Robert Parker: nobody will dominate wine criticism like I have

Robert Parker believes that nobody will ever dominate wine criticism like he has again, but played down his ability to make or break brands.

Parker has been hailed as the most influential critic in any discipline in the world since starting the Wine Advocate in 1978.

He said: “I don’t think anyone will ever dominate wine criticism in the same way again. I came along at the right time at the right place.

“I think the press exaggerated the influence I had. They make you this leviathan of enormous influence. People say you can or break a brand. I don’t think I could ever break a brand.

“I gave a lot of bad scores to wineries that are flourishing today. In my most sinister dark side I wish I had broken them. I don’t think I ever broke people. People just wanted to break me after a bad review.

“Some estates you can really help. They can get an advantage from good reviews. Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Gigndas benefited.”

Parker is handing over en primeur tasting to Neal Martin and has been reflecting on his glittering career as he winds down his level of responsibilities.

He believes wine lovers have never had it so good.

“If you are a young person in the wine business it’s the greatest time ever,” he said. “I am so old that I’m sad I’m missing it.

“There is more diversity in wine styles than ever before. The choices are unbelievable. We all benefit from that.”

Parker picked out some key trends that have emerged in the global wine world since he started.

“Spain is the giant that has awakened,” he said. “It has these great old vineyards. In 1978 the only Spanish wines available in the US were a few Riojas. Cava was later.

“Southern France – the entire Rhone valley, Languedoc, Rousillon, Corsica, south west France apart from Bordeaux – has emerged.

“Bulgaria is really up-and-coming. There are some great wines coming from places that were suppressed during the Communist era. Hungary and Romania are doing well.

“South Africa is a revelation. Their currency is dying and the wines are great value. Australia, New Zealand, South America, all doing great. When I started I couldn’t remember an Argentinian wine. Today Malbec is one of the hottest categories and I think Torrontes will be next. Carmenere in Chile. These grapes failed in France but they are thriving there.”

But he added: “An idea of a caste system for wine and investment in wine is an unfortunate trend.

“My first Lafite-Rothschild was $25, a 1957 Lafite-Rothschild. Now the minimum you would pay is £200 or more. I don’t see that changing.”

Parker discussed the advent of wine consultantas and said he believes they provide “a necessary and often good function”.

“People who know nothing about wine but have plenty of money need help and they will hire a consultant,” he said. “The key is that wine consultants don’t develop a formula, treating wine from different regions the same.”

He continued: “Wineries recognise the importance of social media like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. They are trying to reach out to the consumer more and more frequently, making it less elitist. People are intimidated by wine and social media softens the intimidation factor.

“The keeping and bottling of wine has become so much better. We still have some horribly hot areas in the US but it’s getting a lot better. Wholesalers are treating the wines a lot more gently, getting it to the consumer in an undamaged condition.”

But not all the changes in the trade have been positive.

“Fraud has made the news and there is no question wine has become big business,” said Parker. “Rare wines have become so expensive and the criminal element sees opportunities and technology allows better fake labels.

“A lot of the top properties are taking measures now but with the great old vintages, you just can’t tell. I tell people, if you have the money to buy a good 1982 don’t touch it. There’s no way people can guarantee the product.

“When something is as in demand and profitable the criminals see a chance to profit.” 

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