The Key Difference Between Wine Reviewers and Book Reviewers
Reading a series of book reviews by literary critics recently, it dawned on me that compared to wine critics, these literary pros and other types of professional critics have it tough, at least in terms of how much work they have to put in to completing their tasks. Put another way, it doesn’t take much time to produce a wine review.
Wine critics out there, don’t get angry with me about this.
Consider what must be done for a literary critic go serve their purpose and their audience: They must first open up and read through the novel. How long does this take? Even if they skim the novel, it can’t possibly be anything like the amount of time a wine critic spends with a wine. Do wine critics spend more than 10 minutes with any individual wine? Few, if any, I’d guess. And the reason for this is simple—there is no need to.
Even if you taste and evaluate the wine upon opening it, then go back to it later after it evolved after opening, I’d guess there is really no more than 10 minutes spent with the wine.
The literary critics surely spends far more time with the novel. An hour? Two hours? Much more? I would think so.
Then consider what is produced in the form of a review. If you look at the standard types of reviews produced by literary critics vs. wine critics, there seems that much more time evaluating and writing goes into the literary review. The vast majority of wine reviews might last 100 words. But the average book review? Far far more writing is involved.
You can make the same kind of assessment when comparing wine criticism to movie criticism, music criticism, theater criticism, restaurant criticism, and just about any other from of professional criticism you can think of.
Now this is clearly not a knock on wine critics. It’s the nature of the subject. But I’ve always been pretty secure in my view that wine critics don’t get nearly as much credit or appreciation as professional critics in other creative genres. This may just be a matter of most folks not taking wine criticism very seriously (“They are just gulping down wine!”). But I wonder if the relative lack f respect wine critics get has something to do with the small amount of time it takes for a wine critic to review a wine, versus the amount of time that has to go into reviewing other creations.
I have to also note that wine reviews actually need not be that mere 100 words or so they typically turn out to be. I’ve always thought it would be very useful, interesting and provocative to devote upwards of 1,000 or 2,000 words to the review of a single wine. Of course a review of this length would certainly be something altogether different that what we normally see.
This unheard of long form review would certainly spend a great deal more time exploring the context of the wine (where it fits in the hierarchy of winemaking and the history of winemaking), the background and history of the winemaker and producer, the philosophical and practical intent of the wine, how the winemaker went about achieving this intent, what flavors and aromas and textures the wine delivers, and of course where the wine fits in the marketplace.
But this sort of thing does not exist, likely because it would be read by almost no one.
The lack of time necessary to review a wine surely has something to do with the number of people who are willing to set up personal blogs or websites to offer up their own wine reviews. And it has something to do with the huge number of reviews of wines on those great websites like Cellar Tracker and Snooth and others that accumulate consumer reviews.
So, where professional wine critics are concerned, it strikes me that the degree to which their reputation grows and is appreciated has little to do with the effort it takes to produce a wine review. Rather, a reputation will be enhanced by the quantity of reviews they produce. This is the route for professional wine critics to enhance their reputation.