Wine Samples…Not For Me, But…

This is a post that I think I've written for at least the 3rd year in a row. I write it annually because it's important and becoming even more important as wine blogs take on more relevance to the industry.

Main Message: FERMENTATION: The Daily Wine Blog does not review wines.

Key Message: Do what you do best and leave the rest to the experts.

The number of emails I get asking if I'd like to receive a media sample of wine is up to about 5 or 6 per week. In addition to these messages I receive probably four to five unsolicited wine samples monthly. The message I send to those who inquire first is this:

"Thank  you very much for thinking of Fermentation for your media samples program. However, we don't review wines at Fermentation. So, your sample would probably go to much better use if it is sent to another wine blogger who does review wines. However, I want to thank you for thinking of me as well as thinking of wine bloggers in general as you consider your wine sampling program."

Although I think I have a pretty good, well-exercised palate and although I think I write pretty good tasting notes that might help guide someone looking to learn more about a wine, the fact is there are far more capable, experienced and enthusiastic wine reviewers than I in both the wine blogosphere and traditional media. They are the people that need, deserve and should receive media samples of wine from wineries, importers and publicists.

My hope is that wine bloggers in particular will happily accept these samples and review them where it makes sense to them. Clearly there is no obligation to review a wine that is sent nor is there an obligation for any reviewer to write about a sample that arrives at their door. But where bloggers who do review wines are concerned, I urge you to accept these samples, and do so happily.

If it is the ambition of a wine blogger to become a resource for their readers where wine quality is concerned, then accepting wine samples, and not standing on ethical concerns in turning them down, is probably the only way you will ever obtain a broad selection of wines to turn your readership on to or away from—unless you have remarkably deep pockets.

As for wineries and importers and publicists, I can't see why you would not include wine bloggers on your media samples lists. If you don't, it's an oversight on your part that is hurting your employer or client. The only thing you need to do is the research to determine which bloggers accept wine samples and to determine what their focus is where reviews are concerned. This is the same work you've done for years where traditional wine media is concerned.

So, in conclusion, to those of you how have inquired of me as to whether or not I'd like a sample and to those of you who have sent unsolicited samples to me, THANK YOU very much. But more importantly, thank you for recognizing the importance of the wine blogosphere to the world of consumer wine education and enjoyment. However, you will get far more distance by aiming your samples as those wine bloggers that take on the serious task of reviewing wine.

15 Responses

  1. Enobytes - November 20, 2008

    Hey Tom, we’d happily accept your samples :>)
    …and for those interested, please contact us at for more information.

  2. Rob - November 20, 2008

    Hi Tom, I think its great that you make this clear in your blog. I work in the PR world with wines and for some of the new blogs it is difficult to get a sense of where the writer stands on if they review wines or not. Perhaps because you decided to review the “Wine Wand” you might get a higher influx of offers to review wines. However, for those of us that read you regularly we know that you talk about more general topics.

  3. Ron Washam, HMW - November 20, 2008

    I can’t believe no one sends ME wine samples! I can’t think of a single reason why they don’t.

  4. mydailywine - November 20, 2008

    Well at least some of the wineries are finally acknowledging the online alternatives to the trad print media.Yay!
    And of course, they know that Fermentation is an online wine maverick ( has that word been ruined for all of us?), just not a wine reviewer.

  5. Benito - November 20, 2008

    I think particularly with wine blogs the wine industry has a chance for a grass roots effect–after the blogger tastes and reviews the wine, the leftovers are likely to be shared with friends, family, and neighbors who may or may not read the blog. This can help develop tastes and get people hooked on the wine enthusiast hobby.
    Whenever I receive samples that I really like, I try to spread the word in person and let others try it.

  6. Dirty - November 20, 2008

    I happily accept samples, but I don’t think the wineries like it when I let them know I’m going to cellar them for 5-10yrs before sampling. ; )

  7. Fermented Thoughts - November 20, 2008

    Working within the trade and being a blogger allows me a unique perspective. It’s amazing just how powerful this medium has become. Social media mixed with wine gives instant, grass-roots access to reviews, news and insight. Powerful pr and viral awareness building possibilities abound.
    Samples lists have been around for years and I can speak from experience that the main flaw so many producers commit is simply sending wines without including technical, production or background notes.
    I’m all for letting the wine craft the message however, I’m sure the producers have something specific they want to say. I’m just surprised how many say nothing and simply send the juice for review.

  8. KenPayton - November 20, 2008

    I’m with Tom. I don’t review wines as a source of writing material. My reasons differ from Tom’s somewhat. I work in a small Santa Cruz winery as well run an independent blog. My difficulty with reviewing wines is that I participate, up close and personal, with making the stuff. I simply cannot speak poorly of a fellow winemaking crew. Too much honest labor goes into a wine.
    Of course, I’m thinking especially of the smaller winemaking concern.
    And then there’s the itinerant picking crew and the vineyard manager’s assistants, all their profound back stories. And cellar rats, fork-lift drivers, barrel and bottle makers, ag academics and their students, etc. Who benefits from wine reviews? Certainly not them.
    Of the new generation of vineyard investors, the ex-real estate magnates, cashed-out computer nerds, faux ‘back to the earth’ bankers, aged sports heroes, ‘do not use beyond this date’ rock stars, and shady Euro-trash? Please… Before I would utter their names I would have to know the names of all who made the wine possible.
    Besides, when was the last time a reader knew the name of the farmers who produced an heirloom beet, tomato, potato or rare pepper that made the difference in a wine/food pairing exercise? Or asked after their terroir?
    Most wine reviews hold all the charm and subtlety of the daily horoscope, or worse, Jungian dream analysis, metaphorically closer to wine reviews than you might think.
    Ultimately, reviews bore me to tears. Bad writing.
    Drinking Guigal’s 2003 Cote Rotie Brune et Blonde tonight. Tight as a colt’s sphincter. Wonderful nose of bramble fruit, cold blue stones, Algerian sweat. After an hour she (not sure whether this wine is gendered) opened onto fields of romping possum, lapsed nuns singing, a bouquet of, well, goodness!
    Deep purple. But not too deep. Hints of transparency.
    On the palate the wine left me stuttering mysteries and comfortably numb homilies. (My children were confused.) Syrah, yes! Lean. Mid-palate, diaper-full. The finish, 17 minutes. Must be some kind of record.
    I jest.., just.

  9. 1WineDude - November 21, 2008

    Tom – you have, in fact, reviewed wines. So, is this a change in your position? I do agree with you that bloggers should accept samples and review where it makes sense (stylistically, etc.) for their blogs. I do this, and I certainly don’t review all the wines sent to me.
    Ken – I wouldn’t call wine reviews bad writing. It’s just writing. If it bores you, that does not empirically make the writing poor. It just means that it bores you. Most of them bore me as well which is why I don’t review wines that often on my blog. Sometimes, reading about tasting a wine is like trying to learn how to french kiss by looking at a diagram – at some point, you need to stop reading and just go do it yourself :-).

  10. Dylan - November 21, 2008

    Tom, I think you should take your dedication to the next level and create a referral network of bloggers who do review wines to add to your template response to offers. This not only tells them what you’re already telling them, but immediately steers them into contact with bloggers that are ready and willing to consider their samples.

  11. Gretchen - November 21, 2008

    I have to admit that it is a dream of mine to have people sending me free wine…

  12. Strappo - November 21, 2008

    It’s funny, before I went “ITB” I hardly ever got samples and was deeply jealous of those who did.
    Now…if I want samples, I’ll ask for them. Then we might take on your wines and bring them into the US.
    The unsolicited ones invariably turn out to be awful.

  13. JohnLopresti - November 21, 2008

    Surely, catavino and some of the wonderful cork blogs and closure mfgrs send sample lumpy envelopes for your sampling review, as well.
    I know I certainly enjoyed an exchange of views with catavino’s proprietors after Tom wrote a friendly review of their Barcelona website.
    I studied the enology and viticulture industries from the academic coursework disciplines, and in my own research, while working in the trade, and living on a place that once was part of the industry and someday yet again may be.
    Yet, for now, I have found very few blogs with the insight or directness of TW’s site. I appreciate the no reviews policy, and its yearly caveats to the generous publicist folks. We appreciate the candor and humor, excellent scales on which to rank policy and the economics of the industry, as well as the ‘lifestyle’ issues associated with wine.
    In some business world occupations one’s private snailmailbox gets inundated with plastic creditcards, lines of credit, unsolicited guaranteed loan offers, just sign and return the stub.
    Better to be in the wine trade, that credit may disappear sooner than one might imagine, but the cab might be just fine if consigned to the bin for ten years, forgotten, no reply sent, no review written, just the friendliness of people in the trade to remind us of what vinification used to be like way back when.

  14. Steve - November 22, 2008

    We have had a policy of not accepting samples, but we recently changed our position at Winescorecard. Of course, we haven’t had a lot of requests in the past, but it does come up every so often.

  15. Gretchen Roberts - November 25, 2008

    I have to admit I was surprised when PR people contacted me wanting to know if I took samples for my blog. For my magazine articles, that wouldn’t be surprising. But for my blog? Just goes to show, the wine industry is more attuned to the power of the Internet than other industries. (I say this as a freelance journalist who is currently weathering one print magazine after another folding.)

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