Monday, July 27, 2009

Being critical

The wine critic. So important, but whose role I feel is harmful to people who are just beginning to learn about wine. Harmful? A bit melo-dramatic, but nevertheless, I feel like critics are useless to all but 1% of the population.

We have to define some parameters. There are many so called wine critics in the world, but there are only 3 publications that matter: The Man (Robert Parker), The Establishment (Wine Spectator), and the old British standby, Decanter. I'm leaving out many writers that I admire, such as Jancis Robinson and Eric Asimov, but these 3 wine personalities are tops in influence and reach.

Parker, who writes the Wine Advocate, is the most influential man in the wine world. Period. The man still moves markets, as we've witnessed when he released his scores for 2008 Bordeaux. The Wine Spectator speaks to the masses, and when your masses encompass the entire demographic spectrum of the United States, what you put in your pages packs a mighty punch. And of course, Decanter. Simply a well-written, thoughtful publication that caters to tasteful palates (i.e. Europeans).

Ok, so why are critics harmful? Because we don't use the information they provide properly, and as a result, critics aren't as inclined to produce their best work. What do critics provide? Tasting notes and scores. Only, no one pays attention to notes - it's just the score that draws attention. Seeing a score of 95 against an 81 speaks much more to the average consumer, no doubt products of a North American education. And that is a mistake.

We need to pay attention to notes. Notes are what is objective, relative to scores. Notes reflect more or less the objective taste sensations the writer experiences, while scores reflect a personal preference. Why would you score a wine you enjoy drinking lower than one you do not, regardless of how you analyze each flavour profile?

Scores are useless. They are useless because they are merely a personal scale, used by the taster to rank wines according to preference. And you don't need me, or anyone else, to tell you that taste is personal. No two palates are alike, and even if Parker gives a wine a 98, it is no guarantee that you'll enjoy it. It's a simple concept - why is this so hard to comprehend?

The age of the critic is ending. It must end. With the coming democratization of wine, and its acceptance by all and any, the critics' power must wane. Why would I buy wines according to what the critics recommend, instead of what I personally enjoy drinking?

Now, for the person just starting to experience wine, there has to be someone to turn to, for guidance. I understand, and wish I had such a figure to turn to when I began. The key is not to turn to a critic - the key is the retailer. Respectable retailers should be knowledgable enough about their wines to make informed recommendations to their customers, according to each person's tastes. This is why personalities such as Gary Vaynerchuk are so valuable. The passionate retailer can introduce the consumer to an endless variety of wines, whilst also encouraging them to develop their palate and taste preferences. You can't get it from flipping the pages of Wine Spectator.

Maybe I'm biased. Well, of course I am - why else would I write this. I never regard what the critics say. They don't provide valuable advice - everyone experiences tastes differently. What Parker calls pain grille, I call obnoxiously toasty new oak. The insight I do enjoy, such as aging window, or comparison to past vintages, is sadly lacking. But then again, isn't it all about the score?

Sadly, the LCBO doesn't provide much in terms of recommendations. The consultants in the stores...........maybe I shouldn't say anymore, before something regretful spills out. That's doing a disservice to the consumer, when all that can be relied on is what an anonymous critic writes.

Hey, if you're looking for someone to write reviews of Vintages releases...


  1. You? *ahem* nooo..
    but thats what makes ur blog so entertaining to read..

    note to self: get a bunch of us to hit ossington before summer ends because its ending

  2. lol, haven't posted anything yet...jus the title. it's going up soon.