The Old School Wine Critic Is As Important as Ever
The last few years has seen a great deal of talk about the demise of the traditional or “Old School” wine critics, their power and their relevance. Those offering this view mean the Wine Spectator, Robert Parker, The Wine Enthusiast Magazine, etc. The observation is usually coupled with reference to the power of peer reviews, blogs and social media.
I have a story to tell.
Friends of mine have been making Cabernet from Napa Valley grapes for about six or so years now. The wine is very well made. It’s Napan in style: Fruit forward. Rich. Velvety tannins. 14.5 or so alcohol You know the style.
They don’t make very much. Under 1,000 cases. And they don’t have a tasting room. But, they have a place to taste curious wine lovers who seek them out. And they have a smallish allocation list.
It hasn’t been easy. Their wines have been priced around $70 a bottle. Not out of line for small batch, single vineyard, well made, stylish Napa Valley Cab. But on occasion they have had to discount here and their. They’ve had to work hard to sell it. They travel to markets. They do in-home tastings and dinners where they hope to sell ten or so cases. Still, it’s been hard. They sell through. but it’s a hell of an effort.
They’ve gotten good reviews from bloggers and found their wine hyped on social media here and their. Some very nice reviews have shown up on Cellar Tracker and Delectable from people who matter. And these reviews have helped them sell wine.
Recently, Robert Parker reviewed their wines. They received ratings in the upper 90s and the reviews were glowing.
Since then, the buyers have been coming out of the woodwork. People want their wine. The $70 is not a obsticle. They now have more options than they’ve ever had before due to new and faster revenue, requests by many more retailers and restaurants and a much longer allocation list.
This kind of response never happened with the reviews they received in social media formats.
What to make of this?
1. The Old School Wine Critic is clearly not dead. And their demise is over stated.
2. The Old School Wine Critic clearly has relevance with some people
3. The reviews of the Old School Wine Critic moves far more wine than much of social media put together.
4. While wineries can live and die by reviews and ratings, the living is pretty good.
Here’s what I think and here’s why I tell my clients: The value of social media endorsements can be significant under the right circumstances and if the right content creators using social media endorse a wine. However, the value of a great review by a widely respected wine critic is unlikely to wane because the power and prevalence of social media grows and grows.
Critics have existed ever since Aristotle laid down the law on literary forms and people looking to understand the nature of quality in all its forms have looked to educated, well spoken, experienced critics to help them understand the nature of quality. A retreat from the experienced and educated critic in favor of the mob is no advancement.
And this goes for wine and wine critics. No one has to explain to me the value of crowd sourced reviews, nor their power. But wine is not power adapter, nor is it a 50 inch HD TV. It’s savored for its meaning and parts and origin. A crowd can take a stab at those things, but it can’t say anything definitive about them. No one argues with a crowd sourced review. They do argue with the views and ideas of an individual, particularly the individual critic and this is how you can tell they are relevant.
Artists, writers, designers and, yes, wines have been “made” by critics. Some have been undone. But the power to undue a creation or creator has to be weighed against the power a critic has to discover and present a great piece of art. All criticism strives to find this new item of relevance. And those that do so regularly, despite their occasional tearing down, are followed.