Robert Parker, the dean of American wine critics, recently announced that he will no longer review California wine in his bi-monthly publication, The Wine Advocate.
Responsibility for California will shift to Antonio Galloni, who currently reviews Italian wine and Champagne for the magazine. Galloni will also evaluate the wines of Burgundy. This move by Parker continues his pattern of recent years, in which he has gradually delegated more and more authority to a growing group of contributors. He will continue (at least for the moment) to review the wines of Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley.
At one time, Parker was regarded as the most influential critic in the world. Over the course of the past decade a reaction has set in, based on his personal bias for certain types of wine. He tends to like large-scaled, highly concentrated wines that have low acidity and an excess of ripeness, alcohol and new oak. His preferences have given rise to a cottage industry of consultants who make a living by advising wineries on how to produce wines that will receive a high Parker score. One company, Enologix, has actually reverse-engineered Parker’s palate; they will analayze a sample and tell the winery how to change their procedures to be awarded at least 90 points.
Galloni, on the other hand, has a distinctly Old World palate, which prompted one blogger to comment that Parker’s decision to relinquish California was “a great day for acidity.” At the very least, Galloni will reflect the current trend among consumers to prefer wines which are fresher and more natural.
The real question is: Does it really matter? While it’s perhaps an exaggeration to say that critical ratings and scores no longer have meaning, their value has severely deflated over the past two or three years. Much of the change has to do with the Internet. Consumers now have access to a much wider range of information and critical opinion. In short, they have become empowered, and rely far less on a handful of people to tell them what they should be drinking.
Even so, Parker is still news (witness this blog post). The Emperor may be aging, he may be wearing his new clothes more often than not, but his former subjects still remember when he held sway over their lives.