Robert Parker: “The palate” on tour

Referred to by TIME magazine as: “The man with the paragon palate”. It’s not an overstatement to say Robert Parker has revolutionised the world of wine. His bold stance contrary to the wine establishment on the 1982 Bordeaux En Primeur catapulted him into the limelight. He was widely ridiculed and even he admits he thought it could be the end of a very brief career, however he re-tasted, came to the same conclusion, stuck to his guns and it established his credentials as a taster. Since then he has shaken up the cosy status-quo in the fine wine world, his points system is almost universally recognised and more importantly it shifts bottles from En Primeur to Aldi.

Robert Parker tasting

Royal Courts of Justice, imposing venue for the London tasting on the Wine Advocate Grand Tour. Martyn meets Robert Parker! A selection of the wines tasted.

Parker confessed that even after 37 years in the wine business, each new vintage still excites him. The wine business never stands still, whether it is people, vintage or production techniques. When he started out in 1978 he asked himself, what makes “fine wine” – for him it is a marriage of three conditions – a great wine should age well, present its origin, and most importantly it should challenge your senses.

Love him or loath him no wine industry professional could say that they wouldn’t at least be curious to meet him, so it was with interest that we arrived at the Royal Courts of Justice in London yesterday evening ready to have our senses challenged by the selection at Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate “Grand World Tour”.  The entire Wine Advocate team was present and we tasted through a range of highly rated wines.

My absolute standout was 2011 Latricieres-Chambertin Grand Cru Domaine Leroy. Domaine Leroy is run by Lalou Bize-Leroy don’t be fooled by the elfin looks, Jancis Robinson crowned her “The Queen of Burgundy”, and she is renowned for her stamina, attuned palate and the speed at which she tastes. In matters of her vineyards and the winemaking she rules the roost – there has been no winemaker at Leroy since 1993 – low yields of immaculate, meticulously sorted fruit from old vines result in exceptional wines. The 2011 had an intense nose with ripe fruit and smoky bacon. The palate turned the volume up and added herbal notes, it was opulent with a rich intense power.

I also enjoyed the 2007 Ark Vineyard Hundred Acre, rated by Parker at 100 “A perfect wine”. It had an incredibly complex nose, I detected blueberry, spice, earthy mushrooms, cigar box, to name a few. The palate had a wonderful definition, it was so pure and elegant and had an infinite finish – it was a league apart from any other Californian Cabernet I have tried.

The 2004 Unico Vega Sicilia on the other hand was slightly disappointing, described by Pablo Alvarez (Managing Director at Vega Sicilia) as a textbook vintage and rated 97, “truly spectacular” by Luis Gutierrez. I found it shy and austere, it was more elegant than I had expected, although with grippy tannins and lean notes. It was a little chilly in the Courts so perhaps that inhibited the wine expressing its full range.

So were my senses challenged by this eminent selection of wine grandees? Absolutely and from my point of view yesterday the powerful dukes of Bordeaux, Barolo and the Duero all paid court to the Queen of Burgundy.

Wines tasted:

2011 Clos de la Roche Grand Cru Domaine Dujac– Subtle berry, earth and spice aromas with amazing depth. Palate has herbal notes, prunes, a quiet elegance. 92-94 points

2011 Latricieres-Chambertin Grand Cru Domaine Leroy – Intense smoky, ripe fruit nose. Opulent palate echos the nose with herbal notes and a long finish. 95-97 points

2000 Barolo Le Vigne Luciano Sandrone – Complex ripe nose of eucalyptus, black olives, tobacco and molasses. Deep earthy flavours continue on the palate but perhaps don’t quite live up to the promise of the perfume. 92 points

2004 Unico Vega Sicilia – Shy red fruit nose, very youthful. Austere in the mouth , slightly lean and herbal with grippy tannins. Elegant but didn’t for me live up to its reputation. 92 points

1982 Chateau Cos d’Estournel – So much happening, tons of fruit, smoke and cigar box and black olive aromas. Huge depth on the palate combined with elegance. 95 points

2005 Chateau Leoville Las Cases – Opulent, mature red fruit and spice. Palate is subtle and balanced, complex and long. 96 points

2001 Massetto Tenuta dell’Ornellaia – A heady nose of Provence herbs with pure cedar notes. A chunky texture with tobacco. On the ripe side, showing depth and concentration, prunes and herbs, very complex and still youthful. 96 points

2010 Dominus Estate – Ripe concentrated fruit, spice and pencil shavings. Opulent palate, rich but balanced and complex. 93-95 points

2007 Ark Vineyard Hundred Acre – Such a pure and complex nose. Wonderful definition and a huge finish. 97 points

A huge thank you to Dennis Sunjic at Liberty Wines for providing me with the opportunity to attend the tasting.

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