Parker's Wine Buyer's Guide, 7th Edition, The Complete Easy-To-Use Reference on Recent Vintages, Prices, and Ratings for More than 8,000 Wines from All the Major Wine Regionsby Robert M. Parker
Featuring a fresh layout, revised maps, and more detail than ever before, the eagerly anticipated seventh edition of Parker's Wine Buyer's Guide offers collectors and amateurs alike the ultimate resource to the world's best wines. In every way, this edition bears out Parker's stated goal: "To make you a more formidable, more confident wine buyer by providing you with sufficient insider's information to permit the wisest possible choice when you make a wine-buying decision."
Understanding that buyers on every level appreciate a good deal, Parker separates overvalued bottles from undervalued, with wine prices instantly shifting according to his evaluations. Indifferent to the wine's pedigree, Parker's eminent 100-point rating system allows for independent, consumer-oriented, inside information.
The latest edition of Parker's Wine Buyer's Guide includes expanded information on Spain, Portugal, Germany, Australia, Argentina, and Chile, as well as new sections on Israel and Central Europe. As in his previous editions, Parker provides the reassurance of a simple number rating, predictions for future buying potential, and practical overviews of regions and grapes. Altogether, an indispensable resource from the man the Los Angeles Times calls "the most powerful critic of any kind."
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HOW TO USE THIS GUIDE
This book is both an educational manual and a buying guide; it is not an encyclopedic listing of wine producers and growers. It is intended to make you a more formidable, more confident wine buyer by providing you with sufficient insider's information to permit the wisest possible choice when you make a wine-buying decision. The finest producers as well as the best known (not necessarily a guarantee of quality) from the world's greatest viticultural regions are evaluated, as well as many of the current and upcoming releases available in the marketplace. If readers cannot find a specific vintage of a highly regarded wine, they still have at their fingertips a wealth of information and evaluations concerning the best producers for each viticultural area. Readers should be confident in knowing that they will rarely make a mistake (unless, of course, the vintage is absolutely dreadful) with a producer rated "outstanding" or "excellent" in this buyer's guide. These producers are the finest and most consistent in the world. Taste is obviously subjective, but we have done our best to provide an impartial and comprehensive consumer's guide, whose heart, soul, and value are the evaluations (star ratings) of the world's finest producers.
Note: Readers should recognize that I am fully responsible for the chapters on Bordeaux, Provence, the Rhône Valley, and California. My colleagues, who work full-time for me, are responsible for the following chapters: David Schildknecht covers Alsace, Austria, Burgundy, Central Europe, Champagne, East of the West Coast, France's Southwest, Germany, the Jura and the Savoie, the Languedoc and Roussillon, and the Loire Valley. Dr. Jay Miller is responsible for Argentina, Australia, Chile, Oregon, Spain, Washington State, and the section on Port. Antonio Galloni has written all the chapters on Italy; Mark Squires covers Israel and Portugal; and my British counterpart, Neal Martin, is responsible for the chapters on New Zealand and South Africa.
Each section on a specific viticultural region covered in this manual is generally organized as follows:
1. An overview of the viticultural region
2. A buying strategy
3. A summary of the quality of recent vintages for the area
4. A quick-reference list to that area's best producers/growers
5. For upcoming, current, and very recent releases, a specific numerical rating and anticipated maturity curve have been provided. We have added an estimated price range for a 750-ml bottle of wine. As most American consumers know, with our 50 states and Byzantine system of local liquor laws, prices vary dramatically from state to state, city to city, and even from wine shop to wine shop. The new Parker's Wine Buyer's Guide essentially focuses on wines that are available in the marketplace now as well as those coming into the market over the next 24 months. The specific tasting commentaries, which I included in previous editions, have gotten so comprehensive, we would have had to sacrifice coverage of some areas in order to incorporate them. We decided that the tasting notes would be eliminated since, in the introductory section, the general profiles of the wines from that area are amply covered.
VITICULTURAL AREAS COVERED
This guide cannot cover every viticultural area in the world, but the world's most significant areas are well represented. In western Europe, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain, and Portugal are profiled in detail. In North America, California continues to receive significant coverage, reflecting its dominance in the marketplace, but Washington State and Oregon have far greater coverage than they have had in the past. Also from the New World, so to speak, the increased importance of the wines of Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, and, to a lesser extent, South Africa, have dictated dramatically more coverage for those regions than in previous editions.
RATING THE PRODUCERS AND GROWERS
Who's who in the world of wine becomes readily apparent after years of tasting the wines, visiting the vineyards, and touring the wine cellars of the world's producers and growers. Great producers are, unfortunately, still quite rare, but certainly more growers and producers today are making better wine, with better technology and more knowledge. Just before the producer profiles and wine ratings that come at the end of each section are lists that rate the best producers on a five-star system: five stars and an "outstanding" to producers deemed to be the very best; four stars to producers who are "excellent," three stars to "good" producers, and two stars to producers rated "average." Since the aim of this book is to provide you with the names of the very best producers, its overall content is dominated by the top producers rather than the less successful ones.
Those few growers/producers who have received five-star ratings are those who make the world's finest wines, and they have been selected for this rating for two reasons: first, because they make the greatest wine of their particular viticultural region, and second, because they are remarkably consistent and reliable even in mediocre and poor vintages. Ratings, whether numerical ratings of individual wines or classifications of growers, are always likely to create controversy among not only the growers but wine tasters themselves. But if done impartially, with a global viewpoint and firsthand, on-the-premises (sur place) knowledge of the wines, the producers, and the type and quality of the winemaking, such ratings can be reliable and powerfully informative. The important thing for readers to remember is that those growers/producers who received either a four-star or five-star rating are producers worth searching out; I suspect few consumers will ever be disappointed with one of their wines. The three-star growers/producers are less consistent but can be expected to make average to above-average wines in the very good to excellent vintages. Their weaknesses can be either from the fact that their vineyards are not as strategically placed, or because for financial or other reasons they are unable to make the severe selections necessary for the finest-quality wine.
The rating of the growers/producers of the world's major viticultural regions is perhaps the most important point of this book. Years of wine tasting have taught me many things, but the more one tastes and assimilates the knowledge of the world's regions, the more one begins to isolate the handful of truly world-class growers and producers who seem to rise above the crowd in great as well as mediocre vintages. I always admonish consumers against blind faith in one grower or producer, or in one specific vintage. But the producers and growers rated "outstanding" and "excellent" are as close to a guarantee of high quality as you are likely to find.
Although wine advertisements proclaiming "a great vintage" abound, I have never known more than several viticultural areas of the world to have a great vintage in the same year. The chances of a uniformly great vintage are extremely remote, simply because of significantly different microclimates, soils, and so on in every wine-producing region. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because Bordeaux had great vintages in 1982, 1990, and 2000, every place else in Europe did, too. Certainly, in both 1982 and 2000, nothing could be further from the truth. Nevertheless, a Bordeaux vintage's reputation unfortunately seems to dictate what the world thinks about many other wine-producing areas. This obviously creates many problems, since in poor Bordeaux vintages the Rhône or Alsace or Champagne could have an excellent year, and in great Bordeaux vintages those same areas could have bad years because of poor climate conditions. For California, many casual observers seem to think every year is a top year, and this image is, of course, promoted by that state's publicity-conscious Wine Institute. It may be true that California rarely has a disastrous vintage, but tasting certainly proves that 1988, 1989, and 1998 are different in style and more irregular in quality than 1994 or 1995, or for that matter, more recent years such as 2004 or 2005. Yet it is true that no other viticultural area in the world has enjoyed as many consecutive great vintages as California since 1990. With the exception of 1998, California has had a bevy of very good to terrific years. In this guide, there are vintage summaries for each viticultural area because the vintages are so very different in both quantity and quality. Never make the mistake of assuming that one particular year is great everywhere or poor everywhere. For example, 2005 was an absolutely sensational vintage in California for varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc, but it was a terrible year for Zinfandel.
TASTING NOTES AND RATINGS
When possible, most of my tastings are done under peer-group, single-blind conditions; in other words, the same types of wines are tasted against each other, and the producers' names are not known. The ratings reflect an independent, critical look at the wines. Neither price nor the reputation of the grower/producer affects the rating in any manner. I spend three months of every year tasting in vineyards. During the other nine months of the year, I devote six-and sometimes seven-day workweeks to tasting and writing. I do not participate in wine judgings or trade tastings for many reasons, but principal among these are: 1) I prefer to taste from an entire bottle of wine; 2) I find it essential to have professional tasting glasses, properly sized and cleaned; 3) the temperatures of the wines must be correct; and 4) I prefer to determine the allocation of time for the number of wines I will critique.
The numerical ratings are a guide to what I think of the wine vis-à-vis its peer group: Wines rated above 85 are good to excellent, and any wine rated 90 or above will be outstanding for its particular type. While some would suggest that scoring is not well suited to a beverage that has been romantically extolled for centuries, wine is no different from any other consumer product. There are specific standards of quality that full-time wine professionals recognize, and there are benchmark wines against which all others can be judged. I know of no one with three or four different glasses of wine in front of him or her, regardless of how good or bad the wines might be, who cannot say, "I prefer this one to that one." Scoring wines is simply taking a professional's opinion and applying a numerical system to it on a consistent basis. Moreover, scoring permits rapid communication of information to expert and novice alike.
The score given for a specific wine reflects the quality of the wine at its best. I often tell people that evaluating a wine and assigning a score to a beverage that will change and evolve for up to a decade or more is analogous to taking a photograph of a marathon runner. Much can be ascertained, but, as with a moving object, the wine will evolve and change. I try to retaste wines from obviously badly corked or defective bottles, since a wine from a single bad bottle does not indicate an entirely spoiled batch. If retasting is not possible, I will reserve judgment. Many of the wines reviewed have been tasted several times, and the score represents a cumulative average of the wine's performance in tastings to date.
Here, then, is a general guide to interpreting my numerical rating system:
90-100 Equivalent to an A and given for an outstanding or special effort. Wines in this category are the very best produced for their type. Though there is a big difference between a 90 and a 99, both are top marks. Few wines actually make it into this top category, simply because there are not that many truly profound wines.
80-89 Equivalent to a B, and such a wine, particularly in the 85-89 range, is very good. Many of the wines that fall into this range are often great values as well. I have many of these wines in my personal cellar.
70-79 Represents a C, or an average mark, but obviously 79 is a much more desirable rating than 70. Wines that receive scores of 75-79 are generally pleasant, straightforward wines that lack complexity, character, or depth. If inexpensive, they may be ideal for uncritical quaffing.
Below 70 A score of D or F, depending on where you went to school, is a sign of an unbalanced, flawed, or terribly dull or diluted wine that is of little interest to the discriminating consumer.
Note: A point score with spreads signifies an evaluation made before the wine was bottled.
My scoring system starts with a potential of 50 points. The wine's general color and appearance can earn up to 5 points. Since most wines today are well made, thanks to modern technology and the increased use of professional oenologists, most tend to receive at least 4, and often 5, points. Aroma and bouquet can earn up to 15 points, depending on the intensity level and dimension of the aroma and bouquet, as well as the wine's cleanliness. The flavor and finish can earn up to 20 points, and again, intensity of flavor, balance, cleanliness, and depth and length on the palate are all important considerations. Finally, the overall quality level or potential for further evolution and improvement -- aging -- can earn up to 10 points.
Scores are important for the reader to gauge a professional critic's overall qualitative placement of a wine among its peers. However, it is also vital to consider the description of the wine's style, personality, and potential. No scoring system is perfect, but a system that provides for flexibility in scores, if applied by the same experienced taster without prejudice, can quantify levels of wine quality and can be a responsible, reliable, uncensored, and highly informative account that provides the reader with one professional's judgment. However, there can never be any substitute for your own palate nor any better education than tasting the wine yourself.
For a number of reasons, no one suggested retail price for a particular wine is valid throughout the country. Take Bordeaux as an example. Bordeaux is often sold as "wine futures" two full years before the wine is bottled and shipped to America. This opening or base price can often be the lowest price one will encounter for a Bordeaux, particularly if there is a great demand for the wines because the vintage is reputed to be excellent or outstanding. As for other imported wines, prices will always vary for Bordeaux according to the quality of the vintage, the exchange rate of the dollar against foreign currencies, and the time of purchase by the retailer, wholesaler, or importer -- was the wine purchased at a low futures price in the spring following the vintage, or when it had peaked in price and was very expensive?
Another consideration in pricing is that in many states wine retailers can directly import the wines they sell and can thereby bypass middlemen, such as wholesalers, who usually tack on their own 25% markup. The bottom line in all of this is that in any given vintage for Bordeaux, or for any imported wine, there is no standard suggested retail price. Prices can differ by as much as 50% for the same wine in the same city. However, in cities where there is tremendous competition among wine shops, the markup for wines can be as low as 10% or even 5%, significantly less than the normal 50% to 55% markup for full retail price in cities where there is little competition. I always recommend that consumers pay close attention to the wine shop advertisements in major newspapers and wine publications. For example, The New York Times Living Section and The Wine Spectator are filled with wine advertisements that are a barometer for the market price of a given wine. Readers should remember, however, that prices differ considerably, not only within the same state but within the same city. The approximate price range reflects the suggested retail price that includes a 40% to 60% markup by the retailer in most major metropolitan areas. Therefore, the price may be higher in many states in the Midwest and in other less-populated areas, where there is little competition among wine merchants. In major competitive marketplaces where there are frequent discount wars, such as Washington, D.C., New York, San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas, prices are often lower. The key for you as a reader and consumer is to follow the advertisements in a major newspaper and to shop around. Most major wine retailers feature sales in the fall and spring; summer is the slow season and generally the most expensive time to buy wine. Copyright © 1995, 1999, 2002, 2008 by Robert M. Parker, Jr.
Meet the Author
Robert M. Parker, Jr., has been the author and publisher of The Wine Advocate for more than twenty-five years. He has won countless awards, including two of France’s highest presidential honors: in 1993, President Francois Mitterrand pronounced him a Chevalier dans l’Ordre National du Merite. In 1999, President Jacques Chirac signed a decree appointing Parker a Chevalier dans L’Ordre de la Legion d’Honneur, and in 2005, elevated his title to Officier. He is the author of many books about wine, including Bordeaux, Burgundy, The Wines of the Rhône Valley, and Parker's Wine Buyer's Guide. Visit the author online at www.eRobertParker.com.
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I just wanted a book to help me learn (and remember) different grape varieties by region across the world. What I got was a delightfully written encyclopedia of everything I could possibly ever want to know about wines, grapes, regions, wineries, you name it. The more I read, the more I want to know! I recommend this book for anyone who wants a good, solid source of information on wine.