker has now almost quadrupled that number.

    Bill, you are not going to get an argument from me re most of those points, though I’m not sure I agree re the meaning of the title “The Empire Strikes Back.” That would be quite funny if he was indeed referring to himself. At any rate, my only point is that I think this was a ballsy call at a stage in his career when a little caution might be in order. And as effusive as he was about the 2000s, the 2005s, and the 2007 southern Rhones, with both words and numbers he has clearly raised the stakes with 2009 Bordeaux.

  33. March 5, 2012

    In the not distant past, there was a conversation that went something like this, ” With all the grade inflation in Parker’s score, he has left himself no room” for the next great vintage.

    Clearly, we underestimated him. But the question does arise, how does he top this?

    Is the 101-point system about to emerge?

  34. Axel permalink
    March 5, 2012

    Someone should track Parker’s score reduction over the years

  35. Christophe permalink
    March 5, 2012

    The force grows stronger.

  36. March 5, 2012

    Mike: I have a problem with the concept of 19 perfect scores from a region in a vintage. It wouldn’t bother me if Parker gave 18 99s and a single 100. But if one wine is “perfect,” how can the others be perfect also?

    That said, Bordeaux vintners have now had 30 years to learn what Parker likes and have spent, depending on the winery, about 15-20 of those years actively trying to achieve exactly that. So while I believe that Parker uses grade inflation as marketing, I also think it’s logical that wineries with so many resources will get better and better at whatever they choose to do. In this case, that is pleasing Parker’s palate.

  37. Bill Klapp permalink
    March 5, 2012

    Mike, I start with the obvious: “What reputation?” Parker has little reputation left to risk at this point. His arrogance and self-righteousness of late has driven off a huge number of his one-time followers, and he cannot possibly be adding on many acolytes under the age of 30, unless they are trust fund babies or Goldman Sachs associates who can afford Parker’s 100-pointers. I can agree with you that he thinks that 2009 is the greatest Bordeaux vintage ever, but it is significant that, strong as the vintage may be, nobody else seems to think so. Ditto the 2007 Southern Rhones, it of the 11 perfect scores. The critical consensus there was that more classic 2005 was superior to the overripe, high-alcohol 2007s. Look at his top wines from the 2009 Bordeaux and 2007 Southern Rhone vintages, and the common denominator is huge, ripe, high-alcohol, low-acid wines…the classic Parker fruit bombs. I contend that such wines are the only ones that his shot palate has been able to taste and enjoy for years now.

    To add some perspective, the 2000 Bordeaux vintage garnered 9 perfect scores, 7 “official” and 2 “Hedonist Gazette”. Prior to passing judgment on the 2005 Bordeaux vintage, Parker had taken considerable flack from within and without his cult over his indiscriminate 100s and driving Bordeaux pricing through the stratosphere, and, if one reads all that he wrote on the vintage, which he called “perfect”, one comes away with the distinct impression that the magic perfect score was deliberately withheld from all of the first-growths and most of the Super Seconds in response to the score and pricing heat that he was taking. He compared the best 2005s favorably to many of the all-time great vintages of given wines, and put the “greatest vintage ever” tag on the vintage, but yet withheld the perfect scores. Am I accusing him of diddling? Sure am.

    Enough. I leave you with this, however: most of Parker’s preliminary commentary on the 2009 Bordeaux vintage had nothing to do with the vintage, but rather, he mounted an elaborate defense of his grade inflation generally, claiming that neither his standards nor his palate had changed in 30 years. It is just that the wines are getting so much better, with a couple of points extra alcohol and little of that nasty acid. He used that as a base to defend, rather than simply present, his 2009 Bordeaux scores. And thus is explained “The Empire Strikes Back”: the Emperor of Wine made a preemptive strike against the blogosphere that was sure to question his palate and his judgment. Again.

  38. Jay S. Miller permalink
    March 5, 2012

    I haven’t tasted any 2009s and I won’t be buying any (because I’ll likely be gone before they reach prime time). However, if I were 20 years younger, based on the Parker reviews, I’d be a customer. Those who think Parker’s palate is fading have a vivid fantasy life.

    I do find it amusing in the context that I was castigated by some for awarding 5 100-point scores to Spanish wines from the 2004 vintage, clearly the greatest vintage of the modern era for Priorat, Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Toro.


  39. Greg permalink
    March 5, 2012

    @mike – great point. It’s true that we, as a society, always seem to want to contrast/compare and certainly this whole GOAT principle is prevalent in many aspects of life. However, on the issue of sporting GOATs, at least there’s some empirical/”objective” statistics that proponents or opponents can point out.

    For example, I might like Boris Becker and say that he was the greatest ever (not that I actually believe this) but you can easily prove that Federer is “better” in terms of numbers of grand slams, his drop shot ability, so on and so forth. By what objective benchmark can we rate, let’s not even say Parker against other wine experts, but even with Parker’s own predictions? I can’t imagine a way in which person A can convince person B that one year of wine is better than another, much less what was the greatest year.

  40. March 5, 2012

    Greg, I also have little patience for these “greatest ever” claims, whether they concern wine or anything else. I’m a big tennis fan, for instance, and I find all the discussion regarding Federer and whether he’s the greatest of all time (or GOAT, as it’s known) equally fruitless and inane. And as you point out with regard to Parker’s claims concerning the 2000, 2005, and 2009 vintages, these are merely predictions, and it will be decades before we have anything approaching an answer. At least with Federer, we know that he is a brilliant player who has more grand slam singles titles than anyone else (among men); all we know about the 2009s–or, for that matter, the 2005s and 2000s–is that they are very promising.

    Grapemaster, very nicely put! Actually, I saw that Gil Lempert-Schwarz, who blogs for James Suckling’s site, suggested that Parker handed out all these 100-point ratings to compensate his friends in Bordeaux for the dearth of perfect scores for the 2005 vintage. I have trouble believing that, but whatever the motivation, I think we can all agree that 19 100-point ratings in a single vintage sort of diminishes the significance of the 100-point milestone.

    J, fair point–there’s a good chance he will no longer be around by the time the “market” reaches a final judgment concerning the 09s. But whether’s he here or not, he will presumably still be held accountable for his ratings.

  41. March 5, 2012

    By the time those wines are drinkable he may not even be alive to be called out on a poor recommendation. Sounds like less of the praise of a remarkable vintage and more of an effusive last hurrah.

  42. March 5, 2012

    this must be part of parker’s “no wine left behind” policy. or, he may have taken off the tongue prophylactic he usually wears when tasting wine. or, these bordeauxs may have leaked through resulting in the birth of parker bordeaux revelations.
    for such a young century, we have too many wines of…

  43. Greg permalink
    March 5, 2012

    Parker’s own 2000/2005/2007 proclamations just points to how foolish and pointless these “greatest ever” predictions are because it predicates on the belief that we know what’s to come in the future.

    For me personally, I sopped paying attention to Parker a few years ago.

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