A Very Vine Mess: Oenophile Overlord Robert Parker Has a Short Finish

When Ms. McCoy wrote her unauthorized biography of Mr. Parker in 2005, he was a feared presence. “Parker’s power was still so great that people were worried about talking to me on the record,” she said. “Importers would say, ‘I still have to put my kids through college.’”

Although a lot of critics use some sort of rating system, the 100-point system comes under fire because it gives the illusion of a scientific method where none exists. “It’s misleading unless you can replicate it in a blind taste test,” Mr. Steinberger explained. “That has become an almost theological dispute in the wine world.”

As in many fields, the hope for a paradigm shift is being pinned on youth. The newest generation of wine drinkers is said to value the advice of trusted sources (you know, Facebook) rather than expert opinion.

“Millennials are considered far less likely to follow critics, more likely to follow peers and to buy by label or simply try something new,” Mr. Tish said.Besides, the young’uns are too busy brewing their own beer and figuring out what to do with those rhubarb bitters to care whether a 65-year-old lawyer gave a bottle of 2005 Quinta do Noval Cedro a 90 or an 80 (for the record, he gave it a 90).

Smaller stores in New York and San Francisco and probably Portland may have thrown the point system out with the chardonnay in favor of specialized recommendations that don’t rely on the prestige of a third party, but then again, not everybody lives in a metropolitan area near a cute little wine shop.

“Discount stores, chains and large online retailers still use the Parker point system,” said Ms. McCoy, “and that probably isn’t going to change.”

Nor is the ratings obsession that Mr. Parker has spawned, which has given rise to many imitators and, recently, a tempest in a tempranillo in the unlikeliest of places.

In early December, Canadian wine blogger Natalie MacLean was accused of plagiarism after she lifted wine notes from behind the paywalls of respected publications (including the Advocate) and put them on her own subscription-only site, rankling the wine writer community after Palate Press, a wine blog, broke the story. Many in the wine writing world weren’t convinced that Ms. MacLean was anything more than an eager blogger with a fondness for wine who had amassed a significant subscription base.

Of course, a novice ascending to power purely on enthusiasm and chutzpah is hardly new. Robert Parker got his start by distributing his own newsletter, not by reviewing wines for the glossy pages of Gourmet. “Parker was like the first wine blogger,” Mr. Steinberger said.

And now he is in the process of cashing out. Soon we’ll be on our own, left to sort out an increasingly complex global world of albariños, assyrtikos and macabeos. It’s enough to drive someone to drink. Does anyone have a beer?

 

ksmoke@observer.com