Finding the Right Wine Critic For You

Tom Standage, the author of "A History of the World in Six Glass", has an interesting editorial in the Herald Tribune today. In essence he is making the argument that wine and status is a manufactured pairing that that we should rank wines not based on what a reviewer says but rather on our own taste.

It’s a pretty common refrain, isn’t it?.

How many times have you heard this:

"So put not your faith in wine rankings imposed from on high by god-like critics."

Too many times. Doesn’t this go without saying?

However, let me be so bold as to suggest the following:


This is the most important rationale for honoring critics with your attention in today’s wine world. If we are interested in wine, if we enjoy drinking wine, if we long to know more about wine, but if we have more to do than drink wine, we have a problem. We can’t try every wine to determine if we should purchase quantities of it. We need some help.

This is where the critic can be of tremendous help. By relying on the palate of a well-drunken critic we have a short cut to follow. But of course the question is who to follow. It’s not like there is a lack of critics out there. There must be at least 100 drinkers who test and write about wine on a regular basis just in America. Who do you follow.

Here is the best and quickest way to determine who to give your fealty to.

Find six or seven wine critics who have reviewed the same wine. Look for critics who both give rankings and descriptions. Then, buy the wine. Taste it. Write your own notes. Then give it a ranking between 1 and 10, ten being the wine you can’t live without, one being the wine you would never drink again under any circumstances.

Now compare the critics’ reviews and rankings of this wine to yours. Find the critic who most closely matches your take on the wine. Voila. You’ve found the critic that matches your palate.

It’s best to do this with at least three different wines. The more you compare, the better you can calibrate your palate with a critic.

Posted In: Rating Wine


5 Responses

  1. Mike Duffy - December 26, 2005

    So, Tom, who are your “trusted” critics? Embibing minds want to know!
    PS – Happy Holidays!

  2. Tom Wark - December 26, 2005

    I like Parker for stickies, Wine & Spirits, Fredric Keoppel, and Ronn Wiegand. Harold Baer of he Colorado Wine News also calibrates well to my palate.

  3. maggie - December 26, 2005

    So…. you’re still reducing the wine to a number, and making it sound so HARD! Forget critics.
    Put more of your energy into finding someone LOCAL who not only knows wines, but can get to know YOU. And your tastes. Go to their free weekly tastings and talk about what you like or don’t like with someone. Let them get to know you, and you’ll never have to fret again. Afterall, this is where you will be buying your wine, right?
    So cut out the middle man! Critics are like realtors. They aren’t actually essential to life, and we’d all be better off without them.

  4. Lenn - December 27, 2005

    Thanks for the link, Tom. And while I don’t share Maggie’s disdain (not fully anyway), I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment.
    I think reading what wine writers and wine critis say is interesting and always valuable in some sense, but it should not be taken as gospel. In fact, I wrote a column locally titled “Don’t Listen to Wine Critics” and it was very well received. I think people are starting to realize that they should and need to trust their own palates more.
    I know that I pay close attention to the tastes of the people I drink with regularly, and I try to both expand their palates and pour them wines that I think they’ll enjoy based on how the react. It’s fun for me and definitely improves their experience.

  5. Mithrandir - December 27, 2005

    I take issue with your premise:

    We can’t try every wine to determine if we should purchase quantities of it.

    We don’t have to. Wine can be categorized in many ways: varietal, growing climate, style, etc. A bottle of wine is not just an item in an unstructured list, but rather an element of various trees of categories.
    There is therefore no need for exhaustive search (trying every wine), but rather a structured search (finding the category that meets your purchase requirements, and then finding the right bottle within that category).
    I suspect that the first step (finding the right category) is sufficient for most cases. The purchase is then informed by price and availability. If you’re looking for a case of cool-climate new-world P. No. in the $30 range, there are probably like four bottles on the shelf of your local retailer to choose from (unless you’re in Oregon, or your retailer is freaking huge). Buy one of each, and taste them all. They’re probably all good, so you’re not really *wasting* anything. And then you’ll know exactly what you’re getting when you shell out $300 for a case.
    This is, of course, predicated on actually knowing something about wine – enough to pick a category. If you can’t be bothered, then sure, critics’ picks are a valid way to go, as is buying based on price or trends. Of course, it might be even better to ask your retailer’s sommelier.
    I still can’t fathom why you would buy in quantity without tasting it first though.

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