• Alexander Smith

Robert Parker announces his retirement

Over 40 years ago, Robert Parker started a little wine journal called The Wine Advocate. Over the next 40 years this Wine Journal, and more importantly his views changed the world of wine, forever.

Robert Parker announces his retirement
Robert Parker announces his retirement

Firstly, Robert Parker is by far the most admired and profiled wine critic of this generation, he was the first real wine critic. He introduced the 100 point scale, and put the spotlight on regions which if it was not for him, might be less well known today. The wine advocate has subscribers in over 40 countries and they follow him on every word and recommendation. If Parker gave the famous 100 points, the wines would sell out almost immediately, and significantly rise in value. No other wine journalist or critic to this day has had the same effect.

However, as we know, one man's taste is another man's poison. Parker has a particular style of wine he enjoys; big, bold and concentrated. Not all amateur wine drinkers had the same preferences, and so this became an issue. As he started gaining a following, and grading wines, the wineries who saw the impact of his scores started to change their style to attract his attention. At the height of his fame was the 1982 Bordeaux vintage, which he believed was sublime, others believed it was just overripe. Bordeaux was going through a tough time, with California on the rise and the Judgement of Paris tasting 1976; wine amateurs were just less excited about Bordeaux. Bordeaux needed some new energy, and so the 2005 vintage came along just at the right time. Parker referred to this vintage as the 'Greatest in a lifetime'. However critics of Parker came out of hiding to quickly put him down, they pointed out his inability to identify left, from the right bank in a public tasting in 2009. This caused his critics to ask his ability to identify the quality of a vintage, if he was not even able to identify left from right bank. He certainly did not have it easy.

The 2009 vintage was the next big vintage from Bordeaux, and this one was big. Parker rated 19, yes 19 wines with 100 points! This shocked the wine community, and prices followed, with the highest en-primeur prices seen in 30 years. The wines were big, bold, concentrated and powerful. Yet, the public did not seem as excited about the vintage as he was. Did Bordeaux make a mistake by listening to Parker? Maybe, but this was a wakeup call, on one hand, Bordeaux was back in the light, but had produced a vintage to one man's taste. Bordeaux had its traditions and it was in transformation, I look at the 2005 and 2009 vintage as a transformation to bring Bordeaux into the 21st century. Robert Parker helped this transformation. From 2010, Bordeaux realized they could not produce these styles of wines at those prices.

Bordeaux started a new approach, to a more fresh, fruit friendly, balanced and elegant style or wine, whilst keeping the Bordeaux characteristics in place. This was new Bordeaux, thanks in part to Parker. We have to remember that those years where Bordeaux was trying to please an influential American wine critic, no one was paying Parker. Parker was just an influencer who enjoyed tasting, writing and noting wines on a 100 point scale. Some will comment that Bordeaux changed their style to sell more wine to the U.S and Asia. With the threat of California, they had to offer something new and appealing. Parker seems to be able to guide them to what they thought were the American taste buds. However American tastes varies.

Whatever your thoughts about Robert Parker might be, I am certain of one thing. More people are drinking wine today because of him. No one can dispute that. That is good for the industry and good for business. I hope he enjoys his retirement, he deserves it, the wine world owes him a great deal. Thanks, Bob and happy retirement!

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