It seems that several time-tested paradigms may be falling by the wayside, replaced by 21st-century “truths.” One of these paradigm changes is occurring in the time-honored tradition of selecting wines based on ratings offered by established wine critics.
Published wine ratings have been sacrosanct measures of wine quality for decades. Before the coming of age of the Millennial generation, this paradigm was accepted at face value. Wine critics routinely published reviews and numeric ratings that one could “take to the bank.”
Of course, much of the hype surrounding these proclamations was self-generated and then feverishly promulgated by winemakers and retailers. Rather self-serving, these ratings became the de facto arbiter of superior versus inferior wines. The variable element of these ratings is that they are individual assessments, based on personal likes and dislikes; they are subjective.
It is fairly common knowledge that every wine drinker’s palate is nuanced, making every wine drinker’s palate a unique receptor of the aroma, bouquet and taste of a particular wine. I’ve always felt that if your unique palate is aligned with that of a particular critic, you should rely on the opinions expressed by him or her. But if the opposite is so, then are these expert opinions not reliable?
Unfortunately, Americans tend to seek out the opinions of others for their consumer purchases – the standard rationalization being that we don’t have the product knowledge or time (or energy) to form our own opinions, so we seek out others who have the “cred” we can rely on. This draws us into a potential trap: If I don’t agree with the experts’ opinions, there must be something wrong with me; I’m now totally lost in selecting new wines.
Millennials are changing this angst-producing behavior. A new term has been coined in the realm of wine appreciation: the “democratization of wine ratings.” Who needs subscriptions to wine magazines, online wine blogs or numbers beaming at us on wine shop shelves? We now have each other’s opinions and recommendations at our fingertips. We can text or tweet our wine thoughts to our circle of friends; we can find like-minded lovers of wine on multiple social media platforms and wine-centric apps. This is the age of instant access to a street cred brand of trustworthiness. The use of technology has turned wine reviews and wine knowledge from a monologue into a dialogue.
My opinion? The inevitable tide of info sharing is a good thing for wine consumers, be they 1) novices seeking out like experiences of contemporaries, 2) indecisive souls seeking point-of-sale advice regarding choices of similar wines or 3) wine sophisticates seeking validated opinions on the nuances of a specific wine or producer.
Having recognized this sea change, I embrace it, all the while recognizing it as the latest media arena that technology has infiltrated and may eventually obliterate.
I will also state that the traditional wine media continues to be a valid and effective tool for seeking out wine info and opinions. Many established wine critics’ evaluations have lost the allure and luster they once had, but they still possess one element that provides value in the world of wine consumption – vetted insights. Many critics have spent decades acquiring an intuitive palate along with a hands-on knowledge base.
Herein lies an advantage over consumers’ growing reliance on fellow consumers for evaluations and opinions. A professional critic has acquired insights that results in reliable wine advice separate from numeric ratings and forged by continuous discussions with winemakers, numerous walks through vineyards and frequent exposure to wine as the ultimate expression of nature. It is in the nuances of wine that the truest expression of value emerges. The skills to identify these nuances are honed over time.
My advice: Personal experience is the best source of reliable information. Text with your friends; tweet with winemakers; seek out like-minded social media contacts. But don’t discount traditional sources. The ultimate outcome of wine info sourcing is yet to be determined.
Nick Antonaccio is a 45-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years, he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member and program director of the Wine Media Guild of wine journalists. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.