wine writing

What Happens After Robert Parker?

by Tim Elliott on February 6, 2011

Wine critic Robert Parker

Photo by winestem via Flickr

News that wine critic Robert Parker had handed over the reviewing of the wines of Burgundy and California to colleague Antonio Galloni barely made it out of the eRobertParker.com gated community last week. In fact, as I write this post only Alder at Vinography and Mike Steinberger has blogged this story. And it is a story that will be among the most debated in the wine world for the better part of the next decade as Mr. Parker slowly retires presumably one wine region at a time.

So what comes after Parker?

I’ve commended on the future of wine writing before. And this will most likely not be the last time I write about where we are going but one thing is clear to me. There will never be a single critic with as much power as Robert Parker.

Before Parker the wine writing world was dominated by British writers but there were noted American writers such as Robert Lawrence Balzer and Robert Finigan. What set Parker apart from others at the time he started was brilliance and luck. His brilliant adaptation of the American school grading system to rate wine on the 100 point scale is his most lasting achievement. And he was just plain lucky to call the monumental 1982 Bordeaux vintage which put him on the map and continues to bolster his reputation as a wine critic of vision and skill.

And that brings me back to the post-Parker period of wine criticism. First, I think Mr. Parker will remain a force in the wine world for a long time. His gradual lightening of his workload will continue with perhaps coverage of the Rhône going to someone else next. He will keep Bordeaux and older California wine coverage right until he hangs it up, which I would guess would be around the time he turns 70 in 2017. So we have a ways to go before his retirement which will provide time for a gradual transition to new voices.

Who will be those new wine writers?

This is where it gets hard to predict. Yes, one or more wine bloggers will emerge and take over some of the slots in the existing wine pubs as others retire or move on but I don’t think the future of wine writing is dominated by bloggers. But I do think the future is digital and always connected so wine blog content is a piece of it. And I also think there will be hundreds of influential wine writers in the future and not just a handful of professionals that we see today.

How all these voices are aggregated into something that reaches the wine buying consumer is another story. And one we shall see played out over the next six years.

Update: San Francisco Chronicle’s Jon Bonné weights in with a thoughtful post.

Update 2: Eric Asimov blogs a detailed and reasoned response to the story at the New York Times’ Diners Journal which concludes, “The time for one overwhelmingly dominant critical voice in wine is well past, and the weekend’s announcements simply reinforced that truth.”

I also noted that this story was broken over the weekend by Jeff Leve at the Wine Cellar Insider blog. I was not following this blog so I didn’t see his post as I composed this one Sunday evening.

Update 3: Jeff Lefevere at Good Grape presents a different point of view in his recent post. Money quote: “In my opinion, Parker’s announcement is less about “semi-retirement” and California and more about where he can wield the biggest influence – carry the biggest stick— in the latter stages of his career.”

Update 4: Joe Roberts at 1WineDude has the last word in his post: “…don’t look for deep meaning in Parker’s decision to reassign CA reviews at The Wine Advocate: it is what it is, and probably according to Parker would always have ended up this way no matter what he or anyone else did.”