Monday, 29 December 2014

Revving up the Parker Engine

In the world of wine, there is no one more famous, or more controversial, than Robert Parker Jr. The 67-yr old wine critic from Baltimore, Maryland, is regularly in the top 10 of the Decanter Power List, a biennial ranking of the wine industry’s most influential people. His first event in Singapore, a walk-about tasting and book-signing organised by Hermitage Wines, took place in 2010 at the apogee of his career. When he walked into the packed tasting room at The Fullerton Hotel, the crowd temporarily forgot about the wines for a chance to have a few words with the Million-Dollar Nose. It was like witnessing the arrival of a Hollywood celebrity, or a K-Pop star, minus the screaming.

Fast forward four years later, and a lot has changed in the landscape of wine. Robert Parker has sold a majority stake in his publication, the Wine Advocate, to a group of Singapore-based businessmen. The new owners have wasted no time expanding the Parker empire, organising not one but two worldwide tastings that started this year. However, even someone who travels as much as Parker cannot be everywhere at once, so his lieutenants have taken up the slack. While the critic will be present at each stage of Robert Parker’s Grand World Tour, the second series of tastings titled A Matter of Taste will feature masterclasses headed by Wine Advocate’s highly regarded Editor-in-Chief Lisa Perotti-Brown and representatives from top wine estates.

The Singapore chapter of A Matter of Taste provided a preview of further things to come. Included in the gift bag was a new lifestyle magazine titled 100 Points by Robert Parker. Jonathan Lobban, the magazine’s editor, says that the title is “an examination of people, ideas, products and lifestyles that epitomize the world’s best.” I found several articles to be interesting reads, including an interview with Parker himself where he comments on the split with his protégé Antonio Galloni.  The magazine is published quarterly with an annual subscription of USD40 (this was a special price available only during the tasting).

In Elin McCoy’s unauthorised biography on Parker, the critic responded to detractors by proclaiming, “People say I like these bombastic, oaky, fruit-driven wines, it’s the uncivilised American taste, and I’m leading everyone to it – and it’s such a myth. I’m a Francophile, and French wines by their very nature are elegant wines.” If he hoped to change that perception with the Singapore tasting it would be a hard sell as the lineup featured Bordeaux, Barossa, and the Piedmontese regions of Barolo and Barbaresco. These were serious, full-throttled, high-alcohol wines that were challenging to taste. The favourable turnout proved that this selection was the right choice though, and I noticed that the masterclasses were also well-attended. The wines were all rated 90+ by Parker and his team and as such the standard was immensely high. Looking at the wines on show, you would have received your money’s worth (SGD128) after tasting a fraction of them, not even including the Wine Advocate annual subscription that comes with the ticket. A selection of tasting notes is included at the end of this article. 

If you missed the previous two editions of Matter of Taste in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, the next one will be held in London on the 28th of February. This promises to be a glitzy event with a star lineup of masterclasses featuring Penfolds, Louis Roederer Cristal, Château Ausone and Dominus Estate. If an air ticket to London is out of the budget however, there is no need to fret. With the Wine Advocate headquarters now based locally, it looks as though the Parkerisation of Singapore is well on its way. 

Tasting notes:

Chris Ringland Dimchurch Barossa Shiraz 2009 – This wine is in fact part of the North Barossa Vintners project, with Chris Ringland adopting the winemaker role and veteran Barossa grower Adrian Hoffman supplying the grapes. Dimchurch is the name of Adrian’s farm. Annual production of only 6000 bottles, each individually numbered. Deep, impenetrable purple with intense aromatics of crème de cassis and licorice. A commanding presence on the palate, with ripe tannins, bold flavours and layers of creamy fruit.

Chris Ringland Hoffman Vineyard Barossa Shiraz 2007 – Operations Manager Nathan Burley describes this as being the “best of the best” selection of grapes from Adrian Hoffman. Production is limited to 2400 bottles a year. Heady and decadent with ebullient flavours of mocha, blackcurrant and dark chocolate. Over 16% alcohol, but juxtaposed so brilliantly against vibrant acidity and concentrated fruit as to achieve precise balance. A show-stopper of a wine.

Chris Ringland Hoffman Vineyard Barossa Shiraz 2008 – A special magnum bottling that was aged in French oak barrels for 6 years. Not commercially available. Massively structured and stylish with a deep core of plush fruit wrapped in long, savoury tannins. Full bodied with incredible length.

Penfolds RWT Barossa Shiraz 2011 – RWT stands for Red Winemaking Trial, an experiment in aging Barossa Shiraz in French rather than American oak. The first vintage was in 1997. The wine exudes an enchantingly sweet bouquet even as it is being poured. The palate displays rich, polished fruit with a savoury edge and fine tannins.

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2011 – Known also as ‘baby Grange’, this is a multi-district blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz from South Australia fermented for 18 months in American oak. Voluptuous and full-bodied, it displays upfront fruit characters of black plums, melted dark chocolate and seasoned oak. Finishes smooth and long.

(n.b. this was a sponsored invite to A Matter of Taste Singapore)

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