Does the Wine Advocate buy over $700,000 worth of wine a year?

Robert Parker states that his publication, The Wine Advocate, purchases “more than 60%” of the wines that it reviews. Parker previously said that he paid for 75 percent of the wines, but amid the furor last year over the free trips that two of his contributors, Jay Miller and Mark Squires, had accepted, he scaled back that figure. However, many people wonder if even the revised figure is true. After all, The Wine Advocate reviews thousands of wines a year (16,474 wines last year), and more than a few of them are extremely expensive. Also, Parker now has six contributing writers, all of whom are presumably drawing salaries from The Wine Advocate.

In 2006, Parker’s assistant, Joan Passman, told a New York Times reporter that Parker purchased bottles “on occasion” but that “by far the largest portion” of wines he sampled were free samples. (Parker publicly dismissed her assertion, saying she had “no clue as to whether I spend a dollar or a million dollars on wines to be tasted.”) In the related article, Marvin Shanken admitted that the Wine Spectator, which has many more subscribers and much higher revenues than the Wine Advocate, was dependent on free samples. “It’d be economically impossible to buy all those wines, especially the ones that are $100 to $300 to $500 a bottle,” he said. During the Miller/Squires flap, Parker seemed to suggest that shouldering the travel expense could lead him to “sacrifice” coverage of some areas. If that travel cost is too much to bear, it certainly seems reasonable to wonder if Parker is really buying as much wine as he claims.

To find out what the Wine Advocate spends on wine according to the stated policy, I crunched the numbers from the December issue, #186, which included 3,067 reviews of wines from Napa, White Burgundy, Australia, Champagne, Greece, Cyprus, and Portugal. The newsletter conveniently provides price information on many wines; however, some rated wines received no price information, often on the basis that they are not-yet-released samples from barrel or bottle. Despite the fact that some of these wines (e.g. Hundred Acre, Colgin, Staglin) will retail for hundreds of dollars per bottle, I coded these as barrel sample (BS) and assigned a price of zero. Such BS accounted for 304 of the 3,067 wines reviewed, or about 10% of the wines reviewed. It is also worth noting that the Wine Advocate generally does not list wines that have received scores of less than 85 points. It seems reasonable to assume that at least several hundred wines fall below this threshold each year.

The total value of the wines listed in Issue 186, excluding those categorized as BS, is $210,168. Parker publishes six issues a year; extrapolating from Issue 186, The Wine Advocate reviews $1.2 million worth of wine every year. If Parker is indeed buying 60 percent of the wines reviewed, he is spending in excess of $700,000 per year on wine for review. Related to this discussion, it is worth noting that according to self-reported figures on Parker’s site, The Wine Advocate has 50,000 subscribers (the current rate is $75 a year making $3.7 million a year in revenues). Unless Parker decides to release audited figures, there is no way of knowing whether or not he is buying “more than 60 percent” of the wines that are reviewed in The Wine Advocate. I just thought it might be useful, in light of the discussion concerning this issue, to try to come up with some numbers.

Interestingly, although Issue 186 included tasting notes for almost 1,000 wines from Napa valley, two iconic producers Chateau Montelena and Dunn Vineyards, were not reviewed. These omissions sparked a lengthy discussion on erobertparker.com, and in response to concerns raised by some participants, Parker chimed in with this comment: “I wanted to taste Dunn and Montelena with other Napa cabernets in October…they were invited to participate..I even called Montelena several times as I love their wines and own quite a few vintages(Dunn as well)…but for reasons they only know, they did not want their wines tasted in the company of other Napa cabernets..I respect that….” By “invited to participate,” Parker was presumably saying that Montelena and Dunn had been invited to submit samples. In response to his remark, one commenter noted that he could have purchased the wines in order to include them in his tasting. Parker did not reply.

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75 Responses to “Does the Wine Advocate buy over $700,000 worth of wine a year?”


  1. Does the 50K subscriber base cover print and online or just print? Online subscriptions are $99 a year and quite honestly, the better deal. I had the print for 1 year and didn’t care for it.

    I think the fact Advocate’s tastings aren’t done blind is the bigger issue. I know the arguments for and against, but still think you can do both and provide a better service. When I was in retail, I did most all tastings in a blind format and the results were always more honest.


  2. The issue of accepting hospitality and free trips could be avoided by eliminating the possibility or perception of bias, such as by tasting the wines blind rather than open and in the company of the distributor.

    It seems that the alternative will result in less well known regions not being adequately covered, which does a disservice to both the readership and the winemakers.

    You can add Ridge Monte Bello to the list of top quality wines that Parker seems to be strangely unable to locate at retail.


  3. Guess I should have checked the link before adding that last comment. (I’m not welcome on that site.) However the fact remains, as the thread’s originator states, that Monte Bello hasn’t been reviewed by Parker for some years. I look forward to hearing his review next month.


  4. Here we go again!

    Let the games begin! :-)

    On a more serious note, how transparent do we want wine reviewers to be? I mean, I want to know that someone did not accept payment to give a wine a favorable review, or that there was any other overt bias (ie, reviewer once dated winemaker’s wife or something like that).

    Otherwise, I don’t care if these guys get samples or buy the wine themselves, provided that I agree with their palates.

    I know the counter-argument: RP drives a mad percentage of wine prices globally and therefore needs to be beyond reproach, etc., etc.

    But counter-counter that by saying this type of RP price influence is going to subside over time anyway due to changes in wine media and consumer preferences, etc.

    I’m certainly open to counter-counter-counters. :-)

    Cheers!


  5. It might be better to look at what Parker does or doesn’t buy:

    Australia – by their own admission (Jay Miller last year), Aussie wines are tasted in either big trade tastings with samples submitted by the wineries or their importers/distributors or in Baltimore at Parker’s offices or favorite restaurants

    Spain – same as Australia. Jay’s own admission last year as well.

    US (Central Coast) – Parker samples at his favorite wineries (SQN, Alban, etc). The rest of the Central Coast tastings are done at a facility where wineries are asked to submit bottles to the tasting. Several sommeliers and ITB types open the bottles and arrange in categories for the tasting. Parker tastes over several days.

    US (North Coast, Napa Valley) = see Central Coast. Parker tastes at Harlan, Screaming Eagle, Schrader, Carlisle, etc., with the owners/winemakers. The rest are tasted in a manner similar to the big Central Coast tastings.

    All other regions – not sure. But there is a pattern, Parker and Miller taste their favorite wines directly with the winemaker/owner/distributor. All others are submitted samples, grouped by region/style/varietal that are tasted with notes written and scores assigned.

    I doubt very much they buy 60% of the wines they taste for ratings. Maybe Parker is including the personal wines he buys, but since he is in the business of rating wines, those wines become “business” expenses?


  6. That sounds like a lot work on your part, just to be clear, the 700k figure is pretty much the minimum possible amount, since you are not factoring in wines tasted that came in below 85? We do know how many wines Wines & Spirits tastes but do not meet their threshold (I believe it’s 85): 1,403 for their February 2010 issue out of 1,775 tasted.


  7. I think perhaps R. Parker (and his staff) should just openly admit the breakdown of free samples versus purchased wines, in the interests of transparency. It seems that would enhance his credibility especially with the new wave of wine consumers coming into the marketplace. Personally I think that the new consumers (that are becoming the market drivers) are going to demand more and more transparency from their information sources. Wine Spectator could also take note, although I feel they do a fairly good job at explaining their tasting and reviewing process.

    Then again, maybe he doesn’t feel the need to and assumes (whether rightfully or wrongfully so) that his reputation is beyond reproach, in which case any arguments for that will fall upon deaf ears (or keyboards). One of the few things that may convince him otherwise is a significant decline in his readership, or profits..


  8. Tyler, I think it is fair to press on the 60% assertion, but I think the fairer way to do so would be to note how vague that claim is. The universe of wines making up the denominator is not specified nor is the methodology for computing the 60%. Is it 60% of all wines tasted (including barrel samples and other wines not yet released)? 60% of those that are commercially available (including limited allocation mailing list wines)? Or just 60% of those that are available at retail? Are reviews where the report specifies that the reviewer traveled to the region and tasted both bottles and barrel samples in-cellar excluded from the computation? Is it 60% of the total number of bottles, or 60% by value?

    Computing a number like your $700,000 is inherently unreliable when the nature of the claim you are examining is so unclear. Your computation, for instance, assumes that the 60% is an average by value not by number of bottles, even though it might be reasonable to assume that makers of highly-priced wines would be more likely to send free samples than those of lower-priced bottles.

    Similarly, I would have assumed (but you clearly have not) that the 60% figure excludes reports such as Napa where it is clear from the report that even the wines tasted from bottle were tasted in-cellar with the producers. That would make Parker’s comment about “invit[ing]” Dunn and Montelena to “participate” easy to understand — he asked to set up tastings with them during his trip and they declined.


  9. Wouldn’t tasters from the Wine Advocate be doing a tremendous disservice to their reader base if they did, in fact, buy everything? They would be constrained to budgets, vintages imported and available at retail and their own potential personal bias or lack of knowledge of a given region.

    How would they find that great hidden gem on their own if not for samples being provided by importers and producers? Further, it is illegal for an importer to sell directly to a consumer without a license to purchase and distribute wine, regardless of his or affiliation with the wine trade.


  10. I think the main point is being missed here based upon comments that I see.

    I do not care if Parker buys his wine or not. I care that he be honest and tell us the truth.

    Whether he buys 60 percent on dollars, or 60 percent on dollars, it is a lie.

    The manner in which Tony V described his tastings in California is the same way that he tastes in the Rhone Valley.


  11. I see nothing wrong with accepting tasting samples.

    I agree with Daniel P, these are reviews by individuals, who are following their own palate. You can take them or leave them. I only use them as a guide to make my own decisions. After awhile (as far as individuals are concerned), you find certain reviewers/publications who have taste similar to yours. Advertising is part of a necessary business model, and funny, I notice advertisers on this site.

    Transparency or no, trust is trust, something to be developed over time.


  12. I agree with Daniel P, I don’t care at all if he buys, accepts samples, wanders around hobotown asking for hits from people drinking out of paper bags, or anything else. The critics I know (several, but not Mr. Parker) have absolutely no trouble saying negative things about free wine, and I have no reason to believe the Advocate staff is any different.

    If they’re claiming to adhere to certain policies and actually doing something else, *that’s* a scandal. And since they’re selling subscriptions based on claims about their tasting practicies, it’s possible TWA is running afoul of truth in advertising laws.


  13. I would just like Parker to admit that he has never adhered to his policies that he set forth 25 years ago.

    He claims he buys BDX off retailer shelves for review in btl, yet, his reviews are always published just after his annual trip to Bordeaux. And this 60 percent number, which was refuted by Joan Passman, his longtime assistant, is garbage. His response to Joan’s comment…she is an idiot, to paraphrase. No more detail because nobody asked.

    Now, good folks like Tyler and myself are asking, and he hides. Like he did last year when the WSJ requested answers to questions, he hid, despite at least 8 requests by WSJ for answers. Then he accuses WSJ of corruption after the article printed, which he never apologized for, but just deleted his own comments. Classic.


  14. Put simply, there is no reason not to annotate each review with the source of the bottle, and for each section, how and when the review was done. The “space limitations” malarkey suggests either a very limited supply of electrons or a latent assertion that RP is the one man not subject to subconscious bias.


  15. 1WineDude –

    Your answer implies that the question is about all reviewers, i.e. yourself. It isn’t about whether reviewers need to disclose everything. It’s exactly as Posner says. This is a man who has built a legend and traded off of it for a quarter century. The problem is, under scrutiny, many of his claims seem to crumble.

    But to answer your question, I’d like reviewers to simply state their policy clearly, first and foremost. I’d like to know if they receive free samples or not. I’d like to know if they only review wines that were presented as free samples. I’d like them to state explicitly that any conflicts of interest will be detailed (i.e. a personal friendship with a winemaker whose wine is being discussed, etc.) Transparency is king in wine writing / reviewing / blogging.


  16. I don’t care what any of you haters think. Robert Parker is G0D.
    Sincerely the Most Important Bordeaux Blogger in America.


  17. “I do not care if Parker buys his wine or not. I care that he be honest and tell us the truth.”

    Thank you, Daniel!


  18. It’s incredible how much we in the industry pay attention to Parker and his goings on. True, he is a pioneer and I give him due credit for that.
    Working in distribution and in a wine shop though brings the realization that the average end consumer is ready to grab the first bottle you recommend, especially if you’re knowledgeable. And that’s the best part. Parker changed an industry, for sure and we’re better off for it now. The biz is changing fast though and who knows how long points will be in the back of our heads as we tell people what to enjoy.
    Great discussion.
    Thanks.


  19. I dont pay to go to trade tasting I review wine and taste, I don’t sit down and review so thats a bit harder and I don’t have 8hrs sooo… I mean if I don’t pay why would RP or any review critic?


  20. I really think there is a growing trend in tech, in society, and in the wine marketplace where reviews are communual rather than dictated. It’s the whole wisdom of the masses theory, and the internet is enabling a sort of communal palate to be developed. We’re a bit more likely these days to take the recommendation of hundreds of tasters on a single wine than Robert Parker’s single opinion.


  21. I don’t think that free samples necessarily taint reviews, and I think that if RP only pays for a fraction of the wines he samples, as Joan Passman told the NYT, it wouldn’t necessarily make any difference in his credibility as a critic. However, what should make a difference is whether he is honest and transparent about the WA’s practices (just like the JSM paid trip issues).

    One reason that issues like this get a lot of attention and raise tempers in the wine geek world is that from the beginning RP has set himself up as having more integrity than others. From the beginning he presented himself as the Nadersque advocate, and still in recent years seems to have little hesitation on the Squires board questioning the independence and honesty of other critics (especially British). So when there is a discrepancy between what Parker says and what it appears he does, it generates interest.

    If Parker says he tastes blind whenever possible, yet it seems in many situations where blind tastings could easily be arranged he tastes non-blind, it raises questions. If he says he buys 60% of his wines, yet his personal assistant tells Gary Rivlin of the Times the vast majority are free samples, it raises questions. When you combine it with RP’s statements that “in the last 28 years…anyone making great wines has always wanted me to taste their wines…..the producers that produce swill are the ones trying to market and sell the wines before I can taste them…..” it really raises questions.

    Lastly, RP constantly makes statements that cannot be independently verified, so he is implicitly asking the reader to trust him. He says it’s important to keep distance from the trade, so one must trust him to do so. He says he doesn’t let friendship (or antagonism) affect scores, trust him. He says he can remember almost every wine he’s tasted, trust him. He says he’s so gifted he did the greatest feat of blind tasting ever on French TV, but he lost the tape- trust him. He says he only buys high scoring wines after his scores are released to the public, trust him. If his public statements re % of wines he buys are not correct, it makes one wonder how much else might be less than perfectly accurate.


  22. Dale,

    Great post.

    Peter


  23. […] Does the Wine Advocate buy over $700,000 worth of wine a year? | Dr Vino’s wine blog […]


  24. Interestingly, it seems that anyone who questions Parker gets little or no response, or is attacked by him in TWA (without naming names).

    Are we sure he didn’t work for the last Bush administration? :-)


  25. Dale, I agree, great post.

    While we’re on truth and public commitments, how about technology promises from Mr. Parker to his customers? For example, on 9/1/2006, among many other things, Parker had this to say: http://dat.erobertparker.com/bboard/showpost.php?p=1254811&postcount=1

    “We have a fabulous new wine management program, which will be called “My Wines,” that will be launched at the end of the year. This new state-of-the-art program is currently being tested, and its potential and application are amazing.”

    So how do you “have” a piece of software on 9/1/2006 that will supposedly be launched in less than four months, yet here we are now on 1/12/2010, almost 3.5 years later, and the same software is still not delivered? Mind you, since 1/2007 the eRobertParker website has also advertised “My Wines (coming soon)” as part of the $100/year subscription. That’s 3 years of false advertising, and even now the eRobertParker website advertises this software as coming “later this year” and “2009”. Newflash, it’s a new decade now, 2010.

    What seems clear now is that Parker’s statement was made to freeze the market for competitors, and yet obviously they must have known that they were in little danger of actually delivering a product to customers any time soon. Is that customer advocacy? Where I come from that is called VAPORWARE.

    DISCLOSURE: I make competing software, so I have a strong financial interest in the success or failure of My Wines. Mostly though, I am upset since every single day mutual customers ask me if I will collaborate with Mr. Parker. I wish it were in my control to give so many customers what they want, the ability to see reviews they are already paying for. I am happy to say that many other professional critics take a much more customer-centric view and ARE happy to collaborate on behalf of their customers; great folks like Steve Tanzer, Jancis Robinson, Allen Meadows, John Gilman, Roy Hersh, and Brad Baker to name a few.

    Sincerely,
    -Eric LeVine (CellarTracker.com)


  26. TRV – thanks for those observations

    Phil – thanks for that comparative metric

    Matt – Parker stated in October that he tasted at 40 wineries in Napa as well as comparative tastings organized by the Napa Valley Vintners Association. There were 970 wines reviewed in that section.

    Craig – interesting take.

    Daniel & 1winedude & Evan – Yes, transparency is key in all forms of wine writing.

    Dale – Excellent observations; thanks for sharing.

    Eric – wow, a fascinating take on My Wines.


  27. As others have noted, the Bordeaux tasting is almost entirely barrel samples. There is also a fair number of barrel samples in his California tastings.

    Nevertheless we are talking mid $500k. I am assuming there is a wine buying budget for the acolytes included in thsi figure. If so, I would love to see the breakdown.


  28. Mark

    I think you misread. Barrel Samples were assigned a zero dollar value.


  29. Eric

    I was not aware that my subscription to the WA, included use of “MYWINES” for the past 3 years.

    Another sham, in a long list of shams.


  30. Parker reminds me an old Russian saying:
    “Tell woman how different she is from all other women, if you want getting from her what you get from all other women”

    He made his bones pointing how different he is compared to Brits and WS while doing exactly what Brits and WS were doing from Day One.


  31. The more one looks into this, the more it seems like a huge house of cards. Dr. Vino, your estimate of $3.7M seems more like the apogee of his subscriptions, which some indicators might lead one to think have fallen significantly. The $700K figure also looks conservative. The math just doesn’t work. Although Parker says that Joan Passman wouldn’t know if he spent $1 or $1M on wine for the business, this isn’t credible to my take as its a small, in home office, she was there every day; how could she NOT know what was going on.

    In psychology, we call this the Barnum Effect–Parker writes subjective tasting notes, people assume he’s the God of wine, and he gets famous.

    That was before the internet, and before the kind of scrutiny of these blogs.

    Times have changed and so have people’s attitudes.

    How could he expect people to believe he remembers almost every wine he has ever tasted, every score he has given, that on TV (which no one else remembers seeing) he nailed all the wines blind, yet in a recent EWS blind tasting he got none of them right, and that he tastes blind when possible and buys 60% of the wines TWA rates. Finally, as I pointed out in my “open letter” to him on his board before Jeff Leve deleted it, how could he NOT know of Jay Miller’s sponsored trips. When Mr. Miller returned with no receipts or requests for reimbursement, who did Bob think was paying?

    Absurd on its face IMHO. This gets to the issue of credibility which seems to be diminishing with startling rapidity.


  32. Tyler brings up something that has bothered me for a while which is Parker not posting on wines that score less than 85 points. If Parker were really a consumer advocate why would he not post on wines to avoid as well as wines to buy?!?!? Both ends of the rating scale are very valuable. He has purposely chosen to devalue one and in effect made his wine rating scale one of only 15 points. 100 points? Hardly.

    I think Tyler’s computations are conservative and the real number is probably much higher. Of course we probably never know…


  33. Just to clarify what I wrote: I meant that Parker’s numbers don’t add up. Dr. Vino has been, if anything, conservative in his calculations.


  34. I agree with the assertions above that the figure isn’t the important part – it’s the truthfulness of whatever figures (and policies) are stated.

    It would be easy to provide tasting scenario information in the magazine via a quick series of letter codes at the end of each note: B or NB for blind/non-blind tasting; R or W or D for retail purchase/winery purchase/donation; etc. There should be room for a few extra letters in each note…at worst, he may have to remove an “opulent” here and there.


  35. […] Estimados lectores al final el post de hoy ha sido un poco más romántico del que estaba preparando sobre lo que he leido en el blog Dr. Vino, donde se comenta acerca de la siguiente pregunta ¿Se gasta el Wine Advocate 700.000 $ al año en vino?. […]


  36. Parker Samples: Free – upon request.

    “Our wine selections are NOT based on anyone’s scores. However, we do submit our wines to a couple of US wine publications (Restaurant Wine – unsolicited; Robert Parker – upon request) AFTER the wines have arrived in our warehouse and are very happy to share those reviews here with you:”

    http://www.wineday.com/jki/index-3.html


  37. One thing to think about is the logistical requirements of buying over $700,000 of wine a year. The time & effort plus financial management required would be fairly substantial. I think parker would be fairly well known among retailers for his odd and demanding requests for large quantities of single bottle orders as well as his likely common demand for compensation due to corked and spoiled product. Simply put this does not pan out.

    Another point to keep in mind is distribution. So many wines are not available in all regions. This would require him to order a substantial amount of wine from out of state however Maryland does not allow direct shipping so how does he manage to bring hundreds of thousands of wines into the state each year to sample.

    All of that in mind I find it hard to foresee that his assistant would not know if he was buying a fairly substantial amount of wine. That said maybe he has a second house full of wine that he hides from his assistant and for that matter his wife!

    I do recall reading at some point that when he receives a free sample he donates its value to charity. I know he does give a lot to charity so is it possible he has simply transitioned from buying to donating a few million dollars a year to charity. Wouldn’t that be nice!


  38. Geez, RP SHOULD buy all his samples…too many wineries dummy-up samples for his individual taste preferences trying to chase the high scores—wines that have nothing in common with what consumers actually buy.


  39. Evan Dawson wrote: “I’d like reviewers to simply state their policy clearly, first and foremost. I’d like to know if they receive free samples or not. I’d like to know if they only review wines that were presented as free samples. I’d like them to state explicitly that any conflicts of interest will be detailed (i.e. a personal friendship with a winemaker whose wine is being discussed, etc.) Transparency is king in wine writing / reviewing / blogging.”

    A textbook example: :)
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tony-sachs/ecco-domanis-trio-of-wine_b_420344.html


  40. Here is my issue with RP’s statements. It is clear that the math doesn’t work. I don’t know if the wording of his claim is poorly written or there are other issues but in my opinion it is clearly misleading at best or a brazen lie at worst. Whatever the case, it just doesn’t pass the smell test. If he is willing to propagate a misrepresentation on the details of how his tasting are done by he and his staff, what other statements he makes should I as a consumer question? As a consumer how am I to know that there is not another issue that compromises the validity of his ratings?

    That fact is I don’t know. The difference is, other reviewers and bloggers whom I value their opinions when making choices on which wine I should consider have not given me reason to doubt the validity of their reviews and RP and the WA have.


  41. […] kidding: Dr. Vino kicks ass. This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 12th, 2010 at 9:49 pm and is filed under Good Stuff. […]


  42. RP is a pioneer in our industry, this should not be devalued. Yes, transparency is key when tasting, writing and reviewing wine, This important task needs to be done in a completely unbiased manner and format.

    One must ask if RP/WA solicit advertisers for the publication. The answer is NO. Do Advertisers cloud the ability of the publication to remain completely transparent and unbiased?

    The reality is that a full page color format is costly. The publishing industry, whether it is Vogue and/or a wine publication rely upon advertisers as a main source of income.

    It appears that the main source of WA income is generated from subscriptions rather than Advertisers.We have read WA for two decades and have yet to see a large full page color spread for a winery, a restaurant, a hotel, etc.

    Most wineries consider the process of sending samples to wine writers part of the PR process. Afterall, if a small producer does not have an advertising budget how would they get their wines out there? The tasting and reviews provide a vehicle for raising the awareness of the winery.

    At the end of the day, the consumer takes the information and formulates his/her own opinion They decide if they wish to spend $100/bottle for a 90 plus pt wine from Napa and/or $25 on a 90 pt wine
    from Chile. Now the collector is in a different category, he/she may base their decisions on the reviews from several publications,the vintage, region and the category.

    At the end of the day the winery wants and needs to sell their wines. If they are honored with excellent scores it may give sales a much needed boost. If the consumer purchases the wine and likes it, they may go back and buy another bottle or a case.

    Scores play a role, but. The most influential people in the mix are the “retail sales person and/or sommelier”. These are the folks who recommend the wine to the consumer. If the wine is enjoyed another bottle will be purchaed. If the wine is a disappointment, does not fit the persons taste profile, it will either be sent back and/or never purchaed again.

    There seems to be much passion attached to transparency. I support this, maybe the guidelines for reviews need to be regulated and more defined. But would that not hinder the writers ability to write freely and openly? Something about writing in a structured regulated format that does not speak to the Art of Winemaking and the end product.

    RP provides a service, could it be more transparent, probably. Next time, why don’t we focus on the readership, study the demographics for each major wine publication and determine what matters to the people who actually “purchase” the wine.


  43. […] si paga dazio, tutto è dovuto e questo non ha mai destato scandalo. Perchè allora in America si spara a zero sul più famoso dei wine-writer, il mitico Robert Parker? Il blog Dr. Vino in questi giorni gli fa […]


  44. Great Subject. Years ago the late Justin Meyer of famed Silver Oak commented to me about not believing in giving away his hard earned profits to any reviewer. His thought was why pay anybody in product for their opinion when the only opinions I am interested in are the ones leaving my tasting room with purchases in hand.

    The issue that any publication “pays” for any of the wine they review is just the tip of the iceburg.

    Many “writer’s and wine reviewers”, get special amenities for their printed bias'; lodging,meals,chotchkies are all part of the industry wooing if the reviewer has the clout.

    The suggestion that the advocate spends around 20% of their annual gross income on product isn’t feasable. If true, I feel that projection is low due to multiple bottles needed for bottle variation, cork problems and a revisit to the subject 90-120 days later.

    It is more probable that while the Advocate might spend some money on the wines they review….the reality is that they like so many other publications, get their samples for free and when a wine doesn’t score 85, it may be that they didn’t have the wine at all, or scored it low based on the price they had to shell-out to get it. Yes I am synical about this process, but I should be as a consumer as more than once a highly rated wine came to me and didn’t meet the price/value appreciation factor a reviewer espoused. well I guess that is getting what you pay for in a sense. I personally would rather rely on my own palate or the palate of a trusted wine shop keeper or MS who has no stake/gratuity in a producer looking to sell the vintage in one quarter.


  45. What a great discussion and yet another major factor why sites like CellarTracker are the future. There are many issues one can find with the reviews on CT but for any wine with ample reviewers and actual notes as opposed to just scores it’s a much more preferable resource for me…much like Zagat’s vs an individual restaurant critic. In twenty years I’ve yet to be led astray by a Zagat rating. CT is developing the same track record when used thoughtfully.

    In the end, one can’t argue that Parker brings extraordinary talents to the party. But he’s not what he claims, not able to live up to his own hype, and will become increasingly irrelevant.


  46. Marsha, few people appear to take issue with the concept that Parker may have to take samples rather than purchasing. Most seem to take issue with the fact that Parker’s public statements on this subject seem knowingly inaccaurate, if not intentionally deceptive. Because Parker has fundamentally premised his career on consumer advocacy and critic ethics, I think this situation is a huge problem that Parker needs to address immediately and honestly.


  47. I have been in the wine review business for over three decades. When we (my partner in the biz and I) started, we accepted no samples. We bought everything, tasted the wine blind, retasted everything that we recommended highly, etc.

    Then the biz expanded so fast that we could no longer find those small lot bottlings on the market when it came time to review them. And, at the same time, the wineries had the problem that reviewers like us were not seeing their wines.

    At that point, we changed policies. We would not solicit samples but we would accept them. Small difference maybe but a difference nonetheless.

    The real measure for us, however, remained the same. The wines were to be tasted blind, in limited amounts per tasting so we could pay attention to each wine.

    Ultimately, the process by which the review is constructed is more important than where the wine comes from.

    But, dishonesty is dishonesty. Misdirection is misdirection. Claims of holier than thou that do not stand up to simple tests are going to be sources of ridicule.

    So, Mr. Parker, regardless of how he assembles his wines, has a couple of bigger problems that have been pointed out here and that he should fix immediately. He should stop tasting at wineries with the labels showing. He should stop claiming one thing and doing another. He should require that all reviews be done blind in peer-to-peer tastings.

    And he should be open and honest, as all reviewers should be, about how he conducts his business (and so should we be about our businesses).

    Regardless of anything else Mr. Parker may be or may do, he has brought this continuing critical examination of his foibles upon himself. It would be good if he simply fessed up going forward. I doubt it would cost him many readers.


  48. Fascinating, really… like watching a slow motion train wreck. Parker is falling apart before our eyes – not because he accepts free samples, tastes non-blind, or has lost his mojo, but because he’s simply no longer credible, for all the reasons detailed above.

    Politicians, entertainers, wine critics, anyone in the public eye: don’t delude yourself that you can bluff the public indefinitely. The information age has had an enormous leveling effect in terms of making the truth available to all of us.

    Sorry Mr Parker, as Pete Townshend said, we won’t get fooled again.


  49. Awesome post, Tyler. And tremendous range and quality of comments. The whole Parker mystique is fading. Not because of his palate, but rather because of his principles. As Daniel, Evan, Charlie, Eric and many others above note, he simply is not conducting his judging/rating the way he says the Wine Advocate does. In multiple ways, he has been and continues to be disingenuous. I have little doubt that this decade is going to bring a steady shift toward wine-opinion communities, like CellarTracker, and back toward retailers, sommeliers and non-professional peers in terms of influence.


  50. Tish–

    Retailers have always had the upper hand. They have not always used it, but a good wine merchant who hand selects his or her inventory and then hand sells it will attract a larger audience unless the selections turn out to be disastrous. That happens too, of course.

    Sommeliers influence will only grow if more restaurants use them and use them correctly. For the most part, somms are wine buyers, not wine sellers. The wait staff presents the list and then asks what you want. Only in a few restaurants, and often only if one shows real interest, does one even see the somm. Somms are expensive, and I think you overrate what their importance will be.

    Aggegation functionaries will have a place. But, given the dance that you and I have had about the role of scores, and your very evident disdain for them, how do you have any interest in places like CT which offer primary an averaged score and wine commentaries that are so far removed one from another as to be very difficult to synthesize. Yes, they will have value, but their tasting notes cannot be as good as a professional voice because there is no “tasting note” per se, and they ultimately will score wines in the “dreaded” 100-point system.

    So, yes, there will be change, and some of it, in favor of knowledgable retailers, will be for the good. But I think I need you to explain your attraction to CT given what it offers.


  51. Charlie, your points are all good. However, this is not the place for us to debate specifics. My main intent commenting here was to point out that as “tastemakers” go, I foresee RP slipping, and in his place I believe we will see a new crop of retail and restaurant leaders (we may have to stop calling them sommeliers, though) as well as more people looking for and finding solid advice from peers, sometimes on blogs, sometimes in cyber-communities. Yes, I abhor scores and CT has the 100pt scale in its DNA, but given the critical mass that can be achieved on CT I see the scores there being more of a collective digital opinion than the “absolute” status ascribed to them by (most of) the current crop of singular critics.


  52. Phil O –

    Interesting point about Maryland’s wine shipping laws. Here’s a site that states: “Currently, all direct-to-consumer wine shipments are prohibited by Maryland law. The state is one of 15 that do not allow interstate, winery-to-consumer shipments.”

    How does Parker get an exemption from the laws that govern Maryland wine enthusiasts? On pp. 245-6 of her biography of Robert Parker, Elin McCoy provides some details.

    She says that “hundreds of unsolicited samples were delivered to the Parker household annually, plus the many more Parker ordered and paid for.” In 1998, Dr. Charles Ehart, then director of the ATF unit of the State of Maryland’s Comptroller’s office tried to “shut Parker down” saying that what he had been doing for 19 years was illegal. Parker would have to go to their offices in Annapolis and qualify as a “wine expert” by filling out a questionnaire to obtain a special permit.

    Parker told McCoy, “I have a temper, and I lost it.”

    In the end, he was granted the special permit.


  53. It is something to think about, when he is travelling and the vineries are holding back the best bottles for him to try and review.


  54. Charlie, Tish,

    As a huge fan of CT but not of scores per se I can see both perspectives. If there are enough of them from different reviewers…Minimum half dozen or so from me ALONG WITH reasonably well written tasting notes, then the scores on CT to me are meaningful. They are also meaningful if I know and trust the reviewer. Last, well written notes without scores are just as meaningful to me. Given all that, it’s clear to me that the beauty of the CT model is that you can use it any way you want. It can almost be all things to all people if you will. And, if there are no notes, one can just pop over to the forum and get a very well informed answer very quickly on almost any wine.

    Just for the record, I post notes but do not score.


  55. Peter–

    There are many aspects of CT that I get. It has become a big part of the wine community, and establishes its own sense of community. It has been pretty clear from the beginnings of the Internet that an attractive place for wine enthusiasts to talk to each other would attract them. Clearly, CT has been wildly successful in that regard.

    I get the idea of posting tasting notes as part of a sharing of experiences. What has been less clear to me, and you verge on it without saying yay or nay, is whether CT has the specificity, the overall tasting acumen in its collective midst to be a useful buying guide.

    Care to comment on that?


  56. Charlie

    So long as you do not question Parker, his bulletin board is a great community of wine folks.

    The problem is that, once one gets their head out of their ass, and questions things like Tyler does here and I did there, you get banned.

    It is called “free speech” so long as you respect the dictator.

    How many times has Parker ignored questions of his ethics, like this?

    Why does he feel the need to lie and remind us of his self importance?

    The word INDEPENDENT is all over his homepage.

    Why would a producer not give him better wine for a better score?

    When Well Oiled Wine Co gave Jay Miller the Sierra Carche phony, what was their punishment?

    Nothing. Parker did nothing. So wineries will continue to exploit their “methodologies.”


  57. The discussion about future influence is really all about gatekeepers, who is the person or group of people that monitor the world of wine and present their findings to the public so the public doesn’t have to. At the moment, the gatekeepers are clearly the uber-critics, including but not exclusively RP.

    Tish’s argument, I believe, is that for various reasons the dominance of these critics will erode and we will return to the gatekeepers being the people who actually sell the wine, whether retail or restaurant (I’d note that restaurants are much less dependent on scores in their sales models than retailers) as well as the community as critic. Basically the end of the current one to many model of gatekeeping where one person (the critic) pushes to many people (the public) in exchange for both many to many (community as critic) and one to one.

    In this model, it’s not really important if the sommelier is out on the floor selling you the wine, unless you’ve brought your own you are buying what he or she has selected for you. They are the gatekeeper. There may be no direct interaction between the guest and the somm, but if the guest is exposed to a new wine that they enjoy, the end result is the same, except of course that this is only one person. Obviously the one to one model is much less efficient. So the only change here would be more restaurants caring less about scores when they stock their lists, which probably requires consumers caring less about them as well.

    In retail, the big thing is how the wines are sold. If points are the big selling point, then the uber-critic retains the position of upmost importance. If not, then it’s the retailer assuming the position of prime gatekeeper. Again, this is much less efficient.

    I think we’re going to end up with uber-critics retaining their primacy, even if we’re are no longer talking about Parker, Laube, Robinson, etc. The current system is just too good from a financial perspective for most of the parties involved. But it will be diluted, as community based criticism rises in importance and more restaurants and retailers disengage themselves from the points system.


  58. Charlie,

    Very fair question: “whether CT has the specificity, the overall tasting acumen in its collective midst to be a useful buying guide?”

    Short answer, absolutely.

    Longer answer: really depends on two factors, the wine in question and the user. In sum, there are very few wines that I research that don’t have some tasting notes. However, as I mentioned, I need more than just a couple of notes to feel like it’s useful. A more knowledgeable person may require fewer or more depending on the notes. In the end, I can say that it has simply become the first stop for me when evaluating wines for purchase — particularly from WTSO, Cinderella, Wine Library, etc. At least 3/4 of the time I find useful information. Generally, it’s less useful with regard to new releases for obvious reasons.

    It’s not perfect and not always helpful but has definitely become indispensable.

    Again, I’m not sure whether you are a Zagat user but they proved to me a long time ago to be a similarly indispensable alternative to professional restaurant critics — not replacement, just alternative. I still read WS, WA, WE, W&S, etc; but honestly, day-in-day out, the utility of CT surpasses them all.

    Last point, the “external” functionality Eric has integrated into the system with connections into Wine-Searcher, WA, etc. is also a huge benefit.

    Plus the forum is fun.

    Peter


  59. The issue of Parker’s permit came up recently on eBob, some MD members were pushing for RP to support their movement to open MD shipping up. I believe he eventually said he’d support that organization. He apparently has a remarkable cellar (based on his own comments), I wonder what part of it came in via that permit.

    As to CT, for me the collective scores mean little. Yet I voted for Eric for wine person of the decade, and really love CT. I love it mainly as an organizational tool,but also as a reminder of pending deliveries, keeping track of my own notes, links to critics like Gilman and Nanson, quick access to WB prices, and much more. TNs from those I don’t know are not so useful (and scores less so), but there are people I trust. And if only notes are from someone I don’t know, I can click through and see their other notes to provide a framework.

    That said, I’m guessing that a CT 92 means most people like it, and for the non-geeky that might be enough. Plus, since every score changes the average, it leads to less certitude- “this is a 92 pt wine” becomes “last time I looked this averaged 92 on CT.”


  60. “On January 12th, 2010 at 11:44 am ,Daniel Posner wrote:

    Mark

    I think you misread. Barrel Samples were assigned a zero dollar value.”

    Dan, I was fguring it not on number of wines but pages in the Advocate. The Bordeaux issue is almost entirely barrel samples, and there are plenty of other Advocates with barrel samples which I figured conservatively at half an issue. So we are realistically dealing with 4.5 issues a year.


  61. Why don’t we skip to the underlying message in all this communication. Parker has set himself up as some sort of high integrity reviewer, has apparently made lots of promises online that he has failed to keep, has failed to respond objectively to criticism, etc. The message – he is simply less relevant in the current wine scene. Basically his day in the sun is over. I saw it happening at a wine event in Hong Kong where he was the guest speaker and everyone was talking through his speech. There are just too many sources around now to make his relevance sustainable. Let’s move on and may Mr. Parker’s ship slide gracefully into the setting sun.


  62. […] interesting people! John Burdick guest hosts as they talk to Tyler Colman (aka Dr. Vino) about The Wine Advocate’s annual budget for buying wine that they score. Then they have a lovely chat with Monty and Sara Preiser about their latest article criticizing […]


  63. Chris –

    As much as your comments may speak the truth, nothing, and I repeat, NOTHING can take away from the impact that the Wine Advocate still has on the retailers, wholesalers, importers and consumers and how they base their buying decisions on reviews from the Wine Advocate. As much as I wish the wine consuming public would trust their own palates and buy what they love, we must capitulate to the world in which we live.

    Fortunately for us, the wine world will continue to produce wines that shock us, amaze us, disgust us, intrigue us and confuse us.
    Were it not for the amazing array of wines we can aquire, it just wouldn’t be as much fun. Thankfully, thousands of wines go unrated every year by the likes of WS, WA, WE and W&S. So when we bring it to a dinner party, no one can question our tastes, our palates, our knowledge of fine wine or our inherited lineage of cellars if a wine were not rated by one of the above publications.

    We get to drink wine as if we were still young, knocking back red wine out of cheap stemware, not caring about tannic structure or barrel ageing. You know…back when wine was fun.

    Right now, i am finishing off a glas of wine from the Cote du Ventoux called Vindemio. I think i payed $12 for it…No score that i could find, but i would rate it pretty damn well…

    Salute!


  64. I dont see how it matters. Do you think Car & Driver buys the cars they review? Don’t be silly, almost every single car is loaned by the MFGr, or in specials cases, certain very rare expensive cars are loaned by a collector/owner. The wine world is so large, that a threat of withholding wine from from any one or few vintners means nothing. I would EXPECT wineries to give samples for review, so they can guarantee the actual wine reviewed is an optimal sample.

    Thoughts?


  65. Chris
    It’s a fair analogy. Now if Car & Driver claimed (in their marketing spin) it bought 25% of the cars it reviews, but you suspected that they didn’t buy anywhere near that amount (maybe just the occasional one). That’s the crux of the issue.

    It’s about a claim made that’s being challenged. If he’s not telling the truth, then IMO he’s a fool, as ~ 99% of wine enthusiasts recognise that critics receiving free samples is part of the job, a bit like pro golfers not having to pay green fees when they play a tournament.

    Tyler
    You’re a generous man in saying the 10% barrel samples are bought at zero value. Logically there’s no way they could be bought, so really ought to be part of the 40% ‘free’ samples. Thus it would be:
    60% bought
    30% free samples
    10% free barrel samples

    regards

    Ian


  66. […] Randy and Kaz, the hosts of WineBizRadio invited me on last week to talk about my post about wine samples at the Wine Advocate. Permalink | Comments (0) | SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "Explosion, On the Rocks, lightest […]


  67. Kevin,

    I don’t think the issue is that the WA doesn’t taste blind. Wine Spectator may claim they taste blind, but that cannot be the truth.

    I have no problem with receiving samples, nor visiting the estates firsthand.

    Noone has a palate strong enough or experienced enough to taste with certainity a 95 point wine consistently. I think it is very important to taste non-blind and reference previous vintages’ notes and other wines to then say “wow, that was a 95 point wine.”


  68. I want to bear light on the wine writer’s permit that Mr. Parker (and I) have in Maryland. The exception was granted in 1997 as part of the Non-Beverage C permit, a permit designated for companies using alcohol in reformulations; McCormick Spice and Market Bioscience are two examples of permit holders. The regulations were poorly drafted and from what I understand only initially allowed for samples from wholesalers – an unlimited quantity. The permit now allows samples to be shipped but only three bottles of any particular “brand” (I interpret brand to be a vintage or a varietal/blend). The samples must be used for critical evaluation, however no timeframe is given in the regulations as to by when one must consume them. All samples not used for critical evaluation must be destroyed. Lastly, the regulations stipulate three bottles as the limit but not the size of the bottle.

    There are currently about 20 of us in the state that have this permit, though I am hoping with our efforts that we will no longer need this and can resort to direct shipping like so many other states already have.

    Adam Borden
    Executive Director
    Marylanders for Better Beer & Wine Laws
    4315 Underwood Road
    Baltimore, MD 21218
    Tel: (443) 570-8102
    http://www.mbbwl.org/
    Donate: https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=2184279
    Contact Legislator: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/maryland-consumer-direct-ship-petition
    Facebook: http://wwww.causes.com/mbbwl/
    Twitter: http://twitter.com/mbbwl
    MeetUp: http://www.meetup.com/Marylanders-for-Better-Beer-Wine-Laws/


  69. Really I think this whole Parker argument is getting tiresome. So what if his claims for total objectivity fall apart under challenge. Would anyone disagree, hand on heart, that we don’t value his reviews of Bordeaux wines over many years. If you are all so incredulous or peeved stop reading his reviews. I for one will go on using him as one of the great yardsticks for setting benchmarks for Bordeaux. Do I like his wine style preferences, no, but I find his reviews very consistent, directionally obvious and very insightful. Lets move on for god’s sake.


  70. Chris, you just posted on a blog that is 16 months old, and you are telling people to MOVE ON? Huh, we have???


  71. Hi Chris – Yes, it was a spam comment (for dumpster rentals in Australia, no less) that inadvertently slipped through the spam filter. I have deleted manually.

    Thanks for your continued interest in the site.


  72. Chris

    This will make you sick!

    http://winediarist.com/antonio-galloni-talks-wine-advocate-collectors-series-wine-advocate-ethics/


  73. […] Parker tasted the wines with winemaker Helen Turley. I guess these weren’t among the “more than 60%” of wines that he purchases. * Robert Parker loved them! More than La Tache […]


  74. What a liar. More likely he purchases 0% of the wines he tastes. Has he ever, even once, offered any proof of this incredible assertion?


  75. […] “Does the Wine Advocate buy over $700,000 worth of wine a year?“ Permalink | Comments (0) | | wine writing This entry was posted on Tuesday, May […]


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