Robert Parker is an American wine critic and probably the most influential individual in the world of wine. I have very mixed feelings about Mr. Parker which I should explain before proceeding any further. Robert Parker started becoming known for his writing about wine in the mid-70s at just about the time that the Californian wineries began their renaissance; he has written a number of books on wine and he also edits the very influential Wine Advocate newsletter. As mentioned above, Parker’s 100-point scoring system has now become the industry standard. He is a man with a very deep knowledge of and passion about wine, especially the great reds from Bordeaux, the Rhone and California, and he has reached his position of eminence through hard work, dedication and simple expertise. Nonetheless I have two problems with Mr. Parker.
My first objection is personal and selfish. Parker and I share the same tastes; we both like bold, broad-shouldered, swaggering reds. For years I enjoyed drinking Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Barolo and Barbaresco which were all affordable until Parker discovered them. By writing about these wines and bestowing his blessing he made them insanely popular. As a result, these wines are now extremely expensive and I can no longer afford to drink them.
My second objection owes more to Lord Acton: “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely”. I do not in any way mean that Parker himself has become corrupted, far from it, he is rightly proud of his high ethical standards; impartiality and independence from the wine industry. But unfortunately his influence is now so powerful that it has affected if not corrupted absolutely everybody else in the industry. For example, one of Parker’s early favorite winemakers was Michael Rolland in Pomerol whose wines Parker always praised. Rolland also worked as a consultant for various other neighboring wineries, creating a similar style wine to his own. These wines also scored well with Parker and so, inevitably, other wine makers beyond Bordeaux started hiring Rolland as a consultant and very soon Michael Rolland became the first ‘flying winemaker’. Jetting around the world, from Chile and Argentina to Australia and California, Rolland helps fellow winemakers create the style of wine that will score well in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate ratings, and thus be featured on ‘shelf talkers’ in wine stores everywhere. There is even a wine analysis company in Sonoma, called Enologix which uses complex chemical algorithms to advise winemakers exactly how to manipulate their winemaking techniques in order to get Parker scores in excess of 90 points.