Wine Buying Guides: What Are they Good For?
I wish W.R. Tish would write more.
First, his wine experience is deep. For a decade he was the managing editor at Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Second, he’s got a probing mind that combines with a great sense of humor. However, there is very little humor, but lots of probing, in his most recent article for Wines & Vines Magazine that takes a fairly close look at the wine Buying Guides of three major American wine magazines.
Let’s get to the heart of the matter. Tish says:
line of my buying-guide analysis is this: While they purport to be
consumer aids, they are actually far from that. As the buying guides
continue to grow and grow and GROW, consumers are simply confronted
with more and more homogenous-looking ratings and tasting notes of
wines they will never see in their local stores or even their regional
mar-kets. What these major buying guides have actually become is pure (or
impure, depending on your point of view) marketing vehicles designed to
raise both the stature of the magazines that create them as well as the
wines they commend."
I think you have to start with the assumption that reviews are a legitimate sub-genre of the larger wine writing genre. No one will argue with this. Furthermore, I think you have to accept the notion that reviews can be very helpful to consumers now confronted with such a huge boatload of choices that it boggles the mind. This is not to say that all review of wines are equal. Some are clearly more useful than others. But in general I think it’s fair to say they are generally very useful.
So I guess this puts me at odds with Tish insofar as I think Buying Guides and their reviews are "consumer aids" (I hate being at odds with Tish…he usually bests me in discussions of this sort)
However, I can’t disagree with him that Buying Guides at wine publications are INDEED "vehicles designed to raise the stature of…the wines they commend". And in that sense wineries and PR types view them as marketing vehicles. The question in my mind is can a Magazine’s wine buying guide serve legitimate and above board purposes of being consumer aids as well as marketing vehicles for wineries? I think again the answer is, yes.
As Tish points out in his this excellent Part 1 survey of American wine buying guides, we can take issue with the way wines are tasted and presented, if we are so inclined. And most of us usually are. Critiquing the the critics is a blood sport in this industry. But when I think about the value of the Buying Guides to the person with a budge to spend maybe $200 to $500 a month or more on wine and who is still learning about the product, I think these guides serve to pique interests, deliver discoveries and "guide" the buyer.