Thus Spake Robert Parker

POSTED ON 01/01/2015

In 2004, Robert Parker, the world’s leading wine critic (after The Wine Gang, that is) predicted the shape of the wine world a decade later, saying ‘predictions are often carelessly thrown together lists, since few people remember them 10 years later. Who is going to call the author after a decade and complain about his boneheaded observations?’ He was confident that his predictions would come true ‘sooner rather than later’, so now that the 10 years are up, it’s time to call the author on them and check out if his Zarathustra-esque skills match his tasting acumen, with ratings as appropriate.

The Wine Web will go mainstream

Sticking to the media rather than retail, he was right in predicting that the print media has been in decline at the expense of social media and wine websites, while sommeliers too have played a big role in shaping opinions. It’s surprising though how many wine publications still rely on print and are slow to adapt to the internet. The biggest impact of the internet in the UK and many other countries has been in the explosion of online wine sales. 86 / 100

World bidding wars will begin for top wines

Correct, correct, and, almost correct. The prices of 2003 Bordeaux en primeur, which he mentions, look comparatively reasonable against today’s prices, which, as predicted, reached over $10,000 a case (£6,500 at today’s rate) for the first growths in 2009 and 2010, even if they have fallen back a bit since 2011. And who’s responsible for all this, Mr. Parker? It would be unfair to heap all the blame for this mad scramble on the main man, but did he predict that his power might still be a contributing factor? Where his crystal ball failed him was Burgundy’s star rising as against Bordeaux. 90 / 100

France will feel the squeeze

Partly right on this one but not hard to predict that the top estates would turn out the most compelling wines and receive increasingly astronomical prices for them. It’s also true that many wine producers in classic regions such as Bordeaux and Rhône have had the pips squeezed due to laurel-resting and a fiercely competitive wine market. EU support and the creation of new systems such as Vin de France have in part mitigated the French fall from grace, while regions such as Loire, Jura, Roussillon, Beaujolais and the South West are gaining new friends. 87 / 100

Corks will come out

Alas his forecast of the slow death of cork was somewhat exaggerated. While the use of screwcaps continues to grow, they are not yet in the majority, as prophesied. Australia and New Zealand have been in the vanguard of converting the vast majority of their wines, both red and white, to screwcaps, but other countries have been slower to follow. Consumer acceptance is still a factor in more conservative-minded countries and the cork industry has fought back with PR campaigns and genuine improvements in cork manufacture such as Diam (but give me screwcap every time). 84 / 100

Spain will be the star

True up to a point although perhaps more wishful thinking on his (and my) part here. Of the names he thought would lose ground, Rioja is still very much a leader, while his up-and-coming Priorat was already on the up in 2004 and Jumilla and Toro could hardly be said to be household names today. He didn’t mention the new hot spots Bierzo, Manchuela and Ribeira and missed the fact that Spanish whites from Galicia, Rioja and Rueda would make a quantum leap in quality. The tapas bar revolution too has given a boost to Sherry, in particular Fino and Manzanilla. 86 / 100

Malbec will make it big

Partly right on this one. While Argentina’s Malbec was already on a roll in 2004, it has continued its upwards trajectory with a greater diversification of the industry and the beginning of an awareness of sub-regions and single vineyards. It hasn’t quite captured the imagination as envisaged although there’s no doubting that at both commercial and top quality levels, Argentinian Malbec is one of today’s great buys. Parker talks about Malbec in the context of Argentina but not Cahors, which, with a leg-up from Argentina, has made huge quality strides in a decade. 87 / 100

California's Central Coast will rule America

Hardly. A handful of labels from the Central Coast and from Santa Barbara can perhaps be talked about in the same breath as Napa and Sonoma, and while Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are continuing to prove their worth in Santa Barbara (but also Napa and Sonoma Coast) the much-vaunted Rhône revolution, with all due respect to the pioneering Randall Grahm and his Rhône Ranger friends, has not yet become quite the widespread phenomenon predicted. 83 / 100

Southern Italy will ascend

Spot on. Whites from varieties such as Fiano di Avellino, Falanghina, Greco di Tufo and Carricante have undergone a sea-change in quality and recognition. Reds from Puglia, Sardinia and Campania have become a lot more interesting while the real excitement is in Sicily, with Nero d’Avola providing the value and Etna the outstanding quality. In fact Etna is arguably the hottest region, pardon the pun, in Europe at the moment. 91 / 100

Unoaked wine will find a wider audience

I think it’s true that our love affair with oak, with the possible exception of Michel Rolland’s customers, is generally on the wane. My feeling is that it was already beginning in Australia at that time with bright, fresh, fruity wines generally preferred to oaky styles. It has taken longer to filter through to the likes of the US and Argentina, and even now there are wines from the classic Europeans regions that use oak as a cosmetic mask instead of allowing the fruit to express itself. But things are much improved. 89 / 100

Value will be valued

This is absolutely true and from the Wine Gang’s point of view, our very raison d’être because in general these are the wines, mainly in the £8 - £25 range, that we do our best to focus on by and large when we bring you our monthly notes and by the same token at our events. Okay, neither Ultimate Prestige Champagne nor Lidl fit that particular bill but we don’t want you to miss out on the highest quality in wine as well as low prices where a good price goes hand in hand with value. 90 / 100

Diversity will be the word

Spot on again, Roberto, diversity is everywhere. And why not throw in a few more countries in addition to those mentioned such Uruguay, Macedonia, Croatia or parts of the US itself like Virginia. Easy to play countries, mind, harder to spot up-and-coming regions and varieties, but, to be fair, I’m not sure I would have predicted the resurrection of Sherry or the rise of Jura, Etna, Bierzo, Franciacorta, Uco Valley and Swartland and other such hot spots, nor for that matter of Godello, Mencía, Blaufränkisch, Nerello Mascalese, Australian Pinot Noir, German Spätburgunder and South African and Portuguese white blends. 92 / 100

Distribution will be revolutionized

For this bit of American arcana, I have Bloomberg’s Elin McCoy to thank for filling me in: ‘Sadly I think Parker was somewhat over-optimistic about this hangover from Prohibition. Much of the same miserable distribution system remains (thanks to the powerful distributors’ lobby) and over the years has consolidated. However, there have also been huge changes, in the direction Parker predicted, because of a decision by the Supreme Court in 2005 that ruled that wineries could ship direct to consumers - with a bunch of caveats’. 87 / 100

Overall then, I’m 87 on that for our guru with the crystal ball, which, according to his own rating system is above average to very good. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t give up the day job, Bob, any time soon. For the full text of Robert Parker’s predictions, see

The Wine Gang

1 January 2015

Our sponsor