Just who is Robert McDowell Parker Jr.? Readers--and there are lots of them--for whom the name Parker stands for consumer-friendly, no-nonsense, professional wine criticism can find out in the 1,703-page Parker's Wine Buyer's Guide, the fifth updated edition by the prolific publisher of The Wine Advocate consumer newsletter; author of classic books on Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhone Valley; and inductee into France's Legion of Honor. Not bad for a guy who was sending out free copies of his wine reviews to the Baltimore area in 1978. Robert Parker is now arguably the world's most respected wine critic--just try to find a retail wine shelf without at least one of his ratings proudly displayed. And now readers can see 8,000 of them between the covers of this ambitious volume.
Parker and his assistant use his 100-point system to rate Old and New World vintages and producers with single-palate objectivity and the aplomb of one of his early influences, Ralph Nader. It's no mystery why his periodical contains the term advocate: readers of the Guide will learn why the author never participates in wine judgings and doesn't accept freebies. Parker also weighs in on monster vertical wine tastings, nondrinking wine collectors, ego-driven "collector-spitters," wine producers' greed, wine writers' ethics and competence, and restaurant wine-pricing policy. And that's just in the guide's 40-page introduction! The chapter on Bordeaux beautifully dismisses the moldy 1855 Classification as "out of date" due to "negligence, incompetence, and just plain greed" and being "of only academic interest to the consumer." His judicious use of an exclamation point may also unearth a relative bargain: the wines of St. Julien "are frequently indistinguishable from" their higher-priced Pauillac neighbors, "so consumers take note!" But calling the tune doesn't preclude a couple of flat notes: the Guide is chock full of nonspecific cellaring recommendations. When do we drink, for example, our 1996 Sierra Vista Zinfandel? Parker suggests "over the next 1-2 years," but when to start counting? The wine's vintage? The Guide's date of publication? The year we read the entry? Parker also uses an unusual lettering guide to wine prices, and chapters aren't delineated well. So maybe it's not a Buyer's Guide at all--it's too heavy to tote to your local wine shop, and the vagaries of publishing prevent the inclusion of the latest available vintages. But what a read! Meticulously researched and brimming with thoughtful vinous commentary, this Guide demonstrates why the five words to send a wine lover gulping in breathless anticipation are "Parker gave it a 92." --Tony Mason [via]