Do Wine Scores Matter? Bloomberg Columnist Elin McCoy on Robert Parker



In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, we’re chatting with author Elin McCoy, who is the wine columnist for both Bloomberg News and Decanter magazine. Elin shares her controversial perspective on one of the juiciest topics in the wine world: the power of wine scores. Do wine scores still have sway over the way we buy wine? How is this changing with millennials and social media? Are scores actually a valid way of appraising a wine? How is the use of scores in liquor stores sometimes misleading? Elin explores all this and more, including why Robert Parker made such an interesting subject for her book, The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr., and the Reign of American Taste. Enjoy!



  • How did a trip to a Mendocino vineyard turn the fancy wine writer stereotype on its head?
  • What is Elin’s approach to wine scoring?
  • What was the of tasting and scoring Starbucks wine selection experience like?
  • What qualities would lead Elin to give a wine a very low or zero score?
  • How do publishers, wine producers and the public react to low wine scores?
  • What is Elin’s take on wines produced by brands like Walmart and Trader Joe’s?
  • Why are younger people less interested in wine scores?
  • Is the traditional wine critic still relevant, or is social media drowning them out?
  • How is the world of wine today a reflection of our larger life?
  • How many of wines does Elin really taste per year?
  • How does Elin decide which wines to recommend?
  • What was it about Robert Parker that made him rise to prominence?
  • Why write a book about Robert Parker?
  • What was the interesting American-like trait of Robert Parker that made him so successful?
  • Why did Robert Parker have such a surprising reaction to Elin’s book?


About Elin McCoy

Elin McCoy is an award-winning journalist and author, focusing on the world of wine. She is a wine and spirits columnist for Bloomberg News and a columnist for Decanter magazine. McCoy’s most recent book, The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste, garnered international praise and has appeared in five foreign editions. She is also the co-author of Thinking About Wine. Elin serves regularly as a wine judge in American and international competitions and is a frequent speaker at wine festivals, symposia and industry events.




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Transcript & Takeaways

Welcome to episode 39!

In today’s episode, we’re chatting with Elin McCoy, the wine columnist for both Bloomberg News and Decanter magazine.

We’re going to dive into one of the juiciest topics in the wine world: the power of wine scores.

  • Do they still have sway over the way we buy wine?
  • How is this changing with millennials and social media?
  • Are scores actually a valid way of appraising a wine?
  • How is the use of scores in liquor stores sometimes misleading?

Elin explores these topics in her fascinating book about Robert Parker, more on that in a minute. I’ll put a link to her book in the show notes, along with links to wines that I’ve scored 90 points or higher that are in stores now. You’ll find all of these at

I’d love your help in spreading the word about this podcast. Please post a review on Apple Podcasts, formerly iTunes, or on social media. If you do that, let me know and I’ll give you a shout out on this podcast.

Plus, if you do, I’ll send a free copy of my Ultimate Food & Wine Pairing Guide. It’s a quick template covering the major food matches for red, white, rose and dessert wines. It’s visually very appealing and I know you’ll get tons of use from it. All you have to do is post a review on Apple Podcasts or on social media. Then just email me at and I’ll send it to you.

So as promised, I’d like to share a spotlight on a member of our podcast community with you. Peter Humphries from Hamilton posted on Instagram – quote, “Natalie, I just finished listening to your podcast with Tilar Mazzeo. I loved it. I sat on my back deck with a glass of Pinot Noir and soaked in every word; a great way to spend a warm sunny late afternoon.

I enjoy history and her story of the grand lady running the winery was fascinating. I love learning about gutsy people who stick it out resulting in a successful outcome. I also enjoyed her approach to not adding sulphates to her wine. Not a typical approach.

I love wine gadgets and her thrift store purchase of a cork remover for sparkling wine sounded nifty. However, for me, taking a bottle of champagne outside and letting the cork launch high in the trees is thrilling. But go inside, and this gadget is good.

Thank you so much for keeping me and your listeners informed and entertained, I want you to know it is really appreciated. I look forward to your third book as I devoured your first two (while quenching my desire with wine).

Keep up your amazing work. A fan.

Peter Humphries”

Thank you, Peter! I’m thrilled that you enjoyed the chat with Tilar in episode 37. I know you’re going to love this one with Elin.

On with the show. Enjoy!


You can also watch the video interview with Elin that includes bonus content and behind-the-scenes questions and answers that weren’t included in this podcast.


Well, there you have it! Here are my takeaways from this terrific discussion with Elin:

  1. I love Elin’s stories about the less-than-glamourous life of a wine writer from climbing muddy hillsides to tasting wines at Starbucks that are .
  2. She has a real egalitarianism that comes through in other stories such as Walmart offering its own wines and seeing this as an opportunity for more people to experience the pleasure of wine rather than its snobbery.
  3. She makes an excellent anaolgy that taste isn’t like vision: perfect at 20/20 or not. Rather taste is far more subjective. You may enjoy wines that don’t get high scores, and conversely, you may not like those with high scores.
  4. She believes that younger people are less impressed with scores, and depend more on friends’ recommendations through social media. There are many voices now rather than the dominant one of Robert Parker, particularly since he recently retired.
  5. It’s insider knowledge that liquor stores tend to post the highest score they can find for a wine because they want to sell it. It’s not because the critic happens to be their favourite critic.
  6. She points out that sommeliers don’t approach your table at the restaurant and tell you the wine’s score: instead, their going to tell you what the wine tastes like, food pairings and perhaps a story behind the wine. She sees this as a more holistic way to approach wine.
  7. Elin notes that wine writing is changing: moving away from simply scores to embrace a wider view of wine within society and its role in the way we live.

You’ll find links to Elin’s winery website, social media handles, the video version of this interview and the wines I recommend that score 90 points or higher in the show notes at

Did you know that you can now listen to this podcast on your smart speaker? Just say: “Hey Google” or for Amazon’s Echo, use her name that begins with A … I won’t say it now as it’ll set off your device and mine.

So I’ll say Madame A as in “Madam A — play the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast.” I’d love to chat about wine with you while you’re watching the kids play soccer, refilling the water cooler or sorting socks … it’s always wine time.

What was your favourite tip or quote from this episode? Share that with me on Twitter or Facebook and tag me @nataliemaclean, on Instagram I’m @nataliemacleanwine.

If you liked this episode, please tell a friend about it, especially one who’s interested in how wine scores affect the wines we drink. My podcast is easy to find, whether you search Google on its name Unreserved Wine Talk, or on my name.

Finally, if you want to take your ability to pair wine and food to the next level, join me in a free online video class at

I can’t wait to share more wine stories with you.

Thank you for taking the time to listen to this one. I hope something great is in your glass this week, perhaps while you’re drinking a wine that scored 90 points or higher!



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