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“Italy has a wealth of unique local grape varieties to be protected and enhanced, and has grown a lot, even in the South. Today, Italian quality is on a par with the best wines in France”, said Robert Parker in an exclusive interview with WineNews

Italy’s fine wines quality-wise are on a par with France, but Italy has to believe in them and build an “Ego” to increase value and more concrete and effective marketing, mainly focusing on its heritage, unique in the world of vines. This is what one of the most influential wine signatures in the world, Robert Parker, said in an exclusive interview with WineNews. He is the one who invented world wine critics and the "100 point system" with his journal “The Wine Advocate" (and contributed in a decisive way to the success of Bordeaux wines, especially).
Today, in an increasingly globalized wine production scenario and not only for the market, he is no longer a "one man show", but has the support and guidance of a team of professionals focused in different areas of the world, like Monica Larner, correspondent from Italy for the magazine. Italy hosted, for the first time, (in Tuscany) an exclusive "The Wine Advocate" master class led by Parker and Larner, dedicated to the best of Italy’s wine production. It included Sassicaia 1985, “in 37 years of my career, the wine I absolutely love the most. I have tasted it in 25-30 occasions, and every time it is a great honor for me”.
It is one of those wines that according to Parker (who, during this "first time" in Italy also visited wineries), has taken Italy to the levels of France.
“Italy and France are the two great historical and traditional homelands of wine in the world”, said Parker, “and the products of these two countries are and always will be the reference point for all those who want to make wine, especially in the "new world" of wine production like California, South Africa and South America. That will never change. But Italy”, added Parker, “is the country that has the most indigenous grape varieties in Western Europe, and this is a strength, which must be respected and preserved. The work that has been done in Italy with local grape varieties, especially in the South, offers the greatest diversity and variety of wine in the world. I think one of the biggest pleasures, one of the greatest joys that wine can give is the discovery of diversity, and so we have to protect it. In my 37 year career, one of the most beautiful things I've seen has been the proliferation of varieties of native vines, especially in Italy, which is the leading country on this front”.
Yet, despite the qualitative growth of Italian production overall and this unique heritage, on the market, at least in terms of prestige, but often also value, Italy is still second to France.
“France leads in marketing, in the creation of brand”, said Parker, “whether we're talking about high fashion, wine or food. I think the French are the best at promoting themselves, and the picture they give is that their products are the best. But, I am convinced that the best Italian wines can compete with the best French wines, and the same goes for cuisine, cities, travel, for all those reasons why tourists come here. Italy should believe more in itself and build a promotional campaign that showcases everything it does well. Italians themselves should be more aware of the great quality of their products, how beautiful their country is, how special the terroir is from which the great Italian wines come. Italians should then create an "Ego", they should show the world, without arrogance, but with conviction, that Italy produces high quality products”.
According to Parker, this is now happening throughout the country. “Of course, the great classic wine regions are Tuscany and Piedmont, and Veneto is also known for the quality of its wines. But what I have noticed is the extraordinary quality and diversity of the wines of southern Italy, from Rome down to Campania, Abruzzi, Sicily and so on. I think there's been a huge leap forward in high-end wines, and I think in the future this qualitative growth will be even more evident. Wine lovers understand how good the wines that come from Tuscany, Piedmont and Veneto are, but I think they also perceive the increasing quality of the wines produced in places like Sicily, for instance”.
Qualitative growth has spread to production, which is one of the reasons that convinced Parker to visit the Italian wine scene not alone and for more than a few weeks a year. “I came to Italy almost every year between 1978 and 1989. Since then, the wine world started growing rapidly and I realized I could not follow the growing regions without the help of other people. One of the reasons I sold the majority of "The Wine Advocate" was just that: to increase our presence and coverage in Italy. Today, the American Monica Larner, whose family has vineyards in California, is following Italy. She has been living in Rome for some time, speaks fluent Italian, and thanks to her and her professionalism our reviews are more complete and published more often. We have big plans. Coverage of Italy on "The Wine Advocate" before the arrival of Monica Larner was good”, said Parker, “but not outstanding. Now we have the person who can give us the best, independent and authoritative coverage of Italian wine in the world. I'm willing to bet on her. Italy is dynamic, changes occur quickly and we want a person who is constantly on the scene, 360 days a year, not two weeks a year, and she is the right person”.
“Italy”, explained Robert Parker, “gives you what no other country in the world can: Nebbiolo in Piedmont, Sangiovese in Tuscany, indigenous varieties in Southern Italy, Nero d'Avola, Piedirosso, Aglianico. No other country in the world can give you all this. France cannot, nor can the United States, and so on. They cannot produce quality wines comparable with those vines, and one of the things that Italy has given me has been learning to appreciate these wines, great wines. In addition to this, Italy is a beautiful country”, said Parker.
“I love your culture, your quality of life, your taste for the finer things. I like your cuisine, your truffles that I had the privilege to taste in the last few days, as the season has begun. I am part of that generation of Americans called "baby boomers". We are the first generation who has had the opportunity to travel widely, and this chance has made us better citizens of the world, has enabled us to appreciate other cultures and appreciate history. In Italy you have centuries of history and I, as an American, appreciate it”.
Just like he appreciates wine, enough to put one of the most famous Italian wines as his number 1 absolute favorite wine.
“When I told people what I'm just about to say to you, they were amazed. In my 37-year career, the wine I like more than any other is an Italian wine, vintage 1985. It is produced here, in Tuscany, on the coast: Sassicaia. I have had the honor to taste Sassicaia 1985 and I also have bought a few bottles. I have drunk it 25-30 times in my life and every time, it is a great honor for me. It is a magical moment, my senses convey joy and pleasure and make me live an almost sublime moment. Then, you realize it is a moment you want to live again in your lifetime. Of course, there are also other great wines - simple Chianti with a steak can be memorable, I also like Barolo, Barbaresco, some vintages of Bruno Giacosa, Angelo Gaia, Aldo Conterno, and I could name other names. But, as I said, Sassicaia 1985 is the best wine I've ever tasted”.
Robert Parker’s "The Wine Advocate" and his famous (and controversial) "100 point system", actually created international wine critics. It started first in America, and then kicked off the whole movement of magazines, criticism and various guides that, in the past, often sealed the fate not only of individual producers, but also of entire regions. The future might well be the same for Parker, although the story of wine and its origins, "storytelling", so fashionable today, will count more and more.

“Taste evolves constantly, as do winemaking techniques. We have witnessed the transition from austere wines to more fruity wines”, said Parker.
“The new generations appreciate local wines and local cuisine. I cannot say to have witnessed the rise of wines linked to the territory, at least in the US, but rather wines meant for younger consumers, wines that express a good potential, that gratify the consumer without aging. Is this good or bad? Not for me to say. The tendency of the market is to produce wines that gratify the consumer without the need for long-term aging. Certainly my generation and my parents’ generation, 50 years ago, appreciated long-aging wines, but today not everyone can afford to buy a bottle today and drink it 10, 15 or 20 years from now, even if we know that the aging potential of Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo or Barbaresco, for instance, can evolve for 30 years or more. The story of a wine is always important, like the culture that revolves around it. Keep in mind, though, that the system for awarding points to a wine is similar to an Olympic jury. It takes a group of wines of the same kind - all Brunello, all Barolo, or all Chianti Classico - and you have to decide which of these wines is the most interesting, which has the best flavor, which has more character, personality. When I began to use the "100 point system" in 1978, I had created it on a personal level. I had no idea that almost everyone in the world would adopt it. I had designed it for myself; it made sense for me. It was my personal system to give the reader my point of reference. I offer an interesting and constructive tasting note with the point system. It is important to talk about the history, tradition and terroir of wine, but the point system is like a pole planted in the ground that tells the reader what is true for me about that wine. It is a democratic system that has perfectly fulfilled the purpose that I set out for myself. That said, in my 37-year career, I have always maintained that the best taster, the best palate is not me but "you".
Every palate is different, just as the appreciation of beauty and art is subjective, and the taste of wine is personal as well. At the same time, while I accept that there is subjectivity in judgment, I believe there is a convergence of consensus on what a good wine is made of, and the same argument by analogy can be done with great music. We are in Italy. Vivaldi and Verdi were great composers. Some may say it is not true, but they are a small minority. The same applies to cuisine. We know what great cuisine is; we know what great art is. This also applies to wines. We know what the great wines are, and there is broad consensus on this point. Of course, personal taste can direct us otherwise. If we take Sassicaia 1985 or a great Brunello di Montalcino, most people will agree that they are good wines. Some will say, however, that they are not, but that is perfectly comprehensible”.
Parker’s reflections are, as always, controversial, like when he sold the majority of "The Wine Advocate" to Asian investors, a few years ago. “I had been doing this job for a long time, and I realized that I was slowing down, not physically, but mentally”, Parker said.
“I also had back problems, and so I thought it was time to make my heritage available to others. I had a number of offers in the United States, but the most attractive offer, not the highest value, but the most interesting came from three young people in Singapore. I thought that rather than leave this heritage in the States or in Western Europe, it was right to leave it in Asia, because the future of wine is in China, Korea, Singapore or Taiwan. The new wine lovers will have these nationalities. This was my strategy even before selling the majority of "The Wine Advocate", to educate these new consumers, let them taste great wines, and open their minds to different varieties of wine. There is a lot of work to do”.
“I never wanted the success I've had”, confessed Parker, who like all real number ones, reveals himself an extraordinarily simple man. “I never desired enjoying so many excellent meals and tasting so many fine wines. The true heritage that my work has allowed me to accumulate is to have met many winemakers and producers in Italy, France and other countries. Not all of them, but most of them, have a long-term vision of wine. They consider themselves the guardians of an inheritance, protectors, of a piece of this very, very special land. And they want this to continue for their children and their grandchildren, for hundreds of years to come. They are not doing all this for an immediate profit, they have a long-term vision that I deeply respect”.

Parker also confessed his other "love" to WineNews. “I love photography, and I love snorkeling and scuba diving, a sport which I can no longer practice because of my back problems. But I still love photography, especially in black and white. The reason is hard to define, but I think that black and white photographs are much more expressive than color, whether a portrait or a landscape. Wine is different. Each year it is new and each year I look forward to tasting the new wines. It is a renewal that keeps your energy level high and constantly dynamic”. Take it from Robert Parker.

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