“It’s my job to be an opinionated bastard,” sneered Pierre-Antoine Rovani. It was the first time I had ever heard the now ex-Wine Advocate critic speak in person. The stunning contrast between Rovani and co-panelist Michael Broadbent could not have been more striking. The bearded, Hawaiian shirted Rovani seemed very coarse and vulgar with his attitude and “bastard” comments compared to the refined Broadbent with his coat and tie, dry humor and intelligent wit. The Wine Advocate did not come off well that day.
The behavior exhibited by Rovani that day has become a bit of a trademark lately for Wine Advocate staffers and the online nastiness exhibited towards anyone contesting the superiority of Parker et al brings out attack dog posts from Rovani and Parker’s Forum Host, Mark Squires. Recently even Parker himself directly called one consumer a “points whore and pimp” by name on his Forum. This type of behavior combined with the outright lack of respect for Rovani’s Burgundy coverage from both the trade and serious consumers and the unexplainable extreme tardiness of the now also ex-Wine Advocate Italian wine critic Daniel Thomases has seriously eroded the credibility of The Wine Advocate. While Thomases did not lack respect like Rovani, the lateness of his reports made them essentially useless.
Hopefully the newly announced departures of Rovani and Thomases will get The Wine Advocate back on track. While you can debate his tastes, no one can argue Parker’s skill, discipline and integrity and, when he replaces these two critics, he needs to find someone consistent with the standards he sets for himself. Something that neither Thomases nor Rovani achieved during their time at The Wine Advocate.
The hard part for Parker in choosing new critics for Burgundy, Italy and the other areas covered by Rovani and Thomases will be finding someone that matches both his high personal standards and his power-loving palate. For example, Allen Meadows of Burghound has emerged as the leading voice on the wines of Burgundy, but his palate is certainly not in-tune with Parker when it comes to what defines great pinot noir. Then there is also the issue of personality as the refined, intelligent Meadows has gained respect based on his overwhelming knowledge and love of Burgundy and offers more of a Broadbent persona in dramatic contrast to the styles of Rovani and Squires.
In selecting Rovani a decade ago, it clearly seemed that Parker’s goal was to find someone who was an extension of himself and his palate. Considering how this has worked out for his publication, perhaps Parker will now seek someone with a more independent voice and a true expert in the regions covered. Robert Parker does not need attack dogs to guard him from criticism as his reputation is secure. Hopefully he will select replacements based on the sharpness of their palates - not the sharpness of their tongues. We can only hope that Parker’s appointment of the erudite David Schildknecht to report on Germany and Austria will be the standard used for future additions to The Wine Advocate team.
(pictured above: The Avatar chosen by Pierre Rovani to represent himself on The Robert Parker Forum)