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Eric Asimov on Robert Parker

bob_gestures.jpgSome call him the most powerful critic in the world, of any kind. Some call him the Dictator of Taste. If there's one guy who walks around the wine world with a bull's-eye painted on his ass, it's Robert Parker. The wine critic that everyone loves to hate. Yesterday, Eric Asimov had a very nice piece about Parker in the New York Times. And by nice I mean, honestly, sincerely nice. Almost charming. The piece is not particularly profound, nor does it offer anything substantially new in the way of insight into his character, but it's a nice portrait of the guy that is absent all the usual politics and suspicion (on the one hand) or ingratiating flattery (on the other) that infiltrate a lot of the coverage of the guy. It's worth a read if you have a few minutes.

Comments (9)

Geoff Smith wrote:
03.24.06 at 10:47 AM

This is a very good article showing exactly where Robert Parker stands in the world of wine.

Personally, I've always thought that Mr. Parker is more "sinned against than sinning." And, why have so few ever enumerated (or praised) the amazing amount of work he has contributed to the wine world, globally? Besides the incredible volume of wine analyses, the definitive books on Bordeaux, the Rhone, etc., which have been inspirational to some many wine 'amateurs' and professionals, myself included.


Geoffrey Smith
St Helena, California

Ken wrote:
03.24.06 at 12:29 PM

Folks who like to "hate on" RP, and rail against his "Emperor" status are missing the obvious parallel in the film world: Roger Ebert. Having helped (with Gene Siskel) to make movie criticism mainstream and an essential part of marketing, Ebert is probably more powerful than just about any other consumer critic in the world. A thumbs up has go to be worth millions in ticket sales from moviegoers who figure it can't be all bad if he liked it.

Naturally, Ebert is despised by filmmakers and producers who feel wronged by his reviews, and loved and courted by those who crave his approval. It's a business thing.

As someone who knows a fair bit about movies and my own tastes, I know that an Ebert thumbs up isn't enough to estimate my own appreciation. I take the same approach with wine.

Read him or don't, agree with him or don't, but in every interview I've read with Parker he comes across and someone who just follows his own tastebuds. What more could you ask of a critic?

Sopan wrote:
03.24.06 at 2:59 PM


First of all, great site... I learned of it a couple of years ago when you posted a note to the alumni newsgroup on the best ways to get a reservation at French Laundry :-)

Anyway, Ken's comparison is dead on. I don't always agree with Ebert's taste in movies, but the fact that he's consistent makes him a reliable enough barometer for me. Parker's consistency, I believe, is why he has been so successful. It's just a matter of calibrating your own tastes to his.

Gerald Weisl wrote:
03.24.06 at 4:25 PM

While Roger Ebert may be a powerful critic, there are still plenty of films tailored to a particular audience who pay to see this entertainment.

Where Mr. Parker's influence is potentially detrimental is that so many vintners make wine specifically for a favorable review in The Wine Advocate. The notion is, of course, wines which score highly in the various journals are wines consumers must want to buy (and drink).

What gives a critic pleasure in a "wine tasting" may be different from what gives a consumer pleasure at the dinner table. Some wines are really great "wine-tasting" wines. As a critic, we spend perhaps an hour tasting and critiquing a flight of wines. On the other hand, actually drinking a wine (instead of sniffing, sipping and spitting) over the course of a meal is a somewhat different dynamic.

I can't recall Mr. Parker's notation of residual sugar in certain wines which do have a detectable level of sweetness (for example). When you taste the volume of wine he's tasting, it may be difficult to retain sensitivity to a wine which does have six to eight grams of sugar per liter. When you taste but one small flight of wines, this is easier to detect. Vintners look to see which wines receive plaudits from Parker and then seek to offer wines with similar features. Sugar, high alcohol and lots of oak are "features" of many highly-rated wines in The Wine Advocate.

Mr. Parker has certainly had much positive influence on wine quality. But he has also had what some would (and do) say is a negative influence, too.

Robert F. Sweeney, MD wrote:
03.26.06 at 2:54 PM


Robert Parker is a brillant writer with an encyclopedic palate. The same British "royal mentality"that doomed their forefathers ultimately resulting in our independence still persists.
Robinson,Coates and Johnson are so blatantly pathetic in their criticism of Parker.Jancis who? Clive who? Hugh who? Seething with jealousy like two year old children.Apparently all "major wine critics" from Britain have a tendency to believe they have the exclusive truth.Ironically "the three" come off as sanctimonious sycophants. Bob

JCS wrote:
03.28.06 at 1:46 PM

Hmm . . the Parker debate rages on. I read his biography and I think he seems like a fine guy who is just doing what he loves, not always perfectly, but who does? The bigger issue I have with any critic falls to the wine industry and consumers. He is merely putting information out there that he feels is vaild and important, and so it is. No one can argue that the man has a palate. But, is it everyone's palate? No. I've been in the wine biz for years and it is scary what a good score can do for a wine. Many people are sheep and they want to be told what to buy. The sad part is when they come to me to say that they bought the "top 5" cabs, paid a fortune for them, and only liked one. They don't understand they are buying based on what someone else likes. There are good wines and bad wines, but there is a huge gray scale in between of what appeals to an individual's palate. How we get consumers to get in touch with that is the real issue. And the wine industry doesn't help much. It is so competitive and getting a high score from Parker or Spectator can make or break a winery or winemaker, so now we are making wines to get the scores. It's sad, really. Add to that the whole "status" aspect of wine, cult wines, supply and demand etc. and it's a real conundrum. Don't get me started . . .

Alder wrote:
03.28.06 at 1:55 PM

Very well put, JCS. It is indeed a conundrum, and the only thing that I think will help are a proliferation of honest, articulate, and respected voices about wine. That may not really help people's tendencies to gravitate towards scores, but it will help with the polarization around just a couple of strong voices.

Gideon wrote:
03.28.06 at 6:32 PM

Obviously, there are many ways to look at RP and his influence on the wine world. I for one, feel I owe him much for his (written) guidance in my earlier wine days a couple of decades ago. His passionate writing fed my love for wine and was to some degree instrumental in my giving up my earlier profession and ending up in the wine producing world. But I am equally endebted to others like Steven Spurrier, Hugh Johnson, David Peppercorn, and Michael Broadbendt for their guidance and contribution to my education. Like in any other area, one's education is successful only to the degree that it leads one to finding one's own personal view, taste, or meaning. Which would be the point at which you no longer follow blindly any guide. Parker is not to blame for the greed that drives the wine industry towards "one size fits all" reality, and the ignorance which supports it in the marketplace. Our culture craves reassurances and authorities in every aspect of our lives and he happened to be there in the right time to fill a gap in the wine reviewing world.
Give him a break and some respect for what he has accomplished, and follow your own bliss!
And to the wine producers - as financially painful as it may be, I think they should avoid submitting their wines to any wine-rating individuals or bodies in order to retain their integrity and true pride in what they do. Reviews, books, articles are potentially different - they allow for an in-depth look at the wine, where it came from, and what it is about.

Arthur wrote:
11.22.06 at 12:09 PM

I struggle with this issue myself. There are a number of ways of rating wine. I agree with JCS - a critic will usually interject personal tastes into assessment of a wine - unless they shift their paradigm to consider: stylistic intent of the wine maker, region, vintage and ultimately the question: "To whom will this wine with its combination of characteristics appeal to?"and rate/review the wine in that context.

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