It finally happened. On Sunday night, Robert Parker announced that he had sold a “substantial” interest in his publication, The Wine Advocate, to a group of unnamed investors from Singapore. He will step down as editor-in-chief, but continue to review wines from Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley. Lisa Perrotti-Brown, a Master of Wine currently serving as TWA’s Asian correspondent, will assume editorial control, and the newsletter will set up an office in Singapore.
Over the past 30 years, Parker has become the world’s most influential wine critic. He popularized the use of the 100-point rating scale, and his meteoric career ran parallel to the growing interest of many Americans in wine. He began as a consumer advocate, but gradually developed cozy relationships with winemakers and wealthy collectors (including some in Singapore, apparently). His ratings had the ability to dramatically affect the price of a wine, and many Bordeaux chateau owners waited to set their prices until Parker’s annual spring evaluation of the new vintage.
Depending on your perspective, the sale is either a brilliant move or the unkindest cut of all. Hard-core wine geeks who clung to the illusion of Parker’s incorruptibility will doubtless be disappointed. The most startling aspect of his announcement was that TWA would now accept advertising from non-winery sources. This is something he has always refused to do, and something for which he has loudly criticized others.
The opposing theory seems to be that Parker’s move to Asia simply reflects the fact that the center of the wine world has shifted eastward. According to this notion, American collectors are now the poor relations to their Hong Kong brethren, and it only makes sense to follow the money. Patriotism aside, the trends and facts certainly back this up.
Either way, these developments destroy the notion that there is an outspoken and visionary wine critic sitting in rural Maryland who has the interests of the average American consumer at heart. The interests closest to his heart are clearly his own, and those of his Singapore backers. This is his right, but dreams die hard.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); for more information, go to iconicspirits.net.