Robert Parker has long been recognized as the standard for all wine critics – a man who has made and broken wineries. His opinion has truly changed the course of winemaking, not only in this country, but throughout the world.
Over the years, Parker has doled out about 525 ratings of 100-points, the symbol of perfection for a wine. While Antonio Galloni (Vinous.com), Stephen Tanzer (International Wine Cellar owned by Vinous), James Suckling (JamesSuckling.com) and others are in the same business, it’s always Parker’s opinion that still seems to matter the most.
Below is a look into some interesting aspects of his ratings:
The wine region most represented in Robert Parker’s 100-point list is California, with approximately 180 listings, followed by the Rhone (130) and Bordeaux (105). Beyond these regions, there is a huge drop – Australia (30) and Spain (20) lag far behind. Even more surprising though, are the small numbers of 100-point wines in other venerated regions. Burgundy barely manages over 12 listings, while the great wine regions of Italy, Germany, Washington, Alsace, Portugal, Loire and Champagne have not even reached 10 listings! Oregon is non-existent…
White wines represent a sizeable percentage (15%) but that is largely due to the great number of dessert wines (10 % of the total). Prior to 1980, there were only 35 wines listed because many of these wines can no longer be found. The oldest wine listed is Yquem 1811. On the other hand, there are quite a few 2013’s posted.
As to wineries with multiple selections, Guigal takes the cake with 27 100-point wines, followed by Schrader with 14 and Verite, whose wines were awarded 100 points on 11 occasions.
For a single wine, the winner is Pétrus with 9 100-point scores. In the white wine category, Marcassin Sonoma Chardonnay shows far better than any other with 7 perfect scores. So, what does this all mean?
The styles of the wines selected show Parker’s obvious preferences, whether in California, Bordeaux or the Rhone, the wines he favors usually show lots of flavor, lots of fruit, a more than average amount of alcohol and grip. A simple explanation might be that when tasting 60-80 wines in a single day (as wine judges or critics do) it is practically impossible to remember with fondness the wines that are lighter and that differentiate themselves in quality by small nuances, by understated elegance. The riper, juicier wines always seem to do better in judging competitions.
Sweet wines are also very rewarding. After tasting so many dry whites and reds, your palate feels rewarded by a touch of sweetness and the notes of almonds, hazelnuts, candied orange and lemons are always welcome. Easy to see why critics, Parker and others alike, often give these wines enormous ratings.
So why are some regions seemingly bypassed by these ratings? Italian wines have in the past always been produced to marry foods. As a result, they seem to be drier, less fruity and even dusty at times. That is an element that pleases many Europeans, but is opposite to the preferences of wine fans who want fruit, fruit and more fruit.
Burgundy is another case in point. First, you can truly say that there is a huge disparity between producers, with some making very average wines for the money. You could also argue that Burgundy has had tough luck with many vintages, as it seems that some form of bad weather hits the region every two out of three years. However, those factors cannot explain it all. I would rather think that some people just do not care for a certain style of wine.
For example, a friend of mine dislikes Champagne – all Champagnes. Some of the guys in my tasting group think that white wine is not really a wine. When I worked in retail, I often heard: French wines are too dry and Burgundies are too thin, or too barnyard-like in terms of aromas.
On top of all that, some vintages are dismissed by the media. I remember tasting the 2014 vintage at Tertre Roteboeuf as part of the Futures Tasting Tour. The wine was so backwards that is was impossible to taste, but Loulou Mitjavile, the owner, opened a bottle of the supposedly horrible 2013 vintage and it was a fantastic treat to me!
Parker, like the rest of us, likes a certain style of wine. Coming up in the world of wine in the 70’s, he must have surely tasted some pretty mediocre wines. Wines that were either made poorly because some winemakers thought they could get away with it, or that suffered from decades of inconsistent weather. It is easy to understand why he would then appreciate wines that showed more. More of everything: fruit, oak and concentration.
Personally, I tend to disagree with some of these ratings. However, I will gladly use them to help sell a wine. So, am I dishonest by doing so? I don’t think so because there are so many people out there who share Parker’s style of wine, and their opinion is as valid as anyone else’s.
My advice: Use these ratings as guidance and add your personal experience and preferences to understand and fully enjoy these wines. For instance, I love to drink a red Burgundy after a Bordeaux, not before. After a Bordeaux, my palate has been touched by alcohol and tannins, so when drinking the Pinot Noir, all I feel is the silkiness of the wine. If the Burgundy is (as it should be) slightly cooled, then I get a rush of freshness and the aromas come nicely together. I believe to have tasted perfection in Burgundies under those conditions.
By the same token, I enjoy drinking white Rhones after the reds from the same region. An old vine Beaucastel blanc becomes very reminiscent of a mature Montrachet, with those notes of toasted almonds, acacia honey and salted caramel. I don’t get those aromas if I drink the same wine before the reds. Another perfection achieved with some experimenting…
Robert Parker’s rating system is obviously a guide for us, not the rule for all of us to abide by. Use it and mix it up with your personal appreciation (which is just as valid ). I think Robert Parker would agree.
Some 100-point wines currently in stock: