Robert Parker Jnr sits down on the stage of the ballroom of the Aberdeen Marina Club. The audience of more than 100 has paid US$950 each to taste wines such as Chateau Haut-Brion 2001 and 2008, and Lafite Rothschild 1998 and 2006. But there's no question that while these premier grand cru Bordeaux are an attraction, the big draw is Parker himself, widely considered to be the world's most influential wine critic, with the publication that he started in 1978, The Wine Advocate. Parker has a reputation for being arrogant, but he seems the opposite of that as he signs autographs and has his picture taken with fans after last week's event, and he's polite, friendly and engaging when we talk at the Island Shangri-La. 'I'm not an arrogant person, but I'm portrayed as being arrogant,' he says. 'I've been called a tyrant and tastemaker and dictator. It's the tall poppy syndrome - people are not allowed to climb too high.' As with all types of reviewers, whether it's for food, film, music or wine, Parker has people who disagree with him. He is known for his great love for the wines of Bordeaux - a high score by him in The Wine Advocate can inflate the prices negotiants ask for those wines - yet the Bordelaise seem to have a love-hate relationship with the lawyer-turned-critic. 'I understand that,' he says. 'First of all, I'm an American and didn't come from the wine trade. I'm really an outsider, and I've stayed at arm's length from most of them. I've turned down staying at chateaux, I've refused meals. I rent my own car, keep every visit professional and never accept gifts. I think while it can be admired on one level, it can also be perceived as self-righteousness and arrogance, and people resent that. It's not being a white knight or arrogant; it's just trying to establish a code of conduct to live by that allows me to say good and bad things. 'Most critics - such as The New York Times restaurant critic - have enormous influence within a sphere, within a city. The difference with me is I have global influence, which is unusual. At the same time, and I'm not being immodest, it got exaggerated. [Journalists] need a story - it makes a good story to create this omnipotent force; and once you've created it, it enables you to write other stories about [how] unhealthy it is, and the aberrations and all the things that can go wrong with having too much power. 'There's no question that with Bordeaux, and maybe other areas, I have too much control, which is unhealthy; I'm against it. At the same time, most of the influence came as a result of hard work, of independence. I was just doing my job and was lucky to be considered by the consumers to be reasonably accurate. I think if I give a really high score, yes, it has significant impact. A low score? I don't think it destroys wineries or has much of an impact - I can cite a lot of wines I've given low scores to and they still sell because they have big public relations [campaigns] and create an image.' Parker, who was raised in Baltimore, Maryland, and lives a few kilometres from where he grew up, started The Wine Advocate at a time when most wine writing was done by those in the trade, and so, in one way or another, there was a vested interest in saying positive things about their subject. His interest in wine was piqued during a visit to France in 1967 to see his girlfriend, Patricia (now his wife), who was studying in the country during her junior year abroad. 'I'd had wine in college but it was bad wine - something called Cold Duck. It's dreadful, very sweet - it makes you sick more than anything. I wasn't interested in wine and never really liked liquor - it was numbing, too strong. I went to France and would have been happy to drink Coca-Cola, but [Pat] said that it was very expensive in France and that vin de table was much less expensive. We started having a carafe of inexpensive table wine [with meals] and I became fascinated with this beverage that was light, that seemed different every time we had it, that seemed to enhance food, and [gave] a sense of euphoria, of happiness. It was a wonderful, mellow euphoria that seemed to encourage conversation.' Parker stayed in France for six weeks and upon his return, started a wine-tasting group at his university. 'We were students and didn't have much money, but we were living outside Washington, DC, which was probably the best place in the country to buy wine because they could import directly - they didn't have duty. So for US$25, we could go out and buy eight or 10 bottles and have a blind tasting, and we'd sit around and talk about it. Then we'd pull out the existing textbooks to see what they had to say. 'Before I started The Wine Advocate, I would go to all these free tastings, and the old authorities of the time would be there. I'd listen and think that I'm actually tasting more wine in my spare time than they are. My tasting group was frustrated that we couldn't find any consumer information. We'd heard that Lafite Rothschild made great wine. The first time my group had enough money to buy a bottle of Lafite, we splurged. I think it was the 1957 or 1958 vintage and it was probably about US$35 or US$36. We opened it and sat around and nobody said anything. Finally I said, 'I don't think this wine is that good' and somebody else said, 'Yeah, what's all the excitement about?' So we felt there had to be somebody out there who would say, 'I'm going to taste these wines and say if they're good or not good', and that's how the idea germinated.' Parker was determined to write for the consumer. 'When I was in law school, I was highly influenced by the great consumer advocate of the time, Ralph Nader. He looked at some of the abuses in corporate America and wanted more transparency and accountability. I was also influenced by [Richard] Nixon and the Watergate scandal. All the people doing [criminal] things, and trying to hide information were lawyers. 'I had a course in law school about conflicts of interest and morality in law, and my professor was outraged about how lawyers were being put down as money-grubbing, lying enablers, and said that as students, we'd better do something to be more righteous and moral or the whole profession would be considered a bunch of out-of-control rogues. That had a major impact; that's why I chose not to have advertising, and pay my own way and avoid conflicts of interest as much as possible.' Parker denies the widely circulated report that he can remember every wine he's ever sampled. 'I don't think that quote was ever accurate, but I've had to live with it. I have a very good wine memory - there's no question about that. I think that what I said is that virtually every great wine I've ever had, I've never forgotten - it's a huge difference. I can't remember every wine I've ever tasted, and can't come even close to that. Where my memory is best is for great wines that I've had, and for bad wines that should have been good.' Although he's been in the business for more than 30 years, and has recently given up reviewing Californian wines, Parker is not yet ready to retire. He says: 'I have no intention of retiring as long as I have good health and still have the fire and passion. But as I got older, I started having back and knee problems, and I'm slowing down; I just can't keep at this same pace, it's too intense. 'I'm 64, and want to prepare for some sort of legacy, so [am] delegating more and getting younger people involved who are talented and have similar values and passion, and can hopefully keep the legacy going and sustain The Wine Advocate.' The wine critic has visited the mainland every year since 1998 (although this is only his second visit to Hong Kong), and is a fan of matching wine with Chinese cuisines. 'For me, Cantonese cuisine, for the most part, is easy to match with wines from all over the world. I started experimenting with wines [to pair] with dim sum. It's primarily vegetables and seafood, but we were finding the best wines were not white wines, but red ones - nebbiolos, like Barbarescos and Barolos, and southern Rhone wines that had no new oak - that was one of the key elements. If new oak entered into the mix it didn't work. 'With [barbecued] meats - chicken, pork and goose - the classic Bordeaux and Burgundies, and Italian Barolos and Barbarescos, and great Chianti will work with that, and even some Californian cabernets. When you get into the more delicate dishes, such as steamed fish, I think you need lighter reds - Beaujolais and Dolcetto, and the basic Cotes du Rhone work quite well. 'The way I would approach it, if all the food is served at once, is to select a white wine and a red wine. [I don't believe in] those European rules where once you've had red wine you can't go back to white or champagne; if you need to, take a sip of water or eat some rice, and that cleanses the palate. It's when you start getting into the spicier cuisines that you have some issues with [pairing] - certain wines won't work. With hot and spicy Sichuan cuisine, try good German rieslings, New Zealand sauvignon blancs and some sauvignon blancs from France, gewurztraminer works very well, and wines from northeast Italy - the Veneto and Friuli areas.' Parker believes that mainland drinkers will soon break out from their Bordeaux-drinking habit. 'What we're seeing in China is the same thing you see in any developed country, and I saw the same thing in the US. When people begin to develop a taste for wine, the focus is on the most prestigious and the ones that are easiest to find, and Bordeaux fits. It's a large area, has a great history and makes a lot of wine. The US started the same way, and through education they began to develop a taste in other areas. 'Lafite is a trend, a fashion - it's no different from being in love with Gucci or the other fashion houses, but that's understandable. If you can afford it, Lafite is a great wine, but there are others that are just as good and not nearly as expensive. That's where a wine critic can be useful in saying, 'Look, why don't you try these; you might not agree but try.'' Parker has been tasting Chinese wines on his annual visits to the mainland, and reckons: 'There's potential, but it's not there yet. 'In a country this vast, there has to be terroir and microclimates where great wine can be produced - I'm convinced of that. It's just a question of finding [those areas] and investing in them,' he says. 'I have a vineyard [Beaux Freres] with my wife's brother in Oregon, making pinot noirs. I've had it for more than 20 years but I don't write about it. Oregon is like Burgundy - the climate is a challenge. If you can make good wine in Oregon, you can make good wine in China.'