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Parker: High wine prices creating ‘caste system’

The high prices set by famous wine estates is shutting people out of the market and creating a “caste system of wine”, according to Robert Parker, who also admitted that he “is part of the problem”.

Lafite bottlesSpeaking exclusively to the drinks business last month, the influential wine critic said that the rising prices of top labels from leading fine wine regions was a “problem and a concern”, particularly for the “younger generation”, which is being put off the category by the high cost of trying its best products.

“I remember when I first started [sampling wine] my friends and I had a tasting group and we went out and bought a 1957 Lafite-Rothschild for US$25 – and that for us was enormous amount of money – but today even if you bought an ‘off’ vintage of Lafite-Rothschild, it would probably cost you £200-300,” he said.

Continuing, Parker told db, “I think this is a problem; it means a lot are shut out because basically we have a caste system of wine – at the really desirable high end, whether the wines are Burgundy or Bordeaux, or from California, they have become so expensive that people just can’t afford them, so they look elsewhere.”

He then said that this was “having a negative effect on the younger generation,” and may be one reason why such people are turning to drinks other than wine.

Referring to the high prices of benchmark fine wines, he said, “I think this is why we are why seeing more and more interest in boutique and craft beers in the USA – I enjoy tasting some of these boutique beers because they are really good, and well made – but you can buy a four-pack of high-end, highly-rated beer for $15-20 and you are still in the budget category for wine at that price.”

Consequently, Parker stated, “There is no question that wine prices are way to high and I think Bordeaux has to have a reckoning soon about their pricing” – a remark db has addressed in more detail here.

In particular, Parker criticised Bordeaux for its pricing, noting that the left-bank estates are “big properties with a large production”, unlike Burgundy’s top growers, who may be making just 200 cases a year.

He also said that restaurants were asking far too much for famous wines, whatever the source.

“Restaurants are giving such incredibly high mark-ups that they are making wine look like an elitist beverage, when really it’s not,” he said,

Explaining himself further, Parker commented, “There is a tendency by high end restaurants to market their wines as elitist brand products – like Chanel or Lamborghini – but wine is a fungible, consumable product; it is meant to be consumed and not to be admired and squirreled away in some museum-like wine cellar.”

Finally, Parker admitted to db that he was partly to blame for the demand and subsequent high prices of certain fine wines.

“Of course, I’m part of the problem there by giving high scores, but the point is, you have to review the wines, and you have to review the great wines, and you just hope that by praising the best wines it encourages others to aspire to make great wines and maybe get a better price for their wine without making an extravagant overpriced wine.”

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