First off, let me say how much I love the fact Alice Feiring wrote a book earlier this year with a subtitle that reads, “How I Saved the World from Parkerization.” If you haven’t heard of Robert Parker, he has accomplished what Martha Steward and Oprah have, which is he has created an empire around Individualization - is name is synonomis with his chosen industry. Martha did it for home stuff, and Oprah did it for book clubs and whatever else she does.
Robert Parker, bless his heart, has created a problem for the wine industry. His palate, or better yet, opinions, have become the standard. Wineries have stopped making wines that express their “terroir” and have leaned towards making wines to get that magical “Parker Score” because that’s what sells their wines. Alice was right to call attention to this. You see, Robert Parker has great palate and a photographic memory, but he likes a certain style of wine. Usually it’s an overly extracted fruit bomb that technically is out of balance. He likes big wines.
Generally speaking, you want a red wine to be around 13-14% alcohol. More often than not, these wines have great balance and finesse. Robert Parker tends to like wines that are more like 15% alchol and above. People are under the illusion they like these big monsters, but the problem is they overpower most foods. You have a food pairing problem. Take for example the Molly Dooker phenomenon. Molly Dooker wines are from Australia and feature a few different offerings. All of the red wines are 16% alcohol. To me they taste like Robitussen and Vodka, but some people fall over one another to pay $150 for them because Robert Parker gave it 96 points. What I’m about to tell you demonstrates what I’m talking about. The only bottle of wine that I haven’t finished off with a friend in the last 10 years was the Molly Dooker Blue-Eyed Boy. We got halfway through and just couldn’t choke it down. It burned too much. It was better suited to clean engine parts with.
Pairing wine with food is what it's all about. Sharing with others how to find the right combination of flavor and balance is a hunt. I’ve found pretty much 99% of the red wines that pair well with food are under 14.5% alcohol. When I explain to people how we test pairing recipes, it boils down to where the flavors register on the 4 taste regions on your tongue, and how intense the flavors are. Next time you sit down to taste some wine, really visualize where you taste it on your tongue. Is it on the front? Is it everywhere BUT the front of your tongue? Same with food. Where do you sense sweet, salt, bitter and sour?
Chances are, if you’re enjoying a 99-point Parker wine, you won’t have any taste buds left to taste anything The more in tune you become with your palate, the more you start to appreciate and understand the nuances of wine and food pairing.