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The prominence of wine both for drinking and investment has spawned an entire industry of wine critics and journalists with their own trade publications, magazines and websites that regularly taste and score wines.
A number of these critics have become extremely influential in their fields and hold a great deal of power as taste-makers and validators, able to make or break a new wine before it ever comes to market. The ratings of these critics have an observable effect on market prices for fine wine and we familiarise ourselves with some of the key names here.
Robert Parker Jr.
Possibly the single most influential critic in the world of wine, the scores and re-scores of American-born Robert Parker Jr are eagerly awaited by collectors and investors around the globe. His nose and palate are insured for $1,000,000, the reason behind his nickname, ‘the million-dollar nose’.
Parker shook up the world of wine in 1978 when he launched the first free issue of his bi-monthly newsletter, The Wine Advocate. This was the first independent consumer guide to buying wine and had a huge effect on the American wine-buying public. Today it has more than 50,000 subscribers and though Parker remains an owner, he announced in 2012 he would be stepping down as editor-in-chief. He continues to provide influential scores for Bordeaux and Rhone wines, leaving ratings of other regions to fellow critics at The Wine Advocate.
The Parker 100 point scale has had an incomparable influence on wine critics, many of whom previously rated wines on a scale of 20 (a practice still maintained and preferred by some). Parker points have a direct effect on price points, with only 95+ scored wines included in the Liv-ex Fine Wine 100 index and with perfect ‘100-point’ wines the most desirable on the market.
Formerly Senior Editor and European Bureau Chief of Wine Spectator magazine, James Suckling began his career at Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate during the 1980s and oversaw its monumental growth leading up til today.
Continuing to write for the Wine Advocate, Suckling launched his own website in 2010 where he reviews his beloved Bordeaux wines according to the ‘Wine Spectator 100-point scale’, very similar to Parker’s own.
Suckling has brought a new modern style of wine reviewing to the fore, with a heavy influence on blogs and video tastings and interviews on his website. A number of other critics have been influenced by his visual style and have followed suit.
Having developed a passion for wine whilst working for a Japanese export company where he was responsible for the likes of Petrus and Latour, Neal Martin embarked on a course of wine education and completed a WSET diploma. In 2003 he launched wine-journal.com which within three years had gained a legion of over 100,000 followers, a certain Robert Parker Jr, among them. Parker made Martin his protege and brought him on board to write for his own erobertparker online platform where he is one of the most prolific writers and reviewers and where his Wine Journal has been offered exclusively ever since. Again, his reviews and profiles provide useful contrasts to the opinions of RPJ.
Tim Atkin MW
Tim Atkin is a British Master of wine and a prolific wine commentator, with regular contributions in Woman and Home, Intelligent Life, Off License News, The World of Fine Wines and Imbibe. His writing has won him numerous awards, including UK Wine Guild Wine Correspondent of the year, an accolade he has won no less than four times. He is a regular figure on television and radio too, a public speaker, wine educator and sits on the judging panel for a number of prestigious international wine competitions such as the International Wine Challenge and the Vin de Pays Top 100.
Jancis Robinson MW
The best-known British wine critic, Jancis Robinson was the first individual outside the wine trade to earn the prestigious title Master of Wine – the highest possible professional qualification in the wine trade- and was made an OBE in 2003. Robinson’s status is such that she even advises Queen Elizabeth II on her personal wine cellar.
Her column in the Financial Times and her tasting notes and scores on her personal blog are followed by a legion of faithful fans worldwide. Her ratings, on a 20-point scale, are second only to Robert Parker’s in terms of influence and provide a valuable counterpoint to the American’s scores. Differences in opinion between the two critics provide lively points of debate to wine followers.
A successful financial executive for many years, American Allen Meadows had long held a passion for wine and was an enthusiastic collector of fine French wines and in 1999 left the banking business to focus on his true calling. By 2000, he had founded Burghound.com, the first wine site to focus exclusively on a single region – Burgundy – and updated with tasting notes, features and wine profiles on a quarterly basis. Robert Parker had ceased to cover Burgundy for the Wine Advocate in 1996, and Meadows’ site was well received and grew quickly in popularity. He is now the most influential Burgundy critic, with his scores (on a 100-point-scale) widely quoted.