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Robert Parker Had It Right

Robert Parker’s reputation relied almost exclusively on three regions. There was Bordeaux, there was the Rhône Valley there was the Napa Valley. His ability to call wines as he saw them, to consistently remain true to his palate, and to enthuse about those wines he liked, from these three regions at least, resulted in a loyal band of readers and subscribers who knew they could follow his recommendations.

I know Robert Parker wrote extensively on other regions, but I am not sure how much weight these reviews carried (although I would wager it was probably more than you might think). And I know things didn’t go well in Burgundy. But that is all pretty much irrelevant. You didn’t take out a subscription for the Wine Advocate to read about the latest releases from Georgia, from the upper reaches of the Mosel, or from Burgundy or the Loire. It was when he wrote on his trio of ‘expert regions’ that you placed your trust in him. He had decades of expertise. He had a track record. And if you didn’t agree with his opinion on certain styles, he was consistent enough to still be of use as a critic. You knew where he was coming from. You knew what to buy or, alternatively, what to avoid.

I think paying consistent attention to a small number of regions, for many years, is valuable experience for a critic. You get to know which winemakers to watch, who is making waves, who has suddenly improved, whose wines are going downhill, and you get to review your assessments – and learn from your mistakes – by returning to the wines as they age. I wonder how newcomer critics parachuted into unfamiliar regions – by the journal or magazine they write for, perhaps – cope with this. When you encounter unfamilar wines, from unfamiliar styles, how do you rate them? Where is the context?

The risk is that you might rate wines too high, entranced by unfamilar flavours and different textures and structures. Or perhaps too low, being unwittingly mean as you just didn’t get the style. And there is a risk that, not tasting blind, you subconsciously award high scores to famous labels. After all, they’re wines from domaines you’ve heard of, so these must be the benchmarks, right? How easy it is, I think, to get that wrong.

Robert Parker definitely had it right. To be credible, critics should write about what they know (and love).

4 Responses to “Robert Parker Had It Right”

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    True this. To be useful a critic can not survive on his abiity to taste and to critique. He should also have insight, humility, a willingness to learn and a willingness to accept he will be wrong from time to time. Anything else is, apart from being arrogant, certain to diminish their credibility and usefulness as a critic.

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    Excellent….. this is why I come to this site. Love the style of your writing Chris and I have watched it develop over the years. And I agree with the premise as proposed. Nothing trumps a bit of solid knowledge when it comes to wine. These critics who enucleate endlessly on regions they patently have no real attachment to, never having even visited the region in a few cases I could name (I quite certain of this) reveal their ignorance in their ratings. Carry on with yours sir!

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    Fully agree. certain critics often display false humbleness (e.g. I am humbled by the opportunity to taste this or that expenseve/rare wine), whereas I think it is much more important to be transparent in what they really know, and what they don’t know. You cannot be an expert in everything.

    Here’s what I wrote about it myself last year:

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    Thanks Peter – interesting post.