We’re on our way to Bordeaux for En Primeurs. The initial buzz for the 2018s is very, very positive — with speculation that “the quality of the 2018 Bordeaux vintage could exceed that of 2015 and 2016,” according to Forbes, while Wine Searcher reports that “across Bordeaux the quality of the 2018 vintage appears to have surpassed expectation.” Adding to the anticipation, Liv Ex enthusiastically predicts that “Bordeaux 2018 will be remembered as an exceptional year, with no shortage of outstanding wines from this extraordinary vintage.”
The few tastings we had in the Fall were also exceptionally good and we’re eager to find out first hand about this vintage. As we taste and swirl and make copious notes for you, our customers, we’ll also be listening and looking for early reactions from the top wine critics — the writers who shape the market in so many ways.
What do Galloni, Martin, Suckling, Dunnuck, Anson and Lisa Perrotti-Brown think? Which appellation is their favorite? Is it a Left Bank or Right Bank year? And, importantly, is there a new wine critic with something useful to say?
It wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time, Bordeaux and other parts of the Wine World were ruled by one single, powerful voice — Robert Parker. He was sincere, eloquent and creative — and his word was law.
THE PARKER STORY
In 1978, Robert M. Parker Jr., an attorney with a passion for wine, began publishing a direct-mail newsletter called The Baltimore-Washington Wine Advocate, later shortened to simply The Wine Advocate. By the end of the first year over 600 subscribers received his newsletters.
It’s important to note that before Parker, most wine critics almost always had some link to the wine industry and wine sales. Parker, however had no ties and his neutrality was much appreciated among consumers. In 1982, he solidified his reputation when he critiqued the Bordeaux vintage as “superb” while other critics claimed it was inferior. His opinion held up and he convinced other experts of his ability and insight.
With his credentials and audience established, Parker gave up his law career in 1984, and devoted his time exclusively to writing about wine. He established a 100-point rating system to quantify a wine’s appearance, aroma, flavor profile, and overall quality, etc. Parker’s rating system was wildly successful. Retailers began using his scores to promote wine and buyers paid attention. Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and eventually even Decanter picked up Parker’s 100-point system.
For over three decades, Parker’s ratings were the ultimate guide to wine buying. Anecdotal evidence of his influence on the industry is legendary. A 100-point rating from Parker was said to multiply the price of of a wine by four, at least. One example (and there are a multitude, literally!) is Parker’s score in November 2014 for the well-regarded, but lower ranked, 2009 Château Haut-Bailly. After 100-points from Parker, “the case price jumped 45% in three days.” (Financial Times)
As Parker’s stature grew, his influence on wine “style” also came into play. He preferred riper wines with higher levels of alcohol and significant time in the barrel. Winemakers who produced leaner, more acidic wines felt that they unjustly received lower ratings.
Wine critic S. Irene Virbila was particularly blunt in 2014, when she wrote: “Parker was known for his affection for big bruiser wines, the fruit bombs that he’d wax poetic about in his newsletter time and time again. Subtler and more delicate wines were often ignored. And his opinions carried a lot of weight. A 100-point score could make a winery overnight — as it did for Manfred and Elaine Krankl with their first release of Sine Qua Non. And if you could keep getting those scores? You had a cult wine and a guaranteed sell-out.” (Los Angeles Times)
No doubt, many winemakers began producing “Parker Wines” to win his approval. And yet, within the conformity, there was also a growing sense of dissent and friction. After all, thirty years was a long time to rule without a rebellion.
In 2015, Parker announced that he would no longer personally rate Bordeaux. The wine world went into immediate shock. At En Primeurs that year, discussions about Parker’s announcement dominated the event. The 2014 vintage seemed almost forgotten at times, as we speculated about who might be qualified to take the “King’s” place.
An early contender seemed to be Neal Martin, especially since Parker himself had designated Martin to attend the 2014 En Primeurs in his stead. But then, Antonio Galloni, who had also written for The Wine Advocate from 2006-2013, launched his own wine site, making him a viable successor as well.
Other possible replacements included James Suckling, former Senior Editor and European Bureau Chief for Wine Spectator and Jeb Dunnuck, respected for his publication The Rhône Report and another reviewer for The Wine Advocate.
British-based publications Decanter, featuring Jane Anson, as well as wine critics Jancis Robinson and Clive Coates were seen as potential candidates for Parker’s hallowed spot, while The Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast continued to maintain influential positions.
At En Primeurs just last year, we were still looking for a Parker stand-in. Neal Martin, whom many were beginning to think of as Parker’s “heir apparent” suddenly left The Wine Advocate to join Antonio Galloni’s staff at Vinous Media. To add to the speculation, Galloni announced that both he and Martin would review Bordeaux Futures.
Meanwhile Parker quickly replaced Martin with Lisa Perrotti-Brown, who holds a Master of Wine and had previously served as a wine educator at Tokyo’s Academie du Vin. Also in the spotlight was Jeb Dunnuck, who joined the exodus leaving Parker’s publications to launch his own site.
So…..although we had no clear successor, there was lots to gossip about at the 2017 En Primeurs!
Who’s on Top Now?
“No one” is the short answer. And, in the final analysis, we think that’s a good thing. Many smart, serious and reputable critics writing about wine make for a more interesting and dynamic market. Without a doubt, Parker contributed enormously to the wine industry. But in this day of mass media, social networking and instant communication, a single all-powerful critic is unlikely to ever emerge.
The top wine writers agree on a number of things and disagree on others. It’s normal. It’s healthy. It’s more fun!!! In fact, if you’re a Vinous Media fan, as we are, it’s great to watch Galloni and Martin discuss — and disagree — about their favorite wines and vintages and the whys and wherefores.
We also appreciate the fact that there are numerous opportunities for you, as a customer, consumer and wine lover to share your opinions and experiences with wine. These are all valid expressions and contribute to the greater wine conversation.
Moreover, it seems likely that a number of wine critics and consumers, all with divergent viewpoints, will in turn encourage winemakers to pursue their own visions and stylistic preferences.
Hats off to Robert Parker, a bigger-than-life visionary in his day. Here’s to a a new world of wine commentary with PLENTY of choice, discussion and opinion. Grab your phone. Join in. Dash off a comment about that glass of wine you enjoyed or disliked last night. We’d all love to hear from you!
Here are a few wines that all critics can agree on. Check them out and see what you think:
BORDEAUX LEFT BANK
Château La Mission Haut-Brion. A legend in Pessac-Léognan with consistently high ratings.
2015 La Mission Haut-Brion. 30 bottles. $389.99. JS-100
2008 La Mission Haut-Brion. 3 bottles. $229.99. NM-96 RP-95
Château Smith Haut Lafitte. The 2010 vintage was a Cellar Selection for Wine Enthusiast. Robert Parker praised the estate for “an extraordinary performance once again.”
2010 Smith Haut Lafitte. 2 bottles. $145.99. RP-98+ WE-96 WS-96
Château Malescot Saint-Exupéry. A rising star in Margaux.
2010 Malescot Saint-Exupéry. 12 bottles. $94.99. RP-95 JS-95
Alter Ego de Palmer. Château Palmer CEO Thomas Duroux is considered one of the most innovative winemakers in the region. See our interview with him here.
2015 Alter Ego de Palmer. 22 bottles. $71.99. JS-96 WE-94 JD-93
2014 Alter Ego de Palmer. 18 bottles. $59.99. JS-93 WE-93
Château Cantenac Brown. Robert Parker rated the 2010 vintage “the greatest Cantenac Brown I have ever tasted…one for the ages.” The 2010 vintage is also a Wine Enthusiast Cellar Selection.
2010 Cantenac Brown. 20 bottles. $72.99. WE-95 JS-94 RP-94
Château Branaire-Ducru. One of the top Saint-Julien wines and the 2009 is a Wine Enthusiast Cellar Selection
2009 Branaire-Ducru. 12 bottles. $85.99. RP-96.
Château Ducru-Beaucaillou. On of the oldest estates in the Médoc, dating back to the 13th century. James Suckling rated the 2006 one of the Top 100 Wines of the Year.
2006 Ducru-Beaucaillou. 12 bottles. $159.99. JS-95 NM-94
Château Lynch Bages. Antonio Galloni called the 2015 vintage “the finest of the Pauillacs.” Jeb Dunnuck agreed, rating it “the crème de la crème of the appellation in 2015.”
2015 Lynch Bages. 12 bottles. $129.99. AG-96 WE-96 JD-94+
Château Malmaison Mouis-en-Médoc. One of the oldest estates in the Médoc, the property was purchased in 1978 by Baron de Rothschild, now managed by Edmond de Rothschild. Decanter calls the vintage “a classy wine.”
2015 Malmaison. 24 bottles. $41.99. WE-91
BORDEAUX RIGHT BANK
Tertre Rôteboeuf. This beloved Saint-Émilion cult wine gets better every vintage. Robert Parker rates the 2000 as one of his “favorite vintages.” Antonio Galloni just awarded the 2016 100-points, with this extravagant praise: “The 2016 is exotic, full-throttle and unapologetically hedonistic…totally sublime…a great, emotionally moving Tertre-Rôteboeuf. This is a magnificent effort. Don’t miss it!”
2016 Tertre Rôteboeuf. 13 bottles. $179.99. AG-100 NM-96.
2014 Tertre Rôteboeuf. 12 bottles. $129.99. NM-94 JD-94
2012 Tertre Rôteboeuf. 8 bottles. $159.99 JD-96 AG-95+
2005 Tertre Rôteboeuf. 8 bottles. $249.99. RP-98
2005 Tertre Rôteboeuf. Double Magnum RARE. 3 bottles. $1,999.99. RP-98
2000 Tertre Rôteboeuf. Double Magnum RARE. 3 bottles. $1499.99. RP-98
Château Barde-Haut. Extraordinary value for a Saint-Émilion Grand Cru. Jeb Dunnuck calls the 2015 “a tour de force and a spectacular wine any way you look at it.” See our interview with owners Hélène Garcin and Patrice Lévêque here.
2015 Barde-Haut. 36 bottles. $37.99. JD-95 JS-95
2008 Barde-Haut. 27 bottles. $38.99. WS-92 NM-91
2006 Barde-Haut. 33 bottles. $29.99 NM-90
Château Tour Saint-Christophe. James Suckling calls the 2015 “a WOW!” while Antonio Galloni writes that the vintage is “a sumptuous, racy Saint-Émilion loaded with personality.” See our interview with owner Peter Kwok here.
2015 Tour Saint-Christophe. 27 bottles. $30.99. JS-96 JD-95 AG-93
Clos de l’Oratoire. Robert Parker describes the 2009 vintage as “a showy, extravagantly concentrated, hedonistic style of Saint-Émilion.” James Suckling appreciates the “full body, with velvety tannins and a juicy finish.”
2009 Clos de l’Oratoire. 16 bottles. $77.99. WS-94 JS-94 RP-93
2005 Clos de l’Oratoire. Magnum. 3 bottles. $199.99. RP-94 WS-93
Château Clinet. When Ronan Laborde bought Château Clinet in 1998, he was a successful marathon runner. He knew, however, to be truly competative he would have to give up fine dining and good wine. Fortunately for wine lovers, he chose wine. And better yet, in additon to producing his highly-rated Pomerol estate wines, he makes a fantastic table wine at the unbelievable price of $11.99.
2015 Ronan Rouge by Clinet. 36 bottles. $11.99