The Grapevine

Wine Criticism – Models Ripe For Change

March 11th, 2013

An article on, The San Francisco Chronicle’s website, discusses changes in the high houses of wine reviews, with a key lieutenant of Robert Parker’s leaving to start his own firm.

While this is mostly background noise to most of us, there’s a shift – or a potential shift – in how wine reviews work. As the article says, wine reviews used to be “a straightforward hunt for the delicious.” Now, a new audience of younger consumers may be just as interested in questions of ethics and process.  [level-members]Are their farming practices sustainable or biodynamic? What kinds of intervention is occurring in the winemaking process?

For a generation of consumers that take themselves and their food seriously – arguably too seriously – it’s not hard to imagine an expansion of the same standards already being applied to the provenance of what’s on their plates. (Which makes me wonder about the whole locavore/eat locally thing: wine is produced in all 50 states these days, but many of those local wineries are still, ahem, finding their way …)

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the wine press. Will venerable institutions like Wine Spectator do away with the 100-point system? Or maybe add another component that takes into account farming and winemaking practices? The Spectator and the Advocate have readerships that skew older and more affluent, two groups that tend to be set in their ways. So perhaps they don’t bend to the trends – at least not at first. This could open the door to a new approach and win Antonio Galloni an ardent following.

As small retailers, we’d be better off without the 100-point scale. The focus on some mythical, quantitative distillation of a wine’s worth is tantalizing in its simplicity, but eliminates a lot of the space we want to work in to introduce our customers to wines that work well with what they’re eating, that match the winemaking styles they like, that simply work for them, numbers be damned.

How do you see wine the wine ratings business come to life in your shop? How frequently do you have customers ask for a wine because they saw it in a particular publication? (And was it a wine-specific magazine/website or a broader food & dining publication?  [/level-members]