Earlier this week, Robert Parker, arguably the most powerful wine critic in the world, stepped down as the reviewer of Bordeaux wines for his widely respected publication, The Wine Advocate. I met Parker 15 years ago, when I was an editorial assistant at Simon & Schuster, tasked to work with his editor on his latest Wine Buyer’s Guide. I was 21 years old, it was my first job out of college, and I had absolutely no idea who Robert Parker was.
Bob, as I was told to call him, was introduced to me as an important wine critic, but it wasn’t until months later that I would come to realize that he was the most important wine critic. It was Parker who popularized the hundred-point rating scale. His scores have been known to make or break wineries; he has received numerous death threats as a result. He has been credited with revolutionizing the wine industry, single-handedly moving the world away from the traditionally elegant wines of France and toward the more powerful styles of the New World.
Parker is also one of the nicest and most down-to-earth people I’ve ever met. Whenever I spoke to him on the phone at work, he always ended the conversation by thanking me for my contributions to his book (which generally consisted of super important stuff such as making photocopies of edited manuscript pages and sending them to his office in Maryland). As the book neared the printing deadline, he thought to include me on his acknowledgements page. And at the book’s completion, he took the whole editorial team out to lunch at an upscale French restaurant on Manhattan's Upper East Side to celebrate. Had it not been for the trembling wait staff, hyper vigilant sommelier and specially embossed menus, I wouldn’t have been able to tell that I was dining with a man whose nose and palate are rumored to be insured for $1 million.
He made sure that I, a complete wine novice at the time, tried all the wines presented at the lunch, wines that I couldn’t even begin to appreciate beyond their price tags. According to Bob, the only thing I had to know was that I was enjoying myself.
And that was my introduction to wine. It’s strange to think now that the most powerful critic in the world was there for my first real taste, and I often wish I could interact with him again, now that I know more about wine. But perhaps if it weren’t for Bob, I wouldn’t have come to love wines in the first place. Before I met him, the world of wine seemed a pretentious and unapproachable place. It was his casual attitude and emphasis on enjoyment that made me realize that wine is something to be relished, not revered. If the world's most renowned wine drinker could take pleasure in wine without any fanfare, then I most certainly could -- and should -- as well.