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French wine as seen from abroad : An interview with Robert Parker

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Regarded as the most influential wine critic in the world, Parker founded the renowned 100 point wine scoring system which has been referred to for over twenty-five years.

Read his interview with French wine magazine ‘La Revue du Vin de France’:

1) In your opinion, what is the image and the role played by French wines in your country or region today ?

The image of French wines in the United States continues to span both the luxury-priced wines and the ability of many French winemaking regions to provide exceptional value, even with the economic turmoil and ever-changing currency and exchange rates. Having followed French wines professionally for over thirty years, I see French wines as more popular than ever before, but that does not mean there are not challenges that need to be confronted. For wine neophytes in the United States, it is often much easier to understand labels with varietal names (such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, or Syrah) as opposed to French labels, which, while not complex, present some difficulty. The other challenge is that too often the uniformed consumers think that all French wines are too expensive, when in fact, there are many extraordinary bargains in every prestigious French wine region, including Bordeaux and Burgundy.

2) How have they evolved over the past 10 years?

Until the international economic crisis began fully at the end of 2008, French wines seemed to follow two paths. The most prestigious and limited production wines as well as the most well-known names of Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Loire Valley, and the Rhône Valley continued to increase dramatically in price. This was most noticeable with the top wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy as well as Champagne. At the same time, the number of high quality wines from these regions increased dramatically as a younger generation of men and women came to power and pushed the envelope of quality higher and higher. This coincided with an extraordinary positive evolution in quality from such areas as the Loire, the northern and southern sectors of the Rhône Valley, Languedoc, Roussillon, and southern Burgundy, particularly the Mâconnais region. In essence, there seems to be a bipolar view of French wines by the American wine consumer. One segment believes all French wines are expensive as well as difficult to find, and another sector (the more informed and sophisticated) recognizes that many areas of France are veritable treasure troves for outstanding wine quality at very reasonable prices.

3) Please assess the most positive or special features of French wines, and would you support the idea of a French specificity ?

It is impossible to separate French wine from the image of French culture and French history. All of these characteristics are admired. The French culture is respected and treasured throughout the world for its wine, art, fashion, cuisine, and its appreciation for the finest things in life. In essence, French wines are also selling an image of the foreigner’s view of the French lifestyle – more relaxed, civilized, sophisticated, and ultimately, more pleasurable.

4) Which do you consider to be the most interesting and promising vineyards in the world today ?

There is no doubt that Burgundy remains the point of reference for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as does Bordeaux for Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. One can also argue strongly that the northern Rhône is the reference point for Syrah, and the southern Rhône for Grenache as well as blends of Mediterranean varietals (Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre). None of that is likely to change over the next thirty or forty years. That said, there has been a proliferation of high quality wines emerging from elsewhere in the world. While these wines offer both value and high quality, they are obviously made in different styles than those made in France. From my perspective, the most interesting and potentially superb viticultural regions (other than those I have mentioned from France) are emerging from the Malbec grape grown in Argentina, and some of the indigenous grapes grown in southern Italy (such as Aglianico, Piedirosso, and Nero d’Avola). That, plus the positive and dramatically increased interest in the southern Rhône wines (particularly Grenache-based offerings) are strikingly noticeable. The other country that is an emerging giant in terms of high quality is Spain, which possesses fabulous terroirs, many old vines, and a new generation of men and women that has broken away from the industrial/cooperative mentality that dominated Spain’s wine production for much of the 20th century. There is a profound movement in Spain to find specific sites with different micro-climates from which they are now turning out remarkably high quality wines.

5) What would you predict for the future of the wine industry in ten years, and what are the most important challenges that wine producers must address in the years to come ?

The wine industry needs to become more consumer friendly by encouraging wine tours in viticultural regions, conducting wine educational programs, and interfacing more, especially via the internet, with wine consumers. No longer can even the greatest estates remain aloof and distant from their clients. The internet has changed life dramatically, allowing for rapid communication of information as well as ideas, and the wine industry needs to exploit the internet to its maximum potential. There is no reason why any winery cannot have an internet site providing all the information about the estate, the wines it produces, the micro-climate, and available vintages. The most innovative wineries can have e-mail interchanges with clients, which benefits both the consumer and the wine industry. The most creative wine websites can and should provide consumer bulletin boards, permitting and encouraging consumer feedback and the development of a community of wine lovers who can discuss the producer’s wines.

Also, I hope to see the import duties on wines throughout the world decline, even be abolished, resulting in a totally free and open market for the sale of wine. As more governments realize that additional revenue will come from the sale of more wine, not from painfully high duties, this will, hopefully, occur. Sadly, there are still cultures that remain locked in a Puritanical view of wine and its potential dangers for abuse. This ignores the history and culture of wine, and the fact that nearly all wine enthusiasts consider wine to be part of the meal as well as a beverage of moderation. Of course, it goes without saying that every wine region in the world will be challenged by competition. We have seen this happen with the ocean of new vineyards that are possibly outstripping the growth of wine consumption. This could have a very negative impact if there are not enough educational programs and meaningful interchanges with wine consumers about the glories and pleasures of wine consumption.

Source: La Revue du Vin de France
2nd Sep 2009

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