The world without wine critics. ALL of them.

You’re spending $100 a year on a magazine subscription? [shock.gif]

Aren’t wine bloggers really just the same things as wine critics - except they don’t make a living at it?

OK, then it’s more like $25-50. Or if you include the WA, $75. Not that the price really makes a big difference to your point (I was mostly kidding around, you could be spending that much on a foreign subscription I suppose), although I think you’re probably dealing with the wrong audience here. The vast majority of subscribers to these magazines aren’t going to be hanging out on online message boards. Spectator’s got over 100k and then you go all the way down to the 50k range for your W&S, WA. Not to go too far OT, but the demise of the WA is greatly exaggerated when you consider the percentage of their subscribers who have any clue as to most of the stuff that goes on online.

Even if it could work, drive all the review pubs out of business, someone/something will take their place. CT, something no one has thought of, Alder Yarrow, something. Unless the only thing that everyone in the world is relying on is their own palate, something will take the place of today’s critics. The reason is pretty simple, most people have no interest in being as immersed in wine as the Beserkers or the Ebobers, etc. They want someone to tell them what is good and what isn’t, that’s why the field is expanding along with interest in wine as you see more and more specialized critics competing with the uber-folks like Parker. That’s why points and shelf talkers work so well, especially for the people who already don’t subscribe to any wine magazines and aren’t going to be plopping down much more than $50 on any wine, anytime.

Is it “consumer-friendly”? The answer totally depends on what kind of consumer you are. I agree that it really isn’t consumer friendly for someone like you who knows what they are doing. I think a lot of pros subscriber to some of these mags mostly to keep tabs on what their customers might be reading, so yeah, probably not getting a lot out of it except some wines using their scores to boost their pricing. But for most consumers out there? I’d guess they’d feel pretty lost without them.

EDIT–Why do I have “Find this wine on” at the bottom of this post?

A Burgundy drinker needing to sort through which of 10,000 different bottlings in a difficult vintage is worth buying absolutely needs a critic’s advice, or he is a moron who is better off using his cash as firestarter.

My point is that many of them can’t afford to pay more than $50 for a bottle, so they aren’t buying those overpriced wines anyway. They’re getting to have their cake and eat it too.

That’s a distinction without a difference. There’s nothing to say that a bloggers palate is “better” or “more consistent” than a critics. How about vloggers? Gary V.? If your point is that someone with a following is less capable than someone without a following, I’d say that is 100% wrong. There’s a reason people gain followings.

I agree with both of these points.

I disagree with the argument that this type of consumer (the majority) would be better off without escalating prices due to high scores. What I think it comes down to is that those people would simply not be branching out and trying all of these unfamiliar wines if there weren’t someone out there telling them what to buy. As much as I don’t like many of the effects of professional wine critics, I do think they’ve done a lot to expand the palate of the general consumer.

This is just a side note, as I understand your point. I will, however, point out that I think it’s unfair to generalize about wine magazines. I am not just saying this because Phil is posting here, and I have no affiliation with these publications besides being a loyal reader, but I subscribe to 2 wine magazines that I think are excellent: World of Fine Wine and Sommelier Journal.

I think it’s fair for me to point out that I personally don’t like the 100 point scale or really the move toward scores at the end of all reviews (which is really what we’re talking about, I understood that was the wine magazines you meant Serge). So to some degree I totally agree that many people would be better off without points. Still have critics giving their reviews, just no points. I’m just not sure it works practically, unfortunately.


I think there is actually an upside to wine critics that you are completely ignoring, however. Small producers who receive a favorable score can ride that score to solidify their existence. Take Siduri for example (I have no idea what you think about their wine, nor is that the point–there must be hundreds of wineries with similar stories). They drop a bottle off at RP’s hotel room. He gives them a 90 something score and their sales take off. This enables a small producer to survive, even thrive. Without the possibility of such exposure and with likely limited $$$ for marketing, these wineries would need to rely on word of mouth. How many would survive?

Added to that, it sounds like Serge, you seek out those wineries that are not scored. I am sure that others do the same–they do it to spite the dominant culture. Therefore these wineries also get an audience by ‘bucking the trend.’ Makes me think of coffee shops. How many local coffee shops would exist without Starbucks? They exist because of Starbucks–people want something else.

you’re conflating two things - wine critics and dominant wine critics. The latter can move markets and cause price inflation via very high scores, at least in the US. Parker and WS both do this. However, no other critic does that I’m aware of. So I disagree with the premise as stated - that we’d be better off without any wine critics at all. I think there’s value in having one place to look for a broad range of reviews and also in more focused critics (Meadows on Burg being the example that leaps to mind right now). However, i do think that dominant critics like Parker have a downside in that they inflate prices for wines singlehandedly because of their influence. I don’t drink the wines that TWA and WS score highly, though, so I don’t care. [stirthepothal.gif]

What I do like seeing are sites like this" onclick=";return false; which can arise and report on a less served area (Washington wines in that case) without having to take on a lot of capital costs. And, no, I’m not affiliated at all - it’s a link in a member’s sig (Sean Sullivan’s) and I think the site’s nicely done and does a good job. In the past, putting that content out as a newsletter might have been cost-prohibitive. But now? it’s cheap or free in capital terms.

the benefit to a professional (generally) imo is that they taste so much wine to have the ability to better place their opinion in proper context.

Surely then you taste everything before you buy. “Buy the producer” only works to a point, there are a number of bottlings that are worth buying only in some vintages, some that are good in every vintage. But then sometimes a crap producer will get religion and become good, and vice-versa. Sometimes Francois the fieldhand loses his marbles and pisses in the vat. Knowing about all this before having to wait around for a tasting, and in some cases making a tasting unnecessary (Burg tastings are not cheap), and knowing this early allowing one to get in on low en primeur pricing, is just common sense.

Serge, how do you do it? I don’t think I know a single large-scale Burgundy collector with good taste and a cool cellar on the verge of dropping dead, but you seem to know many. [worship.gif]

[quote=“Rick Gregory”] However, i do think that dominant critics like Parker have a downside in that they inflate prices for wines singlehandedly because of their influence. [quote]

Actually Rick, dominant critics don’t inflate prices. By reviewing and rating wines, you could say that they create conditions that allow producers, importers, distributors, retailers, and restaurants to inflate prices.

In my opinion, these forces would continue to find a way to inflate prices…even if there were no critics. To assume otherwise seems naive towards the basic tenents of capitalism.

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines


Wine prices aren’t chemical reactions and nature didn’t intend them to be any way. And, if you want to dip toes into economic theory, the Efficient Market Hypothesis seems as if it has been thoroughly discredited (btw, I can’t do much more than dip toes in economic theory…if you wanna take a bath you’ll be doing so without me).

My best guess is that, if all of the wine critics were removed from the earth immediately people would a) find new wine critics, b) price differentials would continue to exist (based on where prices fall currently). New vineyards and new wineries would have a much more difficult time entering the market - thus allowing the current price leaders to solidify their hold on the market.

Finally, might I submit that you are not entirely correct that your cellar isn’t built based on wine publications? The Burgundy section, at the very least, is built in large part on the book by Jules Lavalle who classified Burgundian vineyards back in the mid-1800s. And the prices you pay are based on that publication.

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

Many of them are…first growths from Bordeaux (along with many of the other classifications) remain the same (with one addition) as do price levels.

If you are refering to the emergence of the Garagistas and the high prices that their wines command - certainly critics have played a major role in that. Scarcity has also played a major role (due to the distance from Paris at the time of the revolution, the breakup of Church properties, and French inheritance laws - Bordeaux has many more large estates than Burgundy), the emergence of winemaking consultants, and many other factors.

Finally, as far as not arguing guesses as to what would happen without critics - I thought that was what the entire thread was about - speculation on this subject. Surely, you aren’t proposing a mass execution? [wink.gif]

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

So no march to the guillotine? Damn.

It seems to me that many of the Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards in Burgundy were established in the mid-1800s and wines from those vineyard were priced accordingly. Over time the vast majority of those vineyards have retained their position and their position in the pricing heirarchy. Burgundy seems to have had less shifting in that regard than Bordeaux. So I actually think the mid 1800s classification of vineyards, and its codification in the 1930s, has had more influence…and fixed prices more than current day reviewer.

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

Bordeaux Classification was in 1855, Graves (except Haut Brion) was classified in 1859. Not that it matters much to the current discussion.