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Wine Publications: Scoring the Critics
The Wine Advocate

Lettie Teague wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal Weekend called "Do the Right Wines Win" where she tasted wines that had been given 95 point-plus scores by major wine critics. She provided thumbnail descriptions of the reviewers and weighed in on the validity of their scores. Then she speculated about who she thought might be scoring just a little too generously.

Reading it made reminded me that for nineteen years I have been working with these publications and websites on a daily basis, not to mention constantly matching our impressions of wines to their scores and reviews. I think that that experience puts me in a pretty good position to create my own guide to the wine review websites and publications, so here is what I think....

The question I am asked most often is which publication's scores do I trust the most. And, there is no easy answer to that question, since each one seems to occupy a special niche for us. I have been living with these publications for almost twenty years and here's what I think.

I will tackle the publications that started it all, Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. Over the next few weeks, I will look at Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Vinous, Jeb Dunnuck, James Suckling and England's Decanter Magazine. And yes, James Suckling scores too high.... but his reviews are still useful.

The Wine Advocate

The Wine Advocate is a bimonthly wine review journal that does not accept advertising. It was founded in 1978 by Robert Parker who while he did not invent the 100 point wine quality scale, it was his publication that made it the standard.  While Robert Parker has faced his share of criticism for applying such an objective measure to such a subjective process, his meteoric success has made him the most influential wine critic in the world.

Bordeaux vintages rise or sink on his reviews and a 90 point-plus score from him can be the difference between a sold-out vintage for a winery or being faced with discounting to clear the vintage. In fact, Robert Parker has been so successful that the word "Parkerization" was coined to describe wines that his critics felt had been designed to appeal to his palate. 

In 2013 Parker sold a majority stake in the publication to investors from Singapore. His lead reviewer Lisa Perotti-Brown became editor-in-chief and Parker continued to review wine and contribute to the publication.  A transition from print to fully online distribution took effect in 2014 but the print version is still available through a separate subscription at $99 a year.  

Wine Advocate currently has ten reviewers on staff and still publishes bimonthly, but supplements with additional reviews weekly. You can check the Wine Advocate website at https://www.robertparker.com

How we use Wine Advocate

 

What I find most valuable about Wine Advocate is the depth of their coverage and the consistency of the scores between reviewers. I can only assume that to review for the Advocate, your tastes need to be pretty similar to Robert's. 

When I have to order wines that I am unable to taste first; like German Rieslings, Bordeaux and higher-end Italian wines like Barolos and Brunellos that are often sold as direct-imports and take months to arrive. I have used Wine Advocate extensively over the years and I can honestly say I have never gotten a clunker by pre-ordering a wine based on a Wine Advocate 90 point-plus score. 

The other place Wine Advocate shines is in identifying where the serious values are coming from. Fifteen years ago it was Australia, then Argentina and Chile eclipsed Australia and now Spain and Southern France seem to be where the finds are.  The 94 point Bastide Miraflors Syrah-Grenache 2015 that sells for only $13.99, and is my current "House Wine," is a great case in point. 

As Robert bows out, it will remain to be seen if Wine Advocate's scores in Bordeaux and Napa Valley will continue to carry the tremendous influence that they have for the last forty years. Only time will tell....