By Jim Boyce
Making his first visit to mainland China, critic Robert Parker led 50 people on a “trade tasting” of eight wines in Beijing on Monday at ASC, the distribution company that organized his trip to Shanghai and the capital. Parker says he looks for wines that are “pure” and “respect the integrity“ of the grapes from which they are made. “You take one sip, one smell, and it pulls you back like a magnet.”
Maybe it was Monday morning funk or simply nervousness, but the crowd was quiet despite Parker’s laid-back approach and encouragement, prompting him to quip that his American audiences were much rowdier. Things perked up in the Q&A session. Below are his answers to my two questions and to those of a few other people. (Unfortunately, I have nothing on the wines tasted as I again left my notes on the table – I guess I need to start writing them on my palms.)
Have you tried Chinese wine or visited Chinese wineries and, if so, what did you think?
“I have to plead ignorance,” said Parker. “After this tasting, I will get to try a few things [in the afternoon]*.” He added that he wanted to try some bad local wines to see what they are like.
Parker said wine quality in China will go up every year. He cited the U.S. market of 30 years ago, which had a lot of “terrible” jug wine and has since seen quality grow by leaps and bounds.
* I would guess he tried at least a few wines from Sino-French Demonstration Vineyard, an operation just outside Beijing that ASC aims to buy.
You are seen to have a major influence on Bordeaux prices, Asia is increasingly buying Bordeaux, and thus your scores have a big impact here. What is your response to those who say you have too much influence?
“It’s gratifying that they pay attention, but it’s a bit scary that people say a point difference [in my scores out of 100] can result in a difference of millions [of dollars for a winery],” he said. “I think there is excessive attention paid to what I do, but it is better that the attention is paid to me than someone else.”
He said wine critics need to be true to themselves: “At the end of the day, you need to write what you believe, and let the consumer and market decide.”
Re a Chinese edition of The Emperor of Wine to be published in Taiwan:
“It’s an unauthorized biography of me from three years ago,” said Parker. He said the author initially contacted him and said the book would focus on the wine industry, but this statement was “not truthful.” He said the book is “reasonably well done” and subsequent books about him “have not been terribly nice”, and that he accepts such things as part and parcel of success.
Parker also mentioned the ASC wine dinner he attended two days earlier on the Great Wall of China. “The book is called The Emperor of Wine and [at the Great Wall] I thought, ‘I finally arrived,’” he said with a laugh.
Re how he plans to engage China’s wine market:
He said his Web site has an “enormous database” that can be translated. He pointed to cell phones as a way to disperse the information. He also cited the importance of visiting China, doing tastings and seminars, “and letting people see who you are – a wine lover.”
“China is well ahead of where the U.S. was 30 years ago. A lot of Americans in my generation traveled to Europe and got interested in wine. Here, you are moving much faster,” he said. “I want to play a part. I want to show my passion for wine.”
The trade tasting included the following wines tried in pairs to help participants distinguish wine-making styles used in different countries.
Trimbach Riesling AOC
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling 2006
Jadot Chablis 1er Cru Fourchuame
Beringer 2006 Private Reserve Chardonnay
Guigal Crozes Hermitage Rouge
Torbreck Woodcutters Shiraz 2006
Gaja Promis Toscana IGT
Shafer Merlot 2005
- Peking Parker and The Great Wall of China: The Secret of ‘Big Bob”
- Wine on The Wall: Robert Parker comes to China