Robert Parker ruled the wine world for a generation. His name lives on as a url (The Wine Advocate’s online handle remains robertparker.com) but no longer as a pejorative adjective (the word “parkerised”, to describe a particular style of fruit-forward, extracted wine, is seldom heard nowadays). In any case, the legendary wine critic, now retired after selling the Wine Advocate group in 2012, was always far more nuanced than his reputation suggested.
Parker’s legacy – as a website – is a formidable force, its burgundy masthead, clean lines and deft navigation giving instant reassurance. Its editor-in-chief Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW eschews such frivolities as videos and “lifestyle” articles while, in keeping with Parker’s original (and lengthy) mission statement, there is no advertising.
What you get with TWA is wine. The number of tasting notes appended to any article is highlighted in yellow on the homepage. Such listings are comprehensive (Luis Gutiérrez presents notes for 204 Sierra de Gredos wines). The database is seemingly bottomless. Château Palmer goes back to 1900 (“An astonishing bottle!” Parker noted in 1996); Lafite to 1832 (“A quick, hard finish”). There are 18,000 notes on Bordeaux, 43,000 on Burgundy. Go further afield and you’ll find 1,800 Alentejo wines covered, 800 in the Jura.
Parker made his name not only with the introduction of the 100-point score, but also in the lushness of his tasting notes. His heirs carry that torch: notes are heavy in descriptors – lots of crème de cassis, white chocolate, mocha, cedar and charcoal – and there’s frequently detail about the winemaker, a reference to past vintages; they generally give the impression that the critic knows his or her subject backwards.
The roster of writers is equally impressive. Top of the bill is the wunderkind William Kelley, who is barely 30 but writes with the authority of a man twice his age; then there is Spanish eminence grise Gutiérrez, Italian expert Monica Larner, the bookish Edward Ragg (a poet in his spare time) and other authorities in their field.
The articles sometimes tend to the academic (even Oxbridge PhDs can get carried away). Editing could be tighter: Gutiérrez on Gredos runs to a soul-sapping 6,700 words and by the end feels more like an enthusiastic blog than a serious wine article. Then again, Parker himself was famously prolix, and it didn’t do him any harm.
TWA’s navigation works, with sections clearly demarcated and easy to find. If you feel in need of air (you’re with a serious crowd now), then the Hedonist’s Gazette brings light relief in the form of restaurant reviews (the site’s only concession to “lifestyle”). There’s a section called Chez Nous in which our august correspondents treat us to descriptions of their private dinner parties (“We followed the 1955 Mouton with the even more youthful, virile 1961”). It seems to have been mothballed, thankfully, though it afforded a certain amusement.
Like all the leading wine websites, TWA is short on laughs. It wasn’t always so. The old erobertparker.com had a lively, rancorous forum thuggishly presided over by current Portugal-to-Lebanon correspondent Mark Squires, who allowed most sorts of insults as long as they weren’t directed at the notoriously thin-skinned Parker. It was one of the most engaging wine forums around, but it’s been axed, in favour of a (largely unused) comment section at the end of each article.
But these are mere sideshows. The Wine Advocate has a primary purpose, which is to provide wine recommendations with the utmost authority, and this it does efficiently and enjoyably. It’s a testament to Perrotti-Brown’s political and editorial skills that she has managed to not only pilot it through two changes of ownership (Michelin became sole owner last year), but also to bring it out from under the mighty shadow of its founder.
- Topicality 6/10
- Useability 8/10
- Geek appeal 9/10
- Popular appeal 5/10
- Recommendations 8/10
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