Breaking on July 5th via Reuters et al., the venerable French car tire and restaurant guide behemoth Michelin has purchased a 40% stake in The Wine Advocate, critic Robert Parker’s highly influential (and widely critiqued) guide to wine I can’t afford. This is part of an ongoing shakeup at TWA that includes sale of “substantial interest” to Singapore investors in 2012, and Parker ceding the review of Bordeaux features to English wine writer Neal Martin in 2016.
More on the Michelin sale via Reuters:
Alexandre Taisne, chief executive officer of Michelin's Food and Travel Business, told Reuters by phone: "These services, which are aimed at creating memorable experiences, will be rolled out in Asia, the United States and Europe by 2019."
The majority of the capital of Robert Parker Wine Advocate is currently in the hands of Asian investors.
Events seem to be the primary focus of the acquisition, at least at first, according to this release from The Wine Advocate’s web presence, RobertParker.com:
Working with the MICHELIN guide on events in Singapore and Hong Kong-Macau demonstrated to both of our companies how much richer and more impactful the experiences we create for our loyal readers can be when we come together. The similarities between our core values, integrity and rigor as critics within the worlds of wine and food are striking. While collaborating with MICHELIN guide, it very soon became apparent that merging to create a sum that is even better than individual our parts would be an incredible means of offering even more for fine food and wine lovers around the world.
Our founder and President, Robert Parker, has been thrilled over the union of the two most independent sources for fine cuisine and wine, and the infinite possibilities it creates: “For far too long, critics have divided wine and food into two separate areas of expertise, but now the most realistic blend of impartial, independent, unbiased, intelligent food and wine opinion and wisdom have been married for the benefit of both wine and food consumers.”
With this equity investment, Michelin is strengthening and broadening its experience in the area of gourmet dining.
Younger wine drinkers, or drinkers focused specifically on natural wine, are probably unfamiliar with the wide-reaching influence of The Wine Advocate during the heyday of cult Cabs, Walla Walla Syrahs and Châteauneuf-de-Papes (Parker famously loves huge wines). And it’s probably fair to read this news and wonder “who cares”—natural wine culture exists largely as a rejection of the Parkerization of wine, the blueprint for which Alice Feiring laid out a decade ago.
But it’s interesting to ponder whether the melding of TWA and Michelin might influence how restaurant wine programs are considered for the guide’s star system. For example, when Noma reopens later this year, how might a Parkerized Michelin look at Mads Kleppe’s wild, chance-taking wine lists? The restaurant had two stars before closing. If your list famously eschews Bordeaux, and cares more about coffee than Screaming Eagle, will a Wine Advocate ethos creep into Michelin’s doling of the stars? Time will tell.
My guess is that some people reading this have never even heard of The Wine Advocate, and if you’re approaching wine with a curiosity for the natural stuff (and a Reagan-era or birthday or later), Parker’s influence has been in wane for the bulk of your legal drinking years. But I’ll argue that The Wine Advocate is still important, in a respecting and/or being knowledgable of one’s elders sort of way, and as a glimpse backwards at a 20th century wine world that feels unthinkable today—in which a tippling lawyer’s wine newsletter with a daffy point scoring system could make or break the fate of entire wine regions.
Parker’s echoes of which can still be felt today in every 92 point bottle of 16% Shiraz rotting in your neighborhood wine store ($80, plus tax). I respect the man’s chutzpah and up-from nothing consumer activist origin story; Jay McInerney gives Parker a lot of credit, which is fascinating in an “Updike reads Mailer” sort of way. And as a glimpse into how the other half lives, the “Hedonist’s Gazette” section of his website is an unparalleled, unflinching, and happily un-paywalled glimpse into global gustatory excess.
Independent media is a really tough business and there are surely worse fates for The Wine Advocate than being partially acquired by Michelin. But point scores for wine are still stupid, and more important, anathema for whatever wider moment the world is in right now with natural wine. I’d give the wonderfully weird bottle of O. Lemasson “Fermentation In Vitro” pet-nat we drank last weekend a score of 132 points if I could.
Jordan Michelman is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Jordan Michelman on Sprudge Wine.
Jordan Michelman is a co-founder of Sprudge. His writing has appeared in T Magazine, The New York Times, Seattle Metropolitan Magazine, and Willamette Week.