Free Wine Is Good
I don’t want serious restaurant critics to pay for their meals nor serious wine critics to pay for a drop of wine.
Why? I don’t trust a restaurant or wine critic to accurately or honestly evaluate their experience when part of that experience is filtered through the dent their object of evaluation made on their wallet.
Let’s face it, when I pry open that $200 bottle of wine, finally, and pour it into glasses I can’t get the $200 I paid out of my mind. The reason for this is that $200 is a pretty significant amount of money. It represents many things for me. And as I drink that wine, my evaluation of it is burdened by the fact that my wallet is $200 lighter. Now, this shouldn’t be a factor in my evaluation, but who is kidding who?
Furthermore, If I was a wine critic and I had to buy my own wine, I’d have to really ration my reviews or at least focus on lesser priced wines because I don’t have the resources to buy all the various kinds of wines I should be evaluating if I’m a serious wine critic.
Consider the restaurant reviewer. To be good at it and to be successful and to be serious, a restaurant reviewer needs not only to eat out quite often, but they have to eat at the same same restaurant multiple times and they should probably be bringing other folks with them to be able to taste various dishes at one sitting. Plus, a good restaurant reviewer can’t limit themselves to “Joe’s Snack Shack” because of lack of funds. They need to hit the pricey places too. That’s expensive. Prohibitively so for the average person. And again, I don’t want a restaurant reviewer’s evaluation of a meal and its various dishes to be tainted by filtering it through a lens of financial means, nor do I want them to be without perspective because they can’t afford to go to Chez Cash.
All this is why it strikes me that anyone who believes a wine reviewer/critic is somehow tainted because they received free wine from producers and importers doesn’t really have an issue with the ethical consequences of a critic receiving free things from the object of their criticism, but rather has a problem with the inherent ethics of the critic themselves. And anyone who can make ethical judgments about a person who they know only through their writing and only based on the fact that they receive free goods probably is the same kind of person who is gong to make snap judgments about a person based on how they look. That rarely turns out well.
So here is my advice to serious publishers and to wine producers and importers. If a wine producer thinks it’s important for there to be a lively and vibrant community of wine writers and critics, then send your wines out for review; sample liberally; send press samples to as many writers and publishers you can identify that you think are serious. And for you who aspire to being serious wine critics, ask for those samples. Ask for them every single time you run into someone who has the ability to provide them.