My introduction to wine—actually a seduction—occurred in the 1980’s. Our daughter’s pediatrician lived down the street from us, and it was he who was instrumental in introducing me to wine, particularly French wine. When we shared wine at dinner, I noticed he was particularly adept at assessing its qualities and underlying characteristics, especially those that were crucial to its appearance, aroma and flavor. It was obvious his level of enjoyment was different from mine. He knew it was a good (or not so good) wine and, more importantly, could explain why. I liked the way it tasted (or not), but could not articulate why. I wanted to develop that ability.
Fast-forward to the 21st Century. Parker has competition, and lots of it. Not only from wine-oriented publications, but also from numerous Internet sites and forums that are flooded with postings from “tasting wannabes.” Pick virtually any wine-related site, and chances are that someone is expounding his or her opinion with colorful prose and arithmetic precision. Everyone’s a tasting expert now, and nothing reveals it more than Cellar Tracker, a Zagat-like Internet site on which thousands of wine enthusiasts are posting their opinions—mostly amateurs, but under special arrangements, a few professionals. There are well over one million postings at this writing. Reading one’s opinion is one thing—relying on it, however, is quite another. Calibrating one’s palate, I believe, against a reliable single source is infinitely more accurate and consistent than arriving at an assessment from, say, twenty widely varied opinions from anonymous hopefuls with unknown skills and/or track records. However, having said that, I also recall saying that Zagat’s method for rating restaurants would never succeed.