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The man who can make or break a wine’s reputation

The wine world fears him as much as it revers him. Robert Paker with his guide to wine and champagne is a demonstration of the power and influence of the critics. But Robert Parker’s encounter with wine owes more to chance than vocation. Parker was born in Baltimore in 1947 to a family of farmers. He studied history, then law, and was hired by Farm Credit Banks of Baltimore of lawyer. It was years later in 1984 that what was his passion would begin to make his fortune.

Discovering wine in Strasbourg

Robert Parker discovered wine in 1967 in a restaurant In Strasbourg when he ordered a glass of wine because it was cheaper than a Coca Cola. This first glass was a revelation for him, and following this first trip to France he returned every year to discover the different wine growing areas and taste as many wines as possible. He brought back pages and pages of scribbled comments and anecdotes from his travels and in 1978 produced a first newsletter of tasting notes : The Baltimore-Washington Wine Advocate. The following year the newsletter was renamed The Wine Advocate. In 1982 he gained international status when he spoke up in praise of a Bordeaux vintage that he had tasted en primeur and found remarkable, but which had been ignored by the critics.

Too influential ?

Robert Parker has had an incredible impact on the world of wine and champagne criticism. He is one of the rare critics to demand blind tastings, possessing as he does an extremely sensitive and regular palate. He has imposed his own very detailed system of notation with scores out of 100, with for example the colour being noted out of a maximum of 5 points, the nose 15 points, the palate 20 points and ageing potential 10 points. Each wine starts with 50 points to which points gained on the above criteria are added, meaning that a wine with a score of 50 out of 100 is execrable, 96 to 100 is an extraordinary wine, amongst the greatest, 90 to 95 a great wine, 80 to 89 a very good wine, 70 to 79 agreeable without particular complexity or depth; 60 to 69, very average, with faults, 50 to 59 undrinkable.

Robert Parker has been highly criticized for favouring oaked wines, a reproach that he refutes, stating that he looks for low yields, grape selection, ripeness of grapes and simple and natural winemaking with respect for the vines, the expression of the grape variety and the vintage.

Robert Parker and champagne

He is not a particular connoisseur of champagne, and in fact does not taste the wines from this region himself but has given this task to Antonio Galloni who travels to every corner of the Champagne vineyards. Amongst the cuvees that are well noted in his guide to champagne are those from the house of Pierre Péters, particularly « les Chétillons ». Antonio Galloni prefers champagnes that above all demonstrate perfect mastery of the vinification process and great respect for their terroir. It must be said that oak aged champagnes are well represented amongst the best scoring cuvees in The Wine Advocate.