Home Book editor Robert Parker Wine Advocate has a new publisher, but his notorious 100 point system is here to stay

Robert Parker Wine Advocate has a new publisher, but his notorious 100 point system is here to stay

0


There’s new leadership in one of the world’s most important wine publications – and a new reviewer covering Napa Valley wines.

But don’t expect a radical transformation from Robert Parker Wine Advocate, the 43-year-old publication that rates wines on a 100-point scale. Its new editor-in-chief has said that the digital magazine’s primary mission to be an independent and trustworthy buying guide will not change.

The new editor-in-chief is Joe Czerwinski, previously the site’s editorial director. He succeeds Lisa Perrotti-Brown, who led the Wine Advocate for eight years, and will also pick up the pace of Napa wines.

British wine critic William Kelley, who also takes on the role of associate editor, is also promoted. It’s unclear what Perrotti-Brown will do next.

Staff changes, especially at wine websites, are rarely newsworthy. But in the world of wine, what the Wine Advocate does matters. Since its inception in the 1970s – as a newsletter produced by a black lawyer from Maryland – it has been a center of gravity for the way people think about wine, including popularizing the 100 rating system. points which is now used by many publications and visible on wine merchants. shelves around the world. Today, the subscription site is owned by Michelin, famous in the field of tires and food guides, and employs eight wine critics who publish wine reviews as well as period reports, blog posts, travel items, etc.

In a conversation this week, Czerwinski (who I’ve worked with in another post, Wine Enthusiast) explained where he thinks the Wine Advocate is now and where he sees it going under his tutelage. Rather than signaling big changes, he emphasized a vision of continuity, articulating the ways in which the Wine Advocate has retained its founding principles even through the tumult of recent years – the retirement of founder Robert. Parker and a series of ownership changes resulting in Michelin full acquisition in 2019.

“We’re pretty old-fashioned, I guess,” Czerwinski said. “We see ourselves as the independent consumer’s guide to buying wine. This is why we exist. This central mission has not changed at all.

The continued use of Parker’s name is also largely unchanged, despite his departure. The power of the stars, apparently, is just too great. “Bob’s name attached to the property gives it more prominence, more value,” Czerwinski said. “There were times I would hear someone say, ‘Wine Advocate, what is it? And you say that’s Robert Parker’s thing and they say, ‘Oh sure.’ “

Increasingly, however, the attachment to Parker can be a double-edged sword. He is arguably the most famous wine critic of all time, a name whose recognition transcends this niche area. But over the course of his career, Parker and his palace – often cast as preferring lush, hedonistic wines – became so influential that it also became the reigning power against which new voices rebelled. More than a few writers and sommeliers have defined their entire careers in opposition to Parker, positioning their palate as different from his. One of them, natural wine lawyer Alice Feiring, captioned a book “How I Saved the World from Parkerization”.

It is logical that Michelin, whose gastronomic guide is also criticized for preferring lush and hedonistic restaurants, would look at the Parker association. But while that connection may elevate the Wine Advocate’s brand, there is also always a chance that it will alienate wine drinkers who have internalized some of the anti-Parker rhetoric.

If you look closely, however, the reality of Wine Advocate today is much more nuanced than the typical dialogue around Parker’s palate. There is a perception, for example, that the Wine Advocate is adamantly against natural wine. (Understandable: Parker, once a prolific tweeter, called him an “undefined scam” and a “fraud”.) Yet in a recent article, Czerwinski named an organic No-Sulfur-Added Shiraz as one of his five favorite wines of the year.

When I expressed some surprise about this, Czerwinski told me he was in favor of the idea of ​​low-intervention winemaking. “You would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t think the idea is good,” he said. “We’re dogmatic about quality. We’re not dogmatic about how we get it.”

This year, the Wine Advocate also introduced search filters for organic and biodynamic wines in its wine rating database – around 450,000 entries – and introduced the Green Emblem, a rewards program to recognize winners. wineries that have achieved remarkable levels of ecological sustainability. These measures are interpreted as a kind of olive branch for young drinkers, who have showed keen interest to buy wine based on environmental factors than the older generations that have historically formed the Wine Advocate’s subscriber base.

The other subscriber base that the Wine Advocate – indeed, all of Michelin – would like to reach is in Asia, where there is growing interest in fine wine. “If you look at China, it’s a huge market that we haven’t tapped into at all at Robert Parker,” Czerwinski said. “It probably won’t happen tomorrow,” but the long-term play is likely to include plenty of wine and food events.

The Napa Valley winery will undoubtedly be watching Czerwinski closely, now that he is the critic responsible for tasting and rating his wines. For most of his career he has focused on regions such as southern France, New Zealand and Australia, although he said he has visited Napa on several occasions and participated in tastings of Napa wine group early in their career with Wine Enthusiast.

A New York resident, Czerwinski won’t be the only wine critic to cover Napa wines from across the country. James Molesworth, who reviews the area for the other leading wine magazine, Wine Spectator, also lives in New York. (Perrotti-Brown and Molesworth’s two predecessors, James Laube, live in Napa.) Czerwinski said he plans to come to Napa several times a year, for a few weeks at a time, to sample the new releases at establishments. wineries.

A principle that the Wine Advocate will not change: the centrality of the 100-point scale for grading wines.

It is a system that has come under intense scrutiny over the past two decades; whether it is obsolete, irrelevant, and offensively reductive continues to be a favorite subject many wine bloggers. When I asked Czerwinski to defend him, he first expressed amused outrage. “Does he really need to be defended? he said, but then continued to do so.

“Scores are a shorthand for how much or how much the reviewer liked the wine,” Czerwinski said. “He does it in a way that is instantly and, to most people, intuitively recognizable.”

For me, this has always been the most compelling argument in its favor: that you don’t have to know the complicated wine lingo to understand that a 95 point wine is good. As a scoring tool, it is accessible. It’s democratic. And maybe that ideal – of being a simple and universally intelligible buying guide – will ultimately see the Wine Advocate enter a successful new era.