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Parker Does Wine Certification

While certainly not new news as it dates to September of this year, there hasn’t been much of a ripple in the wine blogging world or offline wine press regarding the launch of the Robert Parker and Kevin Zraly wine certification program.

Frankly, this under-reporting surprises me.  In my opinion, this certification program, if properly executed, has the opportunity to topple the perilously perched, fractured and very inconsistent world of wine certification and leave a lasting legacy for Parker that lasts long after his famous palate has ceased to provide relevancy to the wine world.

Hyperbole?  I think not. 

How can this fawning not be hyperbole?  It’s simple.  Besides the obvious notion that Kevin Zraly has long written and updated the definitive starter book for wine enthusiasm, the fact that they are creating a three-tier certification program spanning enthusiasm to expertise means they are swallowing up the entire spectrum of consumer fandom as an entry to being a Connoisseur, before heading to being an “expert.”  Reportedly, the “expert” level will rival those of professional certifications and include a meeting for a blind tasting with Parker and Zraly.  Basically, there is an opportunity to brand an entire generation of wine education online while consolidating consumer education with that of professional education into one gold standard for wine knowledge.

What they aren’t saying, however, is that this is a likely attempt to vertically consolidate the completely fragmented wine certification market under the aegis of Parker. And, while this may, initially, be presented to consumers, that can’t be the long-term target.  Consumers don’t get certified.  Consumers get educated.  Professionals get certified.  This is clearly called a “Wine Certification” program.

The program starts with eight individually administered tests, covering various regions that make up the first stage of the three stage certification.  Each test is $30, is taken online and timed to be have the 50 questions completed in less than 60 minutes.  A passing score is 80/100, a “B” on the standard academic 100 point scale.

Naysayers should hold their tongue in applying any punditry to an 80 not being a serviceable score in the world of wine scoring.

Level II of the certification—Connoisseur of Wine (CW) will launch in March of ’08 and Level III—Expert of Wine will launch in September of ’08.

I will watch this certification program with curiosity to see how the business development relationships take shape in order to expand influence.  Parker, long notorious for forsaking any advertising and anything that smacks of implying a cozy relationship, will have to expand his reach in order to create anything close to approximating market definition.  That said, however, there is a tremendous opportunity to create some standardization around wine knowledge and now is a good time to seize that opportunity.  With consumption trends up across the board, having something approximating a consistent baseline of knowledge is sorely needed in the wine industry and subsequently for its customers—wine is increasingly transparent and the industry is seen from the inside out by consumers.

Likewise, it will be interesting to see if they do any sort of online effort to increase awareness—having some sort of online badge for wine bloggers would serve their interests, as well as the bloggers, aiming for a high-level of integrity. 

I’m starting the Level I courses.  Anybody interested in joining me? 


Posted in, Good Grape Daily: Pomace & Lees. Permalink | Comments (19) |


On 11/26, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

The only way to consolidate or “un-fragment” the wine certification world is that each educational entity recognizes other education programs.  For example, what is the use of taking Parkers course if it is not recognized as equal to the WSET program to enter the Masters of Wine program? Another wine education program makes it only more fragmented.

On 11/26, Jeff Lefevere wrote:


Thanks for commenting.  I think you’re right in that that WSET is the leading certification body, but I think there is tremendous room for somebody new to become the de facto certification in the U.S., it could be Parker, certainly.  That wouldn’t fragment, it would consolidate to one MAJOR player.

Time will tell, though.


On 11/26, Wine Scamp wrote:

How curious that they’re only opening it to subscribers for now!  I wonder why?

I’m also struck by the way they sell this as an “enjoyable… way to test [your] wine knowledge.”  Seems to me the only real function of a certification program is to create a standard of knowledge which is objective and comparable. 

It will be interesting to see at what point they introduce a tasting exam to the certification structure.

On 11/26, Cassandra wrote:

Oooooh, I may have to look into this. I have a certification from the International Wine Guild (, but I’m intrigued by this one.

On 11/27, Arthur wrote:

Will I be able copy and paste my answers from one question to another?

Honestly, this seems like a nice idea from a business standpoint. But business and academic integrity and accuracy do not go hand-in-hand.

I wonder what response this program will get from people averse to anything with the Parker name on it.

On 11/27, Arthur wrote:

Incidentally, what is the curriculum for these tests?
Should not a curriculum be provided? Or at least a list of required reading?
Am I missing something about this program?
It does not seem like an *educational* program.

On 11/27, Jeff Lefevere wrote:


The only test available are the individual tests that make up the Level I certification.  I’m copying and pasting the FAQ from the site related to the testing criteria, reading material and testing format:

FAQ: Level I

How many tests are there in Level I?

The Program debuts with a series of eight online Level I exams:
Wines of France (released)
Wines of the United States (released)
Wines of Italy (released)
Wines of Spain and Portugal (released)
Wines of Bordeaux (released)
Wines of the Southern Hemisphere (Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa) (November 26)
Wines of Germany, Austria, and Eastern Europe (December 10)
Wines of Burgundy (December 24)
Exams can be taken in any order.

How do I sign up?

You can reach the “Parker & Zraly Wine Certification Program” home page on from the subscriber’s home page or by clicking on “Wine Certification” in the burgundy links bar near the top of any page within the subscription part of the site. Follow the instructions on the"Parker & Zraly Wine Certification Program” home page.

What is the cost and how do I pay for each exam?

The cost is $30 per exam, payable by American Express, MasterCard, VISA, or Discover Card. subscribers only can purchase all eight exams for a one-time payment of $195.00.

What is the format of the exams?

Each exam is comprised of 50 multiple-choice questions with five possible answers per question. You will be asked to click on a Submit button when you reach the end of each section. Do not click on it until you are certain you are done with that section.

How much time do I have to complete each exam?

All tests are timed for 60 minutes.

What is the passing score?

The passing score for Level I is 80 (you must correctly answer at least 40 of the 50 questions). Your score will appear immediately after you finish the exam. You will be shown the questions you answered wrong or skipped. When you pass, you will be able to download a personalized, dated certificate, digitally signed by Robert Parker and Kevin Zraly. (Click here to view a sample certificate). Note that it should be printed in landscape orientation on your printer. If you achieve a score of 96-100 on any exam your diploma will have an “extraordinary” rating; if you score from 90-95 it will have an “outstanding” rating.

If I don’t pass on the first try, can I try again?

Each participant has one month and three chances to pass each exam in Level I.

What happens after I pass all eight Level I examinations?

Congratulations! To acknowledge your wine expertise, you will receive a personalized Aficionado of Wine certificate, suitable for framing, personally signed by Robert Parker and Kevin Zraly. Now you are eligible to move on to Level II. If you consent, you will also be recognized on

Where do the questions come from?

Ninety percent of all questions for the Level I examinations come from the following sources:

Bordeaux by Robert M. Parker, Jr.
The Wine Advocate
Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, 2008 edition by Kevin Zraly
Kevin Zraly’s American Wine Guide, 2008 edition
The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil

Additional questions also were submitted and reviewed by The Wine Advocate and staff members including:

Antonio Galloni (Italy)
Jay Miller (Oregon, Washington, Spain, Australia, South America, Greece, and Vintage Ports)
David Schildknecht (Germany, Austria, Eastern Europe, American Eastern and Midwest, Alsace, Burgundy, Loire, Languedoc-Roussillon, Champagne, New Zealand, and South Africa)
Mark Squires (Portugal)
Neal Martin
Mark Braunstein
Julian Berkin

How were the exams designed?

The design, structure, format of the questions and answers, and scoring system were all reviewed with consultants whose expertise is education and testing (not wine). The validity, choices of the questions and answers and the order of questions in degree of difficulty were reviewed by The Wine Advocate and staff members.

What types of questions will be in the Level I exams?

  1. Concise questions with short answers
  2. Emphasis is given to matching grape varieties with wines and regions, classifications and wine laws, matching producers with regions, location of regions within the country, and the best vintage years.
  3. Less emphasis will be given to winemaking, viticulture, soil composition, and olfactory.

What types of questions will NOT be in the Level I exams?

From our educational experts we learned that the following do not work well in testing:

  1. Questions that have answers “all of the above” or “none of the above”
  2. Opinion-based questions
  3. Trick questions
  4. Questions with the wording EXCEPT

Any helpful hints for the Wines of France exam?

This exam includes 50 multiple choice questions covering Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Loire, Alsace, Provence, Rhone, Languedoc, and Roussillon as well as several general questions.

What you should study:

  1. Have an understanding of the appellation controlée
  2. Know which grapes are grown in each appellation
  3. Know what wine are from each region (ie: Sancerre/Loire Valley)
  4. Understand the most important French wine classifications of Burgundy and Bordeaux
  5. Understand French wine terms found on a label
  6. Know the major producers of each French wine region (ie: Drouhin/Burgundy)

Thanks for reading!


On 11/27, Arthur wrote:

Hi Jeff,

I see.

It is common for professors in college to use books they’ve written as the core texts for the couirses they teach.

However, I am concerned that there might be a slant or bias towards the Parker books, his view and his preferences.

I know everybody likes to take a pot shot at “The Bob” these days, but if he as poised to take the lead and monopolize the wine certification niche (presumably, ultimatly of wine professionals) as you say how will that impact the shape of world of wine?

On 11/27, Jeff Lefevere wrote:


You make an interesting point.  I’m simply saying that the opportunity to dominate in the wine certification market is available—it could be Parker, maybe it’s not.  But the agenda is there for somebody to seize.

And in regards to impact on the wine world, I think there is a definite difference between his palate and the subjective testing of knowledge.

Of course, I haven’t seen the test questions, so it’s hard to say if it’s bent towards judgement calls on chateau’s versus rote wine information, but my guess is this was a predominant factor in the test set-up and anything that could be alluded to as a bias was removed from the question(s).

Overall, I view this certification thing as a potential opportunity to leave an imprint on the industry.  The Wine Advocate may go on after Parker retires, but certainly it will be somewhat neutralized and dominance in certification allows him to leave a long-lasting imprint beyond his singular palate.


On 11/28, swirlingnotions wrote:

My first thoughts were along the same line as Arthur’s when I read this . . . a fear that these courses would “Parkerize” the palettes of those desiring to learn more about wine.

My second question was, to whom are Parker and Zraly marketing this certification program? Is it meant as a badge for consumers, which is fine if it is . . . why not give consumers who are truly interested in wine a way of digging deep into the subject. Or is it meant as a qualifying diploma of having attained a certain level of knowledge for professionals? To my mind, both are valid, but they’re positioned differently.

I’ll be curious to hear your report . . .

On 11/28, Jeff Lefevere wrote:

Hi Lia,

Thanks for commenting. Your points are valid.

This is why I think the whole certification thing from Parker is even more interesting ... clearly the needs of consumers and trade professionals are different, but the way it appears now, it’s one vertical certification program that advances to what appears to be the equivalent of the Master of Wine level.

Really, I don’t have any wisdom on this, but I have a hunch that Parker may have some insight into the current and coming wine wave and knows that there is going to be a huge crest for certification that may blend the lines between consumers and pros.


On 11/29, Mark V Marino wrote:

Interesting possibility I wonder what the value of this certification will bring one?
I guess time will tell.

On 11/30, winebroad wrote:

I’m not disputing the wine knowledge of either Parker or Kevin Zraly (they are obviously experts), but I can’t help wondering: What certification do these guys have? As far as I can tell, neither has passed the MW or MS exams. Shouldn’t certification instructors be certified in some way themselves? Not necessarily by the folks in London, but by some major educational institution? It just seems odd. Is it just me?

On 11/30, Arthur wrote:

I agree. Additionally, and I know I’ll tick off a lot of people here, Parker (and a number of writers) tends to rate based on his enjoyment of the wine at the time of tasting and not by any absolute standards of what makes a quality wine. These standards do exist and they are not narrow or restrictive but they reflect the best a given variety can express in its site of origin.

On 12/01, Jeff Lefevere wrote:

I ran across this article on wine certification a day or two ago. It’s a comprehensive read.

I think one of the more interesting points was made by Tina—does Parker and Zraly have a certification?  I think this is one of those corporate situations of “Do as I say, not as I do.”


On 08/11, Michael Pape wrote:

After reading your post I decided to jump into the Parker/Zraly certification program as well.  I took the Wines of France exam cold and did well.  Covered a lot of basic material that anyone truly interested in wine should know.  If the rest of the exams are like this one I think that it would demonstrate a good basic knowledge of the wine world.

Now off to the local wine bar to study up on Wines of the USA!

On 08/11, Jeff wrote:

Hey Michael,

That’s great!  Glad the post inspired you!  I’m taking the entry level on the Master Sommelier cert. in a month, so we’ll have to trade notes!

All the best,


On 05/04, TN Pas Cher wrote:

onsumers and trade professionals are different, but the way it appears now, it’s one vertical cert

On 09/12, order custom essay wrote:

The “expert” level will rival those of professional certifications and include a meeting for a blind tasting with Parker and Zraly.  Basically, there is an opportunity to brand an entire generation of wine education online while consolidating consumer education with that of professional education into one gold standard for wine knowledge.


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