Wine writer wins France's admiration

January 23, 1993|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

Wine writer Robert M. Parker Jr. of Parkton has been made a knight of the National Order of Merit by the French government.

Of the two national honors France bestows, it is the second highest, after the Legion of Honor.

"A very small number" of these awards are given to foreigners, said Jean-Claude Schlumberger, chief of the French ambassador's staff in Washington. "The aim of the decoration is to honor people who have strong links with our country."

The letter announcing the award says it "thus pays homage to more than 15 years of writing, to your accomplishments, and very simply, to your love of wine."

The award is "the highest recognition I could ever get from any nation-state," Mr. Parker said. "I feel very fortunate."

The Monkton native, who was trained as a lawyer, turned an avocational interest in wine into the bimonthly newsletter, The Wine Advocate, in 1978. He began full-time wine writing in 1984. Today, he has about 28,000 newsletter subscribers.

"Everybody said he was crazy," said Bob Schindler of Pinehurst Gourmet & Spirit Shop. "But I've watched the guy become, there's no doubt about it, the most powerful and influential wine writer in the world."

Critics like Jancis Robinson, a British wine writer, have characterized Mr. Parker's influence over the international wine market as "controlling." And there are producers who worry that his ratings turn producers heads -- like the one who told New York Times wine writer Frank Prial anonymously, "There are wine makers in Bordeaux who give serious thought to making wines they think will please Mr. Parker."

Known as an expert on the Bordeaux region, Mr. Parker visits France regularly and might taste as many as 7,000 bottles of wine a year.

Mr. Parker, also author of six books on wine, is leaving today for France, where he will pick up his award Jan. 30 -- after a week's worth of work tasting wine.

His wife, Patricia, will join him and, while they have no special celebration planned when he becomes a "chevalier," he said they do expect to spend "a fairly decadent day in Paris."

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