Robert Parker and the Odd Case of the 2002 Vintage
This post continues a series in which I look at the meaning of Robert Parker's Wine Advocate's ratings of California wines. In these posts I assume that the Wine Advocate's power is important to the California wine industry and that the percentage of wines within a category that are rated 90 points or higher is an appropriate proxy for the Wine Advocate's overall view of the quality of a category.
As I noted in yesterday's post on the history of Robert Parker's reviews of California Chardonnays in the Wine Advocate, something curious happened around the reviews of the 2002 vintage: The percentage of wines receiving 90 points or more increased significantly. In fact between the 1990 and 2000 vintages of California Chardonnay, Robert Parker on average gave 37% of all wines reviewed in these vintages 90 Points or more. Between 2002 and 2009, that vintage by vintage average of 90 point California Chardonnays jumped to 71%. It was an astounding leap in the number of 90+ rated wines that happened nearly overnight with reviews of the 2002 vintage.
The very same phenomena happens with Mr. Parker's reviews of California Cabernet Sauvignon, Proprietary Red Blends and Zinfandel. Below are charts that track the percentage of 90+ points received by these varietal category of wines from 1989 to 2009:
Note the jump in the percentage of California Cabernets receiving 90 Points or more beginning with the 2002 vintage. The 1989 to 2001 vintages saw an average of 39% of their wines receive 90+ points. The 2002 through 2008 vintages saw an average of 74% of all published Cabernet reviews receive 90 points or more.
Again, with Proprietary Red Blends from California, note the jump in the number of wines that receive 90 Points or more around 2002. The 1989 to 2001 vintages saw an average of 48% of their wines receive 90+ points. The 2002 through 2008 vintages saw an average of 67% of all published Proprietary Red Blend reviews receive 90 points or more.
Finally there is Zinfandel. Once again, there is a remarkable increase in the number of Zinfandel's receiving 90 points or more beginning with the 2002 vintage. The 1989 to 2001 vintages saw an average of 25% of published Zinfandel reviews receive 90+ points. The 2002 through 200p vintages saw an average of 67% of all published Zinfandel reviews receive 90 points or more.
Here is another view of the Chardonnay graph published in yesterday's post that shows, again, a precipitous jump in the average number of Chardonnays receiving 90 points or more beginning with the 2002 vintage.
A few things need to be noted about this information:
1. Generally, the number of published reviews across varietals has increased over the years at the Wine Advocate.
2. It has been extraordinarily rare for the Wine Advocate to publish any reviews receiving less than 85 points. This is clearly an editorial decision by Robert Parker because..
3. Mr. Parker has stated numerous times that the vast majority of wines he tastes do not make it into the Wine Advocate because, as he stated in a 2003 article, "There is also no doubt that 75% or more of the wines I taste during a year are insipid, mediocre efforts that offer little pleasure, and are more akin to industrial swill than true hand-crafted wine" and adding in a 2008 article that "31% of the wines tasted have actually made it into the publication."
4. The vast majority of California wine reviews that Robert Parker has published in the Wine Advocate between 1989 and 2009 are higher priced wines.
5. The same consistency with which Cabernet, Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Proprietary reds see a jump in 90+ point reviews beginning 2002 and continuing onward is not evidenced with California Merlot and Syrah. Syrah's graph looks like the Pinot Noir graph, while the Merlot graph shows an increase in wines receiving 90+ points beginning in 2002, but that increase in 90+ point wines is not sustained continually in future vintages as it is with Chardonnay, Cabernet Proprietary Red Blends and Zinfandel.
Still, this information does not account for what appears to be an very large jump in the number of wines that began receiving 90+ scores with the 2002 vintage, reviewed by Mr. Parker primarily in 2003 and 2004.
In a final post in this series that explores Robert Parker's reviews of California wines over the past 20 years, I want to explore the implications of this increase in 90+ scores beginning in 2002 and make some final observations. However, I end this post with an invitation to readers to offer their own explanations for the findings.