We totally get why you’d want to pack in your 9-5 and devote your career to wine – and this man did exactly that. Sometimes styled “the most influential wine critic in the world”, it is said that Robert Parker’s views are so highly regarded, they even have the power to affect the price of newly-released Bordeaux wines. So who is he, and how did his opinions come to be so powerful? Here’s the lowdown on Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate…
Who is Robert Parker Wine Advocate?
Born in Maryland, USA in 1947, Robert Parker was a law student when he visited Alsace in France for the first time. There it was that he discovered wine, and a couple of years later, he began writing a wine guidebook, The Wine Advocate – one that would be for consumers, funded by their subscriptions, with a fair and unbiased assessment of wine quality through his own scoring system.
The Wine Advocate swiftly gained a paid-subscriber following – not so easily done in the 70s as it is now! – and it was a comment he made about the 1982 Bordeaux vintage that really got the world’s attention. He labelled it “superb”, and predicted that it would age to perfection – quite the opposite of what other prominent wine writers had concluded. When Parker was proved right, his renown (and subscribers) sky-rocketed, and in 1984 he left his General Counsel job at a prominent bank to write about wine full time.
Today, The Wine Advocate has thousands of subscribers across the world, and still holds enormous sway with consumer preferences, habits and trends. Robert Parker officially retired in 2019, but publication continues with the same standards and values he established throughout his decades at the helm – and it still uses the original wine scoring system he developed in the very first edition.
How does the Robert Parker Scoring System Work?
Essentially, it’s a mark out of 100 – and it’s a system that has been adopted across the wine industry, but you’ll always know it’s been assessed by The Wine Advocate if the score is preceded with “RP”. The score is also accompanied by written notes that provide a more detailed commentary – and the Robert Parker website states that these notes are really the more important element of the assessment than the score itself.
What is a good Robert Parker Score?
These are the RP scoring brackets and what they mean:
96–100 – Extraordinary – an exceptionally good wine, worth the effort to find and the money to buy.
90–95 – Outstanding – plenty of complexity and character, and definitely worth a try.
80–89 – Above average to very good – finesse, flavour and no flaws to speak of. Recommended.
70–79 – Average – it’s fine, but nothing remarkable.
60–69 – Below average – there are problems. Lacking in flavour, too much acidity or tannin – not recommended.
50–59 – Unacceptable – speaks for itself, really!
We’d say, based on the above, that if a wine scores 80+ it’s a pretty safe bet. 70-79 is not too bad, and anything below 69 you should probably avoid.
What are the positives and drawbacks to a 100 point scoring system?
Parker’s 100 point system was based on the American high school marking scheme, so when Parker introduced it, it was instantly familiar to his readers as a rating. The 100 point range, in theory, allows a little more nuance than the traditional 20 point scheme, while also simplifying the categories and standards.
The 20 point system in place from the late 50s is still favoured by other critics today. Scores range from 20 down to 12, with 20 being truly exceptional, and 12 being faulty or unbalanced. It’s said to be more technical, with less bias towards personal preference.
The main problem with the 100 point scale is that most wines fall within the 85+ range – and as you may have noticed, the ratings bands start at 50, so it’s not strictly a 100 point scale at all – but for all that, it’s the scale that is used most widely and is growing in popularity all the time.
What is a Parker Style Wine?
Sometimes called “Parkerised”, The Wine Advocate champions a specific sort of wine – those that are smooth, ripe and concentrated. His power was such that dozens of wineries would try to create wines along these lines this in order to please his tastes and get his printed approval. As a result, he has been accused over the years of causing a sort of standardisation in wine – with producers being so keen to boost sales with RP endorsement that they lost sight of what made them individuals.
How much influence has Robert Parker had on the wine that we drink?
Like most prominent figures, Robert Parker is divisive. His opinions have had as many detractors as supporters over the years, and there have been plenty who felt his influence grew to dangerous levels – in the 1990s, it was he could make or break a new winery at the stroke of a pen.
Those “Parkerised” wines were at their zenith in Parker’s time – but now, they appear to be in decline across the world, giving way to a new taste for freshness and lightness that did not suit Parker’s palate so well. Some argue that his time is up, and it’s certainly true that the 21st century has given a platform to anyone who wishes to blog about wine and share their opinions. So while his influence was strong from the 1980s to 2010, it now seems to be on the wane, with other tastes and voices now taking centre stage – although it’s unlikely that anyone will hold that level of power in the wine world again.
Who are the other top wine critics in the world?
A British writer and journalist, Jancis began writing at a similar time to Parker – 1975 – and has gained equal renown in the world of wine as a critic and prolific, award-winning author – and she and Parker once came to word-based blows about the 2003 vintage of Chateau Pavie. She was awarded an OBE in 2003 and advised on the Queen’s own cellars between 2004 and 2022. Jancis favours the traditional 20-point scoring system.
This one’s a publication, rather than an individual critic – but it carries similar levels of influence, particularly in the USA, and it’s quite prolific at 15 issues per year. It was founded in 1976, and also uses a 100-point scale to rate the wines it features. It hosts a major, annual wine tasting event, and operates a Restaurant Excellence award programme, which rates the standard of the wine list a restaurant provides.
Who should you trust?
With so many voices out there, and so many opinions, it can be hard to know whose advice to follow when it comes to choosing wines. The good news is that as a consumer, you don’t really have to listen to anyone! We’re strong believers in simply enjoying the wine you love. But if you’re looking for guidance, we’d recommend finding a critic, publication or supplier who shares your taste and palate. Try out some of their recommendations, and see whether you agree with them. If you do, they could be a valuable point of reference for you in the future when you’re looking out for new wines to try.
We’re always delighted to share our knowledge and recommendations – just get in touch and we’ll discuss what you like, what you don’t, and what you want to explore.