Peking Parker and the Great Wall of China: The Secret of ‘Big Bob’

By Jim Boyce

Robert Parker Wine Dinner - Great Wall of China\

The Robert Parker Dinner – 8:08 PM, May 24, The Great Wall of China, Beijing

Watchtowers lit in gold, walkways lit in silver – the Great Wall shone like an ornate necklace draped over a mountain of wrinkled black velvet. Long-silenced iron cannons pointed at the ghosts of invading hordes, white flags cracked in the cool stiff breeze. The moon hung low, orange as a ripe gourd.

As I admired this view from the shadows, I sensed someone nearby. I turned to see Robert Parker, the planet’s most famous wine critic – the man some feel has far too much influence over the wine industry – here on his first trip to China.

Nice wall,” he said.

“Yes,” I answered. “It… uh… displays brilliant hues, and… an elaborate yet tightly constructed body, and.. uh…”

“Hey, I’m the critic!” he interrupted, playfully punching me in the arm. Then he grinned and said, “Want to know a secret?”

I nodded yes.

He started to open his jacket. (Uh oh, I wondered. Is he going to take off his pants and show me why he’s called “Big Bob.” ?) Instead, he pulled back a jacket flap to reveal – gently nestled in a shoulder holster – a .357 Magnum.

I whistled in astonishment and showed my unparalleled ability to note the obvious: “You have a gun.”

“People always ask how a guy scribbling tasting notes in a Maryland farmhouse can exert such power over the wine world,” he said, thoughtfully fingering the trigger. “The answer is simple: I keep this thing against its collective head.”

“How American,” I said.

As he chuckled at the umpteenth stereotype he had heard that day, I thought back to how I had characterized wine makers and writers who chronically complain about Parker and his points system as whiners. I had missed their calls for help: I’m sorry, Hugh Johnson!

I snapped back to attention as Parker twirled the Magnum in front of me.

“Be careful with that thing!” I warned. “There’s Riedel crystal nearby!”

“Don’t worry,” he said. “This gun isn’t loaded. It never is.”

“You mean…”

“Yes,” he said, with a twinkle in his eyes that equaled that of the stars in the Beijing night. “I’ve been bluffing all along.”

With that, I woke from my dream, or maybe it was from a spell of unconsciousness from beneath my table on the Great Wall – my memory is foggy. Long story short, I attended the Robert Parker dinner on Saturday as well as a tasting with him today and will post the details this week.

I will also post about several other wine events held in the last five memorable days, including lunches with Gaia Gaja of (obviously) Gaja and Peter Gago of Penfold’s, a tasting with Marcel and Philippe Guigal of (again, obviously) Guigal, a wine dinner with Grace Vineyard CEO Judy Leissner, the Robert Mondavi tribute by the Friday night wine bunch at Sequoia Cafe, and the inaugural meeting of the International Congress of Chinese Cuisine & Wine.

Photo: MH

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