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The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste Hardcover – June 28, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Anyone who's been swayed by the point system when buying wine—selecting a "93" over an "86," for example—can blame Robert Parker, founder of the newsletter the Wine Advocate and now considered by many to be the most influential wine critic ever. McCoy, a wine writer for Bloomberg and Food & Wine, points out that Parker can ruin a winery simply by stamping a sub-80 label on its product. In this amalgamation of biography and American wine mini-history, McCoy delves into how Parker became such a towering figure. Parker discovered fine wine on a European trip during college; his growing obsession with the grape prompted him to start the publication that would later change the way wine was rated, bought and consumed. Between snippets of Parker's life, McCoy tries to set the scene for his rise by explaining how wine consumption boomed in the U.S. in the 1970s. The background is useful, but it and other distracting forays into social history sometimes make the work feel disjointed. Another failing is McCoy's sometimes hagiographic depiction of Parker. But these quibbles knock this otherwise engrossing book down by only a few points on the taste scale.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Wine critic Robert Parker, explains McCoy in this engaging new biography, is "the most powerful critic in any field, period." Parker's initial role was as a skeptic and consumer advocate, a kind of Ralph Nader of the wine world; one aspect of his straight-shooting approach was his now-celebrated 100-point scale for rating wine. But after more than a quarter-century of publication, Parker's newsletter has inevitably and ironically become the voice of the establishment, and Parker himself has come under attack for dogmatically imposing his tastes upon the wine-drinking public. More broadly, as McCoy shows, the influence of American consumers and critics on the world wine industry (traditionally dominated by the French) has grown by leaps and bounds. It is in tackling these broader themes that McCoy really shines: Parker as a man is mostly remarkable for his ordinariness, and McCoy occasionally overreaches in trying to dramatize the quotidian. She tells the larger story with panache and fairness, though, and has written a book that every oenophile should read. Jared Wunsch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; 1St Edition edition (June 28, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060093684
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060093686
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,527,469 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

112 of 124 people found the following review helpful By Bevetroppo on August 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Imagine that out of nowhere an art critic arose who began systematically assessing all the art in the world for quality and then gave each work a numerical score between 50 and 100. Imagine too that his preferences ran towards big beefy compositions over more delicate or nuanced ones, such that he might give a Ruebens a higher score than a Monet for no other reason than that's how he likes paintings to look. Then consider that these scores, determined by a single powerful voice, became the standard by which all art was judged and even set the market price for auctions and purchase of the best pieces. His numerical ratings then started appearing in museums and galleries so people would be able to separate masterpieces from merely good art. So great became his influence that artists all around the world began attempting to create work that would appeal specifically to him...

Sounds ridiculous doesn't it? But that's exactly what's happened to the world of wine over the past 25 years during the ascendancy of Robert Parker. The Emperor of Wine is an attempt to chronicle Parker's rise to become just such an uber-authority on wine quality, a topic arguably no less subjective than what makes great art. And art criticism might be even easier-after all, you don't have to contemplate how it goes with food as part of your analysis!

While there are already a bunch of worthwhile reviews of this book posted here, I feel compelled to add my two "scents", if for no other reason than there was a perfect storm of Parker activity swirling around me on the day I received my copy of The Emperor of Wine. The NY Times accounted for two of the mentions.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Holden on September 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
One of a pair of recent books about megalomaniacs: genial, larger-than-life luminaries of the food and wine world, Robert Parker, the American wine critic, and Bernard Loiseau, the French chef. They both tell of youthful talent that became increasingly ambitious as it ripened. Parker, the most powerful individual in the wine industry, ultimately claimed virtual infallibility; Loiseau, anointed with three Michelin stars but beset with doubts, ultimately committed suicide.

Both exceptional books written by sympathetic journalists with inside knowledge. A unique perspective on the private lives of two men with very public working lives.

The Emperor of Wine, by Elin McCoy (herself a respected wine writer), describes Parker's steady ascendancy to the pulpit of supreme enological arbiter thanks to his gifted palate and demonic resolve. But those two qualities alone wouldn't have made him Emperor; it took Parker's easy-to-understand 100-point ratings and America's "discovery" that wine wasn't just for effete snobs.

McCoy's conclusion comes down hard on Parker: the tyranny of a single palate, a scoring system that's "a joke in scientific terms" and a misleading indicator of quality or pleasure. Parker, says McCoy, turns wine into a contest rather than an experience. Worse, he brooks no challenge to his authority, to his moral and gustatory infallability.

I'm no particular fan of Parker's, either. Time and again, growers in France have admitted or complained to me that Parker's popularity is forcing them to make a certain style of wine.
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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Max W. Hauser on July 31, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In the late 1970s the US had half a dozen independent, consumer-oriented wine-criticism newsletters, as well as columnists such as Asher, Blue, and Spinazzola, read and discussed among us consumers and displayed in wine shops. Into this milieu came Robert M. Parker as a new voice. Though absent from the 1984 overview of US wine critics in the UC-Sotheby book (ISBN 0520050851), Parker by the middle 1980s was gleaning attention beyond the regional, "Beltway" origins of his "Baltimore-Washington Wine Advocate."

As a wine enthusiast then for several years, I read and took the earlier newsletters, and I checked this new voice with interest. I saw another helpful perspective, characterizing wines in words (as the others did). Like others, the new critic also had a shorthand rating gimmick. His was a "100-point" scale (actually 50, the top half is used) while the others had long employed coarser categories, about like the US meat grades Prime-Choice-Good-Utility-Pet. Parker also favored sweeping statements: best vintage ever, best example of this type. Extreme numericality and categorical judgments had sometimes, in the past, betokened inexperience in critics. Of more concern to me, having known some long-time wine collectors, were Parker's decisive predictions of decades-long aging profiles, a question mark when coming from someone who hadn't yet touched wine over the interval he was now extrapolating. Anyone can talk the talk, but only older wine tasters had lived through 20-plus-year agings. Simultaneously (middle 1980s) I saw at least anecdotal questions about Parker, especially about consistency of his palate when tested outside his control. That could be important, because demonstrably discerning what you claim to discern is the reality test of the professional taster.
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