This is a piece I wrote in December of 2014. Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, Editor in Chief of Wine Advocate, announced the official retirement of Robert Parker yesterday.
For more than thirty years I was the most powerful critic in the
history of the world. I say that with complete humility. There were many
critics in my chosen field, but they were to me as carbuncles are to my
hairy butt—I never saw them, but they were forever riding my ass. My
words alone were enough to make fortunes, while their weak exhortations
were the critical equivalent of Bitcoin—imaginary money, imaginary
influence. I declared geniuses and goddesses in an occupation that
otherwise generated only pretenders, robots and dinosaurs. I found no
joy in being the most powerful critic in the history of the world. I’m
glad to be done with it. I hope to miss it someday.
that it’s over, I can reflect on my accomplishments. With the clarity
of hindsight, I can see the reach of my influence. Wine will never see
my like again. The world has changed. I began in the print era, when
reviews had the timeliness of messages in a bottle. Reviews had to be
delivered by the Postal Service, which is like wiping your nose two
weeks after you sneeze. Really doesn’t do anybody any good. Every review
seemed to be published months too early, or weeks too late. There were
only a few important regions to cover—Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa Valley,
Tuscany, and the Rhône Valley. No one bought German wine. They still
don’t buy German wine. Who buys German wine? German Riesling is the
greatest white wine in the world that nobody buys. It’s the Edsel of
wine. It’s the Betamax of wine regions. It’s the Conan O’Brien. I drink
it about as often as I read Decanter
. Which is also too often cloying.
was in the right place at the right time. Wine publications are in
their death throes now. Many of them are magazine zombies, still
stumbling around stiff-legged, eating the brains of their contributors,
which are slim pickings, and not even aware they’re dead. They’re
frightening consumers, all these wine critics walking around dead, still
publishing scores when they should be resting in their Graves. And now
the zombies are eating other zombies. Vinous
devoured the brains of International Wine Cellar
to create a super-zombie. Tanzalloni! Tanzalloni wants to become the
most powerful critic in wine, but even a super-zombie is still the
walking dead. Even a team of Tanzalloni zombies walking the wine regions
of the Earth won’t have the power that I once possessed. Everywhere
they go there is the smell of death on them, a smell that will not go
unnoticed by winemakers. Marketing people won’t smell it, of course,
they’re used to the smell of death, having killed truth a long time ago.
But the wine world has begun to notice that there are nothing but
magazine zombies among us, and that their days of walking the Earth,
dead or undead, are numbered.
When I ruled the wine
world, people knew what to expect. “Integrity” was my middle name. Even
my severest critics at the end of my career acknowledged that. They
always referred to me as “R.I.P” in tribute to it being my middle name.
When I had all the power, the wine world was a simpler place. I made it
that way. I introduced the 100 Point Scale to criticism. What’s simpler
than that? I understood before anyone else the wine-buying public’s
deep-seated need to be shallow, their passion for the easy answer, for
shortcuts to expertise, their love for distilled wisdom, their
willingness to pay for someone else to make them seem savvy to their
friends. I wrote complex and florid tasting notes to go with the scores I
awarded, but I knew that those notes were read about as often as
Miranda rights in Missouri. It was the numbers that were magic. Wine
doesn’t have to be complicated, the numbers said. No wine is unique,
don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. No matter what, they all have
numbers, somewhere between 80 and 100. Only 21 different kinds of wine.
Even you can understand that. This is my proudest accomplishment.
I was at the peak of my power, wine knew it had to answer to me. When I
awarded a wine 100 points, everyone knew how to make a great wine.
Before I came along, the wines of the world were all over the place
stylistically. This was stupid and confusing for the average consumer.
Imagine that every time you read a James Patterson book it was
different! How annoying would that be? You want it to be the same
formula every single time. Same with Bordeaux, or Australian Shiraz, or
Super Tuscans. Thanks to me, the average consumer can go to his local
wine shop and buy a $150 Napa Valley Cabernet that will taste exactly
like the last $150 Napa Valley Cabernet he purchased! Sure, there’s some
variation, winemakers aren’t perfect, they don’t really know a 96 point
wine like I do, but it will be pretty damned similar. Again, I’m proud
of this. I standardized Bordeaux and California, Oregon and Washington,
Spain and Italy. There may be 5000 different grapes, but, dammit, there
are only a handful of styles. Someone had to do it. It was chaos when I
started. Someone had to set some standards. I was to wine what The New York Times Book Review
is to literature. Its savior.
now I’m through. I refuse to become a zombie. Let the damned Singapore
mafia be the zombies, I’m finished. I’m the Emperor in Winter. I leave
the wine criticism to the current tribe of zombies—Laube, Robinson,
Olken, Meadows, Teague, McInerney, Bonné, Asimov… Be careful out there,
wine lovers, they’re here to eat your brains. McInerney will probably go
for your nuts, too. As for who will replace me, and the zombies still
walking the Earth, I don’t know who that will be. Surely not the
feckless and tiring voices of the Internet, that loud chorus of poodles
barking into the darkness. If they ever move the needle, it’s just the
irritating sound of it scratching along the surface of the LP. Their
influence is that of a single Saccharomyces in a puncheon of hedonistic
Syrah—not measurable or unique, and destined to die once all the sugar
has gone. And the sugar is almost gone.
No, there will
never again be a most powerful critic in the world. Oh, certainly wine
will endure. People will still buy according to the 100 Point Scale—it
is so stupid it is immortal. But wine will be adrift. Lost. Untethered.
Wine drinkers will have to fend for themselves, try to understand wine
on its own terms, find their own measure of its quality.
More’s the pity.