The Influence of the Wine Critics

“Good wine is a necessity of life for me.” So spoke Thomas Jefferson, America’s third President and primary author of the Declaration of Independence. If these achievements weren’t enough, Jefferson was also one of the first notable oenophiles and wine critics. Famous for keeping meticulous journals of his personal wine acquisitions, his promotion of his favorites among friends and contemporaries, such as Nebbiolo (“superlatively fine”) and Montepulciano (“a very favorite wine…most superlatively good”), was as influential as any Robert Parker Jr. score, and his enthusiasm impacts aficionados to this day.

At Westgarth Wines, we appreciate how personal taste and affinity come into play when choosing and investment. But we also appreciate the fact that, in order to invest successfully, it’s important to be aware of which wines are most likely to bring you the best return on your investment. One of the things Westgarth Wines encourages is familiarity with the world’s top wine critics. Like it or not, this small group of select oenophiles wield true power and influence in the world of fine wine investment. With one positive review, they can ignite buying trends on the global market. Just as easily, they can diminish the value of a wine with negative one.

The Robert M. Parker, Jr. Legacy

More than any other wine critic before him, Robert M. Parker, Jr., single-handedly changed the landscape of the wine world when it comes to evaluating a wine’s quality, value and desirability. For decades, he has held the greatest authority over the market, and his contributions remain the barometer by which other critics are measured. After redefining the way in which wine is evaluated, he now spends more of his time enjoying wine rather than critiquing it, handing those duties over to his successors. To this day, he remains the only wine critic in history to have been awarded the highest presidential honors by three presidents—two from France and one from Italy.

Famous for his “million-dollar nose,” Robert Parker was born in 1947 in Baltimore, Maryland. As a practicing attorney for 10 years, he augmented his legal agenda by exploring his passion – wine. It wasn’t long after his appointment as the Assistant General Counsel for the Farm Credit Banks of Baltimore that he gave up law completely and devoted himself full-time to wine and wine critiques.

1978 marked the premiere issue of The Wine Advocate, Parker’s brainchild publication that has grown from an initial subscriber audience of 600 to over 50,000 worldwide. The publication has become the oenophile’s bible – an indispensable guide for serious wine buyers and a major influence on consumers’ buying habits from Europe and the Americas to the robust Asian market.

It was the 1982 Bordeaux vintage that put Parker in the global spotlight. While his counterparts designated the vintage as less than exceptional, Parker found it worthy of indulgent praise and admiration, declaring it a turning point in the history of wine. Even today, the 1982 vintage draws the highest prices than many of its competitors, reinforcing Parker’s unprecedented influence.

The Parker Point System also indelibly placed the critic on the wine world map. Parker created his own scoring system, replacing the previous 20-point system with one that ranged from 50 to 100, allowing for more differential subtlety and nuance. His system scores investment-grade wines 90 to 95 for those considered “outstanding,” and 96 to 100 for those deemed “extraordinary.” His scores speak volumes when it comes to wine prices and investment potential.

Parker has steadily reduced his activities as a critic; his beloved Wine Advocate was sold to a consortium of investors, and while he still contributes periodic reviews, he has been enjoying most of his free time popping corks for his own pleasure. But the fact is that Parker’s influence – past, present and future – is not up for debate. He was, simply put, the real deal: a man whose love for the vine inspired generations of oenophiles. It’s doubtful if his legacy, influence, brand and passion will be rivaled anytime soon.

Today’s Top Critics

Across the spectrum of contemporary wine critics, Jancis Robinson, James Suckling and Neal Martin – Robert Parker’s apprentice – continue to dominate the field, while Hong-Kong’s rising star, Jeanne Cho Lee, is rapidly gaining equal notoriety for her level, business-minded but nonetheless enthusiastic approach. Two American upstarts, Antonio Gallioni and Allen Meadows, also make the cut of important voices, with each specializing in a different category than their colleagues – Galloni focusing on Italian wines, and Meadows championing the treasures of Burgundy.

The Westgarth team pays close attention to the reviews of these, among other, top tasting professionals so you can make investments with the highest potential for solid, consistent returns. Invariably, our recommendations reflect the opinions that respected critics unanimously share on outstanding, investment-worthy wines.

Jancis Robinson

j-Sept-2013Following Robert Parker, the most influential wine critic in the world today is widely believed to be Jancis Robinson.

Growing up in an environment with little to no exposure to wine, much less high quality wine, she was raised in the small village of Cumbria, England, which boasted of a population of 46 people. It wasn’t until she went to Oxford University as a student that Jancis first became acquainted with fine wines, and it was love at first swirl, sip and spit.

In 1975, the British wine trade magazine, Wine & Spirit, hired the young Robinson as assistant editor. Nine years later, she was recognized as a “Master of Wine” for her vast knowledge on the subject and her uncanny ability to make it accessible to readers. In 1988, she was chosen to edit Oxford University Press’s Oxford Companion to Wine, the most comprehensive wine reference book in history. Now in its third edition, the book features 3000 entries on everything from cork bark harvesting to the influence of wine in art.

From 1995 to 2010, Jancis Robinson worked for British Airways in the prestigious capacity of wine consultant. Since 2005, she has also served on the Royal Household Wine Committee, choosing wines for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, identifying appropriate wines to serve to royal guests.

Robinson’s wine ratings are based on the traditional, pre-Parker 20-point tasting system. Along with publishing commentary on her website, she is wine writer for the Financial Times for which she has written a weekly column since 1989.

James Suckling

Equally at home critiquing wine and cigars, James Suckling is a highly acclaimed critic who has spent more than 30 years reviewing them both with facility. The former editor of The Wine Spectator and its sister publication, Cigar Aficionado, Suckling was born in Los Angeles in 1958. His work for the Wine Spectator began in 1981; in 1985, Suckling was asked to launch the European branch of the magazine in Paris. From there he moved to London, and eleven years later to Tuscany, Italy, where he remains to this day. Suckling has a special affinity for Italian wines, which comprised nearly 50% of the 4000 average annual tastings that he participated in while with The Wine Spectator.
In 2010, James Suckling launched his website, Keeping up with technology, it focuses on video blogs and tastings, offering viewers a uniquely personal insight into the wine-tasting experience.

Neal Martin

Is Neal Martin the heir apparent to the Parker dynasty? Born in Essex, England, in 1971, Martin is pegged as the one chosen to take over the throne of Robert Parker’s empire once he retires.

Like Jancis Robinson, Neal Martin encountered the world of fine wine quite by accident. 1994 took the young graduate to Japan to work as an English teacher. Upon his return to the UK a year later, an opportunity arose for Martin to work as a wine procurer for a Japanese export company. With no other offers of employment in the mix, he eagerly took the job despite his total lack of vinicultural knowledge. To up his game, he enrolled in the Wine and Spirit Education Trust’s certificate course, where he was first exposed to Château Montrose 1982. He never looked back.

Once he completed the course, Martin traveled to major European Wine regions, visiting all of the prominent Bordeaux châteaux several times in the space of four years.

In 2003, Neal Martin began posting his wine-tasting notes onto an independent website, Three years later, he’d earned an extraordinary following. Soon after, he attracted the attention of Robert M. Parker, Jr., who invited him to contribute to Parker has reduced his activity down from his former 10,000 wine-tastings a year, paving the way for Neal Martin to act in his place.

Jeannie Cho Lee

Jeannie Cho Lee, a Korean-born, Hong Kong-based wine critic, author, television host, editor, judge, educator and consultant, is currently taking on the masters with her own signature style and success. In 2008, this award-winning critic became the first Asian person ever to gain the Master of Wine (MW) title. In 2009, Lee’s significant contributions to the wine industry were recognized when she became the honored recipient of the highly regarded Vinitaly International Award. She ranks 25th on Decanter’s Power List, and in 2015, was listed among the top 60 most influential people in wine by La Revue du Vin.

Cho Lee was educated in the United States, but spent her junior university year at the illustrious Oxford University. Echoing the experience of Jancis Robinson, it was during her time at Oxford when she developed her passion for fine food and wine. Graduating from Smith College with a dual degree in Political Science and Sociology, she went on to complete a Master’s degree at Harvard.

1994 brought Cho Lee to Hong Kong, a sensible choice given her intention to pursue a career in business journalism. Wine, however, got in the way, and she shifted her focus on wine writing, consultancy and education. She is now a Contributing Editor for the internationally renowned Decanter UK, and writes weekly and monthly columns for various well-known Chinese publications. She also works as a wine consultant for Singapore Airlines and the Galaxy Macau luxury resort.

In 2009, Cho Lee published Asian Palate, an innovative, groundbreaking book on wine and Asian cuisine. The book chronicles the ever-growing, evolving love for wine across ten of Asia’s culinary capitals, with hundreds of recommendations for pairing wines with local dishes. The book has won several awards, including Best Food and Wine Pairing Book in the World at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in 2010. Asian Palate’s website was also launched in 2010, and is now one of the leading go-to resources for information on the rapidly changing Asian food and wine beat.

Lee holds a Certificat de Cuisine from Cordon Bleu, and trained as a Master Sake Sommelier at Japan’s Sake Service Institute. She is a Certified Wine Educator with both the UK’s Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and the US Society of Wine Educators.

Antonio Galloni

antonio-galloniAn American wine critic with a love for the Italian vine, Antonio Galloni came to Robert Parker’s attention via the Piedmont Report, a wine journal he founded while a graduate student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It was the first English language publication that focused solely on wines hailing from Italy. Recruited by Parker himself to serve as a Lead Critic, Galloni then spent seven years as a contributor to Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate, reviewing wines of Italy, Burgundy, Champagne and California. His reviews met with such enthusiasm that he expanded his role by also contributing to Parker’s Wine Buyer’s Guide.
In response to Parker’s announcement that he was stepping down from the role of Editor of The Wine Advocate, Galloni followed his departure to establish his own online platform called Vinous. With the intention of capturing a newer, broader demographic of oenophiles, Vinous provides a fully contemporary platform while Galloni continues to deliver exceptionally astute reviews and integrate engaging video content. He has recently added craft spirits to the list of his topics.

Allen Meadows

allen-meadowsKnown as the current Burgundy critic extraordinaire, Allen Meadows was an American financial executive before he followed his heart and abandoned finance in 1997, pursuing his passion for Burgundy, California and Oregon Pinot Noir offerings. In 2000, he launched, a website with an accompanying newsletter that celebrates Burgundy wines, among others. In record time, the site was soon deemed the most dependable and authoritative resource on Burgundian topics, and Meadows himself the top critic on Burgundy.

While Meadows was certainly well-informed, his rocket success may have been catapulted even more by the fact that Robert Parker had stopped reviewing Burgundy wines in The Wine Advocate in 1996, handing the reins over to Pierre Rovani. Rovani’s contributions were less than well-received, creating a void that Meadows was more than capable of filling.

Meadows exceeded expectations of even the most resistant critics at the time, and’s dedication to its love for Burgundy has stayed focused and unwavering. As The Wine Advocate speaks directly to fans of Bordeaux, remains the number one go-to resource for Bordeaux’s top rival.

Westgarth Wines would like to point out that it has no association, affiliation or sponsorship relationship with any of the publications, journalists or wine critics we feature in our critics profiles.

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