June 9, 2002
Not Exactly for the Faint of Palate
By ROBERT M. PARKER JR. With Alice Feiring
've been sued for all sorts of crazy things. A Beaujolais producer I had never heard of took me to court for not reviewing his wine.
I'm not feigning modesty. I know I'm the most influential wine critic in the world, but to say I can make or break a wine is just not true. In fact, I can think of a number of wines that are very successful that I think are pathetic. There's nothing I can do to keep people from buying them.
I taste 120 wines a week, except when I'm on a tasting trip. Then I taste that much in a day. This might seem like a lot, but not nearly as much as I get credited for. The challenge is to keep all of them straight. I have to think about taste, smell and texture. I have to figure out where the wine is in its evolution and where it's going to go. Then I have to figure out a way that I can use real language, so it has some sort of meaning to readers.
When I taste quantities of high-acid wines, I can feel as if the roots of my teeth are rotting. Other hazards include black teeth stained from rich red wines. I joke that I can tell the quality of a great, concentrated ripe vintage by how stained my hands are. Sometimes even scrubbing won't clean them.
I don't get palate fatigue, which I attribute to drinking up to five liters of water a day. However, when I'm tasting wines high in alcohol and tannin, I can feel as if I've taken head shots from professional boxers.
The most punishing tasting was in Tokyo — sake. I was confronted with about 200 samples. A third of the way through, sweat pouring off my brow, I'm like, "What have I gotten myself into?" I started to rely more on my olfactory sense. If it didn't smell charming, I passed.
Generally, when I'm tasting (and that means spitting), alcohol doesn't affect me. I'm a big guy, and this works in my favor. A while back, I was warned that some of my enemies might set me up and alert police to watch out for me after a tasting, which would be really embarrassing. So I bought one of those Sharper Image digital alcohol-monitoring devices. I check obsessively and have never been over France's 0.05 percent limit.
When on the road, I start at 8 a.m. and go for 12 hours. Lunch saps my energy, so I only grab a sandwich. Dinner is often in my room — a salad and mineral water. When I was in my 30's, I would go out every night. But now? Look, I'm going to be in California for two weeks, and I'm going out for dinner once.
I love hot, spicy food, but it blows my palate, so I avoid it three or four days before I go on a trip. Garlic doesn't really affect me. I can drink a cappuccino in the morning, but not espresso — and no coffee, chocolate or watercress during the day. Watercress is the worst.
ERobertParker.com just started up. It's great to have The Wine Advocate posted there, but I'm having fun on the site's food and wine chat rooms, too.
I don't want to be perceived as some freak in a lab coat tasting wines clinically. In a clinical situation, it's important to remember that wine is a beverage of pleasure.
Robert M. Parker Jr. is a wine critic and publisher of The Wine Advocate.