Jamie Goode has a piece defending Robert Parker that will surely be unpopular with wine bloggers. I’m personally skeptical of the implied precision of 100 point ratings; I just don’t believe that any wine critic can consistently judge the subjective experience of wine to what is, in effect, a 1% margin of error. (OK, 2%, since the scale is really 50 – 100 points.) But that’s a small-potatoes gripe in the grand scheme of things, and in the grand scheme of things Goode is correct that Parker has been an overwhelmingly positive influence on wine.
Parker’s most significant contribution? Goode puts it like this:
He has also acted as a king-maker: in the past, a winery would have to struggle to establish themselves over many years; high Parker scores can propel a relatively new venture onto the radar screens of collectors straight away.
“King-maker” is a little strong, but a good score from Parker can slingshot a wine to market success. That makes at least theoretically possible a quicker path to profitability for small, quality-oriented wineries, which in turn increases the availability of investment capital for those wineries. The possibility of a high rating has also encouraged a generation of garagiste winemakers to dream big and tug on their bootstraps.
The competitive pressure of wine ratings has lifted the overall quality of even bulk-produced wines. The wine being produced today is top-to-bottom the best wine in the history of mankind. Scientific winemaking, certainly, is the most important reason for that quality improvement, but Parker and his imitators deserve some credit, too. It is because of them that wine marketers have not been so able to hide bad wine behind attractive commercial imagery.
There are, of course, downsides to having a few critics with enormous power; wine styles will tend to congregate in a narrower range. And people routinely misuse the scores, cutting themselves off from excellent wines and excellent values by drawing arbitrary lines. (“I don’t drink any wine under 90 points!”) But those negatives, like my doubts about the precision of the scores, are less significant than the contribution Parker has made.