Talkin’ Bout a Revolution: Thoughts about Wine Reviews and Wine Ratings

Recent wine history reads like a series of medieval sieges:  high vs. low alcohol content, corks vs. screwtops, the rise of Pinot Noir and the decline of Merlot.  Throughout the battles, I’ve had an opinion or two, but I’ve tried to always stay true to my mantra of ‘drink what you like.’  In the twilight of Robert Parker, Jr.’s indomitable influence on the wine industry, there is another battle, or perhaps more accurately, a revolution on the rise.

It may have been the Arab Spring, but in the wine world, it’s the Wine Blogger Dawn.  Wine blogs are springing forth like local militias in eighteenth century New England.  Some are commanded by veteran soldiers and some are led by enthusiastic new recruits.  But like the revolutionaries before them, they have a common theme: a deep, abiding passion to be heard and counted for what they believe in.  They believe in independence of thought and opinion and are unabashed about stating it.

Will this great democratization of wine overrun the Bastille and render the seasoned, established wine critics impotent?  No.  And that’s OK.  Even after a revolution, there must be leadership…just look at what happened to post-revolutionary France…it wasn’t pretty.  It sometimes takes a while, but the world eventually finds a relative state of equilibrium.  Having been the grateful recipient of some recent positive reviews, I know that it is still a tremendous vote of confidence to get the nod from someone who tastes and writes about wine for a living; from someone who has the respect of many in the wine world.  But how does that translate to the real world?  For a wine newbie at a wine boutique or searching online to see that The Wine Advocate or The Wine Enthusiast gave a couple of my wines a 94, it lends credibility to my craftsmanship and might influence his or her purchase choice.

That said, I hope that that same newbie might find a wine blogger or local wine columnist who shares his or her palate too; a writer who is finding his or her way through the trenches of terroir, variety, and vintage; a blogger with whom he or she can have a lively and meaningful debate about wine.  I’ve discovered some of my favorite wines in just this manner – through friends’ recommendations or wine bloggers/columnists whom I follow.

Ironically, wine is reverting back to what it once was, an accessible beverage to the masses.  Sales of lower price wines are booming and wine bloggers and the old pros alike have seized on the notion of QPR – quality: price ratio.  If you’re going to charge more, it had better be damned good, because people know that the emperor has no clothes.  Glitzy marketing won’t make the customer like it more, and a great review won’t either.  It might make someone buy it the first time, but it will no longer make him or her a repeat customer – they’re going to ‘drink what they like.’  Just as in ancient Greece, you have a voice at the assembly and we’re all listening.


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