Over the last 15 years or so he's moved markets and palates with his assessments of Burgundy, South Africa, Sauternes, Tokaji, Port, Madeira and Bordeaux. Yet Neal's a bit scruffy. He could conceivably have emerged from a Nick Hornby novel about confused dads working in a retro vinyl shop in the noughties. Lacoste sweater, trainers, jeans. He's achieved global fame and authority as a wine critic. But he walks and talks like a boy-done-good from Southend. Which he is. You almost want to ask him to quote for plastering your front room. (Indeed, when Neal was photographed for an article in The Sun about his rise to fame, he changed in such a rush he confessed afterwards he had spatters of Dulux up his arm from some recent decorating.)
It's no great revelation to say that there's a difference between American and European preferences in wine. And Bordeaux is at the pointy end of it. What's "good" in Bordeaux has been the topic of fierce rivalries and debate. Most famously in "the Chateau Pavie incident". I'd tell the story. But the protagonists themselves tell it better in this Radio 4 programme. In the European corner is Jancis Robinson MW (also known for her starring role in The Wine Show... *coughs*) and in the American corner is Robert Parker. Neal's now-former-boss.
For some Robert Parker is a bête-noire. And by extension Neal. Parker's love of big, ripe, fruity, forward, lush wines and influence over Americans, changed the wine world. Not always popular in Europe. Neal's own palate is nuanced. But even so, Neal told how he was booed by an audience at the famed Meursault Paulée dinner in Burgundy when they heard who he worked for. The antagonism comes from a sense that they've changed palates. Away from "better", classical European styles. To "lesser", brash American ones.
Geoffrey Miller would see it differently. If his European vs American heuristic is right, Robert Parker and Neal and Jancis are three of the great, hidden psychologists of our age. Their task wasn't to convince their audiences. But tell them what they wanted to hear. Status - and hence sexual success - for Americans, comes from being big. Big car, big wines, big steaks. I'll stop there. Jancis too, is blessed with a palate and insight into what Europeans know will "probably" lead to social acknowledgement. And subsequent nookie. Attention to detail. Fine distinctions. Grace and restraint.