New Year 2016
In the last year, so many people have asked me how the wine world is going to survive post wine guru, Robert Parker and who his successor will be that I thought it would be worth discussing this with you. In the spring of 2015, Parker announced that he would no longer be travelling to Bordeaux to taste the vintage “en primeur”. Having sold the magazine a few years ago, the bulk of the Wine Advocate reviews are now handled by a stable of hand picked journalists, whose names are not nearly as famous as the publication they write for
The truth is that no one person will succeed Robert Parker. Not because there is no one worthy but because the wine world has moved on. We are not so obsessive about 100 point scoring and absolutes as we were even a decade ago. Most wine consumers have become much more knowledgeable and confident of their own preferences. They have their own opinions and instead of being told what to drink, they like to share their impressions and their tastes. Witness the success of wine scanner apps such as Delectable and Vivino or the wine blogs such as Cork Envy, The Academic Wino, The Wine Doctor or Social Vignerons. We no longer care about the identity of the person behind these opinions; we are just interested to know what wines they are drinking and how these compare to our own vinous horizons.
Another result of wanting to be part of a larger wine community has been the rise of the sommelier from simple wine waiter to powerful influencer. This change occurred gradually, starting with celebrity sommeliers such as Kevin Zraly and Daniel Johnnes in New York and David Ridgway and Philippe Faure-Brac in Paris. Gradually the role of sommelier as a wine expert evolved and the spread of wine competitions, including the big prize, the World’s Best Sommelier Competition, began to make rock stars out of winners such as Serge Dubs of France, Shinya Tasaki of Japan or Gerard Basset of the United Kingdom. (Let’s hope that one of our great Belgian hopes such as Aristide Spies or Mathieu Vanneste manages to lift the trophy in the years ahead).
More and more women are tempted into the business, spurred on by more readily available courses such as the WSET or the wine university at Suze-la-Rousse. The qualification of Master Sommelier started by the Court of Master Sommeliers in 1969, has spread its wings internationally and has become well-known thanks to the film “SOMM” which captures the trials and tribulations of a small group of Master Sommelier students. (The follow-up “SOMM: Into the bottle” was released recently. ) The profession not only has began to become sexy and attractive but the sommeliers themselves have become trendsetters and brand makers. With their influence previously limited to the confines of their restaurants, it’s not surprising that the reach of social media would prove a boon to amplifying their influence through websites, wine chats and instagrams. Over the last few years sommeliers have become less aloof and intimidating; they have morphed into somms who become your new vinous best friends. As one wine observer noted: “Somms have replaced scores for educating guests on what wines to be drinking. Where somms used to deal with clients asking about wines because they received a high score, now guests ask for a wine because they saw a somm Instagram on it. “
With this newfound influence and accessibility however comes great responsibility: the power to recommend wines, introduce new regions to the public, or focus on certain estates is changing the fortunes of certain wine producers and regions. The somms of today are changing the way we not only drink but also how we eat. They are promoting alternative agriculture and viticulture practices for the future of the planet, and saying no to the globalization and industrialization of wine. And yes, they are very media savvy.
Make no bones about it; the Robert Parker of yesterday has been replaced by the bloggers and somms of today.
© Fiona Morrison M.W.