With the news this weekend that Robert Parker was changing the line up of reviewers for his Wine Advocate, the wine-writing world has been full of speculation on what these changes will mean to the wine industry. Robert Parker will no longer review current releases of California wine but rather will focus on wines from Bordeaux and the Rhône valley and retrospective tastings of aged California wines. David Schildknecht will no longer review wines from Burgundy's most famous regions, Chablis and the Côte d’Or, but will continue reviewing wines from France's other non-Parker regions along with Austria, Germany and the eastern United States. Picking up the slack will be Parker's heir-to-be Antonio Galloni by adding Burgundy and California to his Italy and Champagne beats. Who would have thunk that switching reviewers for only two (albeit important) wine regions would have caused a major collective head scratch.
While Parker may have more influence in the wine world than any other single person, he is still only one individual out of millions in the industry. And while the 92-point score on the shelf talker may distract consumers from what is actually in the bottle, there are too many other influential people in the wine world. Combine that with the fact that consumers are growing ever smarter, savvier and more adventurous with their purchase decisions, I believe that this change will be highly insignificant everywhere but outside the $100+ über premium wine that only a handful of consumers (are they really consumers when they don't consume?) buy.
With the proliferation of wine bloggers (and people who read wine blogs), consumers are, I hope, being introduced to a wider variety of wine professionals. The people who are actually responsible for finding and importing wines are perhaps more important that the reviewers. When people see names like Terry Theise, Neal Rosenthal, Kermit Lynch, Joe Dressner and Robert Kacher on the back of a wine bottle they should know what kind of wine to expect. I myself am still learning the styles of the wines that these guys import, but I know that each strongly believes in what he has decided to put his name on (as opposed to simply an impersonal rating).
The Wine Advocate, The Wine Spectator and other similar publications aren't out searching for the next big wine region or style; they're mostly reviewing wines currently popular in the market. I see a growing interest in new wine regions, such as Colorado, that are off reviewers' radars. Passionate importers, distributors and wine bloggers that find and share the next exceptionally interesting wine region will have more impact on consumers' palates than whether Robert Parker or Antonio Galloni is tasting California cult wines.