How To Understand Robert Parker’s Impact on the Wine World

Robert Parker is often described as the most influential wine critic alive and who has ever lived. Some have suggested that his influence on which wines ascend to the pinnacle of winedom make him the the most influential critic regardless of subject matter, period.

Mr. Parker’s status as a critic is an interesting question, but not nearly as interesting as the line of discussion that Lettie Teague of the Wall Street Journal encourages Mr. Parker to explore in an interview for the WSJ’s Marketwatch entitled “Inside wine guru Robert Parker’s cellar sanctum”.

In this discussion it becomes pretty clear that Robert Parker either doesn’t fully understand his own legend and its impact or that he is on a mission to offer a re-interpretation of the impact of his work. The question Ms. Teague lays on the table is this: “What is a ‘Parkerized’ wine anyway?”

Mr. Parker’s response is fascinating because he gets wrong the actual meaning of the phrase and offers an alternative meaning that is not so much wrong as it is hopeful:

“‘Parkerized was a term generally employed in a negative fashion to describe a wine that was oaky, alcoholic and bombastic — which I totally disagree with, by the way.”

This is not what “Parkerized” has come to mean among the wine set. What Mr. Parker has described is the type of wines that he is perceived to like and rank high on his 50-100 point scale. The actual meaning of the term “Parkerized” is a wine that shoots up in price and popularity upon being give a single or series of very high scoring reviews in the Wine Advocate. The distinction is a pretty big one.

What’s really fascinating is the description that Mr. Parker would like to apply to the term “Parkerized”:

“One produced from previously underachieving vineyards whose wine makers got serious about creating a quality wine.”

There is no doubt in my mind that this idea has never before been connected with the term “Parkerized”. However it gives us all a very keen understanding of what Robert Parker would like his legacy to reflect. It’s a really compelling idea: The  wine critic studiously seeking out previously unimportant vineyards that have been given not just new life by attentive winemakers and vineyardists, but which have also been lifted up and beyond their neighbors and their history based on the the great wines made from them. I like that idea of the goal of a wine critic.

There is a lesson here. Maybe more than one. The first is that it is probably unwise to rely on the source of a new noun to understand the meaning of that new noun. The second is that one should not rely on observers and critics of critics to understand the mission of the critic.

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5 Responses

  1. Alfonso - November 12, 2012

    Tom, never took you for a parkerazzi ;)

  2. Tom Wark - November 12, 2012

    Alfonso,

    I’m fascinated by the wine media and The Wine Advocate is indeed a huge part of the wine media. And this issue of “parkerized” wines has equally interested me all these years. These comments by Mr. Parker are enlightening.

    Tom….

  3. Alfonso - November 13, 2012

    Interesting here in Italy ( where I am right now). Italians are asking me if Parker has any influence any more. I ask them if they are serious. They say to me, “Well, he is retiring, no?” I respond with, “He may retire someday, but the “Wine Advocate” brand isn’t going away,” specially with Antonio Galloni not anywhere near his peak.(which is to say he has a long career ahead of him). Some of these same people will ask me if James Suckling is as important to those of us in the US as he has been (and remains) in Italy

    .

  4. Bill Haydon - November 14, 2012

    Parker has always been the very psychological definition of the “bully.” He’s quick to flout every bit of power he has, yet is incredibly thin-skinned when even questioned much less attacked.

    As for the larger question of his influence, it is–at least in the markets of Chicago, NYC, DC and Boston where I work–already careening towards irrelevance. Among younger “millenial” buyers, bringing up a Parker score will often do more damage than good. I can only imagine that this erosion of influence will only begin to filter out of the large cities and into their suburbs and to the secondary markets in the coming years.

  5. Kelly - November 20, 2012

    As for the joke yes, it’s old. As for my looks, yes I know I’m a geek, fat, have acne and look a bit awkward. I’m not afriad to admit it either. But I’m a person that loves memes and humor and loves to laugh. You guys can’t tell me you never watched The Simpsons, Family Guy, South Park or any other comedy show and laughed when they made fun of a particular person. It’s all fun and games. Lighten up, there’s way too many serious people in this world.


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