Bias from Wine Critics?

In light of the questions I posed to Mark Squires that went unanswered on the now deleted Slate.com Aussie Thread, Tyler Colman, Dr. Vino, went straight to the source, Bob Parker, about alleged bias of his “contract” critics…

http://www.drvino.com/2009/04/16/changes-at-the-wine-advocate-correspondence-with-parker-and-miller/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Interesting that Miller would not answer any of Tyler’s questions. Funny, I get the same responses from him on the boards when I ask a question.

It was bound to happen one way or another.

What was?

Wow, what an article. It really questions the integrity of both Miller and Squires (I think we all knew Squires has no integrity). I shutter to think what will happen to that board when Parker retires, clearly there is no hier apparent.

With the same mind that I use to analyze (instead of just accepting) political news on a daily basis, I have to ask why Dr. Vino has an axe to grind with TWA?? Obviously he did everyone a service with yesterday’s post, but today’s follow-up just makes it look like he’s on some kind of campaign…

His field his ball blah blah blah.
Summa cum laude et all.

I really don’t have any issue with a reviewer/critic attending dinners, hanging out with importers or winery owners, or even getting paid trips to visit wine regions. Wine critics can and should be wine lovers. Taking all the joy out of the job isn’t good for the wine industry or the consumer. I want someone who’s excited about wine doing the reviews. And it’s not economically feasible for wine publications to search the world over for new wines and regions. If some winery/region is willing to pay to get a reviewer there, then why not? They still have to demonstrate that they make world class wine. And they’re taking the risk that the reviewer might hate what they’re doing. Providing excessive vacation opportunities (and/or hookers [rolleyes.gif] ) probably goes over the line. But paying for airfare and hotels seems reasonable to me.

The real issue I have is how and when the wines are officially reviewed.

As far as WA goes… I’m not sure how you remove bias when some wines are tasted blind in large groups, some are tasted at the winery with the winemaker providing commentary, and some are tasted over dinner. Scoring/reviewing wines like that seems very prone to bias. I’m not saying the critic can’t be fair, but I’m not sure they don’t end up being more fair to some.

Personally, I think Wine Spectator does the best job along these lines. Their editors will report on dinners and unofficial tastings without giving actual reviews. Scores and reviews only come out of controlled blind tastings - where every winery gets the same access and treatment. Basically a level playing field. It does have it’s limitations since some wines really need to be tasted within “context” to create the most meaningful review (Brewer-Clifton Pinots for example since they can taste a bit “green” early on, but if you know their track record you could account for how their Pinots transform over a few years).

No matter what, there will always be bias. I’d just like publicatons to come clean on how reviews are done.

Brian.

I disagree with you. The publication should be picking up the tab for everything. Otherwise the playing field is not level. What if the largest importers always fly you first class everywhere and the smaller ones don’t (because they may lack the resources). Could that skew the playing field?

I agree with you that the Wine Spectator’s current methodology is far superior to that of the WA. Too much monkeying around IMO.

SP

Brian, excellent points.

I guess my biggest complaint with Dr. Big Jay Miller is that there has been that albatros around his neck about reviewing wines while still ITB. Lots of folks posted that he was still schlepping that juice when he became officially on the payroll of TWA.

And I won’t even start my rant on how much Leve shills for the BDX trade…even though he isn’t a “contract” reviewer.

Brian,
I agree with the fact that the joy shouldn’t be taken out of wine to be a reviewer, but I disagree that hotels and airfaire’s are OK.

For all reviewers, it’s fine with me if they are friends with winemakers, importers, etc. But don’t review the wine when you are with your friends. Review them in a controlled seting (like WS) so there is no bias.

Maybe I’m in the minority, but I believe that if someone is flown out and put up, there will probably be a bias (however small) towards giving a positive review. Maybe that bias is giving the wine a so called 90 instead of an 89. Something as small as that can help a wine sell and if someone is being taken care of, wouldn’t they be so inclined to maybe help?

Again, I’m not questioning the integrity of any one person, it could be sub-concious, but I feel the bias may be there.

I agree. And reviewing wines blind removes that issue. No wine should be reviewed at the winery or during ANY trip to a wine region.

Bingo.

I see your point. And just to be clear, Wine Spectator does have a policy of having their editors pay their own way (for everything).

But I only think travel stuff would skew the playing field if the wines were reviewed during the trip - or afterward in non-blind tastings. I guess it’s how the whole process is done that matters. If you don’t taste blind, then I’m not sure how you ever remove bias - even if you’ve never accepted any “freebies”. Heck, just liking a winemaker would introduce bias.

in this era, with all the information @ everyone’s fingertips, i could no more imagine picking a wine based upon a professional critic’s review than i would choose which movie to attend in a theater based upon a film critic’s critique.

But Glenn, that review has the direct effect of impacting the price you will pay for said juice. If RMP gives a wine a string of 89 and 90 point reviews that you have enjoyed for ten years @ $20 a bottle…all of a sudden a 95 point or abouve makes it $100 on the open market.

Heh, Yoni, if you are in the minority, the majority are a bunch of idiots. There have been countless studies paid for by Big Pharma for the purpose of reseraching what works in direct physician advertising. They found that everything, from pens, to sticky notes, to trips, plane tickets, hand soaps, stress balls, sports events, dinners, bar tabs, good looking reps and everything in between is effective to increase the prescriptions of any given drug. Hence most of those are banned in the medical field [beatoff.gif] and the rest are on the way out. [suicide.gif] Any percieved gift (a plane ticket, hotel tab, dinner tab) is effective in creating bias. The importers know it, RP knows it, and we should all know it. Anyone who says “well not me, Im impartial despite the (insert gift or friendship)” is completely and utterly full of shit. As an aside, Ive never seen Jay respond without being defensive to any critizism…he has lost my respect.

Yeah right.

Yeah, Bill’s still in the industry - HELLOOOOO!!!

Whether there’s bias on the part of the reviewer or not, there will always be the appearance of bias in the mind of the consumer, which then has an adverse effect on how they perceive the critic and their work. Which then, of course, puts into question their brand and power and whole raison d’etre.

So any semblance of bias, whether real or perceived, must be removed from the equation.

Most Bill MOST! [gheyfight.gif]
Ive been talking to my reps about this though…the pharma guidelines noose is being tightened to squeeze reps out. Pharma figured out that they can do direct advertising by sending “surveys” and paying us to read them online. A lot cheaper. The economic downturn has given them a great excuse to push reps out…In my area at least one rep from each company has been laid off. It sucks, but it was happening with or without the government fucking up the economy.