Category Archives: Wine Writers

Exploring France with Andrew Jefford

Group shot with Jefford

Two years ago, I participated in a fantastic tour of Southwest France. Led by Andrew Jefford, the trip was sponsored by Wine Scholar Guild (WSG).

As the countdown begins to my upcoming WSG study tour of the Languedoc-Roussillon, I am reminded that Andrew lives in this region with his family. His story is both timely and timeless. As an occasional wine writer myself, I am honored to learn from a master.

Andrew Jefford Uncorked: Reflections on a Career as a Wine Writer

 

 

 

Languedoc-Roussillon: 1+1 = 1

This rather lengthy backgrounder sets the stage for a study tour of the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region hosted by Wine Scholar Guild. Renowned wine writer Andrew Jefford will lead this tour October 14-19. Stay tuned for trip highlights!

languedoc_map_thedrinksbusinessPhoto Credit: TheDrinksBusiness.com

I have fished endlessly in deep pools of information – online and in resource books – with no luck in uncovering an explanation (in English), of exactly why the Languedoc and Roussillon regions were combined administratively in 1972. Was wine trade the big driver?

Consider this timeline. In the early 1900s, the first French wine cooperative was formed near Montpellier. By the 1930s, cooperatives had become very popular throughout France, giving groups of small growers the scale of operations they needed to become producers. Unfortunately, quantity prevailed over quality. Thus was born a perhaps unfortunate era in Languedoc-Roussillon history: producing bulk table wine just as demand for quality was on the rise.

Then, in 1968, a new wine classification called Vins de Pays was created to allow for experimentation and innovation outside the strict boundaries of the AOC system. In a list of many firsts, Languedoc and Roussillon vigorously embraced the new concept right away. Was it a device to avoid the regional fragmentation that has thwarted Southwest France in its quest for a unified brand identity? Perhaps joining administratively was the only way to be able draw and blend grape material from both Languedoc and Roussillon? The fact that 56 different grape varieties are permitted today might be considered a piece of evidence supporting this conclusion. Now called IGP Pay d’Oc – one of 150 IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée) designations in France – this Languedoc-Roussillon powerhouse generates 50% of total French wine exports.

It would seem that wine was indeed the big driver. Even so, every wine reference book (and wine writer) begins the story of Languedoc-Roussillon with a plan to discuss the regions separately. Much like the alliance among fractured appellations within Southwest France, the Languedoc-Roussillon is by all accounts really two distinct wine regions spanning five departments (since 2016). Joint administration notwithstanding, they are quite different in many ways.

LANGUEDOC is the “Language of Yes”

Languedoc is situated near the Spanish/French Pyrénées, partially within the Pyrénées-Orientales department. In the Occitan language, “oc” means “yes.” For nearly 500 years, the people of Languedoc have been turning “yes” into “opportunity” with an undaunted spirit of adventure. Just a few firsts from Languedoc include:

  • The monks of Saint-Hilaire “discovered” sparkling wine in 1531 while making Blanquette de Limoux (Mauzac grape) 150 years before Dom Perignon took credit for discovering the bubbles secret in Champagne.
  • Languedoc was the first French wine region to replant vines on American rootstock after the 1863 phylloxera scourge. By 1900, Languedoc had become France’s #1 supplier of wine — at the time nearly half the country’s total.
  • 1905 marked the birth of the first French cooperative in Maraussan near Montpelier.
  • Languedoc was first to adopt the Vin de Pays (IGP) classification of 1968. Today France has more than 150 IGP designations, but by far the most important is IGP Pays d’Oc spanning Languedoc and Roussillon. It is France’s largest wine export.

Historic market pivots have also demonstrated the determination and true grit of the Languedoc people. When the first half of the Canal du Midi opened for business in 1681, Languedoc (and basically all of southern France) was locked out of French and other European markets when merchants from Bordeaux controlled river access. Not easily knocked out of the game, Languedoc stepped up its trade partnership with the Dutch who were prime customers for affordable sweet wine. Score for Languedoc! A little over a century later, production pivoted to dry white wine used as the base to distill brandy for Napoleon’s armies.

Iron-rich (“rousse”) ROUSSILLON

Roussillon is topographically distinct from Languedoc (and many other wine regions). It is surrounded by mountains on three sides, creating the effect of an amphitheater as vines cascade down slopes toward the Mediterranean Sea. Mountains also serve as rain shadows and tunnels of wind from all directions. Roussillon enjoys on average 325 days of sunshine a year, and its mean temperature is the highest in all of France. Seasons are basically compressed from four to two. As the Wine Scholar Guild notes, it is “possible to ski and swim in the same season!” Tall peaks dotting the Pyrénées block Spanish Catalonia from view, but not from the legacy of Catalan language and culture, or from big earthy red wines and slightly oxidized white wines. In fact, Roussillon is still considered to be French Catalogne.

Most of Roussillon’s production (75%) is carried out by 60 cooperative wineries. Roussillon is well known for two things: (1) 80% of France’s total production of Vins Doux Naturels, and (2) more organic and biodynamic producers than any other French region.

An Efficient Bridge…Cooperatives

Cooperatives have traditionally been market leaders in Languedoc-Roussillon, whether it was the boom that came from creating France’s first post-phylloxera cooperative in 1905, or the bust starting in the 1930s that led to a tradition of bulk vin de table production. Innovations in winemaking began to blossom in 1968-79 as new classification rules were developed and eventually formalized to permit broader experimentation outside the appellation system. Wine styles may have changed, but the perception of Languedoc-Roussillon as a provider of plonk hung on for more than 50 years. As the region’s flight to quality took hold in the 1980’s, cooperatives benefited from the competition and technology improvements.

For more than a century, cooperatives have lowered barriers to entry for growers even as the appellation structure was being developed. In Languedoc, the number of AOCs grew from 10 to 50 over the past 35+ years, yet 150 sturdy cooperatives are responsible for 65% of the region’s production. In Roussillon, the story is a bit different. Three of the current 13 AOCs were approved in 1936, initially all for the sweet Vins Doux Naturels. Appellations producing dry white, rosé, and red wines were not established until 1971. But then these two regional stories converge: 75% of Roussillon’s total production comes from 60 cooperative wineries.

According to the French Confederacy of Wine Cooperatives, today there are more than 600 co-ops that collectively produce about half of the wine in France. As nearly all wine cooperatives are members of this federation, it is safe to say that about one-third of them are located in Languedoc-Roussillon.

The future of cooperatives looks bright, once again putting Languedoc-Roussillon into a leadership position. Peter Weltman, the founder of “Borderless Wines,” argues in SevenFiftyDaily (9/3/18) that ”the age of the grower-producer finds many buyers overlooking co-op wines—and missing out…While cooperatives were once startups for survival, the organizations today provide ongoing support for small family farms in grape-growing regions around the world. For Buyers, the wines are valuable for their typicity and breadth.” In an interview with a Greek agricultural official, Weltman heard that “(t)here is no country in the world with an advanced agri-food system where agricultural cooperatives do not play a major role in the main food supply chains.”

In the Wine Economist (7/17/18), Mike Veseth points out that cooperatives account for more than half of all the wine produced in Italy and Spain as well as France. He calls them “invisible wineries,” noting that they are one of the most under-appreciated elements of the global wine trade despite the commercial success of some of the wines. “Cooperatives seem to be under attack to a certain extent…(but) more than anything I think it has been competition that has stirred French cooperatives to raise their game — competition in the retail market and also competition between and among the cooperatives for the declining group of potential grower-members. Competition is disruptive but has obviously been a good thing.”

A Sweet Bridge…Vins Doux Naturels

I have always found the term Vins Doux Naturels (VdN) to be misleading because the wines are actually fortified with neutral grape spirits. (Hardly natural, right?) The fortification process called mutage was discovered in 1285 by Arnau de Vilanova at the University of Montpellier in Languedoc.

Roussillon is the largest producer (80%) of VdNs in France. Other fortified wines are produced only in Languedoc and Rhône. The first three of five total sweet appellations in Roussillon were all founded in 1936: Rivesaltes, Banyuls, and Maury. Dry wine appellations were not established until 1971. The five regions, and their respective styles, are:

Banyuls Grand Cru – red only, primarily Grenache
Muscat de Rivesaltes – white only (Muscat à Petits Grains Blanc and Muscat d’Alexandrie)
Maury – red and white
Rivesaltes – red, white and rosé
Banyuls – red, white and rosé

In Languedoc, there are four appellations for white VdNs only, all made solely from Muscat à Petits Grains Blanc. The four highly regarded Muscat AOCs are Frontignan, Lunel, Mireval, and Saint Jean de Minervois.

VdN fortified wines have a second layer of style differentiation. They are made in two styles: reductive (minimal oxygen, primarily through the use of glass jars called bonbonnes) and oxidative (oxygen encouraged via aging vessels). In Languedoc, all of the VdNs are made in reductive style; there is greater style diversity in Roussillon.

As always when discussing French wines, it is important to know the names of styles and labeling requirements. Rosé VdNs do not have any special or additional style descriptors.

Reductive for red VdNs:

  • Grenat (12 months aging including 3 in bottle)
  • Rimage (2-6 months aging)

Oxidative for red and white VdNs:

  • Ambré – white only – (minimum 20 months aging)
  • Tuilé – red only – (minimum 30 months aging)
  • Hors d’Age – red or white – (“with age” minimum 5 years)
  • Rancio – red or white – (extremely oxidized or maderized, aged more than 5 years)

 

Washington Wine Vanguards

A lively session at the 2014 Symposium for Professional Wine Writers, hosted by Jon Bonne and Eric Asimov, inspired a maelstrom of chatter on social media and a verbal boxing match. The session frame was simple and elegant: introduce writers to California winemakers who are experimenting in a “back to the future” movement with old world grapes in new world settings. Reactions spewed all over the place, especially as they reached three and four degrees of separation from the actual event. Were all of the wines outstanding? Perhaps not. Were they all interesting, and an important lesson in exploring possibilities, absolutely!!

To my great delight, I discovered that the innovative and entrepreneurial winemaker movement is alive and well in Washington State. Seattle is the host location for the 38th annual conference of the Society of Wine Educators. So what to do upon arrival from Cincinnati? Take a short walk to the Purple Cafe & Wine Bar for some Washington wines!

Washington Vanguard Wine Flight - Purple Cafe & Wine Bar, Seattle WA

Washington Vanguard Wine Flight – Purple Cafe & Wine Bar, Seattle WA

Purple Cafe & Wine Bar is well known in the Seattle area (4 locations) for its extensive wine list, and especially for featured flights of wine. My selection, “Washington Vanguards,” included Gruner Veltliner, Aligote and Picpoul paired with a citrusy, floral and suitably acidic Humboldt Fog goat cheese. All three winemakers have been in business less than a decade, quite remarkably surviving the economic downturn during 2008-09. All three wines were vintage 2013.

W. T. Vintners was founded in Woodinville in 2007 by three families, the Whites (two generations) and Thorsens. Winemaker Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen is also wine director at the San Francisco-based Mina/Paar restaurant RN74 in Seattle. In addition to stints working vineyards in New Zealand, Burgundy and the Pacific Northwest, Jeff won the 2008 Pacific Northwest Super-Regional Best Young Sommelier Competition and competed as a finalist in the national competition hosted by La Chaine des Rotisseurs International Food & Wine Society (of which I am a member).

Gruner Veltliner is one of four wines made by W. T. Vintners, a notable exception since the other three are Rhone varieties. From the red volcanic/clay loamy soals of Underwood Mountain Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge AVA, the 2013 Gruner was fermented in both stainless and neutral oak. In a blind tasting, this wine could easily have been mistaken for an Austrian gem from Wachau. Notes of green apple, meyer lemon, underripe peach, nectarine, distinct minerality and a spicy vegetal note paired perfectly with the Humboldt Fog cheese.

The Bartholomew Winery is a self-described “Seattle urban winery” launched in 2007 by Bart and Chona Fawbush. With no formal training or experience in the wine business, the Fawbushes decided in 2004 to own a winery. Although this maiden attempt didn’t work out, they applied their learning to create the new winery operation in 2007 followed by a tasting room and wine club in 2010. The fruit for their Aligote — better known as the second white wine of Burgundy (if it is known at all) — came from the Upland Vineyard in Snipes Mountain, a sub-AVA of the Columbia Valley region.

Only 145 cases were made of the 2013 Aligote. On its own, the wine was a juicy melange of stone-fruit aromas and flavors tinged with a hint of melon and chalky limestone. It was tasty, but seemed to call out for a food partner. Indeed, the cheese lifted the flavors of the wine to a new level, luring thoughts of how this particular Aligote might work with other pairing options.

Gramercy Cellars was founded in 2005 by Greg Harrington, MS, and his wife Pam to specialize in Rhone and Bordeaux varieties. Greg is Seattle Magazine’s 2014 Winemaker of the Year. The Harringtons both grow and source fruit. They were buying fruit from a grower who had a small plot of Picpoul on the edge of a larger planting of Grenache. They decided to give the Picpoul a try before grubbing up the vines to plant more Grenache. The Picpoul plants had been imported from Chateau Beaucastel by Tablas Creek (based in Paso Robles). Perhaps if they had known how spectacular the result would be, the Harringtons might have given that plot a second try! Instead, the 2013 Picpoul will be Grammercy Cellars’ only vintage. So sad…

In Greg Harrington’s own words, the “Picpoul is an acid monster” — so true, and totally to my taste — with aromas and flavors of “lemon, lime, grapefruit, mineral, brine, white flowers and green herb.” The Humboldt Fog cheese actually moderated the acidity in the wine, another perfect match.

Taste of Premiere Napa Valley

Map of Napa Valley courtesy of jacksonvillewineguide.com

Map of Napa Valley courtesy of jacksonvillewineguide.com

Fair warning to readers: this is a long piece including lists/descriptions of 36 wines.

There are a bewildering number of wineries to choose from in Napa Valley. They fit neatly together like a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle, aligned in tightly woven vineyard ribbons lacing Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail, along the eastern slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains. It’s no small wonder that it takes work – joyful as it may be! – to understand the scope of this complex and diverse American Viticultural Area (AVA or appellation) covering less ground than 1/8 of Bordeaux.

Betting on the notion that a better-educated wine trade would help consumers sort through Napa’s prolific bounty, Napa Valley Vintners Association (NVV) created Premiere Napa Valley nearly two decades ago. As the Premiere event got legs, NVV added events for wine educators and sommeliers. Each year, the wine trade descends upon Napa Valley in droves during the third week in February to revel in all that is glorious about Napa Valley.

Whether you love sun-kissed “big fruit” or more restrained old-world styles of wine, enjoy this delicious sip of Napa Valley taken February 20-22, 2014!

The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers was founded a decade ago by some of the country’s leading food and wine writers in partnership with NVV, The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone and the Meadowood resort. Each year, generous Napa Valley vintners sponsor fellowships for 12-15 writers chosen by an independent panel of judges. The warm companionship between winemaking and wine writing is celebrated during a special dinner at Meadowood on the eve of Premiere weekend.

Symposium for Professional Wine Writers Fellows Dinner at Meadowood

Symposium for Professional Wine Writers Fellows Dinner at Meadowood

2004 vintage wines shared by sponsoring wineries at the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers

2004 vintage wines shared by sponsoring wineries at the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers

Because this was the Symposium’s 10th anniversary, each sponsoring winemaker provided a 2004 library wine. One can only hope that some of these 15 wines are waiting patiently in your cellar! But don’t despair – the fellowship sponsors are among Napa Valley’s finest winemakers, so enjoy their more recent vintages available in the market. [alpha winery listing, AVA, grape]

1. BOND “Vecina,” Oakville, Cabernet Sauvignon
2. Chimney Rock Winery “Elevage,” Stags Leap District, Red Blend
3. Far Niente, Oakville, Cabernet Sauvignon
4. The Hess Collection Winery, Mt. Veeder, Cabernet Sauvignon
5. Hourglass, St. Helena, Cabernet Sauvignon (2010)
6. Mount Veeder Winery Reserve, Napa Valley, Red Blend
7. PEJU Reserve, Rutherford, Cabernet Franc
8. Plumpjack Winery Estate, Oakville, Cabernet Sauvignon
9. Raymond Vineyards “Generations,” Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon
10. Robert Mondavi Winery, Oakville, Cabernet Sauvignon
11. Saintsbury, Los Carneros, Chardonnay
12. Shafer Vineyards “Hillside Select,” Stags Leap District, Cabernet Sauvignon
13. Silverado Vineyards “SOLO,” Stags Leap District, Cabernet Sauvignon
14. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “CASK 23,” Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon
15. Tres Sabores, Rutherford, Zinfandel

So is it hardship duty for the trade to taste wine at 9:00 am? Perhaps. I read more than one Tweet and Facebook post pondering the state of our collective health. “Sip, swish and spit” skills are mandatory.

The Premiere weekend launched into high gear on Friday morning with a very special tasting opportunity. A multi-vintage perspective included young wines from 2009, 2010 and 2011. A retrospective tasting of library wines from 1984, 1994 and 2004 offered the rare opportunity to experience vintages chosen for decennial rhythm rather than ratings. Most of the library wines were Cabernet Sauvignon (or Cab-predominant blends). Looking back, the top professional raters gave the 1984 vintage a 92-94 score (with differing views on whether this vintage is likely past its peak, so give it a try); 95-97 for the 1994 vintage (definitely drink now); and 91-95 for 2004 (drink now or hold).

It was impossible to do justice to all 39 young and library wines in the allotted two hours, so of the 26 library wines I tasted, these were my top five:

1984 Sterling Vineyards Reserve Merlot was quite washed out in color, but the fresh aroma was medium+ with plenty of fruit; soft tannins, medium+ body and intensity; a balanced wine. Hurry up!

1994 Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was fresh and clean; nice complexity of vibrant black fruit, violets and brown baking spices from oak influence; soft tannins, long finish. Drink now.

1994 Caymus Vineyards Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon presented a soft copper tinge in the glass, but despite a slight overtone of alcohol on the nose, on the palate the wine was soft and complex with notes of cedar along with dark fruits. Drink now.

2004 ERBA Merlot was characterized by a very long finish, a pleasant quaffable wine with velvety tannins and medium+ intensity of aromas and flavors. Drink now.

2004 Corison Winery Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was clearly young and fresh compared to the older library wines, but definitely a balanced wine with well-integrated tannins; complex red and black fruits, medium+ intensity. Drink now or hold.

Tim Mondavi, Continuum winery, and Kathy Merchant at the Pritchard Hill Premiere Preview Party

Tim Mondavi, Continuum winery, and Kathy Merchant at the Pritchard Hill Premiere Preview Party

Premiere Preview Parties moved into high gear at about noon and carried on into early evening with sneak peeks of the 2012 vintage wines that would be auctioned the following day. (Please stay tuned for an in-depth look at wines from four of Napa Valley’s 16 AVAs tasted during preview parties: Oak Knoll, Pritchard Hill, Spring Mountain and Stags Leap.)

On Saturday morning, the Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Tasting and Auction event machinery worked smoothly to transport hundreds of people from remote parking to The Culinary Institute at Greystone and get them checked in for the barrel tasting and auction. On the second floor, 225 stations were ready to roll for the brisk three-hour marathon tasting of 2012 barrel samples, already being touted as “very good to excellent” vintage overall. Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!

Premiere Napa Valley 2012 barrel tasting at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone

Premiere Napa Valley 2012 barrel tasting at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone

First, a bonus note about my permanent “best of show.” Keever Vineyards, owned since 2003 by Bill and Olga Keever and their children Jason and Ashley, has been a favorite wine of mine for many years. Their winemaker Celia Welch is a rock star in Napa Valley. Often impatient for that “drink now” moment to arrive, I have managed to preserve a Keever library of wines from 2006-2009. Growing in popularity, their 2010 vintage sold out in three months, but it is possible to taste the 2011 vintage at the winery in advance of release and get on the list for annual wine allocations. http://www.keevervineyards.com

Wine writers who attended the Symposium were asked by NVV to taste 14 randomly selected wines, choose a favorite, and write a note about the wine and/or winemaker. These notes will be compiled and published soon in the St. Helena Star.

In the meantime, here are my notes on the top five 2012 barrel samples from Lots 113-126, along with a list of the other wines, all in order of personal preference:

1. Robert Keenan Winery (Spring Mountain) took a unique twist for Premiere Napa Valley with a mouth-watering “A Nod to History” Zinfandel blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc (10% each) as well as whiffs of Carignane and Alicante. Aged primarily in neutral oak, this special heritage blend offered bright cherry and raspberry notes. Nils Venge, consulting winemaker. [Lot 120]

2. Harbison Estate Wines (Oakville) “The Trail” Cabernet Sauvignon. Owned by Joe and Pat Harbison, the new winery produced its first vintage in 2008. Already receiving top scores from Wine Advocate – 96 points for the 2011 and a tentative score of 100 points for the 2012 – Harbison wines look to be on the way to cult status, but still under $200. Even in its youth, the barrel sample was refined and elegant with an even finish across the palate. He said: “anybody can make a big ass wine.” She said: “it takes finesse to go with food.” Russell Bevan, winemaker. [Lot 121]

Joe and Pat Harbison of Harbison Wine Estate

Joe and Pat Harbison of Harbison Wine Estate

3. Paradigm Winery (Oakville) Cabernet Sauvignon is small-production (5,000 cases). One third of the property’s 55 acres of grapes are used to make Paradigm wine, and the rest of the fruit is sold to Nickle and Nickle. With delicate floral and herbal aromas yielding to rich fruit and earthy flavors, this wine strikes a balance between feminine and masculine styles; long aging potential. Heidi Peterson Barrett, winemaker. [Lot 119]

4. Ehlers Estate (St. Helena) “Block 4” Cabernet Sauvignon is a spicy wine with beautiful, soft tannins. Ehlers Estate wines are generally 75% new French oak, though winemaker Kevin Morrisey may shift some of the juice to neutral barrels to avoid excessive oak influence. [Lot 115]

5. Barbour Wines (St. Helena) “Man Cave Blend” Cabernet Sauvignon. A perfect specimen of “medium plus” intensity wine in every regard – color, aroma, body and aging potential. Owner Jim Barber says his wine style is “whatever Celia says” about the fruit each year. Celia Welch, winemaker. [Lot 122]

6. Frias Family Vineyard (St. Helena) Cabernet Sauvignon. Todd Heth, winemaker. [Lot 113]

7. Erba Mountainside Vineyards (Napa Valley) Cabernet Sauvignon. Luc Morlet, winemaker. [Lot 118]

8. Cakebread Cellars (Napa Valley) “Suscol Springs and Arroyo Creek Vineyards” Cabernet Sauvignon. Julianne Laks, winemaker. [Lot 124]

9. Neal Family Vineyards (Rutherford) Chardonnay. Gove Celio, director of winemaking. [Lot 114]

10. Aloft Wine (Howell Mountain) Cabernet Sauvignon. Angelina Mondavi and Thomas Brown, winemakers. [Lot 117]

11. Rocca Family Vineyards (Yountville) “Row 57 Old Vines” Cabernet Sauvignon. Paul Colantuoni, winemaker. [Lot 116]

12. Purlieu Wines (St. Helena) “Cachere Cabernet Sauvignon. Julien Fayard, winemaker. [Lot 123]

13. Hewitt Vineyard & Provenance Vineyards (Rutherford) “Cab Meets Cab Franc” Red Wine. Chris Cooney and Tom Rinaldi, winemakers. [Lot 125]

14. Vineyard 29 (St. Helena) “St. Helena Special” Cabernet Sauvignon. Philippe Melka, winemaker. [Lot 126]

Robert M. Parker Advocates for Civility in Wine Writing

Robert Parker chatting with wine writers after addressing the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers

Robert Parker chatting with wine writers after addressing the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers

Videos, verbatims and viscissitudes have been flying through the blogosphere from many of the wine writers who attended last week’s annual Symposium for Professional Wine Writers held at Meadowood in Napa Valley. For your reading pleasure, I recommend posts by Alder Yarrow (Vinography), David White (Terroirist), Fred Swan (Norcalwine), Richard Jennings (RJonWine), Bill Ward (Decant This) and others who will no doubt weigh in on the conversation in coming days and weeks.

Despite significant physical challenges owing to recent back and knee surgeries, and literally on his way to China to help educate the newest wine frontier, Parker spent a full hour engaging in dialogue with fellow wine writers. Throughout the exchange, he pleaded for greater civility in wine writing and criticism. It was perhaps not surprising. Arguably one of the most important wine writers in the past 30 years — if not the most important — Parker has been an obvious and easy target, the object of much vitriol in the press.

His point was a simple one: it’s okay to disagree, but with civility. “Wine is something that brings people together” — or should, he argues. Parker encouraged original wine writing, noting that much of what is written for social media is derivative. “The idea of giving content away is crazy when people are willing to pay for informed, independent perspective. People do want to read tasting notes. They want to read a description, some kind of guidepost about what you think even if you don’t agree.”

He acknowledged that the world of wine, and of wine writing, is very competitive and invites criticism that unfortunately veers into incivility. Even so, Parker advises wine writers for whom he wishes great success to “stand up for what you believe in. Live and let live. Don’t worry about the fallout.”