10 THINGS: About Glossy Wine Mags

We Know About The Glossy Wine Magazines

The glossy wine magazines often come in for a lot of criticism by those in the wine industry and those who make wine an important part of their lives. Some is deserved, some is not.

1. They don’t give good reviews to wines just because they are advertisers

2. Advertising is dominated by the huge brands

3. Good reviews from the glossies sell wine

4. They are written and designed to appeal to a person’s desire to live a certain "lifestyle"    (if you don’t believe this, just look at the ads and ask yourself, what do the advertisers think the magazines promote)

5. The content is morer closely read by the wine trade than the wine conusmer

6. It’s difficult to undertake an affective ad campaign using the the top five or six glossy wine magazines for less than $150,000

7. The editorial staffs of the top wine glossies have remained remarkably stable over the yearss.

8. The 100 point scale used by most of the big glossies are not responsible for the influence of ratings. (It’s the use of the ratings by retailers and marketing types that have created that influence)

9. Circulation for the glossies will continue to grow   (no matter how many wine blogs pop up)

10. The one missing ingredient in the glossies that would really improve them is some more investigative journalism

6 Responses

  1. Josh - May 9, 2006

    “6. It’s difficult to undertake an affective ad campaign using the the top five or six glossy wine magazines for less than $150,000”
    Great info. Thanks, Tom.

  2. Gerald Weisl - May 9, 2006

    #5 & # 8 are especially correct, as is #10.
    I have long felt the glossies and non-glossy journals are used as, essentially, “cheerleaders.”
    People selling wine, be they wholesale types or retail or restaurant folks, often feel more comfortable in suggesting a wine, armed with the confidence the wine has a good numerical score.
    It’s a shame, for example, that 90 points is the “required” minimum score to get any attention.
    I routinely ask sales reps to refrain from telling me scores of wines when I am tasting (or not tasting). I’d rather make up my own mind.
    We routinely find really good wines which are not reviewed by these various publications. And we often find really good wines which do not receive good scores. Further, some publications seem to give higher scores to certain vintners for one reason or another…
    At a blind-tasting of Cabernets a year, or so ago, 11 tasters out of our group of about 16 tabbed a particular wine as the top wine of the tasting. It had the lowest published numerical score of any of the wines in the tasting. (The winemaker stopped participating in advertising, etc. of this publication and the scores tumbled based not upon the quality of the wines from this estate, but “other” factors, apparently.)
    I wonder if any of these so-called critical publications ever “audit” their tastings by purchasing the same wines as are sent to them by the producers/wineries/importers?
    We found an awful wine two vintages in a row which one publication (which does not accept advertising, but does accept samples) raved about. We suspect the wine submitted for critique is not identical to the wine which we, as consumers, can buy.
    One of your depicted glossies DOES believe they do conduct investigative journalism. That’s why, armed with lab analysis reports, they gave a couple of prominent Cabernet producers scores of 69 points.
    Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

  3. JD - May 9, 2006

    This is fascinating to me. As someone who worked in journalism, I wholeheartedly agree with #10. As someone who worked in wine retail, I can tell you that so few people believe #1. Call me naive, but I’ve always believed that #1 was largely true. I can’t tell you how many conspiracy theories I have heard about the editorials and political coverage in the papers where I worked. Usually, omissions or gaffes were due to clumsiness or sloppiness, but not in the minds of political-minded readers. I suspect the wine glossies suffer from the same kinds of cynical assumptions among those in the wine biz. I can tell you that the wine wholesalers and some others in retail liked to look at me like I was crazy for my point of view. They never had much evidence to support their views, but they sure did act like they knew better. The glossies should be addressing this more consistently and openly — invite in mainstream press, that sort of thing.

  4. Steven - May 10, 2006

    I very much agree with point 8. At the retail level, its a much quicker way to make a pitch to the consumer with something they can easily grasp, and which seems less subjective than flowerly critic-speak. So its really the merchandisers who live by the point system.
    As for investigative journalism, while I am very much for it, seems rather difficult for a glossy wine magazine to do, as this could risk upsetting their advertisers.

  5. Tish - May 10, 2006

    Very interesting take, Tom. Especially agree with # 5 and #8. I would add the following points:
    — I do believe that Buying Guides are tamper-free, but there are other ways that magas stroke advertsiers, such as including theri bottles in photos and their wines with recipes, etc.
    — Buying Guides have grown beyond belief, and beyond utility. Moreover, much of the “other” editorial in glossies is often built directly upon massive tastings, which means less space for commentary, investigative journalism, etc.
    — One more aspect of Buying Guides worth noting is that label reproductions in Wine Enthusiast and Wine & Spirits are paid for (i.e., advertising); not so in Wine Spectator and The Wine News (I haven’t seen QRW lately). What percentage of average readers realize this?

  6. Mark (Uncorked in Ohio) - May 11, 2006

    Gerald: Your questions about whether wines sent to the glossy publications for review are identical to the wines available to consumers is an intriguing one. But I believe your implication that the winemaker who stopped advertising received lower scores because of his decision is flawed. Like Tish, I believe the Buying Guides are tamper-free — there is just simply too much at stake for those publications to engage in the practices you suggest. Besides, for every one low score from a producer who does not advertise, there are 10, or 20, very high scores of wines whose producers do not advertise. How do you explain that? Your anecdotal evidence from your one cabernet tasting is interesting and provocative — but it is not proof of wrongdoing.

Leave a Reply