SURVEY: It’s All About The Wine Spectator

Most niche industries or publishing categories have a dominant publication, a publication that has a readership substantially higher than the others in the category. I’m sure there is a good reason for this but I can’t tell you exactly what it is. In the world of consumer wine publishing that publication is the Wine Spectator.

The third question in the FERMENTATIONS Survey on how you consume wine media asked:

What wine print publications do you make a point of reading as often as possible?

While a very small sample, it is no surprise that that Wine Spectator dominated the responses. of the 47 who answered this question 26 identified the Wine Spectator. More than half of the respondents.

No other wine publication broke out of single digits. The Wine Advocate was cited by 8 respondents, the Wine Enthusiast by 6 respondents, Decanter Magazine by 8 respondents.

Besides the Wine Spectator, there are three other publications in America that focus on wine and publish on a regular basis: Wine & Spirits, The Wine Enthusiast and The Wine News. There is also the Quarterly Review of Wine, a fabulous wine magazine that comes out quarterly and focuses not on scores but stories. Yet, the Wine Spectator has about 4 times the circulation of the largest of these three. Why has it succeeded in this way?

I think the answer is clear: Its reviews carry the most weight outside the wine geek community. And the wine geek community and wine industry are well aware of this. Even if it is only subscribed to by about 400,000 people, a great many more have heard of the Wine Spectator and its 100 point rating scale and have no reason to believe it is anything other than a reputable, authoritative wine rating organization.

I’ve written about the power of the Wine Spectator in this Blog before. I’ve warned it should not be underestimated. Of course few people do underestimate that power. However, far too many people speculate on what it takes to get a good score in the Wine Spectator. Some have and will suggest it takes advertising. This is hogwash. It’s the kind of accusation that comes from those whose wines didn’t get the score they believed they should or by consumers who have some sort of emotional stake in a wine that didn’t score as well as they believed it should.

Over the years the Wine Spectator has migrated from a purely wine-centric publication to one that has the wine lifestyle (food, travel, good living) at its core. It has been an astute move by the publishers. it has attracted a larger readership without sacrificing its status as the reference for wine quality.

There is no indication that the Wine Spectator will be dethroned any time soon as the top dog of wine publications. However, if you want to go elsewhere for your wine info, you have a great number of choices from newsletters, to magazines to the Internet. However, if you want to know what is helping to drive sales in the U.S., you need to read the Wine Spectator’s reviews.


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