Robert M. Parker, Jr. : biography
Robert M. Parker Jr. (born July 23, 1947) is a leading U.S. wine critic with an international influence. His wine ratings on a 100-point scale and his newsletter The Wine Advocate, with his particular stylistic preferences and notetaking vocabulary, have become influential in American wine buying and are therefore a major factor in setting the prices for newly released Bordeaux wines. Despite controversy surrounding his reviews and scores, he continues to be the most widely known wine critic in the world today.Steinberger, Mike, Slate.com (June 17, 2002). Bruce-Gardyne, Tom, The Herald (August 9, 2010).
Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson of the Financial Times described his as "the world's most prized palate". Likewise, Lettie Teague of The Wall Street Journal has described him as being "widely regarded as the world's most powerful wine critic". Max Lalondrelle, fine wine buying director for Berry Bros & Rudd says: "Nobody sells wine like Robert Parker. If he turns around and says 2012 is the worst vintage I’ve tasted, nobody will buy it, but if he says it’s the best, everybody will."
Impact of Parker on the world of wine
A new role for the wine critic
Until the 1970s, wine criticism was usually complementary to the production or trade of wine. The conflict of interest that might ensue from this close relationship was accepted by consumers, as they consulted wine reviews to gain an introduction to the world of wine, and not necessarily for advice on getting good value for their money. Hence, before Robert Parker, wine critics almost always had some link to the production or trade of wines.
Two wine critics were particularly influential in inspiring and defining Robert Parker:
- Robert Lawrence Balzer's charisma inspired Parker. Like his contemporaries, Balzer rarely wrote negative statements about wines. He even once published a book under his name that had actually been written by wine grower Paul Masson.
- Robert Finigan was Parker's forerunner in consumer-oriented wine reviewing. In the monthly Robert Finigan's Private Guide to Wine, launched in 1972, Finigan offered consumer-oriented, independent wine criticism, just as Parker did after him. Finigan helped consumers make decisions by developing standard evaluation criteria; his qualitative comments were straightforward and understandable, and each wine was ranked on a quality scale (exceptional, above average, average, below average).
Parker is a consumer advocate who admires Ralph Nader and has been critical of most wine critics, who traditionally have been part of the wine industry and have had vested interests.
According to Mike Steinberger, Parker has inadvertently made becoming a wine critic in the future almost impossible, since—partly due to the success of his scoring system—it is now prohibitively expensive to taste the very wines one should criticize. If it behooves a critic to understand, say, Lafite 1982, 2000, 2003, and 2005 before assessing the latest vintage: the critic must drink wine worth tens of thousands of dollars before beginning the review. This was not true when Steinberger became a connoisseur in the 1970s.
Parker's 100-point rating system
One of the most influential and controversial features of Parker's wine criticism is his 100-point rating system, which he popularized in conjunction with his friend Victor Morgenroth. Parker designed the system to counter what he believed to be confusing or inflated ratings by other wine writers—many of whom he accused of a conflict of interest, as they often had a financial interest in the wines they rated. The scale, now widely imitated in other publications (such as Wine Spectator), ranks wine on a scale from 50 to 100 points based upon the wine's color and appearance, aroma and bouquet, flavor and finish, and overall quality level or potential. Therefore, 51 rather than 100 different ratings are possible. Although some critics, such as Jancis Robinson, argue that numerical rating systems are questionable—given the subjectivity of wine tasting and the variance in scores that a wine's age and the circumstances of tasting can cause—similar 100-point scoring systems are widely used by American reviewers. Many British reviewers, such as Jancis Robinson and Clive Coates, still prefer a 20-point system.
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