What do you look for in a critic/reviewer ?

I recently made some decisions about what to keep subscribing to or not, but I was close to canceling all of my subscriptions. The issue is essentially down to what I’m looking for in a critic. When it comes to covering France, Germany, and Italy it seems like there are several reviewers who really know what they are doing. They know the region, its history, understand vintage differences, and even the terroir aspects of the wines they cover.
However, when it comes to CA I’ve always been very disappointed with that type of coverage. I often feel like each year it’s as if they start over without any sense of what they tasted last year and certainly without any respect for vineyards (think Pagani or Monte Rosso) and how producers try to express the characteristics of that place.
So, yes, TWA bit the dust, because what could AG honestly have to tell me about wines he only started drinking a year or two ago?
I’m also on the fence with IWC. The coverage there is actually much broader and better than TWA, but I still feel that they are just going through the motions because you can’t have a major publication that doesn’t cover CA.
I’ve looked for other publications, but most of them don’t seem to cover all the wineries I like, and while they might have nice TNs they are still without that sense of history and understanding that I’m seeking.
Am I expecting too much from these guys?

A deep understanding of what the traditional style standards are for a given zone so he can tell it a wine is just “a great red wine” (that could be made anywhere and really tastes like it’s from California) or a “great Barolo or Rioja Gran Riserva”.

If you were “close to canceling all your subscriptions” maybe you should.

The quote above indicates that you may be a better candidate for study of the areas you like and more individual tasting for yourself.
There are a lot of books on each individual area so, as a for instance, if Chablis rings your bell, you could read “The Wines of Chablis” by Biss & Smith to get the descriptions of region, history, vintages, terroir and producers you desire without the total emphasis on current releases and comparative tasting. Most of the current published wine critics do not have the time to offer all that info. in their monthly rags.

I gave up all publications by reviewers about 15 years ago but I also increased my reading on the different areas so that I would have more of an idea of what is and has been going on in each.
Mine is the only palate I trust completely and although I do get ideas from folks on the wine boards, buying on someone else’s recommendation isn’t something I do a lot of. And if I do, its a bottle at a time.
Reviewers are useful for people who do not want to study deeply or haven’t the time or experience. But for those folks who have a good deal of experience and take the time to study the areas (maybe even visit them), the world of wine is much richer and fuller.
Learning about wine is a life’s work.
To think that it can be done by reading a monthly review is a pretty narrow view of that work.
Best, Jim

** Consistency

*Thorough vintage analysis — especially how sub-regions and/or appellations within a region performed and how particular varieties performed.
*Comparative analysis — both re: vintages and individual bottlings
*The willingness to say a wine is no good when it’s no good.

You gotta lotta time on your hands?

Because an entrepreneur might look at that great big gaping hole - where “serious” California coverage ought to be - as a heckuva business opportunity.

PS: Maybe they could make a sequel to “Sideways”, where Miles realizes that his future as a writer is not in semi-autobiographical novels, but instead is in serious coverage of the California wine scene.

PPS: I officially patent & copyright & trademark that idea. Heck, both of those ideas. You can send royalty checks to me via PM.

I will look for the day critics are thoroughly ignored by an astute and adventurous American wine audience. On that day, the US will have a bona fide wine culture–drinking whatever the hell they want to drink regardless of what people tell them.

A few interesting folks’ thoughts on critics:

“A critic is a one-legged man trying to teach the world to run.” -GB Shaw

“After all, one knows one’s weak points so well, that it’s rather bewildering to have the critics overlook them and invent others.”
Edith Wharton

“American critics are like American universities. They both have dull and half-dead faculties.”
Edward Albee

“Artists teach critics what to think. Critics repeat what the artists teach them.”
Sol LeWitt

“Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamp-post what it feels about dogs.”
Christopher Hampton

“Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it themselves.”
Brendan Behan

“Critics! Those cut-throat bandits in the paths of fame.”
Robert Burns

“For some reason most critics have a hard time fixing their minds directly under their noses, and before they see the object that is there they use a telescope upon the horizon to see where it came from.”
Allen Tate

“Having the critics praise you is like having the hangman say you’ve got a pretty neck.”
Eli Wallach

“I say to consumers: instead of relying totally on critics, drink what you like and like what you drink.”
Robert Mondavi

“If you have no critics you’ll likely have no success.”
Malcolm X

“Nature, when she invented, manufactured, and patented her authors, contrived to make critics out of the chips that were left.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes

“Pay no attention to what the critics say; no statue has ever been put up to a critic.”
Jean Sibelius

“The artist doesn’t have time to listen to the critics. The ones who want to be writers read the reviews, the ones who want to write don’t have the time to read reviews.”
William Faulkner

Hi Peter,
I’ve cancelled all of my subscriptions and am happy about it. Catalog type TNs, 100s of one or two line comments, a quick snapshot usually based on barrel tastings with a number attached really don’t reflect how I drink wine or how I want to appreciate it. I think it biases me more than helps me.

What I do love about newsletters is the info and news updates. That’s why my favorite is Gilman, because he writes a big introductory piece to each section, whether it’s the history of a domaine, or a vintage summary, or whatever. And he follows regions I like (Burgundy, Germany, Loire, Champagne, etc.). That’s something I can really learn from, not the barrel tasting TNs so much.

But even though I haven’t shared a glass with you in a number of years, you know what you like, you know what you’re doing. You’ll be fine without any subscriptions.


I look for the critic who hands out the highest scores on average. My favourites include James Halladay and Jay Miller, so I feel like a boss while I drink my 96-100 point Australian Shiraz.


What do you look for in a critic/reviewer ?

Hotness. Great abs, tight butt, firm upper arms, nice top, no plastic, the usual. Plus great personality, sense of humor, freak quotient, everything that I’m always looking for. flirtysmile

Thanks all. Great responses.
Certainly I don’t really feel that I’m missing anything now that I dropped TWA, even though I’ve followed it since the first ed of Parker’s “Bordeaux” from 1985. I’ll probably feel the same about IWC.

palate alignment.

Palette alignment?
Best, Jim

Same colours, material, or size?

Best, Jim

The only thing important to me.

I want to know that what he or she gets out of the wine is what I will get out of the wine. Otherwise, the recommendations and notes are worthless. Vintage analysis, understanding of historical blah blah blah. That’s why I buy books and read wine writers. I want something different from a critic. I want to know that my palate will consistently align with the critic’s. What’s the value of a detailed vintage analysis if you don’t agree with what the critic is saying about the wine in the glass?

The value lies in your ability to calibrate what the critic is saying with what you would say about the same. Of course, this is easiest to do when you and the critic think similarly. But, it’s also pretty easy to do even when you and the critic disagree as long as your disagreements are consistent in nature.

For example, James Laube has certain styles of Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon that he typically does not like very much — he consistently uses certain descriptors in his TN’s of these wines, and typically scores them in the 83 - 91 range (almost never higher than that, and he’s usually in the 87-89 band with these wines) — and I’ve come to learn that these are the types of Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon that I happen to love. Laube and I don’t agree, but he’s consistent and is therefore helpful to me. Similarly, I know if Jorge or Whetstone call an ale “well-balanced” that it’s probably a malt monster, and I should stay away; “too hoppy” from one of them means I will probably like it.

Same goes for vintage analysis. Folks place different relative values on different characteristics — all you have to do is figure out, approximately, what these relative values are for the critic and calibrate to your own set of relative values. We all go through this process (consciously or subconsciously) when determining if a critic’s palate aligns with our own.

I do suppose consistency can allow for calibration. I’ll give you that. But I think it’s much harder to rely on a consistent negative than a consistent positive, or at least it has been from my experience, although to each his own.

He said that at a Cello master class @UMD which I was attending with my then 11/yo son. He (my now 14/yo son) still talks about it!


The only critic I follow these days is John Gilman. He drinks and reviews what I like and although I’m a tougher grader (usually by 2 points) his descriptors are in synch with my perceptions. He is also a really nice guy who happens to be very generous with his knowledge. I also like that he participates in discussions here. He’s Geek passionate (like
me) and I dig him! :slight_smile: