The Influence and Value of Wine Recommendations: A Response

influencevvalue“Critics Play Minor Role in Wine Choices”.

This is the conclusion drawn from a presentation based on a consumer survey that John Gillespie gave at the recent Wine Industry Financial Symposium in Napa on Tuesday. This study is bound to cause considerable discussion and generate significant interest since it seems to dispel the idea that wine critics are important, as well as confirm what many have said about peer-to-peer wine recommendations in the era of social media: That they are critical

However, based on reports of the presentation (I was not there to hear it), I believe it is highly likely that its results will be incorrectly interpreted.

First, it appears that just over 1000 high-frequency American wine drinkers were survey and asked about what types of sources of wine recommendations are most important to them or most likely to be used or most highly valued. Responses were rated on a scale of 1-10, with the higher the number indicating a greater value among these high frequency American wine drinkers. Based on the reports, these are some of the numbers:

-Wine Knowledgeable Friend: 6.0
-Wine Shop Staff: 5.3
-Wine Spectator: 4.7
-Wine Enthusiast: 4.4
-Wine Advocate: 4.1
-Wine Columnist at local Newspaper: 4.0
-Eric Asimov of the New York Times: 3.3
-Ratings on Cellar Tracker: 3.2

A variety of conclusions based on these numbers were reported in an article at Wine-Searcher. Included among these conclusions were:

-“The Wine Advocate is measurably less influential than sommeliers, wine shop assistants, and the Wine Spectator, when it comes to taking wine advice, according to a new survey”

-“the most influential source of recommendations is a wine knowledgeable friend”

-“the power of friends’ recommendations, either in person or on Facebook, is overwhelming”

If you want to understand the most important meaning of all this, then it’s pretty important that we appreciate the difference between “influence” and “value”.  For example, where the question of motivating wine sales is concerned, there is no friend, no colleague, no acquaintance making a recommendation of a particular for you that is more influential than a good review of the same wine by The Wine Spectator, The Wine Advocate, The Wine Enthusiast or from Eric Asimov of the New York Times.

Here’s the point: consumers may VALUE the recommendation of a Wine-Knowledgeable friend more highly than a recommendation from a critic, but the influence of that recommendation still has to be measured for it to have any meaning. They only way I know of measuring the influence of a valued recommendation is asking, what kind of sales did it result in, either immediately or down the road. No matter what the answer to that question is, I know it’s going to be a very small number.

On the other hand, despite the fact that a recommendation from The Wine Advocate or Wine Enthusiast or the New York Times’ Eric Asimov may be valued far less than that from a Wine Knowledgeable Friend, that recommendation will be far more influential if that influence is measured by sales resulting from the recommendation. Think of it like this: Eric Asimov of the New York Times can be reasonably described as the Highly Wine Knowledgeable friend of a few million people.

Value and Influence are two different things. And if you want proof of this, ask people who sell wine for a living (wineries, retailers or distributors) who they’d rather have recommend a particular wine….Robert Parker in the Wine Advocate or Jim Smith of Hoopsidoopsi, Missouri while dining with is old college roommate. With respect to Mr. Smith, the wine sellers will choose Mr. Parker for the simple reason that they are in the business of selling wine.



13 Responses

  1. Rich Reader - September 26, 2013

    Consider if you will the number of impressions made by a single expert in her/her publication of a wine review versus the number of impressions made by 100,000 knowledgeable friends which are diffused through the conversation pyramid.

    On top of this sunami, the advice of knowledgeable friends more accurately synchs up with the person/persons that they give their advice to because they know how each other’s palate preferences are aligned with each other through t numerous face-to-face shared experiences. Individual experts don’t know the million individuals that read their reviews or how their tastes cross-calibrate.

    If you can acquire opinions about a wine from 3 or 4 knowledgeable friends with whom you have shared significant relevant wine tasting and appreciation, that combined influence will blow away the value/impact of a different opinion from a venerated expert.

    Thus the value delivered to wine consumers by knowledgeable friends, translated and re-interpreted in relevant contexts through the social conversational pyramid far outweighs the value of the experts untargeted advice.

  2. Bob Henry - September 27, 2013


    I found this finding very interesting:

    “-Wine Columnist at local Newspaper: 4.0”

    “-Eric Asimov of the New York Times: 3.3”

    Are there ANY local newspaper wine columnists any more? Is there ANY wine editorial in your local newspaper any more?

    ~~ Bob

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  6. tom merle - October 2, 2013

    Eric Asimov may be responsible for selling more of the six or so wines his weekly column features, But the innumerable friends are responsible, intuitively, for selling many more wines of many more brands.

  7. Christine - October 4, 2013

    Been wondering about this report on influence… Is some of it down to ease of access to information? The recommendations by friends on Facebook is given without request while formal reviews require effort to seek out and read. I write a montly wine column for a local paper and think that connecting reviews with nearby shops helps make the guidance actionable:

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  10. Bob Henry - March 3, 2014

    Tom, et. al.:

    One aspect not discussed: where did the “Wine Knowledgeable Friend” get her/his knowledge from to recommend a wine to another friend?

    More often than not, from reading about that wine in the media.

    Could be in a general interest newspaper article. In a general interest magazine article. Or an excerpt from a special interest wine review magazine reproduced on a store’s “shelf talker.”

    The friend isn’t the “wine savant.” The wine is a disseminator of news from someplace else.

    ~~ Bob

  11. Bob Henry - March 3, 2014


    The friend isn’t the “wine savant.” The wine FRIEND is a disseminator of news from someplace else.

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