The End of an Era: Robert Parker Stops Reviewing California Wine

Most that follow the wine world closely, knew this day was going to come, but many, including myself would not have thought so soon. In an e-mail to subscribers today, Robert M. Parker, Jr. announced that he was handing over primary responsibility for reviewing California wines to his associate Antonio Galloni. Parker will continue to conduct vertical and other special tastings of California wine, but the regular critical coverage has been ceded to Galloni.

I first learned of this announcement this morning on a site called the Wine Cellar Insider, run by a gentleman by the name of Jeff Leve, a friend of Parker’s, a wine collector and long time participant on the eRobertparker.Com bulletin board.

A little asking around got me a copy of the e-mail sent to subscribers of the Wine Advocate:

“Dear Subscriber:

I am thrilled to announce that Antonio Galloni will have expanded responsibilities for The Wine Advocate and as of February 1, 2011. I would like to take credit for my powers of persuasion over recent years in trying to convince Antonio of the virtues of covering additional wine regions, but if truth be known, the writing was always on the wall that his enviable talents and passion for this field would ultimately prevail, and the beneficiaries are the world’s wine consumers.

Antonio will continue to focus on the wines of Italy as well as Champagne, but two new areas of responsibility for Antonio will include the red and white Burgundies of the Côte d’Or as well as the crisp white wines of Chablis, and the wines of California. These vast regions will benefit from the increased depth of coverage, as will all the major wine regions of the world.

Additionally, sectors that merit dramatically more attention but have not had sufficient coverage, including Beaujolais and the Mâconnais (now economically as important as the Cote d’Or and Chablis) will be put under a microscope by David Schildknecht, who will continue with his other areas of responsibility but will be freed from covering the Cote d’Or and Chablis.

I will turn to something I have long played around with in The Wine Advocate but have rarely had enough time to do. Older readers may remember the vintage retrospectives called “What About Now?” With Antonio turning his attention to California, I am going to begin a series of horizontal and vertical tastings of perfectly stored California wines that will give readers insight into how they are developing. It has been a long-term ambition of mine to include more reports on older vintages, and this change will allow me to do this not only in California, but also to increase the older vintage reports for Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley.

In all other respects, the staff assignments at The Wine Advocate remain identical. I hope all of you share our great enthusiasm for the fact that Antonio Galloni has finally taken the plunge and will be devoting most of his time to his wine writing career, a job for which he seems particularly well-suited and sure to excel.

All the best in wine and life,
Robert M. Parker, Jr.

P.S. The Wine Advocate writer assignments are:

Robert Parker – Bordeaux, the Rhône Valley, older vintages of Bordeaux, Rhône and California wines
Antonio Galloni – Italy, Champagne, Chablis, Côte d’Or, California
David Schildknecht – Germany, Loire, Beaujolais and Mâconnais, Eastern U.S., Austria,
Eastern Europe, Languedoc-Roussillon, Jura
Jay Miller – Oregon, Washington, South America, Spain
Lisa Perrotti – Brown – Australia, New Zealand
Neal Martin – Critic-at-Large overlapping all areas, plus specific reviewer of South Africa
Mark Squires – Bulletin Board supervision and occasional articles on Israel, Portugal, and Greece

My friend Elin McCoy recently penned an article in The World of Fine Wine magazine entitled “The Twilight of the Emperor,” the title of which captures elegantly the clearly waning power (and impending retirement) of Robert Parker as America’s foremost wine critic. Clearly Parker intends to continue working, and his coverage of Bordeaux and the Rhone will continue to be among the most authoritative around, but the announcement of full retirement seems that much closer, and it seems much clearer that if there was an anointed replacement it will be Antonio Galloni.

Many will dismiss this event as non-news, and might suggest (with some degree of truth) that Parker has been fading in influence for some time. Yet, the weight that a 95 point Wine Advocate score from Parker on top California wines has not lessened in its value or importance.

Interestingly, at least as far as my experience has shown, Galloni’s palate seems to favor less intense ripeness than Parker’s, and seems to be more favorably (than Parker) disposed to wines that lean more towards the idiosyncratic. The question arises, then, whether or not we will see a shift in the scoring of California wines now that they are Under New Management at the Wine Advocate. In the most extreme case, we could be looking at a shakeup of the longstanding hierarchy of California cult bottlings.

As if handling California weren’t enough, Galloni now has to handle all the top wines of Burgundy as well as his existing coverage of Italy and Champagne, which will be a herculean task if there ever was one. I wish him well.

Watching the unraveling of the ParkTator critical hegemony in this country has been fascinating sport, and it’s clear we’re in the midst of very interesting times when it comes to American wine criticism.

What do you think?