The World According To... Robert Parker

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Love him or hate him, Robert Parker continues to take the crown as the world’s most important wine critic. In his first interview with the British press for years, “Bob” shares his vision for the future with Harpers Wine & Spirit, in advance of his appearance at the Wine Future conference.

More than a quarter of a century after rising to prominence with his declarations about the 1982 Bordeaux vintage, the scores out of 100 of Robert Parker continue to make or break a wine in the US and around the world.

Parker and his team continue to exert the largest single influence on wine pricing, although these days he is far more likely to taste his way around the world from the comfort of his home near Baltimore in the United Status.

His views and opinions on wine trends and the future of the industry and what he sees are the key challenges facing the global sector are less well known.

He has agreed to touch on all these themes later in the year at the Wine Academy of Spain’s Wine Future conference in Rioja in November. In an interview with Harpers Wine & Spirit and the Wine Academy of Spain, we offer a sneak preview with the wine world according to one Robert Parker.

Why are you looking to attend and speak at the Winefuture`09 conference?
I certainly feel it is an honour and a privilege to be asked to attend the 2009 Winefuture Conference. Furthermore, I have not been to Spain in a long time, and I look forward to seeing how the country has changed. On my previous visits (1970, 1971, and 1972), there were no highways!

What do you see as the big global challenges facing the wine industry?
There are a number of global challenges to the wine industry. The fluctuations of currency are certainly a major problem, as is the proliferation of wine regions. The effect of this is that production has outstripped demand and consumer awareness. Educating wine consumers and ensuring effective distribution of wine throughout the civilized world has always been a challenge, and continues to be a significant one today.

Do you believe that there will be a before and an after for the wine industry once the world overcomes the current crisis?
It is difficult to know how long the current crisis will endure. It is certainly the deepest anyone alive has experienced, and the global impact is not to be diminished. Overall, the wine industry has fared reasonably well. At this point, I had expected far more consolidations, bankruptcies, and related misfortunes than what we have seen to date. So, I suspect the industry is in a good position to thrive once the current crisis has run its course.

What kind of role do you think you can play?
I am a wine critic, and while I do not review as many wines as I did a decade ago, the entire team that now works for the Wine Advocate has one overwhelming goal - to provide meaningful as well as unbiased and independent information for wine consumers, especially with respect to the diversity and quality of wines from the different viticultural regions throughout the world. We strive to educate the consumer regarding different wine styles and what each region does best.

Your influence often goes before you. Is this a help or a hindrance?
Worldwide influence is personally gratifying, but in my case, it is often greatly exaggerated, and creates its own set of problems with people believing in some sort of mythical omnipotence not based on reality

What do you think has been your most important contribution to the global wine industry?
Bringing integrity, credibility, and a democratic view to the wine world is what I think has been my most important contribution to the global wine industry. Judging wines for what they are, without respect to price, pedigree, branding, or prestige has great significance to me and my other writers. It is something about which I am exceptionally proud.

What do see are the major challenges facing wine media/wine writers?
Fewer and fewer wine writers are able to make a successful living today as the print media is dying. We have seen a proliferation of bloggers, much of which is useless noise. However, there are some good blogging sites, so I am not denigrating all of them. As in the wine industry, it appears there has been a consolidation of power in the hands of a few wine writers, and that is never a good thing.

You will be conducting a Grand Tasting during Winefuture. Why have you chosen Grencahe as the topic?
I have chosen Grenache because I think it is one of the most challenging grape varietals in the world. It is far more difficult to produce fine wine from Grenache than from Pinot Noir (which is often considered the most troublesome of the major red grape varietals). Moreover, my tasting in Spain of Grenache, or Garnacha as you call it, is indeed a first, and a rare look at some of the finest Grenache-based wines throughout the world.

Why do you think wine consumption is decreasing in the main European wine producing countries?
It seems clear the European governments have taken a strong anti-alcohol position, which has swept wine under the umbrella of these restrictive rules. At the same time, I think the younger generation has found wine too intimidating and/or expensive, and thus has chosen other alcoholic beverages, further decreasing wine sales. However, we do see wine consumption in the US as well as Asia increasing, so perhaps that compensates for the downturn in Europe. It is a sad irony that European countries, renowned the world over for their wine culture as well as sophistication, are seeing a dramatic fall in the consumption of wine.

Which other wine writers do you respect and like to read their work?
It is difficult to say because I have read and learned from so many wine writers. However, several deceased luminaries stand out largely because of their contributions to my wine knowledge long before I became a wine critic. These include Alexis Lichine, Edmund Penning-Roswell, Harry Waugh, Sheldon Wasserman, and André Simon.

What do you see as the wine styles of the future?
Wine making trends have followed the proliferation of major viticultural areas throughout the world, offering consumers an increasingly broad range of styles and wines. The recapturing of indigenous varietals in both Spain and Italy that were often sold off to cooperatives will certainly continue, assuming the world economy rebounds. There is no doubt that the power in the wine world will shift more and more toward Asia, led by Hong Kong and such emerging wine consuming giants as South Korea and China.

The New World wines will continue to have to prove their ability against those from Europe that have hundreds of years and tradition and history on their side. But, modern day consumers, especially those in the Americas and Asia, are willing to try wines as long as they are of high quality. Hopefully, with educational efforts on the part of the wine media, the competition for both high quality wines and high quality values will continue at an accelerated pace, giving the consumer better and better wines in a multitude of styles as well as price points.

Which countries do you think will be the winners and losers going forward - and why?
It is obviously easier for Old World countries with impressive histories, old vines, and well-established vineyards to present an image of quality. Newly arriving viticultural areas, such as South America, South Africa, and Australia, have to work harder to educate wine consumers about what they are doing. Of course, the media plays a role in this, but I do believe the winners will be those countries and wine producers that effectively promote their wines, providing interactive internet services that give up to date information and profiles of what they are doing, and do not depend on the media for attention. They have to create it themselves by spending time in different countries and doing educational tastings throughout the world.

Parts of the world you would like to know more about - where you would like to visit/discover more about their wines?
There has never been enough time to learn as much as I would like to know about all different sorts of wines, even in areas I cover extensively. Each year there is a new vintage, and it’s like a student going back to school. As I get closer to the end of my career, my only regret is that there is not enough time left to learn as much as I desire.

What are you looking forward to during your visit to Spain later in the year?
I spent two months in the summers of 1970 and 1971 with my bride driving around every part of Spain, and saw almost every major tourist attraction at that time. Of course, back then, there were no highways in Spain, but we had a fabulous time on both trips. I have not been back to Spain since 1972, so I am thrilled to return.

Do you have any outstanding ambitions…career wise and also personally?
I know it sounds simple, even trite, but I have been very fortunate to achieve things that were beyond my wildest dreams, both personally and career-wise. But I think as a wine critic of 30+ years, I strive each year to get better at what I do. Trying to guarantee a level of unmatched professionalism in my field is essentially my goal.

Parker’s favourites
Do you have a favourite type of restaurant?

I have many favourite restaurants, as my waistline can attest, but, much as with wine, I tend to prefer uncomplicated cuisine based on the finest, freshest ingredients and cooked with a minimum of external influences, other than salt, pepper, and garlic. For that reason, I tend to prefer simple restaurants that specialize in preparations driven by rotisserie, grilling, and roasting. I also enjoy great seafood served in its unmanipulated glory.

Your favourite food and wine match?
There are so many great wine and food match-ups, more than most people tend to think, so I don’t really have a favourite. As I have always said, the most important component of a great meal is the proper choice of the people with whom you are eating. Once that is done, the food and wine tend to seem much better, no matter what you eat or drink.

Best place for a drink and a sunset…
I would have to say Maui, one of the Hawaiian Islands, is the most beautiful place to watch a sunset that I have ever experienced.

* This interview has been conducted in association with The Wine Academy of Spain. Robert Parker is appearing at the Academy’s Winefuture-Rioja `09 conference in November which will analyse the challenges the wine industry is facing such as the global economical crisis, climate change, and changes in consumer wine buying habits. Harpers Wine & Spirit is the media partner for the event. For more information and to register go to www.winefuture.es.

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