Of Knowlege and Opinion on Wine
Let us sit together and speak of knowledge as men do.
Always ask: What does this reviewer know? We know what he thinks, but what does he know?
This command comes from one of the smartest, most experienced and most knowledgeable wine writers/reporters/critics I've ever known: Dan Berger. He wrote it in his latest issue of his "Dan Berger's Vintage Experiences" in an article entitled Analyzing Marketing. In this article he lists a series of aphorisms and truths that he has come to in his nearly 30 years of writing about and studying wine and the wine industry.
What underlies this particular command is the idea that a wine critic or wine reviewer's opinions are only as good as the knowledge he possesses about wine. Now, I think Dan would argue that the usefulness of a reviewer's opinions are also only as good as the depth of his knowledge. But I'd take issue with him only because the information or opinions one person finds useful may have no relationship to the integrity or foundations that underlie the information or opinion.
However, I do think I agree with Dan that the deeper the knowledge one has about wine, the better they are able to evaluate a wine, put the wine in an historical or systematic context for their audience and to provide readers with valuable information. And this is one of the primary reasons why I don't review wines at FERMENTATION: There are many people, such as Dan, who are far better schooled and far more knowledgeable than I where wine is concerned and who, therefore, I can refer people to rather than ask them to take account of my merely average knowledge of wine.
Today, the number of people reviewing wine for an audience is far greater than it ever has been due almost entirely to an easy access to an audience via wine forums on the net and blogging technology. What I'm wondering then is this: are these new voices reviewing wines a collection of knowledgeable people who simply did not have the means previously to access an audience or are the increased voices simply that—more voices with no particular depth of knowledge that readers can rely on as they consume their reviews?
I consume A LOT of wine media. And I have done so for 20 years now. It puts me in, if not an educated place to evaluate the quality of knowledge behind wine media, then, at least, in an experienced place. And the fact of the matter is, I think the number of folks who have deep knowledge about wine and who also review wine is far, far fewer than the number of people actually reviewing wines today.
Now, again this is not to suggest that those with lesser knowledge are not useful. Let's face it, there are folks out there who find dating advice offered up by Flavor Flav and contestants on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette very valuable. God, bless these folks. Please. They need it.
But Dan isn't really addressing these folks that need God's blessing. He's addressing those people who intend to take their wine education and their wine drinking far more seriously than the average drinker. He's addressing those folks who actually think of wine drinking not only as a form of pleasure but as a form of study that enlightens their mind and deepens their education about the world around them.
There is an admirable trend, well established now, that gives great credence to "Collective Opinion" and even to Opinions of the Average Consumer. "Citizen Critics" they might be dubbed. I say "admirable" because for most of the last century, critical opinion was left to "experts" and academics without much regard for the opinions of the people they wrote for. It was something of an elitist paradigm that, with new technologies, has been offset and even set aside in many cases by the addition of, reliance upon and importance of the opinions of the more common folks among us. We now live in a time where a synthesis of expert and amateur opinion inform us on all issues including wine.
Each of us need to decide just what measure of expert and amateur opinion we are willing to consume and rely upon as we form our own opinions and make our own buying decisions.
At heart, I'm an elitist. I like experts. I like relying on people who know far more than I do. I tend to have greater respect for the opinions of those who have made it their business to accumulate esoteric information and synthesize it for themselves and for their audience. I'm skeptical of folks who offer their opinions on things about which they know some, rather than a lot. I like people who use big words correctly because big words tend to have more precise meaning than small words.
So, you can put me in Dan Berger's camp, rather than in the camp of those who think "The Bachelor" has something of significance to say.