The World's Greatest Wine Estates: A Modern Perspective

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9780743237710: The World's Greatest Wine Estates: A Modern Perspective

Over the past twenty-five years, renowned critic Robert M. Parker, Jr., has visited both legendary and fledgling wineries all over the world and has tasted hundreds of thousands of wines. Only a fraction of those wines have earned his highest ratings and are considered by him to be truly legendary. In his latest book, Parker brings together what he calls "the best of the best," taking readers on a personal tour of the wineries that have impressed him most with their dedication to quality, consistency, and excellence.
The World's Greatest Wine Estates pays homage to exceptional wines and the exceptional people who make them. These lavishly illustrated pages showcase 175 of the world's most accomplished -- and most spectacular -- estates. Parker goes be-yond the labels, bottles, and ratings to present the land, the history, and the dedicated artisans practicing their craft. Though they form a wildly diverse group, all of these producers "share an inexhaustible commitment to their vineyards, a passion to produce as fine a wine as is humanly possible, and a vision that the joys of wine are infinite and represent the pinnacle of a civilized society."
Parker begins with an overview of what makes a wine great -- the ability to please both the palate and the intellect, to offer intense aromas and flavors without heaviness, to improve with age, to reflect its place of origin as well as the skill of its producers -- and explains how he came to choose the profound wines he features here. He also offers insider tips for ordinary wine-lovers who want to get their hands on extraordinary bottles.
The heart of the book contains profiles of the greatest estates of Argentina, Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and the United States. Each region is illustrated with a full-color map and accompanied by an introduction explaining the general wine history of the country. In his profiles of individual estates, Parker offers essential geographical information such as grape varietals, average age of the vines, and density of plantation; details about the estate's history and techniques and the wines it produces; visiting information for those who want to see the process up close; and tasting notes on the best recent vintages from each winery. Each profile also includes photographs of the vineyards and the people behind the wines, and labels from their best-known vintages.
Complete with a list of up-and-coming wineries ("Future Stars") and a glossary of wine terms, The World's Greatest Wine Estates is a very special reference for amateurs and connoisseurs alike.

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About the Author:

Robert M. Parker, Jr., has been the author and publisher of The Wine Advocate for more than twenty-five years. He has won countless awards, including two of France’s highest presidential honors: in 1993, President Francois Mitterrand pronounced him a Chevalier dans l’Ordre National du Merite. In 1999, President Jacques Chirac signed a decree appointing Parker a Chevalier dans L’Ordre de la Legion d’Honneur, and in 2005, elevated his title to Officier. He is the author of many books about wine, including Bordeaux, Burgundy, The Wines of the Rhône Valley, and Parker's Wine Buyer's Guide. Visit the author online at www.eRobertParker.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

A Workable Definition of Greatness

The Elements of a Great Wine

What is a great wine? This is one of the most controversial subjects of the vinous world. Isn't greatness in wine, much like a profound expression of art or music, something very personal and subjective? As much as I agree that the appreciation and enjoyment of art, music, or wine is indeed personal, high quality in wine, as in art and music, does tend to be subject to widespread agreement (except for the occasional contrarian). Few art aficionados would disagree with the fact that Picasso, Rembrandt, Bacon, Matisse, Van Gogh, or Michelangelo were extraordinary artists. And though certainly some dissenters can be found regarding the merits of composers such as Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven, or Brahms, or in the more modern era, such musicians/songwriters as Bob Dylan, the Beatles, or the Rolling Stones, the majority opinion is that these people have produced exceptional music.

It is no different with wine. Most wine drinkers agree that the legendary wines of the 20th century -- 1945 Mouton Rothschild, 1945 Haut-Brion, 1947 Cheval Blanc, 1947 Pètrus, 1961 Latour, 1982 Mouton Rothschild, 1982 Le Pin, 1982 Lèoville-Las-Cases, 1989 Haut-Brion, 1990 Margaux, and 1990 Pètrus, to name some of the most renowned red Bordeaux -- are profoundly riveting. Tasting is indeed subjective, and no one should feel forced to feign fondness for a work by Picasso or Beethoven, much less a bottle of 1961 Latour, but as with most of the finest things in life, there is considerable agreement as to what represents high quality.

Two things that all can agree on are the origin and production of the world's finest wines. Great wines emanate from well-placed vineyards with microclimates favorable to specific types of grapes. Profound wines, whether they are from France, Italy, Spain, California, or Australia, are also the product of conservative viticultural practices that emphasize low yields, and physiologically rather than analytically ripe fruit. After 27 years spent tasting over 300,000 wines, I have never tasted a superb wine that was made from underripe fruit. Does anyone enjoy the flavors of an underripe orange, peach, apricot, or cherry? Low yields and ripe fruit are essential for the production of extraordinary wines, yet it is amazing how many wineries never seem to understand this fundamental principle.

In addition to the commonsense approach of harvesting mature fruit, and pruning to discourage the vine from overproducing, the winery's individual winemaking philosophy is of paramount importance. Exceptional wines (whether they be red, white, or sparkling) emerge from a similar philosophy, which includes the following: 1) permit the vineyard's terroir (soil, microclimate, distinctiveness) to express itself; 2) allow the purity and characteristics of the grape varietal, or blend of varietals, to be faithfully represented in the wine; 3) produce a wine without distorting the personality and character of a particular vintage by excessive manipulation; 4) follow an uncompromising, noninterventionist winemaking philosophy that eschews the food-processing, industrial mindset of high-tech winemaking -- in short, give the wine a chance to make itself naturally without the human element attempting to sculpt or alter the wine's intrinsic character; 5) follow a policy of minimal handling, clarification, and treatment of the wine so that what is placed in the bottle represents as natural an expression of the vineyard, varietal, and vintage as is possible. In keeping with this overall philosophy, winemakers who attempt to reduce such traumatic clarification procedures as fining and filtration, while also lowering sulphur levels (which can dry out a wine's fruit, bleach color from a wine, and exacerbate the tannin's sharpness), produce wines with far more aromatics and flavors, as well as more enthralling textures. These are wines that offer consumers their most compelling and rewarding drinking experiences. Assuming there is a relatively broad consensus as to how the world's finest wines originate, what follows is my working definition of an exceptional wine. In short, what are the characteristics of a great wine?

  1. The ability to please both the palate and the intellect. Great wines have the ability to both satisfy the senses and challenge the intellect. The world offers many delicious wines that have pure hedonistic value, but are not complex. Whether a wine satisfies the intellect is a more subjective issue. Wines that experts call "complex" are those that offer multidimensional aromatic and flavor profiles, and have more going for them than simply ripe fruit and a satisfying, pleasurable, yet one-dimensional quality.
  2. The ability to hold the taster's interest. I have often remarked that the greatest wines I have ever tasted could be easily recognized by bouquet alone. They are wines that could never be called monochromatic, simple, or "grape juice magnets" as a friend called them. Profound wines hold the taster's interest, not only providing an initial tantalizing tease, but possessing a compelling aromatic intensity and nuance-filled layers of flavors.
  3. The ability to offer intense aromas and flavors without heaviness. I could make an analogy here to eating in the finest restaurants. Extraordinary cooking is characterized by its purity, intensity, balance, texture, and compelling aromas and flavors. What separates exceptional cuisine from merely good cooking, as well as great wines from good wines, is their ability to offer extraordinary intensity of flavor without heaviness. Wineries in the New World (especially in Australia and California) can easily produce wines that are oversize, bold, big, rich, but heavy. Europe's finest wineries, with many centuries' more experience, have mastered the ability to obtain intense flavors without heaviness. However, New World viticultural areas (particularly in California) are quickly catching up, as evidenced by the succession of remarkable wines produced in Napa, Sonoma, and elsewhere in the Golden State during the 1990s. Many of California's greatest wines of the 1990s have sacrificed none of their power and richness, but no longer possess the rustic tannin and oafish feel on the palate that characterized so many of their predecessors of ten and twenty years ago.
  4. The ability to taste better with each sip. Most of the finest wines I have ever drunk were better with the last sip than the first, revealing more nuances and more complex aromas and flavors as the wine unfolded in the glass. Do readers ever wonder why the most interesting and satisfying glass of wine is often the one that finishes the bottle?
  5. The ability to improve with age. This is, for better or worse, an indisputable characteristic of great wines. One of the enduring misconceptions disseminated by the European wine writers is the idea that in order for a wine to be exceptional when mature, it had to be nasty when young. My experience has revealed just the opposite -- wines that are acidic, astringent, and generally fruitless and charmless when young become even nastier and less drinkable when old. With that being said, new vintages of top wines are often unformed and in need of 10 or 12 years of cellaring (in the case of top California Cabernets, Bordeaux, and Rhône wines), but those wines should always possess a certain accessibility so that even inexperienced wine tasters can tell the wine is -- at the minimum -- made from very ripe fruit. If a wine does not exhibit ripeness and richness of fruit when young, it will not develop nuances with aging. Great wines unquestionably improve with age. I define "improvement" as the ability of a wine to become significantly more enjoyable and interesting in the bottle, offering more pleasure old than when it was young. Many wineries (especially in the New World) produce wines they claim "will age," but this is nothing more than a public relations ploy. What they should really say is that they "will survive." They can endure 10-20 years of bottle age, but they were more enjoyable in their exuberant youthfulness.
  6. The ability to display a singular personality. When one considers the greatest wines produced, it is their singular personalities that set them apart. The same can be said of the greatest vintages. The abused description "classic vintage" has become nothing more than a reference to what a viticultural region does in a typical (normal) year. Exceptional wines from exceptional vintages stand far above the norm, and they can always be defined by their singular qualities -- their aromas and their flavors and textures. The opulent, sumptuous qualities of the 1982 and 1990 red Bordeaux, the rugged tannin and immense ageability of the 1986 red Bordeaux, the seamless, perfectly balanced 1994 Napa and Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignons and proprietary blends, and the plush, sweet fruit, high alcohol, and glycerin of the 1990 Barolos and Barbarescos, are all examples of vintage individuality.
  7. The ability to reflect the place of origin. An Asian proverb seems particularly applicable when discussing the ballyhooed French concept of terroir: "Knowing in part may make a fine tale, but wisdom comes from seeing the whole." And so it is with this concept of terroir, that hazy, intellectually appealing notion that a plot of soil plays the determining factor in a wine's character. The French are more obsessed with the issue of terroir than anyone else in the world. And why not? Many of that country's most renowned vineyards are part of an elaborate hierarchy of quality based on their soil and exposition. And the French would have everyone believe that no one on planet Earth can equal the quality of their Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet, Syrah, etc. because their privileged terroir is unequaled. One of France's most celebrated wine regions, Burgundy, is often cited as the best place to search for the fullest expression o...

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