Parker confirmed this major retrospective tasting in February, at the same time as announcing that he was no longer going to score Bordeaux en primeur. This confluence of announcements marks a watershed in Parker’s career, defining a new strategy to his involvement in scoring wine, now once it has been bottled rather than engaging in the cut-and-thrust of barrel tastings. So what does next week’s rescore mean for the reputation of the 2005 vintage and more broadly, what does Parker’s changed role mean for the wine market as a whole?
When scoring the wines as they went into bottle, Parker has admitted, that he did so ‘on the conservative side’. He awarded a score of 96 points or above (the highest ‘Exceptional’ category in his scoring system) to only 36 of the wines. When latterly compared to the other two ‘greatest vintages’ of his career it becomes clear how conservative he was: Parker awarded 62 wines from 2009 and 52 from 2010 a score of 96 points or above. For the magical score of 100 out of 100, a meagre 2 wines from 2005 were deemed ‘perfect’; 10 from the 2010 vintage received this honour whilst it was awarded to an astounding 19 wines from 2009. There thus exists a major disparity between these great vintages. Tantalisingly, Parker wrote that in ten years, ‘I would not be surprised if they are even better than [my] laudatory comments suggest’.
In the meantime, other big-name critics have re-tasted the vintage and given it their glowing endorsements. The UK’s leading critic Jancis Robinson MW has described the vintage as ‘a joy’ and believes it to be better than both 2009 and 2010. Neal Martin, Robert Parker’s colleague at The Wine Advocate, confirmed in February that those potentially harsh tannins had resolved and declared the wines as ‘astonishing’. Indeed, he suggested to anyone who disliked the wines that ‘you may want to consider being teetotal’. A panel for Decanter magazine added their voice to those praising the vintage in early June. All we are waiting for, it seems, is Parker’s stamp of approval.
Another wine, La Mission Haut-Brion 2005, is potentially set for a perfect score. Parker has rated it 98+ points and in his note wrote ‘if everything comes together’ the wine ‘should merit a triple digit score’. A discussion on the message board on eRobertParker.com entitled ‘Guess the 100 pointers’ is keeping Parker-watchers busy with speculation.
Robert Parker’s influence on the market is in great evidence – indeed before he has actually done anything! Yet events such as this will become fewer and further between. Though he will still rate each new vintage as it is bottled and conduct vintage retrospective tastings (as well as ad hoc tastings) this will only be of great interest when he is reassessing great vintages such as 2005. If he is waiting ten years before rescoring older vintages, the next big one will be when he rescores the 2009 vintage in four years’ time. Will his health and energy hold up to do such a massive tasting? We sincerely hope so. But will his influence on the market? As the unannounced upgrade and price-jump of Mouton-Rothschild 2005 showed, an upgrade can now come at any time and it will have an effect. Parker is such a singular authority on Bordeaux that the whole world waits for his opinion. We believe his word will still hold sway. Yet it seems that Parker’s stamp of approval may itself become a rarer commodity. For today’s fine wine investors, the best thing they can do is hold Parker-approved wines with a long-term plan – but maybe, just maybe, the big man may decide that they are a bit better than he originally thought.