The Power of Parker?

I get lots of newsletters from wine merchants, including some big names in USA, Europe and the UK. I don’t buy a lot of wine from them, but I do enjoy keeping up with prices of wine around the world, especially new releases and futures. One thing that’s easy to notice is how much these guys depend on Robert Parker to do their marketing.

So that leads me to ask the question: Does Parker single-handedly determine what we buy, what we pay, and really, what we all want to drink?

Lots of people think so, including many in a position to know. Tomas Clancy of Ireland’s Sunday Business Post has written: “His (Parker) ratings, along with his florid tasting notes, define modern American wine criticism. The Wine Advocate‘s scores are quoted in wine transactions across the globe, turning Parker into the world’s most influential wine critic…Indeed, his influence over the multibillion dollar wine industry is far greater than that of any other critic working in any other area, be it wine, cinema or literature.”
Mike Steinberger of Slate, that publication’s wine writer, described the run-up in wine prices saying “They (speculators and trophy hunters) are making the fine-wine market a lot frothier than it might otherwise be, and their purchases are almost entirely dictated by the scores doled out by Robert Parker and a few other critics.” He ascribed the problem mostly to the 100-point system pioneered by Parker, that purports (pretends, if you ask me) to evaluate a wine’s quality with a kind of, well, mathematical certainty.

That is absurb, of course. And I never enjoyed math in grade school or high school, and avoided it altogether in college. You?

Feelings about Mr. Parker’s hold on winemakers themselves border on the surreal. In the leading UK wine rag Decanter, Oliver Styles wrote: “Robert Parker’s influence on Californian wines has forced winemakers to lose their sense of balance, says a cult Santa Barbara producer. Adam Tolmach of Ojai Vineyard told newspaper The Los Angeles Times that his wines had ‘lost their rudder’ in trying to please the palate of the American wine guru Robert Parker.”
Curiously, though, I don’t think Parker’s influence is as great as it may seem…among wine consumers anyway, and especially younger ones. He certainly has influence among some winemakers, yet even former acolytes such as Mr. Tolmach are finally starting to think for themselves.

And while Parker certainly has a hold among wealthy collectors and speculators–ironically, since he says that he’s against using wine as an investment–how many of us go into a wine store totally determined to walk out ONLY with a Parker-rated 94 or above bottle?  Bueller? Bueller?

Look, Parker tastes tens if not hundreds of thousands of wines a year. Sounds like fun but let me assure you, it’s not, really; it’s a business and it’s grueling. He likes what he likes, which I understand to be big, bold, tannic and high-alcohol numbers. And he scores ’em how he sees ’em – how could he do anything else?
So when you’re in a wine store and are strangely drawn to those numbers on the shelf talkers, well, if they make you feel better, knock yourself out. But don’t set your clock to Parker unless, well, you just want what he wants. Maybe you do.