The Value of a Wine Critic…If Any
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the value that the wine critic adds to the consumer’s purchasing decisions. It’s obvious that a good score will have a major impact on whether or not a wine will sell. Even experienced wine consumers want to see a critic’s write-up before pulling the trigger on a wine that they haven’t tried before (just read the message boards on http://cinderellawine.com/). While the recent “Campogate” fiasco that has been outlined in detail by Jim Budd on his blog http://jimsloire.blogspot.com/ was the catalyst for my contemplation, various other bits of information have added to my skepticism. While I suspect more critics are ethical and qualified than not, one does have to wonder if the entire system is simply rigged or adds any value. Consider the following:
Antonio Casado writes that Jay Miller gave five Spanish wines perfect 100 point scores in 2007, not because he thought they deserved it, but because the same wines received 99 point scores the prior year, a year of an inferior vintage. Beyond that, he implies that Jay is only a “mediocre taster” whose working conditions are far from appropriate.
Wine Spectator gives an Award of Excellence to a restaurant that doesn’t even exist and then, once the $250 application fee has already been paid, asks the restaurant if it wants to run an advertisement in Wine Spectator to announce its good fortune. Is the whole thing just a big scheme to generate advertising revenue? Does this apply to their ratings on wines as well as restaurants?
Mounting evidence shows that human’s perception of a wine’s quality is influenced by its perceived price. Even self proclaimed wine experts are fooled in true blind tastings. Once has to wonder how this impacts the “en primeur” tastings for the big name Bordeaux wines (or any big name wine that is judged on the producer’s site). Can someone really give an objective or accurate score to a wine that they are tasting in an opulent setting, where they are being waited on hand-and-foot by the staff, at the most prestigious and historic Chateaus on earth? Seems a bit like the SAT tests, where you get 600 points just for signing your name. In this case, the wine gets at least 90 points just for giving the critic its name.
And just a nagging pet peeve…but how can you effectively judge wine when, at the same time, you also judge and frequently smoke cigars? I honestly can’t think of anything that blows the crap out of a palate quicker and more completely than a cigar. I can’t help but wonder how sensitive Suckling’s palate can be at this point.
I know that an educated palate can tell the difference between a Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc as well as many new world vs. old world wines. I know because I’ve seen it and I’ve done it myself. But I can’t help but think that the whole professional wine critic business is nothing more than a commercial operation built around serving itself rather than its customers (kind of line the U.S. Congress these days).