Sunday, October 5, 2008

Book Review: Robert Parker

The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste by Elin McCoy. HarperCollings, 2005

If I didn’t know much about Robert Parker before, I certainly do now. Before reading this fascinating book, I knew he was a controversial figure in the world of wine, sharply criticized just as much as admired for his famous 100-point wine scoring system and apparently one-dimensional preference for certain wines.

McCoy chronicles Parker’s rise as a wine-loving lawyer from Maryland whose discovery of and passion for wine led him to start a newsletter chock-full of tasting notes called The Wine Advocate in 1978.

McCoy has known Parker since 1981 and, in my view, portrays him pretty evenly, with evidence of both admirable traits and serious flaws. There was a definite sense of her playing devil’s advocate to his seemingly praiseworthy attributes throughout the book, and indeed in the final chapter, “Scoring Parker,” she outlines her opinions of his approach to wine and his undeniable power and influence, both good and bad. For example: “I find scoring wine with numbers a joke in scientific terms and misleading in thinking about either the quality and pleasure of wine, something that turns wine into a contest instead of an experience.”

Repeatedly we see evidence of Parker’s thin skin and inability to ignore criticism, sometimes bristling at it and at other times openly challenging it. That being said, what does he think about McCoy’s book? I wasn’t able to find anything online about it, but I’m rather curious about it, so if you can tell me, please post a comment!

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