For years, Bordeaux producers have waited with apprehension for the annual visit of wine critic Robert M. Parker Jr. to their chais, or barrel rooms, knowing that his assessments and rankings of their just-made vintages will in large part determine the prices they can ask for the wine when it is released. Now, Parker — still the world's most celebrated (and controversial) wine writer, despite having sold his extremely influential newsletter the Wine Advocate to a group of Singaporean investors in 2012 and steadily stepped back from various editorial and critical functions — has announced that he will no longer taste wine en primeur (before bottling).
At a press conference several days ago in London, Parker — who maintains a key editorial role in the Wine Advocate despite the sale of the publication — announced that he was ceding en primeur coverage to one of his longtime staffers, Neal Martin. He will still taste the wines after bottling and release, he added.
This changing of the guard is potentially significant because of the outsize impact the Wine Advocate's en primeur rankings have long had on the Bordeaux trade. Though the UK-based Martin has been a member of Parker's tasting team since 2006, and though he has considerable past experience in tasting Bordeaux en primeur, his primary work for the Wine Advocate has focused on Burgundy, and there is some speculation about how his palate will compare to Parker's for the vintages of the Médoc and the Right Bank. He told the London press conference that his coverage of the new wines might be "a bit more funky than in the past." The Bordeaux wine elite will no doubt be anxious to learn what that might mean.
It was announced last fall that Parker was also launching a small-circulation quarterly luxury lifestyle magazine called 100 Points by Robert Parker (though he didn't invent it, Parker is credited with popularizing the 100-point wine rating system). Following sale of the Wine Advocate, one of Parker's top lieutenants, Antonio Galloni, defected to start his own wine newsletter and website, Vinous. Also last fall, Galloni acquired America's oldest, and one of its most respected, smaller wine newsletters, Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar.