Tom Munro talks to Robert Parker, wine guru and now plaintiff as he begins his legal action against certain "myopic" critics, about the real motives behind his infamous and highly-influential scoring system.

In the beginning, there was the wine. Then came the word. And it belongs to Robert Parker, the omnipotent Bordeaux guru who can make a vintage either soar or sink.

This may sound a little irreligious but every time Parker holds a wine in his mouth, swills it round his gums, gargles and tastes, the future wealth of a wine producer lies beneath the guillotine of his sound judgement - or silly whim.

Although he still claims loyalty to the word - and the word is 'terroir' - from an objective point of view, Parker has developed into a superhuman marketing machine.

No matter how exotic your soil may taste, Parker has a bland score for your wine. And what is the value of that?

Just-drinks.com asked the farmer's son from Maryland to defend the 100-point system that we love to hate but which is seldom acknowledged as wine-selling man's most potent aid to profit.

"When I came into wine there was a shortage of real consumer reporting of wine," Parker said. "There were lots of books on the romance of wine but not any about what wine really tasted like."


"If I had just used numbers to score a wine I would never have taken on the status of an authority."

It still seems like a giant leap from that simple niche in the reading market to the superstardom achieved by Parker through his 100-point system, and the gulf is fully recognised by the one-time lawyer.

"Never in my wildest imagination did I believe that scores would take on the significance that they have."

When talking to a man whose humility and affability comes as something of a surprise in itself his anger stands out all the more starkly when conversation turns to his critics.

"Short-sighted" and "myopic" are the two synonyms that Parker turns to repeatedly when accusations of reductionism are levelled at him.

"People say 'Parker reduces wine to a number' but this is really very short-sighted. People forget that for every number there is a detailed tasting note.

"If I had just used numbers to score a wine I would never have taken on the status of an authority."

His critics may claim that neither would he have received any attention whatsoever had Parker just stuck to the subjective tasting notes by which he - perhaps rightly - sets such great store.

Parker insists that what he does is "pro-consumer" and "accountability" is his watchword here.

The theory is that if wines do not live up to the expectation set by their numerical scores then Parker concedes he will soon be giving up the day job.

"You can't just hide behind jolly good, jolly-jolly good and jolly-jolly-jolly good. The tasting notes relate to a score that makes you accountable to your readers.

"And the people who say I'm a reductionist are never - NEVER - the ones who say, 'yes, but he's also written a very intelligent tasting note'"


"There are people who say I have got a hidden agenda but there really is none at all - the only agenda is to taste wine."

Parker goes on to claim that his scores are essential to the industry because they set out a level playing field on which an upstart wine from the New World is marked against the same criteria as a classic old world rival.

And he adds: "Regardless of the price of a wine, it is going to be judged in the same way that a wine with a low price is going to be judged.

"This is unsettling, especially in France; the demolition of this traditional hierarchy is an extremely disturbing thing to them."

Other critics believe there is some kind of a conspiracy going on, a seditious coalition between Parker and certain close friends of his on the right bank of the Gironde.

"There are people who say I have got a hidden agenda but there really is none at all - the only agenda is to taste wine."

So do you trust Parker? God or Devil?

Charles Lea, 50% of Lea and Sandeman, London's sharpest wine outfit, accepts that Parker cannot be ignored but he also trusts his intention to genuinely assess wine. The crimes, says Mr Lea, creep in when his scores are appropriated for less sincere reasons.

"Parker has been an enormous influence to the good to the wine industry in general but there's a degree of everybody trying to out-do Parker."

Mr Lea explains that because producers know what Parker likes there's a tendency to make wines that fawn to his putative love of forest fruit flavours, supple tannins and vanilla oak.

"Consequently anything not made in that style is out of fashion at the moment. He's usually right but he's not always right."