The Wino in Winter (Slate)

Robert Parker’s influence is on the decline.
By Mike Steinberger

The world’s most celebrated boozer, wine critic Robert Parker, finally has his Boswell. The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker Jr. and the Reign of American Taste was published in late June by Elin McCoy, a longtime wine journalist who now writes for Bloomberg. Parker, who compiles his reviews in a bimonthly journal called the Wine Advocate, has always had his detractors, but the debate over his influence has become especially vituperative in recent months, and McCoy’s biography, though evenhanded, has only ratcheted up the acrimony. But this new wave of disdain for Parker is oddly timed, because in many respects his influence has already peaked. He’s still the world’s most powerful wine critic, but his palate doesn’t quite command the authority it once did.

McCoy doesn’t acknowledge that the Parker era has entered its twilight, but it is an understandable omission: After all, she has a book to flog. In every other respect, though, The Emperor of Wine is terrific—meticulously researched, well written, and balanced. McCoy has captured Parker in full: He comes across as a man of uncommon enthusiasm, integrity, egoism, and prickliness. In McCoy’s view, Parker has done the wine world much good, but he’s also done real harm. She rightly points out that the 100-point scoring system, his most important innovation, is an absurdity that, as she puts it, “turns wine into a contest instead of an experience.” Parker’s legacy, she concludes, will be a checkered one.