This is a response to a post by richardhod (quoted) in the thread yesterday St. Supery 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - 1.5L Magnum, which was itself a response to one of my posts responding to TooOldForThis.
I thought it might be better here, and by bumping this thread, introduce it to some newer wooters and revive interest among more seasoned winos:
TooOldForThis wrote:It's not that I've knowingly had a Parker-style wine. But the this forum generally disrespects "Parker-style" wines as being flabby, over-fruited swill, and Parker's preferences to have been the death of classic, tannic, earthy, leathery, age-worthy wines. Which isn't to say the Parker didn't capture the median of popular tastes of the American wine-buying public, or that Parker-style wines don't enjoy a vast market, or even that I wouldn't enjoy them myself a great deal.
What I am saying is that, if Parker liked what you and rpm consider fruit bombs (or, at least, wines towards that spectrum of style), and Parker's likes established the popular notion of "Napa cab" 35-40 years ago, then Parker-style fruit bombs are, quite possibly, the "classic Napa cabs" the writer had in mind. I'm not saying it's the only definition of "classic," or the best definition, or even that it's necessarily the definition used here. But it seems consistent with most of the other descriptions of the wine, other than the alcohol content.
The winery commented, "fresh black fruit flavors, is complex, has good structure yet softened tannins" and "stand a spell in decanter to open up." Fresh fruit and soft tannins in a 6-year old magnum sounds less structured, "needs time to open up" sounds more structured, and I'm confused. And suspicious.
As I see it, there are two fundamental issues with Parker which some think are interrelated:
1. He prefers fruit forward wines that are flavorful when young and not excessively tannic. On a couple of levels, this is fine as far as it goes - he does have a fair palate for that sort of juice, and, as far as I can tell, more people are drinking a better grade of that sort of juice than was available 30-odd years ago when Parker was just beginning to be influential. The problem with that is that while some grapes lend themselves to making those sorts of wine - Merlot certainly does (if it isn't too flabby, which it often can be), and so does 'mid-grade' Pinot Noir and some of the lesser better Italian wines - there are other grapes -- especially top quality Pinot Noir, Syrah (think Hermitage), the Nebbiolos of Barolo, and, most particularly, Cabernet Sauvignon - that really have far greater potential if made in a more restrained, intially tannic style to age over time.
2. Which brings us to problem #2 - Parker for many years did not, and as far as I can tell still does not, understand the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. Sure, he has the proper reverence for the 'big names' in Bordeaux, and now in California, but he doesn't 'get' the way wines made from the grape mature in the bottle and develop over time. His preference in Bordeaux (if you get beyond pure 'name dropping') always tends to wines with lots of Merlot in them - the more fruit forward styles. He has never seemed to understand the way traditionally made Cabs need at least 8-10 years to knit. Or understood that the difference between California Cab and Bordeaux that was mostly Cab (e.g. most Pauillac) the fact that California's generally more favorable ripening conditions meant the wine would have an initial phase redolant with fresh (not overripe) fruit on release before settling down to a sullen adolescence, where Bordeaux rarely had that initial charm. The sort of thing that everyone interested in Cab in California well understood at least as far back as the early 20th century when my great uncle Tony was making Cab at Beaulieu.
What I have never understood is why no one ever walked Parker through the life cycle of California Cab at various stages of development. Or, perhaps one or more people tried. No one I knew ever said they did, though. I know a couple of people who will remain nameless who (stupidly) though of him as 'fun to watch' as he went bumbling about.
To which gooberpeas responded:
gooberpeas wrote:I just have to say thanks. This is one of those moments in my wine learning-curve that is epiphanous and I think I will re-read this post a few times to really understand my own tastes as well as those with other (arguably) more sophisticated tastes and how that fits into the wine industry itself. Of course thanks to all other insightful posts that have 'gone before'. This is what keeps me reading (and lurking ) thanks!
edit: not 'arguably' by me, but by others with more experience that still enjoy more fruit forward wines (grapes) like merlot, as that was a definite first favorite for me, though my tastes have changed a bit
which prompted richard:
richardhod wrote:THere's nothing wrong with liking Fruit-forward Parkerized wines.. it's just some people don't know how much more is out there! rpm is more purist than most but he knows by far the most history of anyone I've so far known. My tastes are quite like his, but there are
a. some less European, more Classic California (not Parkerized, but what rpm talks about) or
b. neo-Classic Napa (more recent, young-drinking silky smooth, sometimes with far too high pH, sometimes with decent acid, somehow) PArkery wines
which are actually worth trying out and drinking. Just know that there is a range.. and that most of the world doesn't like or hasn't drunk much of b.! Except where PArker and his minions have changed some of the Bordeaux chateaux...
Classic great stuff is still in the trad muld, but I like that there are new styles and innovations to try. Sadly some take over more than they should du to money...
Very nicely put, richard. Your post adds clarity and perspective. As I think you know, I don't object to fruit forward wines particularly when they're made from appropriate grapes and where phenolic ripeness is achieved without the sugars ending up (sometimes well) north of 25 Brix. They're not my favorites by any means, but they can be very good and thoroughly enjoyable. Just don't do that to first rate Cabernet fruit from the Rutherford Bench which has so much more potential....
What I truly abhor and strenuously object to, is the growing tendency, which I would argue is at least in part an attempt to search for wines that will impress Parker, or, even more now, some of the newer American wine writers, to consciously work (in rootstock choices, in the cultivation of the vineyard, and later in the cellar) for 'late' phenolic ripeness at sugar levels that almost guarantee excessively high alcohol (sometimes well north of 15%, which almost never works IMHO) unless steps are taken in the winery to reduce alcohol. These wines have (to my taste) very overripe aromas and flavors, sometimes even a raisin-like, port-like character, and lack structure and balance (both acid and tannin). I am not impressed how that works with all of the new oak currently in fashion or how those wines go with food.
The point is, it's not so much Parker's preferences which are pernicious - after all, he would not be successful if he didn't steer a lot of customers to wines they like. Mostly unsophisticated customers (as he was when he started and long remained) who didn't like or understand fine wine, but now happy wine drinkers nonetheless.
Where the wine industry has failed significantly in the post-Prohibition and post-WWII world is in successfully explaining traditionally made fine wine and developing the taste of the greatly increased wine-drinking population for those wines.
At the beginning of the 20th century, there was a relatively small, even tiny, market for fine wine: certain aristocracies and upper classes and those somehow connected with the wine business. That was pretty much true through the immediate post-WWII period. There was plenty of time for palates to be trained (much in the way mine was) by sipping at the knee from tender youth and experiencing top wines at various stages in their lives: whether as an aristocratic consumer or as a winegrower, -maker or merchant, one had to learn how to appreciate, evaluate and buy wine since the best wines took time to reach maturity, were (relatively) expensive and relatively scarce. A mistake in purchasing large amounts of wines that were unlikely to develop well, or failing to purchase large amounts of wines destined to be great, could cost one substantially - in money and in reputation. [N.B. a modern example of the latter phenomenon was the almost complete destruction of David Peppercorn's reputation as a Bordeaux expert for failing to recognize the 1982 vintage as great - ultimately, he may have been right for most of the wines, as we see with 30 years hindsight, but Parker touted them, they were forward (think '74 in California) and a whole new world of winedrinkers loved them.]
Throughout that period, most people on the Continent (at least west of the Oder) and a fair number in other parts of the world drank wine, often in substantial quantities, but it was almost all vin ordinaire. Basic red or white table wine produced mostly locally for consumption prior to the next vintage (perhaps with something in reserve from good years in case of particularly bad ones) and often a substitute with meals for water (which was often unsanitary - even rather vile wine was truly a healthier beverage). That's probably what 90-95% of wine made in the world still is, and what 90-95% of wine drinkers drink on a daily basis.
Anyway, after WWII, and as a larger number of 'ordinary' Americans (whose families historically had not been fine wine drinkers) became acquainted with high quality wine in Europe during and after the war, and in California (often by chance....), there was a growing interest in better wine, which the industry tried to meet. Slowly at first, some people (many now by the wayside) more successful at first than others, but increasingly broadly and successfully.
Again, while the quality of this everyday wine was steadily improving, and while there was a core in California of winemakers who kept the knowledge of making fine wines alive (even if they didn't make much of it themselves because they had to make a living, and there wasn't much of a market for fine California wine in the ''40s and '50s), most of it was generic and meant for current consumption.
In the '60s, there was an explosion of interest in better wine (also in fruit-flavored wine drinks and utter garbage, but I digress) and wineries strove to meet the demand. Moreover, thousands (literally) invested in vineyards, and started wineries - some of them well-trained, others not so much (but that's another history....)
Back to the point, while the industry was successful at producing much better wines, by the mid-1970s mostly varietals (which could be another whole conversation), for daily consumption, where we were not particularly successful was in finding a way (there were attempts by merchants - one thinks especially of Peter Morrell in New York - to educate the nouveau riche and others in wine societies, but the effects were limited to a moderately wide, generally still wealthy, niveau) to develop the kind of knowledge and understanding that the people who had learned fine wine the old fashioned way (either from being in wealthy wine drinking families or from being in the trade) had.
Because a fair number of the producers of the best wines in California before the wine revolution either came from significant wealth (think the owners of Inglenook and Beaulieu who set the standards before ~1965) or from families long steeped in wine, their own palates had developed the old fashioned way. I am not sure many of them were consciously aware of what it took to develop a classic palate.
And both they, and the new people in the business, had to actually sell wine relatively young (tax laws, a lack of aged stocks due to Prohibition, the fact a new crop was coming in annually and a need for cash flow all contributed to a need to move the product out the door in a timely manner).
These factors coalesced with a lack (I think in retrospect) of understanding just much assiduous effort was needed to train palates to a really high standard in the absence of the 'from grandfather's knee' natural unselfconscious development, to give the trade little incentive to devote a lot of energy to developing a taste for wines that had reached greatness over time. I heard people in the business argue in the '60s and '70s - seriously enough - that it was better not let everyone in on the 'secret' as it were. After all, prices would only go up since there was already a market sufficient to sell most of the top quality wines. Let's just make money selling oceans of perfectly good wine, and leave the very best to those who know, or who who make the effort to learn and search it out. And, of course, top, widely-recognized wines have become relatively far more expensive than they were in the past.
After all, the information was all in the books! Again, in the trade, or in wine-drinking families, we'd all read Saintsbury and Morton Shand, or other books on wine, and we just knew this stuff. And people like Leon Adams were writing in Californa to spread the word! Far better for us to concentrate on making the juice as good as we could out the door (here we were lucky given how Cab ripens in California) and in selling it so they'll come back next year! Never a bad year! (well, not really true, but the grapes were almost never really underripe, even if the could be spoiled by late rain or early frost).
This has begun to ramble, and my day awaits. Perhaps more later.