I’ve often mentioned my childhood in these posts. Rightly or wrongly, I don’t know, but the fact of the matter is all subjects need to find a foothold in something, and we usually look to our past as a starting point.
Bear with me.
As a child growing up in the UK in the 1980s, there was a program on BBC1 called Film… (the title changed to reflect the year it was, so Film 85, Film 86 and so on). This was a round-up of all that week’s film releases, which film critic Barry Norman would then critique and show us a few little clips. Remember, this was pre-internet days, so if you wanted an idea of what a film would be like, Film… was basically all there was.
My father would make a point of either never watching the show or, if he did, not going to see the films. He believed that if it was reviewed, then he would not be able to make up his own mind. And to a certain extent, this is true – if everyone is talking about something, then how do we know that we are not just being whipped up in the hype and not making up our own minds? Of course, he was right. I remember years later, while living in France, seeing a French movie that was all the rage with very high hopes and feeling very disappointed.
Today, it’s all about influencers and likes and celebrity endorsements. So if a Kardashian has promoted it on their feed, it must be good, right? I am beginning to think that my dad was actually some kind of Nostradamus-type seer and that his belief that not following the herd was in fact, a prophecy of original thought.
However, there are of course, exceptions that make the rule. There are times when we should trust others, especially when it comes down to facts, not opinions. Particularly when it comes to wine and even more so when it comes to investment. The best wine critics in the world act as gatekeepers of the wine (ergo investment) market. They have the power to sink a wine with a terrible review or raise a wine up to legendary status.
Let’s meet the people who you need to know and take your portfolio from zero to hero.
#1 Robert Parker (Wine Advocate)
If there is one man who you deserve to raise a glass to in the wine world, it’s influential critic Robert Parker – or Robert McDowell Parker Jr. to give him his full name. American Parker is perhaps the man who has brought fine wine into the 21st century and made it cool (or, rather, appropriate room temperature). He retired from his eponymous magazine Wine Advocate in 2019, but since remains an influential force in the wine industry.
An ex-lawyer, Parker made a name for himself when he gave a seemingly overripe 1982 en-primeur Bordeaux his top rating, i.e. 100/100 (this rating now serves as a benchmark for all other critics, bar Jancis Robinson). The wine turned out to be amazing, and Parker was catapulted from his semi-amateur critic status to the man in the know. Thanks to his growing reputation and subscriber base, Parker could resign from his legal career in 1984 and focus on wine full-time.
The Wine Advocate now has subscribers in more than 40 countries worldwide. The magazine is now run by Lisa Perotti-Brown, with Neal Martin as chief critic for Bordeaux en primeur.
#2 James Suckling
Another American, James Suckling, is one of the world’s most respected wine critics. Suckling boasts four decades of experience, many of which were gleaned from his position as longtime senior editor for the Wine Spectator and head of the magazine’s European bureau. Today he is CEO and editor of JamesSuckling.com, and is one of the most in-demand critics there is. He is also the wine editor for Asia Tatler and its nine luxury magazines in the region, including Hong Kong Tatler, China Tatler, Singapore Tatler, and Thailand Tatler (it is worth noting that Suckling has his HQ in Hong Kong, proof that the Asian fine wine market is booming). Against the backdrop of Suckling’s worldwide influence, he works with wines worldwide, including Europe, South America, the US, Australia, New Zealand and Italy, where he also owns a home. Suckling is truly a drinker’s critic. He is enthusiastic and generous with his points (some say too generous) and is often caught in the crossfire of needing to justify his exaggerated score with an exaggerated review.
“I believe that today’s wine drinker deserves more than just written reviews and criticism. They need to see with their own eyes the place, the people and the rating process. Truly, there’s so much more to learn about wine than just simple numbers and prose.”
#3 Jancis Robinson
Ah, lovely Jancis. A fellow Brit – and woman to boot, had been an industry leader since the 1970s. After reading maths and philosophy at Oxford, she became assistant editor for the trade magazine Wine & Spirit in 1975. This led to her becoming a Master of Wine in 1984 (the first person to ever do so outside of the wine trade). She was a wine consultant for British Airways from 1995 – 2010, notably supervising the cellar for Concord. Today, apart from working profusely on her namesake website Jancisrobinson.com, she writes a weekly column for the Financial Times. Along with her list of accolades, one of the most notable is her OBE, which she was awarded by Her Majesty the Queen in 2003. From 2004 – 2022, Jancis advised Her Majesty on her cellar choices for her various residences.
Jancis is the only star critic to not use the 100-point scale. Instead, she prefers the pre-Parker 20-point score system.
“I do not believe there is a single objective yardstick of quality by which a Beaujolais, for example, can be measured alongside a Napa Valley Cabernet. I know it would be much more convenient for everyone if there were a single objective quality scale against which every wine in the world could be measured, but I’m afraid I just don’t believe such a scale exists, given the myriad styles and archetypes of wine that, thank goodness, still exist.”
#4 Antonio Galloni (Vinous)
Antonio is perhaps the enfant terrible of wine critics. He is of course, a world leader on Italian wine – his website Vinous is one of the go-to publications when it comes to wine referrals. He covers the wines of Bordeaux, California, Italy, and Champagne (he once famously quoted his father, a native Italian, as saying, “there are only two wines worth knowing in the world, Champagne and Barolo”).
Galloni made a name for himself when he worked alongside Robert Parker on the latter’s The Wine Advocate. He was a chief tasting member of Parker’s team from 2006-2013, deciding only to break away from TWA when Parker himself stepped down as Editor in Chief. This then led to a lengthy legal battle – that actually never made it to court – as Galloni wanted to recuperate all the articles that he had written for TWA for his own brand (this amounted to about a third of TWA’s archive at the time). They settled out of court and have since wished each other all the best (publicly, at least).
There are a few other critics that can be good to follow – here at Vindome.net we often trust Wine Spectator as an excellent source. We suggest you follow a few and see which gives you the best advice. Once you’ve established whether the wine critics you follow are qualified, you’ll need to pick one or two of them whose palates match yours as closely as possible.
Learn How to Taste Wine Like a Pro with our handy blog post!