America’s MOST Infuential Critic: Robert Parker?

The December 2006 issue of the Atlantic Monthly (a magazine any self-respecting intellectual-minded person should read) has a fascinating cover story on the 100 Most Influential People in American History. There are no wine-related people on this list.

However, there is an interesting series of sidebar stories such as Most Influential Poets, Filmmakers and…Critics. Inside this sidebar story comes the following sentence:

"No critic in history has ever wielded as much influence as Robert Parker."

Clearly the author of his sidebar story, Atlantic Monthly Managing Editor Robert Messenger, is referring to American Critics. However, I don’t think he’s merely suggesting that Mr. Parker is the most influential  WINE Critic. I think he’s say that in terms of overall influence, no other critic in American history has ever wielded a much influence than Parker:

"His ratings send customers scurrying to wine shops and drive price skyward. Wines are being made on five continents to suit his preferences. With his exceptional palate and Nader-like devotion to the consumer, he revolutionized an industry that was dominated by insiders, obfuscation, and hyperbole twenty years ago. He’s been attacked from all sides but it hard not to admire his consistency and his independence."

With the exception of the third sentence in this love letter, it’s hard to disagree with Messenger’s appraisal of Robert Parker. But it’s that 3rd sentence that gets to me.

First, I think you can make  a significant argument that Parker does have a devotion to the consumer. However, so do the folks who make the "Girls Gone Wild" videos.  I often wonder if what seems like a commitment to bestowing high scores on wines from across the globe that have similar characters is a benefit to the consumer.

Also, I’m unclear what kind of "obfuscation" was inherent in the wine business 20 years ago and what Mr. Parker did t save us from that. Finally, is there really less hyperbole, as Mr. Messenger implies, in the wine business today and, if there is (which there is not) how did Mr. Parker rid us of that?

The list of most influential critics in the Atlantic Monthly is an inspired effort. I’m a BIG fan of learned criticism. Among the others on the list are Bernard Berenson, the man who introduced the classic art world to Americans; Clement Greenberg, the author of "Art and Culture" and who championed the contemporary abstract art movement; John Hammond, the man who introduced Jazz to America; and Randal Jarrell, the modern American Poet’s critic.

And yet, I’m still stuck wondering about the nature of influence and Robert Parker when I read, again, this sentence in the sidebar:

"No critic in history has ever wielded as much influence as Robert Parker."

4 Responses

  1. John - November 27, 2006

    I hadn’t looked over the lists yet, but I did read the article on wine shops. Curious to hear what your thoughts are on that one.

  2. VinoJoe - November 28, 2006

    “No critic in history has ever wielded as much influence as Robert Parker.”
    Well … can anyone name a single person who has caused dozens of manufacturers to change and manipulate their products such that, that one critic finds it pleasing?
    Taken from that context, there might be some support for the quote.

  3. Paul Cullen - December 2, 2006

    Robert Who?
    I know of him but have I bought a bottle of wine because of him…NOPE
    I don’t think I’m in the minority either. I got into wine about 5 years ago. I’ve been a musician for 26 years and wine has taken the place of all the things that were fun when I was younger.
    One of the things I love about wine..other than drinking it..Is sharing good wines that you have had, especially bottles under 15$. My local wine shop(Bin66) is the root of the experience. It’s always fun to go in and get the new wine that people are talking about and turning them on to ones I’ve had that they would like.
    Nothing against Robert..But I don’t use his system. I think wine like music should be fun….

  4. critico d'arte siciliano - January 10, 2010

    Gaetano Porcasi is a Sicilian artist and school art teacher. His paintings are considered unique not only for their social and political commitment but also for the technique and choice of typical Mediterranean colours from which a strong and deep Sicilitudine (Sicilian mood) emerges. The 2003 itinerant exhibition Portella della Ginestra Massacre is a good example: in 1947 a group of Sicilian farmers was shot and killed in Portella by the outlaw Salvatore Giuliano and his men under orders from the local Mafia mobsters and big landowners in order to stop the farmers’ attempts to occupy and plant uncultivated local land. His historical paintings which denounce the violence and oppression of the Mafia find their counterpart in his paintings which depict sunny Sicilian landscapes rich in lemon, orange and olive trees, in prickly pear, agave and broom plants. They show the wealth of a land that has been kissed by God but downtrodden by man. In painting the sky of his native Sicily Gaetano uses several different hues of blue and it’s from this sky that his pictorial journey starts. In his paintings the history of Sicily, which has always been marked by its farmers’ sweat and blood and by their struggles for freedom and democracy, finds its pictorial expression in the fusion of the red flags of the workers with the Italian flag in a sort of Italian and Mediterranean epopea. The red flags and the Italian flag stand out against the blue sky that changes its hues according to the events, the seasons, the deeds and the moods that are painted on the canvas. The luxuriant nature of Sicily with its beautiful, sunny, Mediterranean landscapes seems to remain the silent, unchangeable and unchanged witness to events and the passing of time. Here people are only accidenti, they aren’t makers of their own life. Thus Gaetano makes a clear-cut metaphysical distinction between a benign, merciful nature and Man who breaks the natural harmony to satisfy his wild, unbridled ambition and selfishness and who becomes the perpetrator of violence and crime. Gaetano is also an active environmentalist and his fight against all forms of pollution has already cost him a lot of aggravation.

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