Larger than life: Profiling Parker

If you were starting The Wine Advocate today would you choose the same places to specialise in?

Robert ParkerFor any young up-and-coming writer, it’s like literature, you have to understand the classics. You can’t appreciate how good, for example, Argentine Malbec is or Spanish Tempranillo unless you understand the best Bordeaux, or the best Pinots from Burgundy, or best Champagnes, best Nebbiolos, best Sangioveses. I do think a grounding in the classics, and an understanding of why these regions became famous and why they are still renowned and cherished among so many wine lovers, is essential to understanding the new emerging regions. So for any aspiring wine critic you still have to start with the classics. But it’s a great time to be to be in the wine business. I started because I loved wine, but I realised looking back how tiny the wine world was. I thought I could cover it for myself, and I didn’t do a bad job for a while, but it has expanded so dramatically that today specialisation is the way to go. But if you are going to specialise in Burgundy you should at least have a feel for what, for example, Bordeaux, Napa or Australia is about.

But aren’t the great wines becoming too expensive for aspiring wine critics to taste?

This is a very legitimate problem and a concern. I remember when friends and I had a tasting group and we went out and bought a 1957 Lafite-Rothschild for US$25 (HK$194). That for us was an enormous amount of money, but today even if you bought an off-vintage of Lafite-Rothschild, it would probably cost you $200-300 (HK$1550-2325). I think this is a problem; it means a lot of people are shut out because basically we have a caste system of wine. The really desirable high-end wines, whether they are Burgundy or Bordeaux, or Californian wines, have become so expensive that people just can’t afford them so they look elsewhere. This is having a negative effect on the younger generation, and I think this is why we are seeing more and more interest in boutique and craft beers and spirits in the USA. I enjoy tasting some of these boutique beers because they are really good, and well-made, and you can buy a 4-pack of high-end, highly rated beer for $15-20, and you are still in the budget category for wine at that price. So there is no question that wine prices are way too high and I think Bordeaux has to have a reckoning soon about their pricing. Burgundy is a bit different. Bordeaux is big properties, with a large production. In Burgundy, with premier or grand cru then you are talking about 200 cases per producer. They don’t have enough wine. But I do agree that it’s a major problem. And you could segue from that problem to the fact that restaurants apply such incredibly high mark ups that they are making wine look like an elitist beverage, when really it’s not. 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.

And what about your role in such price appreciation?

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

One Response to “Larger than life: Profiling Parker”

  1. Cyrene says:

    A Hard-working man, modest, with a solid sense of humor, who love wines and food, with a true dignity and a sense of honesty that most journalists could only dream of. He did a lot for the world, getting dozens of millions to understand and aprreciate wine. Thank you Sir Robert, for what you have done and for always being true to your word. The wine world owes you a colossal statue to show its gratitude.

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