A story of an era: a period of time to which anything belongs or is to be assigned.
In May 1992 I was in a snooker club in Sydenham. I was dropping out of tertiary education for the second time. I was telling my Dad.
On the telly was the Monaco Grand Prix. 1992 was the beginning of the Williams era in F1 and, maybe, the beginning of the heart-breaking end of the Senna era. Ayrton Senna in a fading Mclaren was leading Nigel Mansell in his whizzbang Williams. Mansell had the better car, Ayrton had, well, something rather special. Few men have been touched by God. I can think of Muhammed Ali, Stevie Wonder, and Ayrton Senna. The two sportsmen of the three, Ali and Senna, defined eras of their respective sports. Watch “When We Were Kings” or “Senna” and you will understand. Stevland? Words aren’t enough.
Here’s a story, a story of its time, and one that is certainly of its era:
Late February 2013, and “un train peut cacher un autre”: Robert Parker’s appraisal, from bottle as opposed to barrel, of the 2010 vintage, is due to be published online, and the hard copy has been sent out. Nice Guy Eddie takes a call from an old customer, one that knows his beans. They shoot the breeze on 2010s. Nice Guy can hear pages turning in the background. A deal is done on 2010 Le Dome.
Animated discussions begin. Were the pages that were being turned THE pages? Did our bean-knowing customer know something we didn’t? Should we buy all the 2010 Le Dome that we could lay our hands on? Simply: had 2010 Le Dome earned 100 points from the Sage of Baltimore, Robert Parker?
The answer to all four questions was yes. And we did buy all the 2010 Le Dome that we could lay our hands on. And for twenty minutes or so it was like having money on a horse on a racecourse far away. A horse that was a decent outsider, though an outsider nonetheless. And we couldn’t see the race. As it is, our nap romped in and those that made the call strutted around the winners’ circle as if they had known all along, and salesmen sold the wine through as if they were selling stocks with an insider’s tip.
None of this would have taken place without Mr Robert Parker.
And, maybe, without Mr Parker, Le Dome might not even exist. That’s a big maybe but what I am certain of is that it wouldn’t taste the same. Indeed I’m fairly certain that much of Bordeaux’s production at the top end – the top fifty chateaux or so – over the past couple of decades wouldn’t taste the same had it not been for Mr Parker.
Bob: put your hair back on. Here’s how: for a start, it wouldn’t be as good.
So what about this era then?
Paul Pontallier is the man in charge at Ch. Margaux. There are few better salesmen in the world (he can write your notes for you through subliminal messaging) and few nicer guys. More to the point, he knows what he is doing, and lives and breathes Margaux. Cut Paul open and you’d get some soil. Special soil. And Paul talks about eras, about levels. Since 2000, Margaux has been on a different level. It has moved up a gear. And that is plain to see.
Indeed take any classed growth claret: Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Lynch-Bages, Pontet-Canet, Giscours – anything. They are all making much better wine than they used to. The blockbuster vintages are now elysian, the vintages that in the old days would have been washouts are now perfectly acceptable for those that can afford them. To roughly quote PP again: the 2013 vintage was a hospital case, but they had the hospital. Twenty years ago it would have been DOA. And 2013 is, and will be, rather good wine. Indeed a lot of 2013s are. Your 2013 Lynch will be delicious, as will your 2013 Pichon-Baron. In the 1980s a vintage of similar quality may well have ended up at the distillery.
And this is all down to Mister P. This is the fruit, or rather its fermented juice, of the Parker era.
Because the thing about this whole wine thing is this: there is an awful lot of bollocks spoken on the subject of wine, and Mr Parker got rid of it. He simplified it. Read this:
“A wine that can be perplexing to taste is the 1982 Léoville Las Cases. I purchased a good bit of this wine as a wine future in 1983, and rated it 100 points early on. But I have rarely had a bottle from my own cellar that performed that well. Two recent examples, this one and one in Asia, were clearly as profound and compelling as any Léoville Las Cases could ever be. At this dinner I had several glasses from different bottles, and the wine was always extraordinary with a dense purple color that is just beginning to lighten at the edge, and lots of lead pencil, sweet black and red currant, cherry, dusty loamy soil, new saddle leather and spice box characteristics. This full-bodied, opulent, rich 1982 is a killer example of Las Cases. Virtually all of the bottles from my cellar still display a tannic, firm grip and have not performed this well. 100 points.”
It’s from Mr Parker’s Hedonists’ Gazette. And what is there not to understand?
I want to taste this wine, and I want to drink it. And I’m going to buy it. The key is this: simplicity. Is 82 Lascases any good? The answer is clear. And, buoyed with this knowledge, this endorsement, people bought it.
Back to the early 1990s, and at Sunday lunch my Dad would open a bottle of wine just for me. Mine was fuel, nothing else. His was to be enjoyed on a higher level. He once attempted – with some success – a bit of education. Three bottles of KWV, three different grape varieties. At eighteen or nineteen my appraisal of this was simple: three bottles of wine are clearly better than just one. Sorry, Dad. Again.
Mr Parker did it better, albeit with a more attentive and intelligent audience. He told you what was good. I’ll repeat that: he told you what was good. And that’s the trick. If you’re buying a lawnmower in Homebase or looking at the wine list in the Ritz you want exactly the same advice: what is good? What is best? What is best that I can afford? This is why points work and – as if not more importantly – this is why Robert Parker’s notes work. They’re clear.
Mr Parker’s influence started to gain steam at about the same time as Mr Senna’s dominance. A steering column, or low tyre pressure, or nonchalance arrested Ayrton’s climb in 1994. End of era.
Mr Parker is, I hope, retreating from the stage in a less violent move. The June re-rating of the 2005s ties up some loose ends – whatever you think of the scores – and, maybe like Ali, he’ll move back into the shadows. There’s a parallel here: the greatest. But just leaving the ring.
Fin: whatever you take away from this, watch the two films and listen to “Songs In The Key Of Life” by Mr Wonder. 300 points, or indeed more, between them.