The news is out: Robert Parker’s “Team America” (who knew?!) has been expanded. We made the odds and the number four most likely, Antonio Galloni, was hired. With a non-American “super-taster” yet to be announced, keep an eye on the short list where two of the top three are non-American.
In brief, David Schildknecht gets the biggest role and the promotion was enough to make him give up his importing business, an ironic twist since the man he is replacing, Pierre-Antoine Rovani, is going back into the wine trade. In addition to the Teutonic wines that he currently covers, Schildknecht will add the following regions: Alsace, Burgundy, the Loire Valley, the Languedoc-Roussillon, Champagne, New Zealand and South Africa.
Antonio Galloni must be as thrilled as the founder of a technology start-up being bought by Microsoft. His two-year old Piedmont Report will be folded into the eRobertParker database and he will assume responsibility for all the wines of Italy, a hugely diverse wine country with hundreds of indigenous grape varieties. Let’s hope he tries some falanghina.
Dr. J. Miller edged out a woman dentist from Bordeaux to join “Team America.” He will be responsible for the Pacific Northwest, Port, and South America but most interestingly Spain and Australia, which were in the firm grasp of RP himself. Mark Squires will cover the dry wines of Portugal.
Will too many cooks spoil the successful broth that is “Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate”? Yes and no. The coverage will be expanded with the team of commentators–who knows, the brown ink-on-manilla-paper newsletter may even shift to run color images in the publication and try to target a broader audience? Doubtful. The way Parker has added new staff by focusing on regions rather than say, grape variety or food pairing, underscores that he wants to build on the base of being a publication for serious wines and serious wine buyers.
But this expanded coverage is also precisely where the strength of adding more reviewers becomes a weakness. More tasters means more palates. Will they bring more diversity? On the one hand, that would be refreshing since otherwise Parker could have added wine tasting robots.
But diversity would dilute the newsletter’s market power since a WA score could no longer presume to be objective, since it would vary with each reviewer. Since so many buyers buy simply based on Parker points, this would, in effect, remove the most important yardstick of quality for the auction market and throw it into disarray. How would collectors and investors know which wines to bid up?
But the wine auction market thrives mostly on Bordeaux and California, the regions that are still firmly in Parker’s grasp. When he ultimately gives those up, then the WA scores will be put to the test.
Related: “The best laid plans” [Dr. V]
…The biggest collector in Asia is probably Hong Kong’s financial secretary, Henry Tang. His personal cellar is reputed to stand at around 12,000 blue chip cases, which he keeps in Hong Kong, the UK and the US. The wine and cigar merchant Thomas Bohrer once described Tang as being “in a category all by himself. He doesn’t have to visit chateaux or go to wine merchants. They come to him.”
Tang may be able to have merchants come to him personally, but the top French houses are making more visits to Asia in general. In a fascinating story in the Financial Times “How to Spend It” magazine (love that name), John Stimpfig reveals these factoids about the Asian market for wine:
* Asia’s wine consumption is expected to grow at twice the world average for the next two years with sales rising to $5 billion. China alone is expected to rise to $1.76 billion.
* French wines have a 40 percent market share. (Funny, I would have thought that it would be more, but then again, the Chinese have been getting a lot of wine from Australia)
* Exclusive wine clubs are all the rage in Hong Kong and Singapore. Ditto for wine dinners, wine schools, and wine magazines.
* There’s a new wine museum outside Beijing.
* Japan has 200 wineries and several thousand accredited sommeliers.
* South Korea has increased wine consumption 150 percent over the past five years.
* The 96-page wine list at Robuchon a Galera at the Lisboa Hotel & Casino in Macau has verticals of top names such as Latour, Yquem and “more ’61 Palmer than possibly anywhere else in the world.” (Indeed, representatives from Palmer went to the Hotel for a recorking of the 1961 wines on the premises.)
But why are so many Asian wine drinkers/collectors driven to the top wines? Serena Sutcliffe offers two explanations. The first is that “they tend to stick to brands they can pronounce.” Um, OK. So all the first growths of Bordeaux are easier to pronounce than the unclassed chateaus?
“The second is to do with the time-honored custom of ‘face.’ This means that if they serve anything other than one of the world’s greatest bottles, their guest will not be honored and might be offended.”
Wow, “face” sounds like a concept that all luxury goods producers might want to try to implement on a broader scale!
Check it out:
With the recent announcement from Pierre-Antoine Rovani that he will be leaving Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate (discussed here), speculation is running wild on a replacement. We make the odds:
Hugh Johnson 10,000:1
Jancis Robinson (FT) 5,000:1
Per-Henrik Mansson (freelance) 4,000:1
James Halliday 999:1
Matt Kramer (WS) 900:1
Eric Asimov (NYT) 700:1
Dorothy Gaiter (WSJ) 500:1
Robin Garr (WLP) 400:1
Bobby Kacher (importer) 300:1
Jamie Goode (Wine Science) 300:1
Jeff Leve (eRP) 200:1
Daniel Johnnes (restaurant Daniel) 100:1
Dan Berger (Vintage Experiences) 50:1
Lyle Fass (Crush) 25:1
Tim Atkin (The Observer) 20:1
Gregory Walter (Pinot Report) 18:1
Alan Meadows (Burghound) 14:1
Antonio Galloni (Piedmont Report) 13:1
Stephen Tanzer (IWC) 10:1
Michel Bettane (Revue du Vin de France) 9:1
Andrew Jefford (freelance) 5:2
Succession planning is hard to do. Any charismatic figure wonders what will happen after the sun sets on his or her day. Some can’t work out what to do: Castro is leaning on his brother Raul–literally. And some don’t give a rip what comes next: Louis XV assumed the philosophy “apres moi le deluge.” From countries to corporations, replacing strong leaders can be a tough chore.
Robert Parker, the most powerful critic in the wine world, has been pulling back. He is approaching 60 and–come on–he can’t go on tasting 10,000 wines a year forever. As a result, he has pared back the regions that he reviews to his favorites, retaining Bordeaux, the Rhone, California, Australia and Spain for himself while parceling out other areas. Last year one commentator seized on this evidence and more to make the provocative case that Parker’s influence was on the decline.
But Parker’s succession plan just walked out the door: Pierre-Antoine Rovani is leaving. [eRP] Rovani writes:
The longstanding plan was that I was the “heir apparent,” a plan Bob offered to make official earlier this year with an extraordinarily generous offer, one I did not sign.
In short, I am leaving what most would consider the dream job. For the past decade I have been well paid to work with superb individuals for whom I have nothing but admiration, affection, and respect. My job was to taste wine and report my opinions. I was paid to taste something I love passionately and then give my opinion, nirvana for someone as opinionated as me! Lastly, my future at The Wine Advocate was bright.
He won’t say exactly what he will be doing but the solitary life of the critic led him and perhaps “I missed my constant contact with people and the adrenaline rush of making ‘the deal.’” Hmm, maybe Bob’s offer wasn’t so generous after all? Or maybe he had tasted one too many hedonistic fruit bombs.
Parker plucked Rovani from the aisles of Macarthur’s in Washington DC to become his associate in 1996. Rovani later came to review many regions including Burgundy, Oregon, Washington, the Loire, the south of France, and Latin America among others. Parker later hired other regional specialists David Schildknecht for Teutonic wines and Daniel Thomases for some Italian wines. The Wine Advocate, Parker’s publication for the past 30 years, assumed more of the look of a collaborative endeavor.
Giving a sense of an end of an era and a plan succession plan gone wrong, Daniel Thomases will also be leaving according to Howard Goldberg, writing on Decanter.com. The article states that Parker will announce the replacement of two tasters soon.
But will the scores be the same? Consistency is the key for the 100 point numerical rating system that Parker developed. Given his disdain for tasting notes by committee (“the most insipid and often the most misleading”) how can readers of the Wine Advocate be assured that the next reviewer of Burgundy will have the same palate and thus provide consistency in scoring? Difficult issues for the man in Monkton, MD to confront. It will be very tough to pick the right person with enough credibility and independence to fill the void. It will spell the difference for the Parker empire between a dynasty and a deluge.
UPDATE: speculation is running rampant on the Robert Parker bulletin boards. Many are advocating the most frequent participants there; others suggest English critics; and some dare to state that the bottom-up board itself will replace the top-down critic.
Just received this write-up in an email–how much would you pay for it? (and what is it? I’ll reveal the answer in a forthcoming post)
“The 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley exhibits a saturated ruby/purple color in addition to a big, cocoa-scented nose, a sweet entry on the palate, medium body, and a short, abrupt finish. A modest success for the vintage, it is a friendly, easy-to-drink effort that should be consumed over the next 7-8 years.”