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Words About Wine
A feature of Robin Garr's Wine Lovers' Page

Parker seen from Europe

By Victor de la Serna

© Copyright 1997 by Victor de la Serna. All rights reserved.

I was away [from The Wine Lovers' Discussion Group] for two days and missed the great debate on Parker, his new assistant and the scope and direction of his influence.

Just a few thoughts from Europe:

For a long time we've known he has other, local "assistants" whose names don't appear in the Wine Advocate but who are crucial in screening, pre-tasting wines for him and directing him to some and away from others. I believe this is unavoidable because of the sheer size of the work load, but it may be leading him (who, after all, is to many Europeans' eyes just a bright and fast learner who's been around wine for a very short time) down some wrong alleys. A clear example is his choice of some distributors of European wines to the US which he's decided are the best and which he extols while ignoring others. Among his local contacts in the most important wine country, Michel Bettane, the ditor of La Revue du Vin de France (the only quality wine magazine in France) has been decisive and was the first Parker backer in the French press, in a big way. However, Bettane is subtler than RP in his tastes and I doubt they'll be in perfect harmony in his tastes. Then, in Bordeaux, his shadow assistant and a very, very important person is winemaker Michel Rolland. Rolland's influence has grown immensely through RP, and Rolland-styled wines are basically the same thing as RP-styled wines nowadays. Wineries throughout the world know this, and the fact they're turning to Rolland to re-style their reds (and, they believe, to ensure high RP ratings) is perfectly tell-tale.

Rolland, with his high-extract, hyperripe (overly matured at times), low-acid wines, can improve products made from middling-to-good terroirs" and turn them into very sound, quite attractive commercial products. But -- how is this overblown style applicable to very great terroirs? I have my doubts.

This weekend I was in Barcelona and had a unique chance to taste both the 1976 Ch. Ausone (the first vintage entirely made by Pascal Delbeck) and a barrel sample of the 1995 Ch. Ausone, the first vintage where final winemaking decisions were made by Rolland, after Delbeck was painfully shunted aside (he is just in charge of the vineyards now) in an acrimonious ownership fight that's now before the French courts.

This is important because Ausone becomes the first grand cru in Rolland's stable. For years the wine has been misunderstood because it's so misleadingly thin and closed up when young. Delbeck always insisted the Ausone terroir dictates the need for long aging, and as an idealist with a deep respect for tradition he made wines "the Ausone way". The marvelous, now powerful and developed 1976, with its amazing complexity and that great underlying Ausone "finesse", was a good example of this. The 1995? Typical Rolland: Wow! No traces of terroir any longer, this was very good but much more impersonal. Blockbuster, upfront, chewy -- you've read it all before. Watch out for RP ratings. I can guarantee they'll be quite high. Will it last, will it progress and develop, will it be, in 20 years' time, like the 1976 is now? I have my own opinion, but I don't want to sound presumptuous about it.

The fact that a leading French mail-order "caviste" lists the 1990 Cote Rotie Cuvée des Miaux Ferraton with a prominent note, "96/100, Robert Parker"; the fact that a great, modest, widely respected winemaker like Delbeck was pushed aside in favor of Rolland -- these should at least dispel any notions that the Parker influence is negligible in France. It is not. It's huge and it's growing.

Victor de la Serna is a veteran non-wine journalist in Madrid, Spain, but they kindly let him write a little bit about wine in his own newspaper, El Mundo, in London's Decanter magazine and in a couple of Spanish wine publications. He used to be an adopted New Yorker many years ago and still returns there rather often. Some people, he says, never learn.

A Word About 'Words About Wine'

If your love of wine inspires you to want to write an article or essay about the subject, or if you've had a wine-related article published in print that you'd like to share with wine lovers on the Web, I'll be happy to consider placing it on the Web in this new feature of my Wine Lovers' Page.

Although I can't offer to pay for submissions at this time, I'd like to see this feature become a showcase for serious wine journalism and essays in a format longer, more thoughtful, and less transient than message board discussions.

I'll be happy to consider both previously published work (as long as you retain copyright rights) and unpublished work, and while I reserve the right to reject submissions on the basis of content or style, I'll make every effort to be generous in those judgements and err on the side of inclusiveness, in order -- I hope -- to build a good collection of quality Words About Wine. If you'd like to propose an article now or show me one that you've already written, please feel free to send me E-Mail.


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