The Key Difference Between Wine Reviewers and Book Reviewers

literaryReading 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 muchwinecriticism 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.


11 Responses

  1. Kyle Schlachter - October 17, 2013

    Tom,

    There’s no need to spend more than 10 min with a wine? Need, perhaps not, but benefit, definitely! All consumers spend more than 10 minutes with a wine. Just as literary critics read books because people (apparently) read books. Consumers do not put a sip in their mouth, spit it out and then repeat the process with 20 other wines. Tasting a wine with food can be important. Tasting wine at different points in its lifetime can be important. Spending 2 minutes with 20 wines is like reading the prologue of 20 books and stating definitively what happens in the last chapter of each and proclaiming which book is the most well-written!

  2. Rich Reader - October 17, 2013

    Dear Tom,

    I humbly request the privilege to value wine reviews in a way that may be different from your own approach.

    What readers of wine reviews want is an opinion that they can understand, and that they readily will agree with when they taste the wine that is the subject of the review. The opinion will resonate with the palates and preferences of some readers, while others will appreciate that the reviewer is describing something that they are not looking for.

    It makes no difference how many reviews one writes, if one’s writing does not achieve these objectives.

    Respectfully,

    Rich Reader

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  4. Larry Brooks - October 18, 2013

    This sort of review did exist once upon a time. Gerald Asher’s reviews for Gourmet magazine and other publications serve as the perfect example and were read and appreciated by many. I don’t think the long-form essay is dead, but it is clearly in ill health. Perhaps the near terminal shallowness of much web content will lead to its resuscitation.

  5. doug wilder - October 18, 2013

    (“They are just gulping down wine!”). This is not what we do…

  6. Tom Wark - October 18, 2013

    Doug,

    I know that’s not what you do. But you also know that too often, that’s the impression folks have of people who identify themselves as “wine critics”.

  7. doug wilder - October 18, 2013

    A wine review begins with contacting the winery to request a tasting or a sample. Allow a week to ten days to have the wine in front of me. Taste it either by itself or in a flight of similar wines, or that of a winery. Take written notes, go back through the wines to see what evolution there is. Next day, revisit wines to see how they held, retaste. After doing this with a couple hundred wines, create a spreadsheet of the wines then spend several days emailing wineries for top secret information like price and production that isn’t included on their glossy tech sheets. Once complete, sort the spreadsheet, do a layout of every single page with images and begin writing by transcribing the reviews in a publishable form. Proof, edit, repeat. After about 8 weeks “The Wine Review” is ready.

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  9. Marcia Macomber - October 22, 2013

    So literally a wine critic could take one sip and be done with her homework. A book reviewer, in theory, *should* read the entire book (but often doesn’t). And what of the art critic? One glance at a painting or sculpture? Can the movie reviewer base her review on the trailer or the first 5 minutes of a film?

    I get where you’re coming from. The 100-point scale was made for the speedy review by a critic and read by a consumer in a flash. Each will choose what type of review is most valued by what the reader infers from the information supplied in short or long form. Myself, the short reviews are meaningless. Can’t remember a one of them and consequently can’t remember the wine. Story reviews, however, stay in my long-term memory. An exception, I’ll note, would be the summary reviews by Messrs. Olken and Eliot, which are succinct but very rich in information.

  10. Goedkope Uggs Tassen - December 5, 2013

    I

  11. Carter - June 23, 2014

    Thank you!


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