Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Turmoil in the world of wine critics?

Upheaval in the wine world!
Wine critics running amok!
Okay, I'm exaggerating a little. But not really by that much.
Robert Parker recently sold a majority of The Wine Advocate to a Chinese conglomerate. This occurred shortly after Robert started reducing his work load by handing off the prestigious California wine beat to long time Italian critic, Antonio Galloni.
So what does Antonio go and do? He leaves The Wine Advocate to start up his own website to critique wine under his own name.
It's not just The Wine Advocate either. Last year, James Suckling left The Wine Spectator to start his own site.
So The Wine Advocate is a mess. The Wine Spectator seems to be re-inventing itself with lower ratings across the board for EVERYTHING! And new critics seem to keep coming out of the woodworks every day.
In addition to the "big boys" Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate, you can get ratings from Stephen Tanzer (probably our favorite), Wine Enthusiast, Burghound, Decanter, Rhone Report, Wine & Spirits, and, new guys: James Suckling and Antonio Galloni. That's off the top of my head. I know I  missed several critics that are out there.
The retailer has a love/hate relationship with the critics. We can't knock any of them, because, let's face it, we rely on ratings to sell wine. The Wine Market may be a little different from some retailers in that WE NORMALLY NEED TO AGREE WITH A RATING BEFORE WE BACK IT. I say "normally", because it's not always possible for us to try every highly rated wine. Sometimes, demand is so high, and allocations so restricted, that we have to trust the critic's rating.
But what's the consumer to do? Here's a few things that I think make sense:
First, if you're so inclined, read as many reviews as possible. It's interesting to see how the critics align, and where they differ.
Second, find "wine people" you can trust. These resources can come from retailers, restaurant sommeliers, or from individual wineries. If these "wine people" really love wine, they will be happy to talk wine with you, and make suggestions on some of their favorites.
Finally, taste wine. Taste as much as you can. Here in St. Louis, there are always wine tastings - most of them at no charge. Restaurants also offer wine pairing dinners, and winemakers are constantly traveling the country to "work the markets".
Once you develop your palate and have a circle of "wine people" you can trust, the critics scores become just what they should be: one tool among many, to evaluate a wine.


Robert Parker evaluating a wine.

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