Wine for Dragons

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Wine Book Review : The Emperor of Wine


This is the 100 th posting of this blog! And I guess an unique posting is warranted. I have just finished the book The Emperor of Wine who is Robert M. Parker, Jr. of Wine Advocate. It is written by Elin McCoy who has cover the wine world for 30 years which includes coauthoring wine pieces with her husband for New York Magazine and wine/spirits columnist for Bloomberg Markets.

It is an interesting read not only for wine buffs, but also for others not that keen on wine. Written in a second person’s perspective, it traces the history of how Robert Parker got into wine because of the love of his wife-to-be. She was attending the University of Strasbourg in France. And Robert went over to France to find her in December of 1967, where he got hooked on the elegant food and fine wines of France. She also proved to be a worthy partner both in terms of love and wine. She was also an excellent taster and her fluency of French opened many cellar doors for Parker. Noteworthy was that he was such a big fan of wine, that for his graduation as a lawyer, his parents gave him a case of 1970 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild.
The single defining event that established Parker as a wine critic was the 1982 vintage in Bordeaux. He was confidently promoting 1982 vintage as the vintage of the century whilst his rival the established wine critic Bob Finigan found the wines disappointing. Parker was proven right.

He is exceedingly hardworking, which no doubt also contributed significantly to his success. A typical year on the job involved tasting 10,000 wines a year. The consequence of doing that could well be the acidity in the wine destroying the enamel of his teeth and dissolve the membranes in his nose. He consulted an ear, nose, and throat specialist every six months to be sure. And when he heard of how another wine critic lost his sense of taste and smell after a car accident, he insured his nose and palate, adding to his fame and prestige.

Parker also set up the controversial 100 point rating system which helped the average Amercian tremendously, but also resulted in a group of point-chasers who just purchased wine Parker rated 95+ without knowing how they taste and whether it suited their own palate. The book claims that Parker’s extraordinary ability was to mentally compare the wine he was tasting with all the others of the same type he had ever tasted and the score he had given it. Some how I personally feel that claim is hard to believe.

Overall the book is balanced and fair, with kudos and criticism of similar magnitudes. A good read to understand the working within the wine industry and the close circle of wine merchants, critics, wine makers and Chateau owners. And written in a comfortable pace not to cause non-wine lovers to fall asleep. I got my copy of the book at Kinokuniya Ngee Ann City for S$27, lasting a longer read than a bottle of wine of same pricing. ;-)



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