Just like in the wonderful Berlanga movie, Welcome Mr Marshall , there is something bittersweet about Robert Parker's attitude towards Spanish wines. It's true that in his latest review of wines, performed by Parker's Spanish wines taster, Jay Miller, almost all winemaking regions in the country were assessed, and many wines obtained scores above 90 points, the benchmark for premium quality, although none obtained a 100 points.
The surprising thing is that among these many quality wines was one oh-so modest white, the kind used in cooking because of its low price in Spanish supermarkets (01.49 euros). It is slightly higher priced in the US market at around 12 dollars.
The wine in question, Rúa 2010, is produced by the Virgen de las Viñas Cooperative in Valdeorras, Ourense. The Parker Effect did not take long to kick in. Orders for the wine poured in from all over the world, exhausting supplies in little time, and boosting sales projections for the next few years. This was not the only success from this Galician winery; its Tempestad, a single-variety of Godello (3.5 euros) obtained a remarkable 92 points.
Though well received by those promoting the Valdeorras Designation of Origin brand, the high scoring has caused quite a stir and drawn deep criticism from industry professionals. Mercedes Rodríguez, president of the Galician Association of Sommeliers, says that "Mr Parker has drifted off course, and in this case, he has been deceived."
She rightly points out that the wine has already been prized, but within its category - among wines of the same price range and production process. In other words, Rúa must not be compared with the great Spanish, or Galician, wines, but with others of the same snack bracket.
Luís Padín, president of the Galician Association of Wine Tasters, adds: "It's hard to believe that Parker would give that type of score to a white wine with defects." The controversy is served.
The surprising thing is that a common generic wine, containing a high percentage of Palomina grapes (which are not native to Galicia and which nearly wiped out native varieties of quality grapes there such as the Godello, Treixadura and even the Albariño) could obtain such a high score. Rúa, which is also made with other higher-quality grapes like the Doña Blanca and Godello, is fermented in stainless steel in a three-month aging process on the lees before bottling, as is normal.
It is an agreeable white wine, especially if served very cold, but it is a stretch to state, as Parker has, that it "will be very good in 1-2 years." It's quite possible that the oxidative quality of the Palomina grape may, by then, have damaged its fresh aroma. So how has such a miracle of quality occurred that even the wine's makers cannot quite believe it, not the least of whom is the Cooperative's own enologist, Julio Ricarte?
Aurelio Cabestrero, an American wine importer, apparently sent the wine, along with other brands, to the guru. Parker was fascinated by its aroma, which contained scents of "fragrant minerals, white fruits, orchard and spring flowers." He compared it with nothing less than a Chablis Village, "but with a slightly different flavor profile," which undoubtedly was something of a relief to the exacting French winemakers. The majority of Spanish critics, however, when they bother to rate the wine, tend to rank the Rúa at the lower end. The question is, will they continue to do so from now on?
If Rúa 2010 deserves 90 points, that means it would exceed the ranking of 200 Spanish wines, including As Sortes, Viña Somoza Godello Selección, Gaba do Xil, Godeval Cepas Vellas, A Coroa 'Lías' and the pioneering and masterly Guitián.
The problem lies in the fact that though Parker's influence is global, he mainly tastes wines that are sold in the US, where the majority of his Wine Advocate readers reside. He also highly appreciates value, especially now in these times of crisis.
A former lawyer from Maryland, who gave up his career to become a wine critic, Parker has transformed The Wine Advocate, which now boasts 40,000 subscribers in over 40 countries, into the bible for international buyers. A high score means the international launch of a wine as well as its very appreciative vineyard.
Parker's somewhat peculiar method of judging the world of wine can, and should, be questioned, however. Parker himself has always emphasized the important role of the consumer. On the cover of every Wine Advocate , it states in bold that "There is no substitute for your own palate nor any better education than tasting the wine personally." Good advice that, in the end, puts things back into perspective.
To be fair, and to do justice to the excellent Galician whites that have not caught Parker's attention, it must be pointed out that this time round, the American prescriber has sinned, at least in his generosity.