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Robert M. Parker Jr: An Extraordinary Wine Critic

Robert M. Parker Jr, arguably the father of modern wine criticism, has, at the age of 71, announced his decision to put down his pen and retire from The Wine Advocate.

For those of you not yet familiar with this wine-world legend, here’s a very potted history. Following a university education in history, a sharp pivot into life as an attorney and finally working as Assistant General Counsel for the Farm Credit Banks of Baltimore, in March 1984 Robert made the bold decision to give it all up in pursuit of a full time career in wine writing. Despite the warnings of friends and family worried that wine writing was a ‘romantic’ (meaning impractical) pursuit and their concerns that he would never be a success, Robert threw himself into the task of creating a publication entirely devoted to wine. The Wine Advocate, originally called the rather less catchy The Baltimore-Washington Wine Advocate, was first circulated free of charge in 1978. A few years later, subscription bloomed thanks to his prediction of the Bordeaux vintage 1982. Now, decades later, the publication has over 50,000 subscribers worldwide. As time rolled on, Robert came to be a regular featured writer in a number of other high profile publications, including the New York Times, Esquire, The Independent, The Financial Times, to name but a few. In this way, he has opened the door for millions of consumers into a once secretive industry, growing widespread interest, knowledge, passion and understanding about wine the world over.

If we return for a moment to that Bordeaux 1982 vintage that helped fuel the success of his now famous bi-monthly magazine, it is interesting to note how confident Robert was in his own assessment of a wine’s value and how willing to swim against the tide. It’s extremely well known nowadays that Bordeaux 1982 is a fantastic vintage, if not the greatest. Yet twelve months after the harvest when the wine was still resting in the barrels and Robert gave the vintage glowing reviews, this was in stark contrast to many other critics of the time. Overwhelmingly, his contemporaries believed that the 1982 vintage was ‘too ripe’ and wasn’t going to age well. Robert, however, was right to believe in it.

What also made Robert stand out was his to-the-point writing style (which was much more accessible than the majority of critics at the time) and his uniquely simple scoring system. Robert took to scoring wines out of 100 points, making it quick and easy for every consumer, no matter how knowledgeable about the industry, to understand which wines to buy and why. This also had the wonderful knock-on effect that extraordinary vintages and producers became more sought after, allowing them to respond to higher demand by growing their businesses.

Robert’s 100 Point Wines

Very few people have tasted the sheer variety of wines that Robert has, which got me to wondering what his all-time favourite might be. I’ve no doubt he has many great wines in his cellar that he loves pulling the cork on, but I was intrigued to discover which he had actually scored the highest over his career. A little research revealed that Guigal ‘La Mouline’ Cote Rotie, from the very northern peak of the Rhône Valley, has been scored 100 points by Robert a staggering eleven times since 1976. Chapoutier Ermitage ‘Ermite Blanc’ Hermitage, also from the Rhône Valley, has scored 100 points eleven times too. I think it’s fairly safe to assume, therefore, that Robert’s favourite wine hails from the temperate and rocky climes of Northern Rhône.

I was equally curious to discover what wines in Bordeaux, crammed as it is with so many prestigious chateaus, have come up trumps over the years. Petrus, on the right bank of the region, comes out on top, with nine vintages taking 100 points. Personally, however, my two favourite 100 point wines are those detailed below:

Chateau Latour, 1996.

I was lucky enough to sample this moreish wine in 2018. What makes it so special is the fantastic balance of acidity and tannin is beautifully noticeable and the character in the bottle is truly something else. With phenomenal complexity, noticeable flavours of blackberry, cedar, pepper and a slight tar element — the smell of kindling as soon as it catches fire — this is a wine that, in my opinion, is perfect right now and easily has another 25 years ahead of it to improve.

Marcassin Chardonnay 2012.

I also tasted this wine (from Marcassin Vineyard, Sonoma County, California) for the first time in 2018, over dinner one night deep in the Napa Valley. I love Chardonnay: it can be a beautiful wine, with great complexity and extremely enjoyable for many different occasions. More than this, however, I believe that the Chardonnay grape makes the most delicious wine in the world when acidity, body, complexity and oak are in perfect balance. Before Marcassin 2012, my search for the perfect Chardonnay had always come up short, but this bottle ticked every single box. If I could only drink one white wine again for the rest of my life, it would be Marcassin. It’s just one of those rare wines you come across very infrequently: as soon as you have that first sip, you know you’ve found something special.

A wine lover’s legacy

Robert Parker has helped many people such as myself discover their favourite wines from around the globe, introducing them to new vintages and producers. We at The London Wine Cellar will certainly miss Robert’s eloquent and insightful wine critique, but we thank him for his contribution to the industry, which has been nothing short of amazing, and wish him a wonderful retirement. In the words of current editor-in-chief Lisa Perrotti-Brown:

‘If anyone deserves a rest from our frenetic world of wine reviews, it is Bob. And yet, his contribution to significantly raising the bar of critical, unbiased wine writing and wine quality cannot be overestimated. His unrivaled tasting experience and expert, straight-talking opinions will be sorely missed by consumers and trade alike.’

Even if Robert has finally hung up his boots for a hard-earned rest, The Wine Advocate still has a bright future ahead, and I have no doubt that Robert’s legacy will live on for generations to come.