The Caterer

The Emperor of Wine: The Rise and Reign of Robert Parker

27 April 2006
The Emperor of Wine: The Rise and Reign of Robert Parker

After reading the rather pompous title to this book, I was expecting a rush of Americanism about how the wine world was saved by one man. But Elin McCoy manages to hold her obvious admiration at bay and gives a captivating insight into one of the most influential men in the wine world. She shows both the positive and negative aspects of his work and reveals the controversies, grudges and wealth of personalities involved in and around his business.

Imagine an intelligent young law student growing up in Baltimore who finds a passion for wine but is constantly disappointed with the accuracy of wine writing available to him. He starts his own consumer publication, The Wine Advocate, and soon becomes the people's choice of wine critic.

This powerful position means that a high score on his points scale can launch a fledgling winery, increase the prices sought by an existing one and, sometimes, through his reviews, literally create new wine regions or change the way wine is made in established regions.

There's no doubt that Parker has helped to increase the standard of winemaking in many areas but alongside this he's created what's known as the "Parker effect" where points-chasing is rife and those with enough money can attempt to create wines that score the ultimate 100 points and can then be sold for a fortune.

The book, though, shows Parker as a man of great integrity and sound principles, a critic who from the beginning paid for all his wine samples and travel expenses, someone who's not afraid to speak his mind and stick to his opinions.

It's quite common to hear wine professionals cast down Parker and his judgements but this biography should be compulsory reading for all those who criticise without some insight into the man himself.

Ronan Sayburn, executive head sommelier, Gordon Ramsay Holdings

The Emperor of Wine: The Rise and Reign of Robert Parker
Elin McCoy
Grub Street, £20
ISBN 1-904943-42-X

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