Volume 21, Number 1 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | May 16 - 22, 2008
Charles French In her debut memoir, writer Alice Feiring takes on wine critic Robert Parker.
Saving the world from Parkerization one sip at a time
The Battle for Wine and Love:
Or How I Saved the World From Parkerization By Alice Feiring
Harcourt, 288 pp., $23
By Royal Young
Go into wine stores and ask why all their wines are manipulated. Walk out, tell them you cant drink it, advises Alice Feiring, author of the new memoir The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization when asked what we can do to stop wineries from cramming their products with chemicals. Feiring, a redheaded wine writer, blogger and Elizabeth Street resident for 19 years, recently stopped by a New School class on W. 12th Street to hold forth about drinking habits, globalization of wine, and the very personal journey she took in writing her book. Among her many strong beliefs on the subject of wine are that we will see an ingredients list on bottles within the next five years and that the legal drinking age should be 18.
Feirings first taste of sauce was Manischewitz, so its no wonder she decided to become a wine critic. Born in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and raised in an Orthodox Jewish home on Long Island, she is a wine connoisseur who doesnt eat meat or shellfish, but possesses a great nose. Her training began with her Yiddish grandfather, who let her smell various perfumes and when she was older gave her small amounts of whiskey to sniff and then drink, saying, Mameleh, a bissle schnapps?
After a successful career as a wine writer for Food and Wine, Gourmet and The New York Times, Feiring noticed the disappearance of her favorite bottles from the market. The year2001coincided with a break-up from a long-term love, offering her the perfect chance to heal her heartache on the Continent while doing some investigating. Through research at UC-Davis, she learned that consultants were helping California wineries chemically beef up their wines to score high Parker points (referring to world famous wine critic Robert Parker). Further questioning revealed that wineries world over were doing the same. It even had its own Wikipedia entry: Wine Parkerization, the widespread stylization of wines to please the taste of influential wine critic Robert M. Parker Jr. Parker, according to his critics, likes vino to be oaky, thick, Chocolate Sunday syrup, while Feiring yearns for rose petal, suede-like, gravel, tar and tea flavoring.
During her hunt, Feiring traveled through the great wineries of Europe in search of winemakers who stick to the ways of their grandfathers. She even got hands-on, picking grapes in the Loire next to winemakers whose lives are devoted to carrying on time-honored tradition. Compromising and catering to conglomerates like LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton) or bowing to the commonly revered Parker to help sales is out of the question for Feiring. Reading about her journey through France, Spain and Italy, we become just as enraptured with the individuality of each new region, finding it increasingly difficult to fathom why Parker seems to endorse wines that have an overt imprint of technology, and are created with a mass market in mind. In small towns and dusty cellars the incongruities of the wine truly reflect the place it comes from, giving us a product that is not a cookie-cutter wine, one that has terroir. Taking on the big boys in a wine stand-off, Feiring unflinchingly says, I knew it was essential and that emboldened me.
Confident in her expertise but open in her views, Feiring is the perfect guide for budding wine lovers. She encourages them to explore, educate and make up their own minds, but, referring to wines left in their natural state, adds the caveat that Most people are going to like the real stuff. This is typical of Feirings half-relenting, half-crusading attitude. Though the book is centered around her clash with big-wig Parker, with whom she fearlessly butts heads, she also admits, when asked about his famous point system of rating wines, I dont understand how someone who loves wine could do that and I want to understand. Her empathy is what makes this a great, enlightening read. It is also what connects her to layered wines, ones which surprise and play with the palate rather than overwhelm with additives to score big Parker points.
Feiring is no Cassandra predicting the fall of Troy, nor should we take her David-versus-Goliath stance too literally. In the end, she simply wants to share her passion with other people. Recovering from heartbreak and fighting for the small guy is second nature for Feiring and the book was written at a time when she admits to healing herself from the end of a relationship. Good wine is Feirings chicken soup and she wants all of us to partake. Her words encourage us to take matters into our own hands and just taste.
For bold, natural reds, whites and bubbly, Feiring recommends Chamber Street Wines and Spirits, and Discovery Wine on Avenue A, off Houston. She will be reading at various locations in Manhattan next month. For details and more about Feiring, check out her blog at www.alicefeiring.com.