It must be hard to do

It must be hard to be a wine critic and have to objectively judge wines and give poor grades to some of the wineries that you know and have known for years.


Some would say that this is why professional wine reviews should always be blind. Others would say professional critic reviews are stupid, and you just hit upon one reason why.

I am just saying that if I were a professional wine critic and got to travel around and visit these people that make the wines, it would have to enter my mind as I taste their next product that if I said the wine was bad that it would devastate the family of that vineyard that I have come to know and respect.

Seems like it would be hard.

It is impossible, despite the best of intentions, and all protestations to the contrary from numerous critics. The only way around it is to taste blind as much as possible, and avoid getting at all close to any of the producers you are reviewing.

I think you greatly over-estimate the psychological impact of a bad review, Robert.
If the producer in question thought the wine was of poor quality, then the response to a bad review would likely be “Well, we saw that one coming”.
If the producer thought the wine was of better quality than the score, the response would probably be along the lines of a shrug and “style preferences” or “the reviewer must have had a bad day” or a simple “wtf?”.
Sales might suffer short term, but that’s a ‘live by the sword, die by the sword’ arrangement. If your sales path is based on getting high scores then you need to learn how to move the wines that periodically get dissed. Lots of very successful wine companies operate and sell independent of wine scores.

I agree with Alan. In the ideal world, critical tasting would be blind, plus critics would generally avoid forming a lot of personal relationships with winemakers and distributors, and instead keep a formal and professional distance.

It’s only human nature to be influenced by the label, the price, the winemaking team, the vineyards, and personal relationships.

I know that most wineries don’t depend on scores for the success of their business, but there is little doubt that they often have an impact on sales and prices, and that winemakers (even ones who are highly negative about the major critics) dislike, often pretty intensely, getting poor reviews from the major critics.

Nobody enjoys getting a bad review.
But I can’t think of a single instance where a winemaker I know has been “devastated” by a review.

Faiveley thought that Parker was worth suing over it…

My chief reason for not pursuing a career as such.

Faiveley didn’t sue Parker over a bad review, Bill.
It was over the suggestion that the wines Faiveley was pouring in the winery cellar during Parker’s visits were noticeably different from those being offered for sale in America.

Not that much different from being a retailer in Northern California. I typically taste 60 to 70 wines a week for my wine shop. Most of the time it’s with a distributor sales rep or a broker, so it’s fairly easy to be honest about the quality of the wine. But the shop is close enough to wine country that we’ll usually get at least 5 winery owners and/or winemakers pouring for us every week. When we taste a less-than-wonderful wine we walk a tightrope: should we be honest about the wine’s failings or should we just smile and make up a reason why it won’t work for us. Most people say that they want to hear the truth, but nobody wants to be told that their daughter is ugly.

Do any of them actually do that? Current policy everywhere seems to be no reviews under 85 points.

It’s equally difficult (probably more so) for consumers to be objective about wines from favorite producers, especially local producers or ones where they have some connection (mailing list, etc.).


Al, that’s exactly why I think it’s nearly impossible for a professional critic to maintain independence and neutrality, at least over any length of time.

Terry Thiese is a good example of how to deliver objective, non-hyperbolic assessments of wines from producers he has known quite a while.

Putting aside the question of whether a wine quality assessment can ever be objectively rendered, I find Thiese at his most readworthy when he’s indulging in hyperbole.
Few wine writers do it better…

Bruce, I wrote that with my most sarcastic dead-pan. :slight_smile: I do enjoy a bit of Thiese hyperbole every now and then myself. How can that kind of passion not be infectious?

He’s not hyperbolic, when?

Keith makes a good point about the “if you can’t say anything nice” cut-off rule at 85 points. Ofcourse an 85 - 87 is a “slam” in today’s points world.

With respect to it being hard to objectively judge wines and give poor grades to familiar wineries, it’s a ubiquitous problem. Pretty much every consumer is a critic to some extent. If you happen to be familiar with a particular winery/producer and find yourself standing infront of them at a tasting event…hating the wine they just poured…you’ll know what I mean. Even if your impressions are initially negative, familiarity (and especially liking them) will contribute to mollifying your reactions.


This is a valid question. As a critic, hopefully I can add some perspective. First of all, I don’t taste blind for a couple reasons: foremost is that during the time that I developed my understanding of what represented differences in quality was when I was tasting thousands of wines annually as a retail buyer and every appointment had a different lineup of wines and nothing was ever bagged. Secondly, I want to experience wine as closely as possible to what my subscribers will.

When I open a sample bottle and pour in the glass I expect the wine to be good. Naturally some are better than others and are reviewed and scored accordingly (I will score wines all the way to 80) and as consistently as possible. If a winery feels that an 85 from me indicates that I didn’t ‘get’ the wine, hopefully they have a 92 from another critic to refute that. Over the years,I came to know a lot of winemakers but make it a point that I don’t socialize with them. Further, I find the tendency that the more familiar I am with a producer the more I expect out of their wine. It is essentially their track record I calibrate against. Of wineries that are unhappy? I have only gotten a couple ‘wtf’ replies in the past since I have been writing. Most producers roll with it.

I’d think that winery’s own well-considered opinion would be refutation enough…