on 2 June 2004
There is absolutely no point in carping and moaning about it. Robert Parker is “The Man”, the “nec plus ultra” , when it comes to wine tasting, criticism and review. He is revered, feared, loathed, admired and beloved, in equal measure, by wine growers, “negociants”, importers and brokers (particularly in Bordeaux, home of the greatest and most noble wines), since it is he, who through his fearless and uninfluenceable criticisms, and more importantly, his 0-100 point scoring of wines, who effectively sets the prices that can be charged, and it is he who is the ultimate benchmark arbiter, world-wide, of which wines are good, which are bad, which are terrific, and which are abysmal. No matter who you are, and whatever may be your reputation, he will call it as he tastes it, and if that causes squeals of anguish amongst complacent or ineffective wine growers, so be it. For every big ego that he has bruised, he has elevated to recognition a brilliant, hard working, but previously overlooked wine grower from a less well known region or “appellation”. This has served as an inspiration to legions of young wine growers and oenologists, as never before. We, the consumer, bear all of the benefit. As President Chirac said, on the occasion of Parker being awarded France’s highest civilian honour, the “Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur” , “Robert Parker is the most followed and influential critic of French wines in the entire world”. Through his 0-100 point scoring system, which was at first much decried but which is now frequently mimicked by others, the wine lover, of whatever degree of experience or sophistication, is able to set out into the wine market place equipped with an invariably accurate, highly detailed, unusually informative and well judged companion and guide.
A word of warning: do not be seduced or beguiled by preconception or otherwise into the belief that an “RP” (ie. Robert Parker) score of 88 points or thereabouts reflects anything but a superb bottle of wine. You will not find many 88 pointers on the shelves of your local or out of town supermarket, let alone in your local off licence. As Parker himself describes it, wines scoring 80 to 89 points are “..very good. Many of the wines that fall into this range are often great value as well. I have many of these wines in my personal cellar.” Make no mistake. The wines that are reviewed in this book are, all of them, pretty damn fine. Only the very richest amongst readers will be able to undertake the pursuit of the various and mythical 100 pointers, whose prices will be out of reach to less fortunate mortals such as this reviewer.
The opening section of the book, in which Parker explains his methods and gives tips and advice as to the proper storage of wines, the use of additives, and making sense of the notion of “terroir”, as well as many other topics, is itself worth the price of the book. That is before one even comes to the wine reviews, which are set out region by region, and then in easy to find alphabetical order, with the recent vintages of each of the wines (four to five vintages from 2000 and prior are typically reviewed and scored, together with a “past glories” reference to any earlier outstanding vintages). The style of all of the writing, including the wine reviews is highly accessible and understandable, albeit within the slightly bizarre language of wine criticism.
Parker is generous in what he says about other quality wine critics, with whom he does not always agree, but whose integrity and passion he admires and respects. He says of Jancis Robinson, for example, that “no one should ignore what Britain’s leading lady of wine has to say” (coincidentally, Parker and Robinson are currently diametrically opposed in their opinions as to the quality of the 2003 Chateau Pavie, which Parker adores but which Robinson considers overblown).
A final thought, and the one that perhaps best sums up the usefulness and value of this book. I bought my copy of the book one year ago. It is big and heavy and seemed expensive to me at the time. It contains not a single picture on any of its 1600 plus pages. It is most definitely not a book for the coffee table. I have a good few other wine guides, many much cheaper, and some with a great many pretty pictures, and I use them all. However, the book to which I always make first reference and to which I always return, for one final check before sending off my cheque for another case of wine, is Parker’s. If you are a lover of good quality wine, or would like to be, you will have to buy this book.