Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Influence in the wine world

With the news this weekend that Robert Parker was changing the line up of reviewers for his Wine Advocate, the wine-writing world has been full of speculation on what these changes will mean to the wine industry. Robert Parker will no longer review current releases of California wine but rather will focus on wines from Bordeaux and the Rhône valley and retrospective tastings of aged California wines. David Schildknecht will no longer review wines from Burgundy's most famous regions, Chablis and the Côte d’Or, but will continue reviewing wines from France's other non-Parker regions along with Austria, Germany and the eastern United States. Picking up the slack will be Parker's heir-to-be Antonio Galloni by adding Burgundy and California to his Italy and Champagne beats. Who would have thunk that switching reviewers for only two (albeit important) wine regions would have caused a major collective head scratch.

While Parker may have more influence in the wine world than any other single person, he is still only one individual out of millions in the industry. And while the 92-point score on the shelf talker may distract consumers from what is actually in the bottle, there are too many other influential people in the wine world. Combine that with the fact that consumers are growing ever smarter, savvier and more adventurous with their purchase decisions, I believe that this change will be highly insignificant everywhere but outside the $100+ über premium wine that only a handful of consumers (are they really consumers when they don't consume?) buy.

With the proliferation of wine bloggers (and people who read wine blogs), consumers are, I hope, being introduced to a wider variety of wine professionals. The people who are actually responsible for finding and importing wines are perhaps more important that the reviewers. When people see names like Terry Theise, Neal Rosenthal, Kermit Lynch, Joe Dressner and Robert Kacher on the back of a wine bottle they should know what kind of wine to expect. I myself am still learning the styles of the wines that these guys import, but I know that each strongly believes in what he has decided to put his name on (as opposed to simply an impersonal rating).

The Wine Advocate, The Wine Spectator and other similar publications aren't out searching for the next big wine region or style; they're mostly reviewing wines currently popular in the market. I see a growing interest in new wine regions, such as Colorado, that are off reviewers' radars. Passionate importers, distributors and wine bloggers that find and share the next exceptionally interesting wine region will have more impact on consumers' palates than whether Robert Parker or Antonio Galloni is tasting California cult wines.


  1. I couldn't agree with you more. I have lived in Colorado for 25 years and it wasn't until 2003 that I even knew Colorado had wines. I am no expert, but love the wines and have a site dedicated to just Colorado Wines. So I just tell people I am doing my part to give exposure to those who don't know about our great wines!
    I encourage my friends and people I meet to get to a festival so they can try them.

  2. Kim, thanks for you comment, and thanks for educating and influencing Colorado's wine consumers!

  3. Nice post! I was actually thinking of a very similar post in response to all of the news reports and blog posts about Parker stepping down. I have been wondering a lot about the top-down and/or bottom-up structure of the wine industry. In the end, I am not sure we can settle the debate with just one or the other. We need as many local consumers promoting Colorado wines as we need "experts" who can use their position of power to promote those wines beyond those with immediate and local access. The important question, I think, is where are the areas or avenues these two groups can meet? How can we connect these two groups with one another to get more wines known?

  4. Phil, thanks for the kind words. You hit the nail right on the head. I think for regional wines, we really need to find intersection of both approaches to get these wines known. Both the top-down and bottom-up approaches are needed. With so many different people involved in those processes, I find it hard to believe that one shift in wine reviewer responsibility will have much of an impact to most wines and consumers.