Are Traditional Wine Critics and Scores Still Relevant?

There continues to be a great deal of press regarding the role of the wine critics and their role in the wine world.

It's difficult to argue against the fact that the influence of critics (and indeed the magazines they work for) has been eroded over the last 5 years; as online social media channels gain acceptance, wine bloggers continue to flourish, and consumers are increasingly looking to peer-reviews for guidance on the wine they’ll be drinking that same night.

Being a wine professional myself, I certainly don’t need to be told (based on a point score) which wine to buy; however, I do recognize that occasionally even I need additional assistance. For example; a lot of the time I’m on a time-crunch and don’t possess the time to casually browse the 5,000 bottles on display at my local wine store. In this scenario, point scores come in handy to guide my decision by way of: if I see a wine that’s within my budget, in the style I’m looking for and was given a “high” score from a respectable publication/critic; without time to browse any further, I’ll make my snap-decision based primarily – but not solely – on the point score from the critic/magazine.

In further defense of wine ratings; no magazine or lone critic has ever insisted that just because they issued a 90+ score to a particular wine, does that mean you’re guaranteed to enjoy it. Points should instead be considered more of a sliding scale of quality.

So do points sell wine?

This is no-doubt a difficult question to answer, and even more difficult to track. To cut straight to the heart of the matter: yes, point scores do indeed sell wine. However, the waning economy has indeed shown that wineries need more than good point scores in order to sell their juice. This illustrated by the prevalence of 90+ point wines for sale at a substantial discount that seem to be littering the plethora of “flash sale” websites.

I would also like to point out that if I were to post a picture to Facebook right now of a wine I’d recently enjoyed, with associated verbiage that sings its praises, I guarantee that would sell wine. Maybe the sales wouldn’t be instantaneous. More than likely the sales will come from someone seeing the wine in a retailer, remembering the label from my status update and purchasing based on my peer recommendation. I truly believe that these types of sales are happening more frequently than anyone is likely to admit, or is able to track.

To conclude, I’d like to leave you in the capable hands of a gentleman named Robert Parker, for his thoughts on points: “Scores do not reveal the important facts about a wine. The written commentary that accompanies the ratings is a better source of information regarding the wine's style and personality, its relative quality vis-à-vis its peers, and its value and aging potential than any score could ever indicate. There can never be any substitute for your own palate nor any better education than tasting the wine yourself.”

Published: Oct. 9, 2012

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