The Most Influential Wine Writers

In gathering responses for the 2018 American Wine Writer Survey, the question of writers’ most important influences was of great interest to me. I have my own ideas of which writers are most important to this era’s wine writing, as well as my own most important influences. But I wanted to underhand to whom today’s writers look to for inspiration.

The wordcloud you see here represents the people named by American Wine Writer Survey-takers as influential as well as their frequency named by respondents. Consider the top six people identified as important influences by writers:

Michael Broadbent
Robert Parker, Jr.
Jancis Robinson
Gerald Asher
Eric Asimov
Karen MacNeil

It’s a list of venerables and includes the most important wine critic in history, the wine critic with perhaps the deepest experience evaluating old world wines, today’s doyen of wine writing and reporting, one of the finest wine essayists of the 20th century, the most widely read wine writer in America and the best-selling wine writer in America. If I were to put together a list of the most influential wine writers in the world, all six of these would be on my list. These are the all-stars.

What’s also notable about the wordcloud is that it includes the wine writers who currently or have resided at the largest U.S. daily newspapers that still retain an on-staff wine writer:

Eric Asimov: The New York Times
Lettie Teague/Dorothy Gaiter: The Wall Street Journal
Dave McIntyre: The Washington Post
Esther Mobley: The San Francisco Chronicle

One of the most important blows to the process of educating Americans about wine is the reduction over the past 20 years of daily newspapers with on-staff wine writers. When I began working in wine in 1990 nearly every daily newspaper with a circulation above 75,000 had an on-staff wine writer and many others published a syndicated wine writer. Today, very few dailies keep a wine writer on staff.

I also want to draw the reader’s attention to those writers in the cloud who have demonstrated that influence is directly related to longevity.

Oz Clarke
Dan Berger
Stephen Tanzer
Michael Broadbent
Leon Adams
Karen MacNeil
Jancis Robinson
Gerald Asher
Robert Parker
Andrew Jefford

All of these great writers and critics have stood the test of time. It’s also a list that demonstrates that longevity is a function of talent, without exception.

If this survey sees a fifth incarnation in seven or eight years from now, it will be fascinating to see who is cited most often as influential to the writers surveyed. There are people writing today who are not included in the wordcloud above that I think will show up. And there are those on this list that will remain important influences in a decade from now.

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10 Responses

  1. Helene - December 5, 2018

    How, how could they have missed out the inimitable Hugh Johnson? The man who invented the World Atlas of Wine and wrote the History of Wine and portrayed it on the television. Or are the new wine writers in the States just not clued up?

    There is also history, so Sainsbury really should have had a look-in, but perhaps, if you aren’t based in Oxford or Cambridge you can’t find a second-hand copy of his words. Plenty more, but perhaps no one reads-to-learn-to-write, anymore. Sigh :-

  2. Peter Ricci - December 5, 2018

    My preference in writers are the ones that talk about wine regions, grape varieties, wine making techniques and wine laws. Get in-depth about the regions history, social fabric, traditions and families. To simple drink wine without understanding the above information is cheating oneself about what wine is all about.

    It is so sad to talk with people who see themselves as wine lovers who know almost nothing about the traditions and history of the worlds wine regions. But they can recite wine ratings for the past five years.

    My favorite story is the gentleman who was telling me all about his wonderful wine cellar, 500 bottles strong, 495 of the bottles being CA Cabernets.

  3. Bill McIver - December 5, 2018

    What? No Jerry Mead? The real Wine Curmudgeon!

  4. Bob Henry - December 5, 2018

    A name missing from this list is a newspaper wine columnist and wine book author who held reign at the Los Angeles Times for three decades (defining “longevity”).

    A publication who’s paid subscribers on a Sunday numbered in excess of 2 million — eclipsing that of the projected 350,000 domestic paid subscribers of Wine Spectator. More than the projected 50,000 domestic paid subscribers of The Wine Advocate. More than the tens of thousands of domestic paid subscribers to Wine Enthusiast and Wine & Spirits and Vinous (and its recent acquisition of International Wine Cellar).

    A decades-long consumer wine educator whose semi-annual wine appreciation course taught thousands, and give birth to scores of wine industry professionals — winery owners, wine makers, wine merchants, restaurateurs, and wine writers.

    That person is Robert Lawrence Balzer.

    His obituary in the Los Angeles Times:

    http://articles.latimes.com/print/2011/dec/09/local/la-me-adv-robert-balzer-20111209

    His obituary in Wine Spectator, whose subheadline reads in part “America’s first wine writer . . .”

    https://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/46126

  5. Bob Henry - December 5, 2018

    Since we are honoring members of the [Wine] Fourth Estate, let me add this erratum:

    “A publication whose paid subscribers on a Sunday numbered in excess of 2 million . . .”

  6. diana h stockton - December 5, 2018

    Without Alder Yarrow’s extraordinary response to wines, fewer of us would have either the understanding or the appreciation we do, thanks to Alder’s clear, concise and informed prose

  7. 1winedude - December 6, 2018

    Is it immature of me that the first thing I noticed was that mine was bigger than Suckling’s? 🙂

  8. Bob Henry - December 6, 2018

    Your . . . humility . . . “right” Dude?

  9. Madeline Puckette - December 6, 2018

    Cool!!! Gary V. is a wine writer! Then there’s hope for me yet. 😉

  10. MaryKay - December 11, 2018

    There is not one person mentioned who understands how to connect with the future of our fine wine industry. Except in the comments; as always Madeline Puckette is 100% on point. And hilarious.


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