Robert M. Parker Jr., widely regarded as the world’s most powerful wine critic, has announced he will no longer taste Bordeaux en primeur.
The Wine Advocate founder, credited as the creator of the 100-point wine rating scale, says the time is right for him to step back from the pressure of reviewing more than 600 wines from barrel.
Speaking at a press conference in London, Mr. Parker said that, after more than three decades of reviewing en primeur, he is not retiring but will hand over en primeur tasting responsibilities to British reviewer Neal Martin, while still covering the region’s wines from bottle.
“The time is perfect for me to hand these responsibilities over,” said Mr. Parker. “When I hired Neal this was part of the plan, that one day I would back away from en primeur—not Bordeaux completely, as I will still cover the bottled wine. I love the wines.”
Mr. Parker will travel to Bordeaux to taste and rate the 2012 wines in bottle and will also conduct a retrospective tasting on the 2005 vintage.
But the news will have huge ramifications for a futures system that is already floundering after three vintages—2011, ’12 and ’13—which have struggled to sell.
“I think the Bordelais probably this year have more pressure on them than ever,” said Mr. Parker. “As they have three unsold vintages in their inventory and they know they better lower prices or they are going to have some real issues to deal with.
“Certainly they have lost a big share of the American market. If you go to the good restaurants in the United States now, Bordeaux is disappearing and a lot of that is their own fault for not making the 2011s, ’12s and ’13s realistically priced.”
Mr. Parker has covered nearly every vintage since he first started tasting from the barrel in Bordeaux in March 1979. His Wine Advocate newsletter grew in influence in the early 1980s when several major American critics panned the 1982 vintage but Mr. Parker, like British wine writer David Peppercorn, called the vintage correctly. It later turned out to be one of the best vintages of the post-war era.
En primeur, or futures, is the system whereby wine is offered for sale while still maturing in barrel, before bottling. The wine is delivered two years later. Traditionally, wines were offered at a discount but in recent years the opening prices have been so high that the en primeur price has actually fallen when the wines have arrived in bottle.
Gary Boom, managing director of fine wine company Bordeaux Index, said Mr. Parker’s announcement was good news for the futures system as châteaux will be forced to start pricing conservatively again.
“Robert Parker is the world’s greatest critic—in anything, what he says goes,” said Mr. Boom.“He can double the price of a wine. But the châteaux’ pricing is dependent on where they see the Parker scores. So what happens when Parker no longer steps in?”
Mr. Boom believes they will either release their prices before the scores are published or they will follow the scores of Neal Martin which have in the past been more conservative than Mr. Parker’s.
“Two years later, when Parker scores in bottle, the price jumps, so en primeur could have a big boost,” he added.
Mr. Parker stepping aside from barrel tasting may even have an effect on the style of wines being produced. It is no secret that he favors the riper, fuller, fruitier style of châteaux such as Château Pavie, as opposed to a more traditional style favoring balance, elegance and finesse, like that of Château Montrose in Saint-Estèphe. In recent years there has been a move among certain châteaux to produce riper, smoother wines, and this could change if Mr. Parker’s influence in the region wanes.
Neal Martin said that for him tasting from the barrel was just the first stage of a process. “You have to go back, taste in bottle, taste blind, and I’m very much looking forward to covering the ’14s,” he said.
At the end of Mr. Parker’s press conference, as he held a glass of the English wine Nyetimber—which he described as a “revelation to him”—he said that everyone who writes about wine has a responsibility to educate their readers and convey the excitement of wine. “I came from a farming family that never drank wine, and it changed my life,” he said.