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Reviews and awards: Parker's nose isn't as influential as it once was

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Robert M. Parker Jr, the influential American wine critic, has been called guru, emperor, pope and many other monikers, not all so flattering.

RParkerSince the late 1970s, when he published his first ratings and created his 100-point rating scale, he has redefined the role of wine critic.

Through his newsletter The Wine Advocate, Parker has not only had an impact on his readers' tastes but also on many aspects of the wine industry, from winemaking techniques to wine styles to prices. .

His name has been turned into a verb (“parkeriser”) to designate the creation of a style of wine to his liking. Say it and you risk turning a jolly gathering of wine lovers into a verbal battleground.

But Robert Parker is now 64 and the world of wine has grown too big for him to cover even the best areas on his own.

In recent years, he has expanded his team and assigned areas to new critics. He was also affected by cases of irregularities involving trusted associates.

Communication practices and the shaping of tastes have changed, fueling the age-old debate among Parker's supporters over whether he still influences palates and prices.

According to Jaime Araujo, founder of Terravina (a wine marketing consultancy): “It no longer resonates with the younger generation of premium wine buyers. They do not collect in the traditional way, that is to say by choosing a few safe values for which they acquire and repeat the same operation each year. »

“It's a general trend in the luxury sector, whether for young Chinese, Americans or French. They all want the best brands, but you hardly find a buyer who says 'It's Chanel or nothing'. They want Chanel, Dior, and older items that no one else will have. »

For a certain type of wine buyer, beginners and those who prefer to rely on numbers rather than experiment, Parker's ratings are still a barometer of a wine's taste and traceability, especially in regions like Bordeaux (still covered by Parker) and California (which he entrusted to other reviewers).

"It's always rain or shine in Bordeaux," says Chris Adams, managing director of Sherry-Lehmann, a wine merchant in New York.

“Positive comments on a wine that has just been released will cause prices to increase and negative comments will cause prices to stagnate. »

The Wine Advocate also remains the reference for Californian wines.

“If The Wine Spectator gives a very good rating, we get a few calls, while Parker really drives sales,” says James Hocking, the director of The Vineyard Cellars, an importer, distributor and retailer of California wines based in Newbury in the United Kingdom. -United.

“Really, no one has a comparable influence. If Parker gives 95 points or more, the phones don't stop ringing,” says Hocking. Many of his customers follow Parker "blindly" and delay their purchases until he makes up his mind. According to James Hocking, “When a new container arrives, [he] calls [his] private clients and [knows] that the conversation is going to start with 'what are the notes?' ".

Assessing the impact of Parker's ratings on barrel and bottled wines has become a game made more interesting by factors like vintage, economic climate and especially Parker's re-ratings.

"It's not really possible to quantify the correlation in dollars but it's doable in percentage points," says Adams, referring to the 100-point revaluation of many 2009 Bordeaux wines (more than any other vintage). .

The Premier Grand Cru Château Latour, for example, was released for around €540 and the Château Smith Haut Lafitte, a ranked but significantly less well-known Graves wine, was released for €62.

“After they each received the 100 point mark, their price went up by around €100 but obviously the percentage increase was phenomenal for Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte,” says Adams.

But for Henning Thoresen, managing director of the Bordeaux Winebank Group, which sells wines on tap and manages investment funds, it is precisely the possibility that Parker could change his mind that reduces his reliability for long-term investments, unlike to speculation. “I think his influence is declining,” he says.

“The 2005 vintage is one of the main reasons. It created a lot of expectations, but none of the wines lived up to it. »

“When he made public his final scores after tasting them again in 2008, all the wines with 100 points were devalued, it stunned many. »

Mr. Thoresen also adds that this year, many domains released their prices ahead of Parker's criticism, indicating his waning influence. Some observers speak of a desire by producers to control the prices of a less interesting vintage.

Assessing the impact of Parker's notes on auction prices is more complicated because of provenance and condition issues.

"I'm sure there's no connection," said Charles Curtis, Christie's sales director for Asia. “My impression is not based on anything tangible, but I tend to think that the price differences for the same wine between one sale and another are significant, regardless of the ratings. »

Skeptical of the 100-point rating, Mr. Curtis says the results of the same wine at two different sales can reveal a trend, but not underlying momentum. “To say that 'Parker gave him an extra point so the bids went up too' is an unfair shortcut. »

“Just as I don't think it's possible to quantify the beauty of a wine on a scale of 1 to 100, I don't think it's possible to track its price. »

“Many factors determine the price at an auction, it is difficult to isolate them. »

Source: Maggie Rosen
June 19, 2012 

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