The Wine Spout Vs. The Arcane

I’m always somewhat gratified and curious when internal wine industry debates spill over into the general media and into the laps of the average consumer. Such is the case with this Reuters article examining Alice Feiring’s concerns for and criticisms of the 100 point rating system, the dominance of Robert Parker’s palate, the "internationalization" of wine styles and her view of the general shitty condition of most expensive California wines.

I have a hard time stepping back and trying to appreciate how the average wine drinker will react to articles that examine what it means to rate a wine on a 100 points scale and the consequences of powerful critics. Do they even care? Do they note the headline then quickly move on to something else out of boredom the way I do when I see headlines concerning the mental state of Brittany Spears?

I kind of think it’s the latter. Why would anyone who buys wine by multiple liters in a single package care whether wine from California is any good, if Robert Parker has a hold on the imagination of winemakers or biodynamically grown grapes deliver a sense of place. The real concern is whether the box will fit on the top shelf of the fridge and whether or not the spout will leak.

17 Responses

  1. Fredric Koeppel - June 6, 2008

    it’s probbaly the same sort of percentage that always used to get bandered about: that the percentage of fine wine meant for aging amounted to about five percent of the world’s production of wine, while the other 95 percent is wine just intended for everyday drinking and pretty quick consumption. so I would say that about five percent of the world’s wine drinkers are concerned about what wine writers tend to be concerned about, i.e. issues such as Alice’s war against Parker or the use of oak and so on, and the other 95 percent don’t give a shit, they just want a drinkable glass of wine with their ham sandwich.

  2. Steve - June 6, 2008

    I think you’re being a bit harsh on the average drinker. Sure, they might not care about Parker’s stranglehold on the industry (although, really, most of them probably think it is Wine Spectator anyway), but I do think many of them care about the weaknesses of the 100-point system.
    In the end, they want wine that is drinkable with their ham sandwich, sure, but they don’t want to get ripped off for that wine either. That is why scores on placards at the wine store are so effective. It shows the consumer that they aren’t being screwed over.

  3. Richard Dustin - June 6, 2008

    I ventured into a “Total Wine and More” in Arizona where everything is categorized by varietal. People were shoving shopping carts full out the door. We stack by region in our shop and have to hand sell most everything… Hmmmm.

  4. Arthur - June 6, 2008

    “It shows the consumer that they aren’t being screwed over.”
    should be:
    “It assures/convinces the consumer that they aren’t being screwed over.”
    It is not a guarantee, it is a marketting vehicle and, as such, is far from the truth.

  5. Thomas Pellechia - June 6, 2008

    The stories appearing in the press are probably generated not as stories but because Alice has a book to sell.
    I give her and her PR people a lot of credit for the extensive coverage of the book, although the NY Times review was not exactly glowing.
    Still I wish to hell I could get that kind of coverage for my books! Even a tepid NY Times review sells books. In the writing world, getting coverage emanates from having a platform, which essentially means having a recognized name and some good connections.
    As to the story of ratings and Parker, I believe the overwhelming majority of wine consumers couldn’t care much less about the subject and about internecine wine review wars.

  6. The Wine Commonsewer - June 6, 2008

    Couldn’t agree more, the box wine crowd doesn’t care about Parker or ratings. For the rest of us, there isn’t a 100 point scale anyway. It’s a 13 point scale that goes from 87-100. 86 and below is pretty much Boone’s Farm territory.
    I rarely assign a numeric value when I review a wine but when I’m buying, I find the point system to be helpful. It isn’t a be-all end-all but it gives consumers an idea of what they may expect.
    As to Parkerization? The world is an immense place with a huge variety of wines to enjoy. Those who find Parker’s tastes objectionable are free to not buy wines he recommends.
    This is what Parker says about wine:
    “Hey, I’m a fruit guy. I’m only one opinion, but wine is made from fruit. It needs to have fruit.”

  7. Thomas Pellechia - June 6, 2008

    Yeah, wine needs to have fruit, but there’s fruit and there’s FRUIT! And I ain’t met a fruit with so much alcohol in it… 😉

  8. Morton Leslie - June 6, 2008

    Feiring is not recognized as knowledgeable about wine (except in her own mind) so her opinion will not impact the Parker crowd. The bag in the box drinker doesn’t give a s#*%. The person who wants to learn about wine has no interest because she has nothing to teach them about the stuff they want to know. The only people who care are other journalists looking for something controversial to write about. So all we have here is your basic literary circle jerk.

  9. Nancy - June 7, 2008

    I work in a wine shop (a franchise, in fact) that is set up by style — bold, mellow, etc. — not by region or varietal. We, too, have to hand-sell everything, and yet the whole point of the concept is to make wine approachable for shall we say lay people. Weird situation.
    I like the point about the 100 point scale being actually a 13-point scale. True. Who ever heard of a wine getting “75 points in the Spectator!! It’s huge!”
    P.S. Tom. I’ve tagged you, even though your reaction will probably be WTF. If you’re interested, you might go to The game is all about what you’re reading now, and I’ll bet you are reading something.

  10. Tim - June 7, 2008

    I’m with you on this one Tom. Most wine drinkers don’t care. Most consumers want to find a handful of brands they like and can trust and will stick with that. They will only think about the 100 point wine system for a few seconds of their lives and they don’t know and don’t care who Alice is.
    It amuses me when Alice calls others wine snobs, when she is just a different breed of wine snob… and I’m yet another.

  11. Thomas Pellechia - June 7, 2008

    snob: n; somebody who looks down on people considered to have inferior knowledge or tastes.
    It’s why I don’t like wine criticism of any stripe; it always seems to stem from the above attitude.

  12. Marco - June 8, 2008

    Ditto what Thomas said

  13. Kirstin - June 8, 2008

    A huge part of what endears consumers to a particular wine is the story, the tale behind the bottle, and the feeling that buying that bottle includes you in part of an enlightened wine lifestyle. That being said, I imagine that that Feiring’s writings will touch the hearts and pocketbooks of those sorts of wine drinkers who feel that buying a bottle from a smaller production, organic or family-owned winery is a more honorable move than purchasing bottles based on scores or trophy values. Should be a pretty successful book.

  14. Dan Cochran - June 9, 2008

    In my own mind, the critics are useful for one thing – warning consumers about truly awful or defective wines, wines that reek of onions, burlap, or something.
    Beyond that, you are just dealing with personal tastes. What seems like a big, bold, and tasty mouthful to one person will seem like an overextracted, overly hot punch-in-the-palate to another.

  15. Thomas Pellechia - June 9, 2008

    But Dan, what happens when a critic likes those wines with onions, burlap, volatile acidity, or excessive horse shit??? 😉

  16. Mark Koppen - June 9, 2008

    I like Steve and Arthur’s comments re the scale being an assurance/security blanket for consumers. Many wine critics still play on consumers’ insecurity about wine, and the 100 point scale is easy for anyone to use – the trade then buys into the scale to help them sell wine in the easiest way possible, and the lousy system perpetuates itself. Here at August Briggs we provide complimentary tastings so people can decide for themselves what they like. No one should let a few guys who happen to taste a lot of wine tell them what to buy or drink.

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