There is a new wine newsletter on the local scene crammed with appraisals of wines. "The Baltimore-Washington Wine Advocate," a 16-page "independent consumer's bimonthly guide to fine wine" was mailed last week to about 1,000 charter subscribers.
California cabernet sauvignon and Alsace are spotlighted in the current issue, which also included nearly two dozen "best buys," reports on vertical tastings of BV private reserve and Inglenook cask babernets, a rave "profile" of MacArhtur Liquors and comments on two books. A preview released this summer contained ratings of 1973 red Bordeaux.
The Wine Advocate is the single-handed creation of a single-minded Baltimore lawyer named Robert M. Parker Jr. Still in his early 30s, Parker is firmly convinced he can act "as the ombudsman for the wine consumer."
His approach is to buy wines from retail shelves here and in Baltimore, taste them blind (without knowing their identity), then rate them on a 50 to 100-point scale, giving specific comments on the good and bad qualities. Half-a-dozen others particapte in Parker's weekly tastings - conducted in his home - but he insists they are a control. The final judgements are his.
The inspiration provided by other rating publications, particularly Robert Finigan's Private Guide to Wine, is obvious. Parker sees himself as something of a Lone Ranger figure, riding through the hail of gobbleygook fired at consumers by retailers and industry-influenced publications to tell the truth.
"It's a truth-wine newsletter, a work of passion," he said during an interview. "I buy all the wines in retail shops. I will accept no advertisements. I won't sell it through wine shops. If I can break even and have a lot of fun doing it, I'll be happy. But I have enough drive to want every wine drinker to subscribe."
He spends weekends trudging from wine shop to wine shop here and in Baltimore. His comments on best buys included stores where they are available. A range of retail prices are given for all wines.
"I realize I'm coming from left field," he said. "People will say 'who the hell is he?' But I came to realize my palate was as good as most people's in the trade I ran into and I was tired of reading books that are so clearly wrong. I may be wrong on some wines, too, but I think I'm well qualified and on most I'm going to be right."
Parker, whose wine tasting began in 1967 and has grown into an "obsession," feels he has an eclectic palate. His tastings of California cabernets have convinced him "they are in general heavy, thick, one-dimensional and somewhat coarse," lacking "the subtlety, grace, breed and aging potential of fine Bordeaux." But he has some harsh things to say about Bordeaux, too. "The 1855 classification is a total farce. I'm writing a book to put forward my own classification and only Latour and Petrus will be first growths."
In his first two efforts, he has given highest marks to Ducru Beaucaillou and Petrus among the 1973 clarets; Conn Creek's 1974 Napa, Sonoma Vineyard's Alexander's Crown 1974 and Mayacamas' 1973 Napa among California cabernets.
The use of a numerical rating system presents several difficulties. By what degree, if at all, is an "84" rating superior to an "83"? The numbers are "really meant only as an accessory" to the comments, Parket said, but human nature being what it is, they are likely to become the focus of reader attention. As a group the California cabernets scored much higher than the "73 Bordeaux. But, according to Parker, there is no constant. Each group is rated merely in terms of its peers.
In a larger sense the success or failure of Parker's venture will depend on the curiosity of local wine drinkers and the extent to which they agree with his judgements. Parker's sincerity si evident and there is no other local wine commentary of this scope.
The curious may want to see his work before they subscribe. Several hundred copies of his initial complimentary issue are still available. For one, send 28 cents in postage and a return address to 1002 Hillside View, Parkton, Md. 21120. Subscriptions, at $10 for six bimonthly issues per year, may be obtained from the same address.
The Los Angeles County Fair once again has given out its multitude of awards and medals. Smothers winery (owned by entertainer Dick Smothers) won the grand prize with a late-harvest gewurztraminer. Chateau Ste. Michelle won good metals at a Pacific Northwest festival for its 1975 cabernet and 1977 sauvignon blanc. The winery's chenin blanc led a field of 15 in a consumer poll at a California festival.The California wines of Taylor, the New York State winery, are a reality. Taylor is a subsidiary of Coca-Cola, which engaged Dr. Richard Peterson, winemaster of The Monterey Vineyard, another Coke subsidiary, to create four blends. They are labeled Chablis, Rhine, Rose and Burgundy and reportedly will sell for about $2.79 a bottle.
Locally, Harry's Liquors is sponsoring a Robert Mondavi component tasting at The Washington Post on Oct. 24 at 7:30 p.m. The cost is $8. For further information, call 783-4200. There is a new chapter of Les Amis du Vin in Northern Virginia Contact. The Gourment Warehouse, 815 King St., Alexandria for membership information. A few Asian restaurant, Germaine's on Wisconsin Avenue just below Calvert Street NW. has unveiled a wine list with prices to reasonable that it should bring a blush of shame to the face of many of the city's restaurateurs. There are about two dozen wines from Europe and California with names such as Lafon Rochet, Auxey Duress Blanc, Burgess and Chateau St. Jean. The most expensive is a vintage Ayala champagne at fully half of the list is in the $5 to $9 range.