If you have even a passing interest in wine, you've no doubt heard the name Robert Parker. At the peak of his popularity, Robert M. Parker Jr. was the most influential wine critic in the world. A Parker score of 90 points or better was pure gold for those who made and sold wine.
Although Parker, 71, had lightened his prodigious workload in recent years, it was only a few days ago that he formally announced his retirement from the Wine Advocate, the publication he founded in 1978.
Parker's retirement marks the end of an era. With a few words and a hefty score, he could create a wine stampede like no other. He rose to fame on the strength of the fabled 1982 vintage of Bordeaux. Relatively obscure at the time, as were most serious wine journalists, Parker's enthusiasm for the vintage made him the darling of the wine trade.
An avid collector of Bordeaux at that time, I first became aware of Parker in 1984 as my favorite wine merchants plastered his 1982 tasting notes and scores everywhere. In those days, Bordeaux wines typically weren't available for purchase by the average consumer until two years after the vintage.
This was long before I ever considered writing about wine myself, so I wasn't privy to the ups and downs of every vintage except by somewhat unreliable word of mouth. The allure of 1982 was the ripeness of the vintage, a rare phenomenon in Bordeaux. The wines were delicious upon release and, almost overnight, sealed Parker's reputation as a trusted source of solid information from the world's most important wine region.
In those days, Bordeaux was considered the epitome of sophistication in wine, largely because of its ability to improve in the bottle over the course of several decades. It tended to be a connoisseur's wine, and the connoisseurs tended to only buy heavily in the best vintages.
With his authoritative and unequivocal recommendations, Parker broadened the appeal of Bordeaux beyond the relatively small circle of wine connoisseurs at the time, which enabled even casual wine enthusiasts to buy Bordeaux with confidence.
The rest is history. The worldwide popularity and prestige of Bordeaux soared. Prices went through the roof. And the Bordelaise took great pains to improve their viticulture and winemaking regimens in poor vintages because there was too much money to be made for them to do otherwise. Largely because of the Parker phenomenon, terrible vintages of Bordeaux became a thing of the past.
Second labels absorbed most of the subpar grapes in off years, allowing chateaux to maintain quality even when conditions were less than ideal.
Parker is also given credit for popularizing the 100-point rating scale. Though many in the wine industry disparage the policy of assigning numerical ratings to wine, few pass up the opportunity to trumpet their scores of 90 points or more.
Other critics and publications have embraced the practice of scoring wines, and numerical ratings will doubtless always be an enduring aspect of the remarkable Robert Parker legacy. The Wine Advocate, which Parker sold in 2012, lives on and remains a credible resource for wine buying advice.
Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.
Dry Creek Vineyard 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley ($20) — Showing notes of gooseberry and lemongrass, the Dry Creek sauvignon is just another in a long string of successful vintages for this wine. Exquisite balance, mouthwatering acidity and a long, clean finish are standard features of this model, one of several sauvignons produced by Dry Creek Vineyard. Rating: 95.
Inama 2018 Vin Soave, Soave Classico, Italy ($16) — This winery brought Soave out of the shadows and established it as a world-class Italian white wine. The saga continues with each passing vintage. The 2018, 100 percent garganega, is fresh and clean as a whistle, showing a floral nose that leads to a mineral-driven palate with a hint of marzipan on the finish. Rating: 90.
Louis M. Martini 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Rosso Vineyard, Sonoma Valley ($85) — This storied vineyard, purchased by the Martini family in 1938, consistently produces cabernet sauvignon that should make the nearby Napa Valley (on the other side of the mountain) envious, and 2014 was no exception. It's big and bold, with alcohol by volume (ABV) above 15 percent, but it goes down so smoothly you will hardly notice. Layered and rich, it has impressive depth and complex layers of blackberry, raspberry and currant fruit. This is a stunning expression of Monte Rosso cabernet. Rating: 98.
Etude 2018 Pinot Gris, Carneros ($30) — This vintage from Etude is perhaps the closest any California winery has come to replicating the charming viscosity found in pinot gris from the Alsace region of France. Rich and generous but with bright acidity, the 2018 delivers notes of pear and stone fruit with a hint of spice and impressive length. Rating: 95.
Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com. Email Robert at [email protected]
Photo credit: JillWellington at Pixabay