The Hedonist’s Gazette (HG) was launched by the puissant wine critic Robert Parker as a feature of the Wine Advocate (WA) – which he founded in 1978 – to talk up his off-hours culinary adventures, a refuge from the dreary dutifulness of life as a wine reviewer
Parker’s bon vivant hyperventilations over the frat boy draining of numerous great vintages brings on a bit of envy of those free of the inhibitions which arise with pricey restaurant bottles. For the peripatetic wine drinker, the HG signaled restaurants in wine regions where one could find a good bottle.
Whereas the wines are spoken of in an almost pompous gravity, when it comes to the cuisine, the tastes buds go missing with feeble-minded unappetizing comments totally devoid of the reflective capacity and effusive praise ladled on the wines, which are notably the more expensive bottles in the cellar.
Rather than speak of how each wine pairs with a particular course, the notes on each vintage are compartmentalized in serial order of opening, hogging most of the copy of the entry.
The lack of any muttering about pairing food with wine actuates some unexplained incongruous head-scratching matches, c’est-à-dire:
At the Restaurante Kabuki in the Hotel Wellington in Madrid earlier this year, Robert Parker sat down for assorted sashimi and sushi, cracking open two rich full-bodied Syrah-based Rhone wines – a 2009 Cornas Renaissance, and a 2005 Guigal Cote Rotie. Queried by PVB, six sommeliers on both coasts all found this marriage painfully daft, although one Madison Ave som ironized that it might be work if Parker ingested nothing but barbecued eel.
Now don’t laugh out loud to hear that Parker may be pairing wine with a condiment. He has quipped that Rhone reds go well with soy sauce. So when serving chèvre, save the Sauvignon Blanc in your cellar – just souse the cheese with soy sauce and uncork a Gigondas.
- The Culinary Grotesqueries of Jed Dunnuck -
Last April, after a long reign as a monarchial icon in the Rhone Valley wine trade, a sale of controling interest in the WA to Asian investors and the desertion of a leading reviewer forced M. Parker to mind after Napa Valley wines, relinquishing the Rhone Valley coverage to Jed Dunnuck, who will never write nothing truly discommoding to M. Parker’s published opinion on Rhone wines (Read about the corporate bust up here).
Parroting Parker’s register and style of reviewing, M. Dunnuck has joined the party in making his own entries in the Hedonist Gazette.
Ignoring a disagreement of verbs and a misplaced modifier, there are numerous grotesqueries which strike the eye in perusing M. Dunnuck’s HA dispatch on a dinner at a Falls Church VA strip mall Vietnamese restaurant “Little Saigon.”
First is the mere gluttony of the soirée. For his pedestrian Asian meal, single diner Dunnuck uncorks six bottles of wine. Is this sheer machismo, a sign of alcoholism, or a waste of good wine left in the bottle?
Then, his ostentatious snobbery. Whereas diners at Vietnamese joints in the Vaucluse (and in the states one assumes) content themselves with un petit rosé or un petit rouge, M. Dunnick’s newfound pedigree at the WA would never risk criticism of quaffing “un vin honnête.” On this evening, he treats himself with a regime of only wines rated 90+ in WA reviews: a Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, a hearty Rasteau red, and then four Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2006 vintages, the last being from the Domaine de Janasse, one of the top estates in the appellation. Plainly, finding four 2006 CDP vintages on a wine list at any leading Manhattan restaurant would be stupéfiant! “Little Saigon” – quel paradis.
If you haven’t already detected a scam, brace yourself for a new level of falsity: none of these wines are found on the wine list of the Little Saigon, which has a respectable wine offering in line with its culinary fare. (PVB called to confirm the list)
M. Dunnuck’s glib rhetoric has a dull patina of phoniness: “Looking at the wines” he barks while never cluing in readers that the bottles he tastes, apparently, can not be purchased at the restaurant. Quel culot.
It all comes down to what level of fabrication you are willing to accept. Did M. Dunnuck, who arrived by cab, lug a half a case and create a dotty mis-en-scene of a single diner surrounded by six bottles (paying a $60 corkage fee). Or did he taste some or all of the vintages in another location?
Whatever the ruse, M. Dunnuck never learned a primal lesson of humility that all garçons pick up when attending after hours dances at the lycée: Il faut dancer avec les filles qui sont là.
If this column had appeared in a respectable newspaper or magazine, it would have been mocked with cries of ridicule and derision. But wine reviews operate outside the orbit of traditional journalism.
The falsity of this column underscores a freakish lack of respect for the reader. It is a truly one of the more untruthful accounts in many a year’s harvest.
- Faites gaffe M. Parker: Deification is Retirement’s Antechamber
The obligatory task of spewing out hundreds and hundreds of formalistic pocket-sized evaluations, denuded of any winemaker’s voice, of wines in the Southern Rhone makes house calls to every winery is unthinkable.
At the WA, the published notes on vintages are hermetically sealed when it comes to where Southern Rhone wines were tasted, and under what conditions: at the estate’s wine cellar, somewhere in the U.S., at mega tasting sessions arranged at designated locations in the region, or late in the evening at a hotel room.
Since they provide the wine, the trade – importers, producers or wine associations such as Inter Rhone – are in on the process. No laughing matter for the hapless consumer: what is so striking is there is never an oblique hint of where a tasting is being conducted.
Is not shielding this information contemptuous of the wine consumer? When it comes to the trade, train your eyes on the WA site for the high-minded self-righteous sentiments of Robert Parker:
“I believe the independent stance required of a consumer advocate often, not surprisingly, results in an adversarial relationship with the wine trade. It can be no other way. In order to pursue this independence effectively, it is imperative that I keep a distance from the trade.”
This is retro-80’s rodomontade. In fact, or in retrospect, the WA assumes a preeminent role within the trade itself by validating vintages with a ‘score,’ an imperative for facilitating sales through the three-tier (in the case of imports) distribution chain and into retail space where ‘scores’ reappear on shelf talkers. The trade cherishes dearly the primal exercise of the WA – firmly entrenched in the business of selling wine mind you – to churn out copy and a numerical score for shelf display. Hardened by this reality, beleaguered retailers will confess that consumers eyes skip over the truncated comments on shelf talkers, zoning in on the score which they associate with quality.
Now, the inevitable thought arrives: the tyranny of the 90+ score has the macabre effect of infantilizing consumers, and pretty much rendering in-store advice mute. Enlightened drinkers seek higher ground to find a greater pleasure in ‘value.’ (quality / price is not a topic the WA is keen on – it would deflate sales; would you be mildly surprised that Q/P ratios would advise you to take a pass on 50%, or more, of all Châteauneuf-du-Pape – kid you not!)
You don’t have to be a cynic to detect the bean counters at work in Singapore. Wasting no time to hit up the trade, the incautious purchasers jacked up the annual subscription rate for the trade by 100% with tighter control over image-making process down to the most trivial details on pesky shelf talkers, and mandating – after more than 30 years mind you – that the franchise be reborn as Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (RPWA).
Faites gaffe M. Parker: deification is retirement’s antechamber.
- A Bit of Cozy Bonding -
As it happens, a few accidental encounters gave PVB, a peripatetic Rhone wine minion, a glimpse into the eerie obscure territory of wine review hegemony.
Consider this: Robert Parker published a glowing review of a local wine, propelling PVB’s Golf Cabriolet to a winemaker’s doorstep to quaff the lovely vintage. The alarmingly polite vigneron informed PVB that the cuvée was not yet released, in France mind you. The U.S. importer had provided a bottle to Robert Parker, who annoited the wine with a 90+ score. The wine had not yet been shipped, and most likely not yet paid for. For the importer, this arrangement gives him a competitive advantage – the wine score greases the sales channel to distributors and retailers, with an endorsement from the WA (a score) blurb staring out from a shelf-talker to an infantilized clueless consumer.
Now consider this: Previous to the visit above, PVB popped into the cellar of a local vigneron whose wines were handled by the same U.S. importer. In one corner sat wines boxed on pallets ready for shipment. Curiously, or should one say predictably, Robert Parker had already touted the 90+ wine in the WA, having received a sample from the importer, and, true to form, there was no mention of where the tasting was performed nor that the wine was not yet available for purchase. Encore une fois, the importer gains a valuable edge on sales. A merciless coda: subsequent to PVB’s visit, the vigneron received the rude news that he was getting – as they say on Wall Street – a “hair cut”: the importer called to shave the original agreed upon price.
In these instances is M. Parker bonding more with the importer than the consumer? More than that, one wonders if this practice is the importer’s Modus operandi with the Wine Advocate for other wines in his portfolio?
At the New York Times, the wines evaluated are “purchased” at local outlets. Readers are informed of where, when and under what conditions (a panel of experts) the wines are reviewed, and yes, they may actually find a bottle on a retail shelf. Now, that’s refreshing.
As for PVB’s wine celler in the Vaucluse, some of our favorite cuvées have never been appeared in the Wine Advocate. Tant mieux you say. Thank you for asking.