Parker, At Your Service

Why trust me? Because my selections are based on nothing beyond my palate

By Robert Parker

I am thrilled with the opportunity to share my passion for wine with the readers of BusinessWeek. I hope you will look to this column every week to discover wonderful wines and great wine values. Over the past two decades a revolution in winemaking has produced an astonishing assortment of extraordinary wines. They come not only from the long-established producers in Europe but also from the U.S., Australia, and even Chile and Argentina.

Let me tell you about myself and my approach to writing about wine. I first encountered wine as a college student visiting France, mainly because the table wine in the restaurants was cheaper than my usual drink, Coca-Cola (KO ). For sure, I wasn't drinking first-growth Bordeaux, but I was intrigued. I returned to the University of Maryland, finished my bachelor's degree, and went on to the university's law school. I eventually took a job with the Farm Credit Bank of Baltimore, but my real passion was wine. While in law school and at the bank, I spent as much time as I could (and as much money as I could afford) traveling and tasting wines in France, Italy, and Spain.

I read extensively on wine, too, and was frustrated by the paucity of reliable information -- and thought I could do better. I wanted to create an independent consumer's guide. I purchased some mailing lists from major wine retailers, and in August, 1978, mailed out the first, 24-page issue of The Wine Advocate. Subscriptions rolled in, the newsletter grew, and by 1984 I quit my lawyer's job to devote myself full-time to writing about wine.

It's more than a full-time job. I spend about three months a year on tasting trips in wine-growing regions. I may taste as many as 100 wines a day when I'm in the office. Even so, with the ever-increasing number of quality wines from around the world, I need help to keep up. I have several associates who do tastings and contribute reviews. In 2005 alone, The Wine Advocate ran nearly 7,200 reviews in its six bimonthly issues. These, along with an additional 250 reviews, were posted on my Web site, The database at the Web site now has about 85,000 reviews.

With every sip, I'm working for wine consumers. The newsletter takes no advertising. I cover my own expenses on trips, though I do not pay for tastings at wineries. Some wine does show up unsolicited at my door, and I do taste it and sometimes review it, but I never request it. In all, I purchase about 75% of the wines I sample -- and much of it goes down the drain.

When possible, I conduct my tastings in peer-group, single-blind conditions. That means I compare the same types of wines with each other and do not know the producers' names when I'm tasting them. Neither price of the wine nor the reputation of the producer or grower affects the rating.

My scoring system gives every wine a base of 50 points. The wine's color and appearance merit up to five points. The aroma and bouquet can add up to 15 points; the flavor and finish up to 20 points. Finally, the overall quality level or potential for further improvement contributes as many as 10 points. Wines with more than 90 points are those I consider to be outstanding, and 96 and up, truly extraordinary -- and rare (only 1,807 in nearly 28 years). Those rated in the upper 80s can be quite good, and often very well-priced. I have many of these wines in my personal collection.

Ratings are convenient to use, but the tasting notes will tell you much more about the wine -- the color, the aroma, the finish, and its aging potential. They can give you an idea of what to look for in a wine, and perhaps draw some comparisons to other wines. Think of me as your guide, your adviser, your teacher. No matter what I tell you, there can never be any substitute for your own palate or any better education than tasting the wine yourself.

Visit for the Internet's most active wine bulletin board, tens of thousands of tasting notes or to order his most recent book, The World's Greatest Wine Estates, A Modern Perspective. You can also subscribe to Parker's newsletter, The Wine Advocate. Request a sample copy at The Wine Advocate, P.O. Box 311, Monkton, MD 21111

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