The Parkerization of Wines begs the Question, is your Juice, Juicing?

The wine point system, market forces and wine makers who vie for the brass ring of a high score from Parker and other influential wine critics and writers have had [according to many] a deleterious effect on how wine is made and specifically Pinot Noir, which begs the question is your juice, juicing? In all likeliness the stunning revelation is yes and unlike the members of Major League Baseball, I don’t think Congress will be indicting your favorite Pinot Noir producer anytime soon.

But first what is Parkerization? Good question and one answered by Alice Feiring who says, "it's the widespread stylization [or deconstruction of wine] of wines to please the taste of influential wine critic Robert M. Parker and other influential wine critics." To read more of her musings on the subject, please give her book “The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization” a swirl.

The other question is who really cares? The shocking answer is very few people care [vino swirling general public] but I wanted to add my two-cents anyway.  I've have found that the vast wine swirling and slurping segment of society really does not care and wants folks [cork-dorks] to stop harping about the subject, to just quiet-down and let them get back to more important topics, like when is Lindsay Lohan going back to jail [oh I mean rehab].

I think it's helpful to look at the question of Parkerization and juicing, through the prism [the lens if you will] of the classic “western” movie so you can see where simple straight forward winemaking has come from and where it’s potentially going now and into the future.

To do that end, I want to examine an epic movie of the late sixties that put a relatively “new” actor [Clint Eastwood] on the proverbial map of Hollywood and took what we knew as the typical western genre [white hats vs. black hats] in an entirely new direction.

This comparison works perfectly if you think about how many of the critics hated this pivotal [A Fistful of Dollars] movie [in terms of direction] and yet the popcorn crunching, movie going public gobbled it up like a box of red vine licorice on movie night.

Where and when did Hollywood take its cues from, most likely the changing social climate of the sixties [where, think San Francisco] helped to foster this change of attitude and gave the “western” a new lease of life. Thus you had a deconstructing of what constituted great movies and with a few plot twists and changes to the standard successful formula something even more palatable to the vast movie going public emerged. Thus it's with the wine making community at large, they saw that making wine in a certain style meant bigger returns to the bottom line. But does this cross any lines?

These types of deconstructing methods are nothing new; many different kinds of businesses today have this as a standard [undisclosed] practice. They see a competitors work [widget] and will attempt to break it down, then bring along side a copy, repackage and sell to an unsuspecting or indifferent consumer who's all too happy to get something similar for a much smaller price or sometimes it will create a demand where previously there may have been little or none at all.

But many will counter that wine deconstruction can only take you so far, the quality of the grapes and place it comes from are factors that can't be duplicated by hook or crook [devilry] or so many folks wine loving folks would love to believe.

Much of this furor on this topic revolves around New World Pinot Noir blending [supposedly] Syrah and not disclosing this fact on the label or anywhere else for that matter to achieve higher scores from the "Parker's" and other wine publications in the world who subscribe to the hedonistic model of strength over complexity or as some say masculine over feminine styles. In Burgundy, they are not allowed to [in fact it's illegal] to have any other varietal in their Pinot Noir [100%], in stark contrast to their U.S. counterparts [some state variation], it only has to be 85 percent Pinot Noir to bear the name Pinot Noir and this is the rub on New World Pinot Noir.

Some folks call this practice "juicing"... which is very interesting and has some parallels to what's going on in professional sports today. But if producers don't disclose it how are people finding out about it?? In my opinion many folks [more knowledgeable than me] pulled the rug out from under that house of cards when the ABV of "cult" PN started hitting 14-16% everyone wondered hmmm how did you achieve that with only Pinot Noir, what were the brix when you picked those grapes? And another factor is the color, it's like hmmm how did you get such extraction from PN??? and possibly some insiders spilled the [grapes] beans.

The Parker “syndrome” as many label it, is another subject altogether but in my mind the two are very much intertwined and wineries [like movie producers] who are business people [mindful of the bottom line], understand [while possibly not agreeing with the method] that the consumer is driven by the market forces of points. The methods [producers] they use to obtain those [points] high scores while not illegal, are off-putting to many folks who've have become well versed in the vino game and attempting to tell an indifferent wine loving populace, “the king has no clothes.”

Frankly there are many [the vast majority], who don’t care about that issue and the message falls upon deaf ears, for the very same reasons baseball fans in general don't read boxscore, we live in a society today of the 5 second sound-bite and scores on wine fall into this segement of society. They [the unwashed masses] merely want their wine to taste fantastic, superlative vino and give them that transcendent moment from the din of the everyday via a bottle of Pinot Noir.

So yes while this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, it’s something to keep in mind in the comparison/contrast of Old World Pinot Noir vs. New World PN....if the producers in the NW could disclose the fact that it is blended with Syrah or whatever then the consumer could have a better idea of what is being compared to what...but no NW producer wants to be upfront about this topic, as this could effect the bottom line.

Frankly, I don't care too much if they [NW, producers] add a little syrah to their Pinot Noir, but personally I would have more respect for them if it was disclosed on the label. Again it is not illegal, but on the cusp, it does smack of intellectual dishonesty at the very least. Will we ever see an end to the point system, the deconstruction of wines and the juicing of juice in our lifetimes, I hardly doubt it and like I've asked before does it really matter to you? Until next time, “sip long and prosper”, cheers!

Other Video Voices: Check out this video from Gary V, he makes some great points on this subject, you don't have watch the whole video either, as he gets to the gist of the debate in the first five minutes of this video. Gary say's in this video what many folks who write about wines and the affects wines scores, have on the wine scene in general are already thinking, but will not always openly admit.

By: Bill Eyer © Cuvée Corner Wine Blog


ThingsAll2Good said…
Great article Bill! ... I'm not a point person ... but then you knew that! ;)
Will Eyer said…
Thanks Jen, I'm glad at least one person enjoyed it. Cheers!

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