Robert Parker: Farewell to the Emperor

Robert Parker: Farewell to the Emperor

© The Wine Advocate
Robert Parker has finally hung up his tasting glass and pen.

Wine’s most influential writer of the past 40 years has retired.
W. Blake Gray pays tribute to a legend.

I come to praise Robert Parker, not to bury him, because this is not quite an obit.

The most important critic in the history of the world officially retired this week, leaving yours truly as the best-known active wine writer from the Baltimore area. (Thanks Bob, and go Orioles!)

Parker single-handedly changed the wine world. There have been theater critics who had the power to close shows overnight, but they couldn’t change the style of drama presented.

Lisa Perrotti-Brown, editor-in-chief of the Wine Advocate, writes that the “Parkerization of wine” is a lie; that wines were becoming riper and more fruit-forward anyway, because of improved viticulture and winemaking as well as global warming. Perrotti-Brown also writes that Parker didn’t force these styles of wines on anyone; that he succeeded because people like these wines.

She’s not wrong, on any of these counts. But to downplay Parker’s role is disingenuous. Fifteen years ago Parker was the hardest-working critic in the world, weighing in on regions he knew well and some he didn’t. The height of his influence corresponded with the height of overripeness, rather than ripeness, in wine.

Parker pulled back gradually from one region after another, and as other critics like Antonio Galloni and his team at Vinous have come to the forefront, the high-end wine world has taken a step back from low-acid caricatures. Nobody is going back to the 1970s and Cabernet at 12 percent alcohol, and fruit-forward wines are here to stay. But it’s no coincidence that California cult Cabs, for example, are seeking balance more than they were a decade ago.

There is actually a company in California, Enologix, that made its money by predicting what scores Parker would give to wines. In 2004 this mattered immensely, because a 98 could make a winery’s fortunes while an 85 could break them. Today, there is no single critic with anywhere near Parker’s influence, and there likely never will be again. Wineries are forced to make wines that they think are good, rather than wines they think Parker will think are good. That has been better for everyone.

But I said up top that I come to praise Parker, and that is true. For all the vitriol heaped on Parker in the latter part of his career,he was overall a net positive for wine. There are certain basic tenets that he has espoused throughout his career that are at odds with a traditionalist’s view of wine, and he was right about almost all of them.

Most importantly, Parker always believed each wine should be evaluated on its own merits. Before Parker, people believed that top estates’ wines were always better than everybody else’s. I’ve met people who still believe it, but it’s hogwash. Great estates can and do have vintages that are only OK, while unknown wineries can achieve greatness. Without Parker, we might not have had a wave of overripe and overrated Barossa Shirazes, it’s true. But we also might not be as open-minded toward Central Otago Pinot Noirs or Uco Valley Malbecs.

Parker also had impeccable personal ethics in an industry that never experienced such before. Parker mostly bought his own wines and paid his own way. His organization has had certain ethical lapses, both before and after its sale in 2012. But Parker himself has always conducted his business honorably.

Here is an unappreciated thing about Parker: the man really loves wine. A lot of critics sound clinical in their writing. Parker’s enthusiasm always comes through. Especially early in his career, he didn’t just love Napa Cabs and Bordeaux and Rhône reds. His affection for small producers trying new things was palpable.

Some people mock Parker’s writing style, but I admire and even envy it. Take a close look at his notes. Wine isn’t a passive noun in Parker’s mouth, languidly sloughing off adjectives. Wine explodes, it bursts, it lingers. Parker’s wine tasting is full of action verbs. He makes wine not an object but a protagonist. Parker gave wine a hero’s journey, and he rooted for every wine that completed it.

I have attended writing seminars where people try to tell us the “right” way to write tasting notes. Robert Parker is the most successful critic by an enormous margin and his notes – his self-taught style – are a major part of the reason. So go ahead, tell me some other style is “right”. Me, I tell aspiring critics to follow the money.

That leads to what I most admire about Parker. Today, under different owners, the Wine Advocate is doing what brands do: monetizing. They have expensive tastings and seminars and I won’t be surprised if they introduce a line of logo goods; they wouldn’t be the first wine publication to do so. Parker lived large, eating a lot of great food and drinking a lot of great wine, but he didn’t really “monetize,” not as he could have.

Parker was, as Elin McCoy called him in her book, The Emperor of Wine. Whether his reign was benevolent or malevolent might depend on whether you’re in Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Beaujolais. But even his detractors should look on the bright side – if Parker had loved lighter wines, we wouldn’t be able to afford them now.

There will never be another Parker, and that’s a good thing, but that doesn’t mean the one who just retired wasn’t a great man whose life is worth celebrating. I think I’ll go find the highest-alcohol wine in my cellar and open it tonight to toast a great fellow Marylander. And then I’ll probably open something else.

A $40s Napa Cabernet Gem – ONLY 3 BARRELS PRODUCED

Who says that it needs to cost a bundle to be very good?  Our friends from Playground Cellars proved it with their latest St. Helena AVA Cabernet release.

Playground Cellars 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena Napa Valley
GGWC 41.99
Use code SHIPFREE12 during checkout

A smashing wine, my British friends would say. Yummy good! On the nose, you are greeted by black stone fruit that jumps out of the glass.  On the palate, this medium to a full-bodied youngster is loaded with ripe black currants, a hint of spice, chocolate and licorice that emerge from this ripe, intense, focused beauty.  The flavors linger into the long, elegant and silky finish.  Sadly only 3 barrels (70 cases) were produced! 

Click here or on the links above to order!

Coho … A Cab worth reeling in

I am thrilled to introduce the new Coho Cabernet Sauvignon from the very (small) 2015 vintage. The wine is sourced from two family-owned vineyards located in the Napa Valley (Sugarloaf East 88% & Perata 12%). Winemaker Phil Titus (longtime “star” at Chappellet) produced an amazing, crowd-pleasing wine! As always the Coho production is limited, only 208 cases produced of this vintage were made – so don’t wait too long to jump on this wine!

Coho 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
GGWC 64.99
FREE SHIPPING on 6 or more
uSe code SHIPFREE6 during checkout

The 2015 kicks of with bright aromatics of licorice and mocha that  lead to a rich palate of cassis and black currant flavors on the big bold palate. The wine is full and lush in body, loaded with bold and bright black stone fruit and a touch of lively acidity that will support the flavors for years of exceptional enjoyment. However you won’t have to wait as it is already eminently enjoyable.

Antonio Galloni wrote in Vinous: “This is one of the more open-knit, voluptuous wine(s) of the year… Readers looking for immediate gratification will find plenty of that here”.

Also Check Out these other great Coho wines:

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How Did Wine Change the Course of History?

How Did Wine Change the Course of History?

By Josh Friedland
New Jersey Monthly

In a new book, Atlantic County oenophile John Mahoney
posits that fermented grapes led to the birth of Western civilization.


Illustration by Victor Jurasz

Around 9,000 years ago, a band of nomadic humans roaming around Western Asia stumbled across wild grapes that had fallen into a crack in a rock and fermented. They tasted the cloudy, purple liquid that had oozed out. We’ll never know whether they grunted primordial tasting notes, but the encounter would change the course of human history.

That, at least, is the theory of wine’s origins presented by wine expert John Mahoney in his new book, Wine: The Source of Civilization. Mahoney, a resident of Atlantic County and a former professor of English literature, argues that wine not only predated ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, but was the catalyst that led to the birth of Western civilization.

He suggests that after the last Ice Age ended, humans got their first taste of wine in its crudest, natural form and were so taken with it that it contributed to them putting down roots, literally and figuratively. Central to his claims are recent chemical analyses of Neolithic pottery, unearthed from archaeological sites in Georgia in the South Caucasus, which found that the pottery, dating from 6,000 BC, contained residues of acids consistent with wine made from grapes.

If the people of ancient Georgia were able to make wine 8,000 years ago, Mahoney speculates, then they must have first encountered naturally fermented grape juice much earlier. He cites evidence of winemaking in Çatal Hüyük, considered the world’s first city, dating to about 7,500 BC, in what is now Turkey. Çatal Hüyük was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012.

While some scholars contend beer was discovered even earlier, perhaps even as long as 15,000 years ago, Mahoney maintains that wine came first by at least 4,000 years. That debate has yet to be resolved.

Mahoney, who calls himself a wine missionary, is the author of six books, including Wine for Intellectualsand Every Bottle Has a Story. He has taught courses on wine at Stockton University and Montclair State University and serves as chancellor of the North American chapter of the Dionysian Society, an international organization devoted to wine appreciation.

“After I wrote Wine for Intellectuals,” he says, “I got into conversations with people about where wine comes from. I found it fascinating that we just assume it came from the Greeks. But research shows that it was much, much older.”

The Phoenicians, he writes, an early maritime civilization, prospered by trading both wine and grape vines, as did the ancient Greeks and Romans. He asserts that societies that made wine, sold it as a commodity, and drank it in moderation were able to amass wealth, expand their political power, and make historic social, economic and cultural advances.

Mahoney argues that the origins of the Christian ritual of the Eucharist can be traced back more than a thousand years before Jesus, when the Greeks drank wine as a symbol of the blood of their gods in a sacrificial rite called eucharista. He notes that drama was invented in ancient Greece as a ritual performed for Dionysus, the god of wine.

Armies such as those led by Alexander the Great were successful in military campaigns, he proposes, because they carried wine, which they mixed with water. The wine served as a disinfectant, preventing fighters from getting sick as they conquered new territories.

“The more we know about wine,” he writes, “the more we will know about ourselves.”

98 Point Syrah Sensation

Bibiana González Rave is the founder and winemaker of Cattleya Wines. She is also the wife of star winemaker Jeff Pisoni.  Born and raised in Colombia and trained as a winemaker in France, she moved to California in 2007 to settle into making extraordinary wines.  In her words: “Since my early teenage years, my dream has been to make wine. At a very young age I was fortunate enough to begin learning how to make wine in France. I trained myself while working with some amazing winemakers who showed me the importance of loving the land, how to respect the farming itself, and to focus on the many details that go into making each drop of wine in each and every bottle.”  She is the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay winemaker at Pahlmeyer and produces “Shared Notes” wines with her husband Jeff Pisoni.  All those ingredients together and you have one of the best winemakers in the country!

Cattleya 2016 Syrah “Soberanes” Santa Lucia Highlands
FREE SHIPPING on 6 or more
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The wine offers up an amazing bouquet of exotic fruit that jumps out of the glass. The color is bold and intense and the flavors on the palate just reflect the same – intense black stone fruit, a touch for floral quality and a hint of meaty-bacon fat.  Densely concentrated, yet incredibly elegant at the same time.  The flavors go on and on into a gorgeously long finish with silky tannins!

Jeff Dunnuck 98 Points: “I think one of the best Syrahs coming out of California today is the Soberanes Vineyard from Bibiana. Sporting a vibrant purple color as well La Landonne-like notes of currants, bacon fat, white pepper, and cedar, the 2016 hits the palate with full-bodied richness, awesome purity of fruit, and a huge finish. More dry-aged beef and assorted meatiness develop with time in the glass, and while it was aged in 100% new French oak, it’s absorbed every trace of it. It’s an awesome Syrah to drink over the coming 10-15 years.”

Make sure to check out the other highly rated Cattleya wines:

Click here or on the links above to order!

Why Drinking The Right Amount Of Red Wine Is Actually Good For You.

Why Drinking The Right Amount Of Red Wine
Is Actually Good For You

in The Richest

Drinking red wine can actually have a lot of health benefits, studies show. Be sure to drink it in moderation, though.

We currently live in a time where it feels like everything and anything is bad for us. Yes, we know smoking and processed food are likely doing us damage, but even things we would do and eat in an attempt to be healthy are bad for us now. The sugar content of fruit, for example. We’d feel pretty good about ourselves in the past for choosing a banana over a Kit Kat. Now, not so much.

We kid, of course. We know fruit is still better for you than chocolate, regardless of a banana’s sugar content. The key to everything we do, eat, and drink is moderation. Which brings us to the topic of this article, red wine. Many of us enjoy kicking back with a glass of vino after a hard day at work, and it turns out you might be doing your body more good than bad by doing so.

An article recently published by Cosmopolitan highlighted some of the benefits of drinking a five-ounce glass of red wine every night. We must stress that if you drink more than that on a regular basis, the bad may start to outweigh the good. On to those benefits though, and believe it or not, red wine actually helps fight cavities. Your teeth might be stained purple initially, but red wine has been found to kill cavity-causing bacteria.

It’s not only your teeth it’s keeping healthy either. One of the antioxidants found in red wine is commonly associated with fighting off allergy and asthma symptoms. Even more promising is the research into red wine’s relationship with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. The metabolites formed in your gut by red wine have been successfully used by scientists to prevent neurological cells from dying. Pretty cool.

Moving on. Despite alcohol consumption often being linked to depression, a 2013 study found that those who drink between two and seven glasses a week actually stand less chance of becoming depressed. And last but not least, diabetes. Extensive research into wine consumption found that those who drink it with dinner instead of water stood less chance of developing type two diabetes. We knew Jesus was on to something when he turned water into wine.

Wine is NOT Rocket Science… or is it?

John Caldwell grew up in Napa into a family that ran a shoe business. John eventually turned the one business into many more.  Living in Napa and making money, he purchased 54 acres of land and had plans to develop some homes.  Unfortunately that backfired and now he was “stuck” with 54 acres of dirt.  He had been on trips to France, and one thing let to another that he was going to start a vineyard.  On one of his trips he decided that the only way to get vines from France was to smuggle them into the country.  With the help of some friends in New York and Canada he started to bring in vines from Haut Brion.  Unfortunately on his last of 5 trips he got caught by customs agents.  They wound up confiscating his last load, but John got lucky that via a lawyer friend he was released with a warning and a fine.  His 4300 vines were in a barn in Napa and that started the success story that Caldwell Vineyard would become years later.

Part II: In the mid-late 90’s I met John and we tasted through some barrels, when he said, you know this is not “Rocket Science”!  At that time, Philippe Melka was his winemaker, and the next day Melka asked him what that “blend” was all about that he made the day before.  That said, John created “Rocket Science” under my eyes and a new brand was born. So many years later, I am still a big fan of this wine, and his first retail account

Caldwell 2016 “Rocket Science” Red Napa Valley
GGWC 71.99
FREE SHIPPING on 6 or more
Use code SHIPFREE6 during checkout

A voluptuous nose is dominated by black raspberry, black currant, ripe blueberries, black olive, cassis, clove and white pepper. A raspberry attack leads into a full, juicy mouth of ripe plum and cherry. The structured cocoa tannins gives way to a long finish of chocolate covered strawberries.

The 2016 Rocket Science is a blend of 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Petit Verdot, 12% Syrah, 10% Malbec, 5% Tannat, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Carménère, 5% Merlot

Winemaker Notes: “The only sure way to know you’ve got a supernova in your sights is to do a diagnostic… fragrant spices, explosive fruit, finish like a long-tail comet… check. This high-octane vintage draws you in with inviting aromas of raspberry, plum, anise, and rose petals lighting up the red spectrum. Cocoa, leather, and fresh black tea fill in the darker side. Fluid dynamics take over with a full-throttle cherry attack. Mellow, sweet tannins carry the day while this wine’s long, pomegranate finish streaks across the sky with nothing to stop it but another sip.”

Click here, call 415-337-4083 or email to order!

Former Spottswoode Winemaker’s Expressive Grenache that will wow you!

Winemaker/owner Rosemary Cakebread has earned her stripes after 30 years in the Napa Valley (Spottswoode, etc.).  She created the Gallica label in 2007 and has been producing amazing Cabernets, Rhone Blends and Albarino.  The 2017 Grenache might be here best offer yet to date.  STUNNING I’d say!

Gallica 2017 Grenache “Rossi Ranch” Sonoma Valley
GGWC 54.99
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Vinous: “The 2017 Grenache Rossi Ranch is fleshy and supple, with plenty of racy fruit and floral notes that offer a good bit of freshness from the decision to bottle on the early side. The inclusion of 30% stems helps to further bring out perfume in this super-expressive Grenache.”

Winery Notes: Our one hundred percent Grenache is sourced from Rossi Ranch in the heart of Sonoma Valley. Owned by Sandy Otellini and farmed by Phil Coturri, the fine clay loam soils are perfect for growing this wondrously aromatic red grape. Laced with wild strawberry but also nuanced with wooly thyme and wet stone. Burgundian in character and winemaking, fermentation occurs in open top tanks with just enough stems to perfect elegant tannins. The soft ruby color is deceptive, there is grip and amplitude to these wines that grabs our attention.

CALL 415-337-4083 or email to order!

Kosta Browne at ½ the Price & FREE SHIPPING TOO!

Entering the wine industry 18 years ago as a harvest intern, Shane Finley has literally started at the bottom and worked his way to the top. After spending several seasons as an intern in California, Australia, and the Northern Rhône, Shane became Cellar Master at Copain Custom Crush. While there he had the opportunity to work closely with many notable winemakers including  Dumol, Carlisle, Pisoni Estate and Copain. He later took positions as Assistant Winemaker for Paul Hobbs Winery and then Associate  and Assistant Winemaker at Kosta Browne Wines.

Today Shane continues to work with Dan Kosta and Emeril Lagasse (headwinmaker at their Alden Alli winery) as well as being owner and winemaker of his own Shane Wine Cellars.

Shane 2016 Pinot Noir “Soixante et Onze” Sonoma Coast
GGWC 49.99
FREE SHIPPING on 6 or more
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The 2016 Shane “Soixante et Onze” Pinot Noir is an old school Sonoma Coast offering from vines planted in 1971 (thus … Soixante et Onze… in French) It masterfully combines subtlety and verve.  The bright aromatics meld with firm tannins and tangy acidity to create a Pinot Noir unlike any I have produced. This wine is made from forty-seven year old, dry-farmed vines planted in sandy loam soil. The robust Martini heritage selection of Pinot Noir creates an old world fashioned yet new world expressive wine.

Winemaker Notes: Exhibiting an inviting ruby color, the 2016 Soixante et Onze is a focused and dynamic Pinot Noir.  Its delicate aromatics emit subtle cranberry, rose petal, and black tea accents.  The firm mid-palate exhibits fine tannins (from the thirty-three percent whole cluster stem inclusion) and is highlighted by pomegranate, fennel, and light strawberry tones.  Vibrant acidity elevates the supple finish with elements of Bing cherry, graphite, and blackberry.

CALL 415-337-4083 or email to order!

How to Talk About the Way Wine Tastes Without Sounding Like a Jerk!

How to Talk About the Way Wine Tastes Without Sounding Like a Jerk

You can talk about wine without annoying yourself and the people around you. We’ll show you the way.
By Alex Delany in Bon Apetit

Photo by Ted Cavanaugh

It’s easy to sound pretentious when you’re talking about wine. As a person who works in the food and booze world, I’m always nervous about crossing a line when I’m describing whatever is in my glass. Despite my best intentions, I sometimes hear wine words coming out of my mouth and have an out-of-body experience. “Hey, uh, you’re sounding a little insufferable, dude,” I say to myself. I don’t want to be that guy. And neither do you.

And while there’s really no need to forth in lofty and obtuse terms about the wine you’re drinking to everyone in earshot, learning to talk about the way that wine tastes is still really important. Why? Because being able to describe the qualities you like in wine is the only way that a restaurant server or an employee at your local wine store is going to be able to steer you in the right direction. I’m not going to end up with a high-acid, light-bodied red wine in my glass if I just ask for “red wine.” Mind reading technology hasn’t been invented yet. That’s the unfortunate truth.

The fortunate truth, however, is that you don’t have to sound like a snob to talk about wine. You don’t have to possess an abstract, sommelier-level vocabulary or encyclopedic knowledge of vineyard names. You just have to be able to tell someone what it is that you like to drink. And while that may seem like a daunting task at the moment, it’s actually way easier than you think. All you need to know are a few terms and your own preferences. You won’t sound annoying, and you might even sound like you know what you’re talking about—and you’re 100 percent more likely to find yourself drinking something that’s right up your alley. Here’s some basic wine terms that’ll help you get the grape juice you really want.


We have to use one of the worst words ever to talk about body: mouthfeel. Yuck! But mouthfeel—or how wine feels in your mouth—is what we’re talking about when we talk about body. Some wines have a light body, which feels thinner and more like water in your mouth. These are probably the type of wines you want to drink with super-spicy food, or when you’re sitting on a picnic blanket, or when you just want to throw back a few glasses at a party. Other wines have a heavier body, which will feel richer, heavier, and almost silky in your mouth. These are the type of wines that you want to sip on slowly, maybe next to a fire and maybe while stroking your chin and pondering life’s more serious questions.


As is the case with food, acidity and sweetness are always playing off of one another in wine. Most wines will have some degree of both, but how a particular wine tastes will have everything to do with the balance between the two. A wine can have quite a bit of sugar left in the bottle after fermentation, but it might not taste “sweet” because it has a ton of lemon-lime tartness that edges out that sugar on your palate; likewise, a wine can have the tiniest bit of sugar that is very prominent because there isn’t any acid to balance it out. Regardless, wines that have a lot of acidity tend to taste lively and bright, and have a mouthwatering quality that begs for another sip, while less acidic wines tend to be smoother, denser, and more round.


Wine is made from grapes. I’m sure you already knew that. But through some miracle of fermentation, wine tastes not just like grapes, but cherries, apples, watermelon, raspberries, peaches, and just about every other kind of fruit imaginable as well. While zeroing in on specific fruit flavors can be a challenge, it’s a lot easier to talk about fruit on a spectrum between “fresh” and “jammy.” The former is going to describe things like summer berries, citrus, tropical fruits, and pretty much anything you’re going to want to eat just as nature intended—bright, alive, vibrant. The latter describes fruit that tastes deeper, darker, and more concentrated, almost as though it has been cooked or dried—hence “jammy.” Think about the difference between just-picked grapes and raisins, and you’ll get what we mean.


This feels like one of the most obscure and confusing qualities that people describe in wine, but it’s actually really easy to understand. Tannins are naturally-occurring molecules in wine that make your mouth feel kind of dried out immediately after you take a sip—if you’ve ever slurped over-steeped tea, you know what tannins taste like. As a general rule, the longer a wine sits with its stems, skins, and leaves, the more tannic it will be. (That’s why red wines usually exhibit more tannin than white wines.) Tannins tend to give you some pause when you’re drinking, where tannin-less wines tend to be more gulpable.

You don’t need to remember what parcel a wine came from or what kind of barrel it was aged in—you just need to remember what it tasted like.
Photo by Alex Lau

And Now, You Talk About Wine

Now that you’ve got a little bit of vocabulary to work with, you can start thinking about the wines you drink and what you like (or dislike!) about them. You can build a list of few key terms that describe your dream wine and practice deploying them with abandon. Maybe you start to notice that you like drinking different things in difference circumstances—a fruity, light-bodied red wine with steak, say, but a tannic, full-bodied red with braised beef. Cool! That’s great! This will get you a whole lot further than remembering countries or types of grapes, because wines made from the exact same grapes and in the exact same place can taste completely different. But as communicating about wine becomes easier, remember this rule: Talking about wine should be about service, not about showing off. And as long as that’s always in the back of your head, you’re in the clear.

If you’d like to learn more about tasting and describing wines, please join us at one of our weekly wine tastings. Most Saturdays from 1-5 pm at our tasting room, 2337 Ocean Avenue in San Francisco.