Robert Parker Has Pneumonia, or His Latest Screed Redux

(Or, if I follow the French spelling convention described in paragraph 2 below, maybe that should be “Redu”!)

The latest from the Emperor’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” thread:

“Mel-I never take into account the stated alcohol on a label because I don’t trust it…if I did, 12.5-13% would be average,and I wouldn’t flinch an eye-most of the pinot noirs my Beau Frere has made in Oregon since 1990 would fall within that range…except for the greatest vintages-1994,2002,2012,which are above,barely, 14%…my objection is anyone who sets an arbitrary limit on alcohol…all below a specific number are to be blessed…all above are the devil’s brew…and then intentionally harvest a vineyard to get a specific lower alcohol level…I have been very clear on this for 35+ years…I think you take what mother nature gives you each year…don’t force anything…have the vintage unfurl and take what it gives you…if it is a lighter style…go with the flow and make a beautiful lighter styled wine…if you get power,density and high sugars, don’t worry about it-take it and make a whopper of a wine…in short…common sense…when man/woman imposes their taste tests, or formula, or wine-making lesons from college on a vintage the results are usually disappointing…”

A few preliminary observations:

  1. We now learn that, if you ignore and do not trust the alcohol number on a wine label, the alcohol level drops from, say, a 13.5% level to a 12.5-13% level. Who knew it could be so easy to stop the debate over high alcohol? Also, if I am reading this correctly, the wines that Parker drinks average out at 12.5-13%. That suggests that, for every bottle of 2007 CdP, 2009 Bordeaux and Cali Cab, Syrah or Zin that he drinks, he is secretly drinking a half-case of German auslesen or spatlesen to average out the alcohol! Oh, and the idiomatic expression is “not BAT an eyelash”, rather than not “flinch an eye”, flinching being an involuntary, reflexive muscular reaction in the wince/cringe line, typically in reaction to a stimulus likely to cause pain. It is at least comforting that the prospect of 12.5-13% Oregon Pinots does not cause him to recoil in fear. Of course, given the tenor of the thread, this could also be an obscure reference to Flinch, the rock group from Finland. It is possible that Bob overlooked a fact that Mike Steinberger recently pointed out: Kevin Harvey, Pax Mahle and Wells Guthrie, among a growing number of others whom I believe (but do not know for sure, mind you) still use sulphur, do not make orange wines and do not wear Earth shoes, came up with this dumb-ass idea that maybe, instead of picking unripe grapes, one should seek out cooler sites that yield perfectly ripe fruit that make balanced wines at modest alcohol levels, but hey, what do THEY know, eh? :slight_smile:

  2. He has forgotten how to spell the name of the winery that he co-owns with his brother-in-law (that would be “Beaux Freres”), or else he has cashed out there, too, and only his brother-in-law remains. I also note that getting grapes to ripen at all in Oregon in some vintages is quite a challenge, so I am not shocked that there is no ethical way to make 15-16% Pinot Noir there.

  3. I must confess that “taking what nature gives you” not only has great logical appeal, it is how wines should be made, period, assuming that nature gives winemakers the common sense to pick the grapes soon enough to make a balanced wine, and informs them to avoid doing that Michel Rolland voodoo that he do so well. He neglects to say that if one goes “with the flow and makes a beautiful lighter styled wine”, he will call it green, acidic, thin and weedy, and will piss all over it in print.

And then there is this, but first, in fairness, an apology (one-time only for now, as I do not forgive puff pieces of Lisa Perrotti-Brown and other MWs easily when the author is studying for an MW!): Becky Gibb has found some truly interesting work going on at the Australia Wine Research Institute, no hotbed of biodynamics, natural wines and Earth shoes, as I recall:

"Is Yeast the Answer to Lower-Alcohol Wines?

There was a time not so long ago when 15 percent alcohol was reserved for fortified wines. A Bordeaux red that reached the 15-percent mark was inconceivable, yet in 2010, La Mission Haut-Brion hit 15.1, with its white wine trailing just behind at 15 percent. And the Graves estate is not alone in breaching previously unexplored territory.

A warming climate, improved viticultural techniques, efficient fermentation yeasts, and consumer demand for riper styles are all factors in the rise of higher alcohol levels. But the times are a-changin’ as health-conscious consumers and lunchtime drinkers look for a lower-alcohol alternative to liver-bruising styles.

Researchers at the Australia Wine Research Institute (AWRI) point out that high-alcohol wines can not only leave your mouth burning; they can also compromise quality. While high alcohol might increase body and the perception of sweetness, “it can lead to a decrease in aroma and flavour intensity.” There’s also an economic concern: higher alcohol levels mean higher taxes.

As a result, wine producers have trying to make lower-alcohol wines by employing techniques in both the vineyard and winery. Picking early is one obvious way to reduce alcohol, but it is often at the expense of flavor ripeness. In the winery, technologies like spinning cone and reverse osmosis have been used as a method of alcohol removal, but many purists view this sort of intervention as the devil incarnate. Adding water to the tank in another option. While illegal in the European Union, it is not uncommon in warm New World countries – although getting anyone to admit to it is about as likely as Screaming Eagle throwing an open house.

Yeasts, the motor for fermentation, convert grape sugar into alcohol, and have been targeted as one of the most viable solutions to the thorny issue of high alcohol. However, research efforts to find a wine yeast to substantially reduce the final alcohol level in a wine have been nigh on fruitless thus far: the best attempts have managed to reduce ethanol by 0.2 to 0.7 percent.

Now, a study published by the American Society for Microbiology claims to have identified a yeast combination that can produce a significantly lower level of alcohol in wines and preserve the flavor.

While Sacchromyces cerevisiae is the main wine fermentation yeast, there are lots of other yeast species that can play a part at different stages of the process. Unfortunately, most non-Sacchromyces yeasts aren’t able to consume all the sugar present in grape must, and often die at relatively low alcohol levels. But by starting a fermentation with a non-Sacchromyces yeast and then adding Sacchromyces partway through the ferment, this “sequential inoculation” technique appears to have worked.

After many attempts, the scientists discovered that a non-Sacchromyces yeast with a name that sounds like a cross between Messerschmitt and Kalashnikov was just the ticket. Metschnikowia pulcherrima – also known as the easier-to-pronounce AWRI 1149 – was used to kick off the ferment before the S. cerevisiae was added halfway through. This combination reduced the alcohol content in shiraz from 15 percent to 13.4 percent, a decrease of 1.6 percent. The reduction in alcohol level in the chardonnay wine wasn’t quite so impressive but still fell 0.9 percent.

“We don’t know why chardonnay was less than shiraz,” says the study’s co-author Cristian Varela. “We haven’t tried other varieties yet and that’s something we’d like to do in the future.”

On the downside, using AWRI 1149 caused an increase in acetate compounds in the chardonnay, which could add a nail varnish remover-like character to the wines. When it came to shiraz, Varela reports there were no negative effects on the smell or taste of the wine.

So what next for AWRI 1149? “We would like to work on a bigger scale with a couple of wineries to see if they can see the same results that we have seen – with the same drop in ethanol,” says Varela. “Then, at the same time, trying to get yeast companies interested in the production and then commercialization of the strain.”

While AWRI 1149 is being hailed as a breakthrough for wine producers grappling with high alcohols in a warm climate, these results have nothing on genetically modified yeast. The AWRI has already demonstrated that GM yeast can ensure much larger decreases in final alcohol levels. A GM yeast produced a reduction from 15.7 percent to 12.2 percent, though the use of genetically engineered agents is controversial. Varela explains that “most of the studies up to now were focused on Sacchromyces cerevisiae strains – mainly trying to do some genetic engineering, playing with genes to find a way to decrease alcohol. The main issue with those studies is that GMOs are not allowed in the industry.”

Even so, a genetically modified wine yeast, ML01, which is able to carry out the malolactic fermentation at the same time as the alcoholic fermentation, has been approved in Canada. It produces fewer baddies that may cause headaches, but still attracts disapproval. A July 2013 Gallup poll found that 48 percent of respondents believed GM foods “pose a serious health hazard” – despite the fact that the scientific community and the World Health Organization have concluded there’s very little risk. Indeed, if you’ve eaten corn or soy of late, or used canola oil or sugar in your cooking, chances are you’ve consumed genetically modified food.

But with the industrialization of food and wine still creating a fear of the unknown, don’t expect GM yeast to come to the rescue of the high-alcohol issue any time soon. Until it does, we’ll have to go with the Metschnikowia pulcherrima."

I should be charging you people for this, but no, I view it as a public service. Giving back, as it were…

I know…

I am a big fan, too…

But I rarely find a way to use more than one set per post…

And then only to threaten my detractors with the specter that I will be posting again…

And again…

And again…

  1. Bill – I think you’re misreading him and ranting about a non-rant. He’s just saying that marked ABV numbers aren’t reliable, and people shouldn’t have rigid ideas about maximum desirable alcohol levels. Properly read, I don’t think there’s much you or I could quarrel with there. (Of course his actual alcohol tolerance is another issue.)

  2. The yeast thing came up in a thread on the eBob board years back. It’s an interesting point that hasn’t come up here that I can recall. I dimly recall that one reason to use the more efficient yeasts was the fact that people were picking later and you didn’t want to risk a stuck fermentation with your 28+ brix grapes. There’s the potential for a snowballing effect – more efficient yeasts on top of riper fruit. (I’m not sure if I’m remembering this correctly. I’ll be curious to hear what others say.)

Typically harsh but still an interesting and informative read particularly when it isn’t focused on the title subject.

I think the criticism re Beaux Freres is likely to be wrong and he probably does remember the name of the winery but was referring simply if rather cutely to his Beau Frere [beau-frère] who I assume is the person most directly involved in the making of the wine.

In addition, while selective yeasts will ferment a given set of grapes differently from another mix of yeasts e.g. produce a lower alcohol result as with the Syrah and Chardonnay results mentioned I wonder what the residual sugar difference might be in the lower alcohol result - assuming the starting material was the same in both cases.

John, he is saying what he is saying. Non-rant? Fine. Worthy of comment? I say yes. I say that this is a more moderate, back-door approach to “whopperdom”, and, at this late date, more than a little disingenuous. Anybody who, in league with others, has done what he has done to wine styles does not really believe in taking what nature gives, and surely has not believed that for 35+ years. If that were true, then you would have thought that he might have mentioned that guiding philosophy with some frequency, eh? And I am thinking that (a) he said much more than just that ABV numbers are unreliable, and (b) I am not among those who need reading lessons. Just sayin’…

can i get the cliff’s? didn’t bring my climbing gear to get over that wall of text

Save your powder Bill. The fact that higher alcohol, heat and oak don’t bother RMP isn’t very earth shattering. Beaux Freres wines tend to be riper than my preference but not by much, and they’re typically well made.

I don’t remember how many times I’ve heard winemakers (those who would seem to be directly in RMPs crosshairs) say things like: “I think you take what mother nature gives you each year…don’t force anything…have the vintage unfurl and take what it gives you…if it is a lighter style…go with the flow and make a beautiful lighter styled wine…”

RMP would certainly be happier with a “whopper”, nothing new. Many winemakers echo RMPs warning: “when man/woman imposes their taste tests, or formula, or wine-making lesons from college on a vintage the results are usually disappointing…” Ofcourse all winemakers impose taste tests and work from formulas (flexible or not), but that’s a different discussion. The bigger questions are where to plant, what to plant and when to pick. That’s what leads us back to the land of Vitriol.

Just had a 2010 Inman Olivet Grange Pinot Saturday night. 12.5% abv. Beautiful wine, bright, (controlled oak!) engaging Cali Pinot with restrained, persistent fruit. Her best to date! Parker gave it an “84”. He’s absurdly wrong…yet true to his own taste model.


Later harvest and crop thining were the advises modern Oenologues gave their clients. That was a good move because many wines of the 70th and 80th were thin and in need of heavy chaptalization.

But the question was and is: What does late harvest mean exactely? Harvesting at the very latest moment? Or when the fruit is physically ripe? Many harvest not only late these days but very ripe with that famous hint of overripeness or sur maturité as the french call it. And that has defenitely nothing to do with sentences like “what mother nature gives you”. This is a decission made by men, not by nature.

I would say late harvest is neccessary to have ripe tannins and enough fruit in your wine. But if you wait too long the acid is too low and the fruit tends into the prune and raisin direction. And that is not the kind of wine I like. That is something for Banyuls and the likes. IMO many CdP´s are harvested with more or less overripe fruit these days. That is something Parker won´t agree. But anyway – it is my opinion. The almost 16%+ alc. for some of the best 2007 and 2009 CdP is telling. I wonder if some of them have residual sugar too because it was not possible to ferment the juice totally dry. Would be interesting to analyze the wines in a laboratory.

At one thing I agree with Parker: The alc. level alone does not tell you if a wine is balanced or good or not. But it is an indicator anyway.

Richard, I respect your tastes, but c’mon. How can he be wrong when the question is subjective and he is true to his own taste.

I think you guys just like getting your panties in a bunch.

Good question Loren. RMP judging wines based on his own tastes, he can’t be wrong. If he portrays his tastes as the true definition of quality (which he seems to believe), than he’s absurdly wrong. This is a wine that he should simply not be judging. It would be equally absurd if for some reason he decided to compete head-to-head with Allen Meadows in Burgundy.

Loren, the difference is a lot like my tastes vs. your friend Jeff King. I respect his tastes, but they’re very different. We both find it fun when we unexpectedly like the same wine, usually for completely different reasons. We accept the differences. There are wines he loves that I would prefer not to get near, and so I’d likely recuse myself from rating/judging them due to the bias. As far as I can tell, that’s not the Parker model.


I agree. That is why I do not wear panties…

Commando ?

Emulating his favorite emperor.

You are wrong, Jürgen. The alcohol level alone tells me if a wine is balanced or not… [basic-smile.gif]


Parker has a strong argument. Cheval Blanc 1947 – widely considered as one of the best wines of all times – is almost 15% alc.

Understatement of the century.
But at least it’s like a rooster announcing a new day. Another Parker bash.
If you want to continue make to questionable interpretations about what is written, looking, praying for something neagtive, you’ll find it. Thankfully most people don’t do so. If we all did that in every discussion there’d be nothing but fights. Parker say plenty of stuff worthy of criticism. But this? Does anyone really see the text as a “a back-door approach to whopperdom”? Where’s Parker’s mom? Let’s have at her! She’s complicit in his spelling errors! Btw, even smart guys write things like “he do” in error at times. Come on, criticising spelling on a bulletin board is not even worth doing.

Seriously, without making some claim of insincerity, what do the asserions in that paragraph contain that offends anyone other than Bill? I could easily have seen the same thing written by Adam Lee. He says that we should judge the wine not the abv number. He doesn’t even suggest a range that does not seem unreasonable and certainly mentions nothing of shooting for an over 14.5% wine.
I can’t even fathom how this relates to Nike Steinberger or Rhys’ site selection. My interpretation would be that Parker is referring to choosing a picking time and stylistic decision once one already has operating vineyards. That’s the case and and yearly decision with most all wines.

So he suggests to consider the conditions for a vintage, let those conditions be a factor in style. Again who disagrees with this? Kevin Harvey may well have had the opportunity to select sites benefical to a lighter style and wisely done so. But I would imagine that he and almost every winemaker still, within whatever variation their site endures, take what nature gives them. Parker even says if “it’s a lighter style…go with the flow and make a BEAUTIFUL lighter styled wine”. Doesn’t he say NOT to “impose one’s (biased) taste test or a formula” on winemaking. Who disagrees?

Yes he might disagree with what is beautiful in contrast with some other drinkers. But he hasn’t here. So why bother to post the substance of what he wrote if all one wants to do is rehash the same criticism of all that is Parker? If you want a musical reference, I’d call it a Cheap Trick. Just have a daily I hate Parker thread and don’t bother posting an exerpt that actually contradicts some of the criticism. I would think that anyone not obsessed with criticizng Parker would read what he’s written and be pleasantly surprised that it came from him. Hey, maybe even discuss them as written with some of the positive implications.

Someone sent me that post. That was my exact thought as well, in particular with regards to RMP’s criticism of Northern Rhone wines and vintages, where years like 01 and 04 that yielded more middleweight wines were largely dismissed as mediocre and lacking concentration, while 03 was lauded for producing rich wines.

Of course, I expect John Lahart will spend the next decade citing that post as further “evidence” that Parker appreciates light, nuanced wines.


Without quoting your entire post, if Parker had said what Bill quotes in this thread as his opener (in what is apparently one of the rare long threads on his board), I might think differently. Instead, after still swinging wildly at Alice Feiring and her ilk years after her book come out, he clearly decided to walk back inflammatory statements after receiving subscriber pushback.

As people will have pointed out in the past, you and David don’t have to open threads critical of Parker - it is usually quite clear what their content will be. I don’t open tasting notes for wines I have no intention of trying just to mention that I have no intention of trying them.

Clearly, you must derive some pleasure from these threads, albeit a different kind than Bill does.