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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In 2003, Neal Martin began posting his wine-tasting notes onto an independent website, wine-journal.com. 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 e-robertparker.com. 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
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.
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.
Allen Meadows Burghound.com
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.
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.