Do You Trust Your Wine Reviewer?

Header-image-StephenBy Robert K. Stephen (CSW)

(WINDSOR, ON) – Do you think a wine writer lives in a social vacuum? The writer somehow gets a bottle of wine and samples it, telling readers whether it’s good or bad.

I have never been a fan of wine writers and they are only indicative of a weakness and ignorance of the wine consuming public; just too timid to pursue their own likes and dislikes and caught in a rut.

You don’t need a degree to find that wine you like but, somehow, just don’t have the time to compare and educate yourself. So, you defer to your favourite wine writer. However, just as the bourgeoisie will fade away, and the proletarian state will form in our dreams, so will the wine writer remain.

Until utopia hits, I suppose I’ll just keep writing wine reviews.

Ok. That’s fair enough. But, are you looking for an unbiased and honest opinion? Sure you are.

I do my best to give my readers an unbiased and honest assessment of wines based on a number of technical categories which, in simple terms, focus on appearance, taste, balance, construction, and a 10% subjectivity factor.

Let’s step back here and ask what factors just might influence a wine review?

Free Wine

Wine writers often receive samples from producers. Give a good review to ensure future supply?

Wine Events and Dinners

Wineries, agents, and even governments (other than Canada, it seems) realize the economic benefits of selling wine for their economies. Hence, the wine writer may be invited to wineries abroad or local dinners with foreign and local producers on a freebie basis.

Keep reviews positive and you may get that all expense paid trip to Chile, Sicily, or Greece. Do you want to repay the hospitality and ensure a repeat invitation?

The Personal Connection

There is nothing more that a winery wants than to make a personal connection with a writer. Criticism of wine involved in that personal connection by a wine writer may be a betrayal.

I will admit, personal connections give me a second thought before reviewing a wine. I know these people. My review may affect their sales. Jobs may be at stake.

I don’t curry favour, but I really think carefully when reviewing a wine realizing my impact may actually financially hurt people.

It’s a responsibility not to be taken lightly.

The Wine Judge

Wine writers may be invited to judge wine competitions. With everything paid for, of course.

Entrants pay a fee to enter their wines. The competition becomes a revenue raising event with the wine judge being held captive to whatever winery paid to have their wines in front of the writer’s snout.

Beware of the medal winners.

The Incompetent

Some degree of training is needed evaluate a wine. How much, I am not sure but, as a minimum, the ability to detect acids, tannins, and overall balance is required to give some impartiality and objectivity.

Now, without that background, you’ll get entertainment but not much more. Anyone with a computer can bang out a wine review. But can you trust them?

The Paid Hack

Wine writers under a salary, writing for a publication that has wineries and distributors as advertisers. Who would you prefer to listen to? An unpaid internet writer with nothing to lose or a timid corporate writer not wanting to offend advertisers?

The Manipulated Writer

Much of what has been referred to above constitutes manipulation, but on the Geiger counter is a subtle and self induced potential form of corruption.

On occasion, the subtleness of the manipulation crosses the boundaries and becomes crass and opportunistic. It’s best avoided by a wide margin by a wine writer with a sense of ethics and an ability to discern a conflict of interest.

Let us take, for example, The Louis Roederer Scholarship for The Champagne Master Level Program, offered by the French Wine Society.

The Program is an in-depth course of study, but it costs money and there are five Louis Roederer Scholarships (terribly dignified sounding) available to wine writers and bloggers. As a wine writer/blogger you can win tuition costs.

Now, if you wish to be manipulated and enter this competition all you have to do is be led by a ring through your nose.

Write and publish a 500-700 word article in English on the following topic Beyond Bubbles: The Essence of Champagne.

All this humiliation for a $475 course credit. How low can a wine writer sink?

Imagine having to write an article as a journalist with corporate interests telling you how to entitle your article. Major suck up.

Champagne speaks for itself. Is this inducement really necessary?

A wine review is not a wine review. There are just too many factors tacked onto that review that threaten impartiality. Personal ethics of the wine writer are crucial to a fair review.

Take your Beyond Bubbles and shove it.

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About the Author

Robert Stephen (CSW)
Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he loves The Square. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."Email Robert Stephen
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