The world has an ever-increasing plethora of wines. No other consumer product offers as staggering a range of choice as wine. The popularity of wine both for drinking and investment has spawned an entire industry of wine critics and journalists with their own trade publications, magazines and websites that regularly taste and evaluate.
The critic as well as the journalist has a mission and responsibility to inform. It is well-known that in markets such as restaurants, films and books, critics directly shape outcomes by guiding consumers’ attention and purchase decisions through their assessments of product quality. In a similar fashion, wine critics are expected to be able to identify, appreciate and describe a wide range of styles for consumers, and then identify the wines that are good and not so good examples of their respective styles. Based on this approach, consumers can then make a truly informed decision according to their own taste.
A critic’s point of view is crucial because his task is to act as a guide, leading readers on a quest to explore what is most beautiful, fascinating, distinctive, curious, and delicious in the wine market. Their views should inspire curiosity, promote ease and comfort with wine, and provoke discussion and debate. A number of these critics have become extremely influential. They hold a great deal of power as taste connoisseurs and wine evaluators, able to make or break a new wine before it ever reaches the market.
Of course, there is a difference between wine critics and wine journalists. Critics are all about rating wines. Their currency is the professional tasting notes and ratings, whereas wine journalists are more interested in stories. When critics visit a wine region, their aim is to taste all the wines in the area, or as many as they can. Some critics choose not to visit the wine regions at all, but instead have the wines sent to their offices where they’ll taste them, assign scores and make brief notes.
However, wine tasting is so dependent on individual sensory abilities, not to mention perceptions, partialities and sensitivities which are all bound to be subjective. Consequently, there is more than one “correct” independent judgement to be made about each wine. We all taste wine differently, and we all have personal preferences. In the field of wine criticism, it is considered bad to be negative about any one wine, because there are others who may appreciate that particular style. This is acknowledged by writers and consumers alike. As with most other forms of professional criticism, wine criticism should be an act of respect towards the reader.
Wine ratings are useful to consumers who face an enormous range of choices and desperately need information, even if it is practically problematic and theoretically suspect. Wine ratings are useful commercially, too. Winemakers need to find ways of reducing consumer uncertainty, and therefore increasing sales and wine ratings serve that purpose.
For decades, consumers have been turning to professional critics and journalists, self-made experts, wine merchants and hobby enthusiasts to help them decide on what is a good choice to drink or purchase. As wine has grown in popularity around the world throughout the late 20th and early 21st centuries, new consumers have been seeking out information and advice on wines. The advent of the internet has brought about a significant transformation. Recently, we are witnessing major changes in the marketing world of wine. The internet is coming up with multiple tasting notes on every type. Not long ago, most consumers were unwilling to give a view on any wine for fear of being ridiculed. Thanks to the internet, now everyone can voice his or her opinion.
The internet has now become part of the world of wine. The reason is rather simple and it is thanks to the specific characteristics the internet has to offer as opposed to traditional press and other communication systems. Using the internet, news and information can be spread quickly and worldwide, offering readers a new way of interaction. The advantages offered by the internet are obvious: lower financial spending than other communication media, the possibility of virtually reaching every corner of the world, promptness in communication and in updating documents. The internet has undoubtedly done a lot for the global wine industry. It promotes the diffusion of useful marketing and research information, facilitates wine tourism, promotes professional collaboration, and helps individual winemakers and regional groups to establish distinct market identities.
Studies show that internet users spend more time on social media platforms than any other type of site. Social media has also led to a change in wine marketing. Wine is about sharing and socialising. Whether a business event or a private party, consumers typically enjoy sharing a bottle with others. In other words, wine is a social product. With that in mind, it should be no surprise that wine is among the top eight categories being discussed on line! Social media and wine both create discussion and social interaction. If people buy a craft product, they will talk about it on social media. In the end, everybody’s recommendation – whether it’s a wine critic or a working sommelier – is just that person’s personal opinion.
The proliferation of information online has also increased general discussion about small production and unusual wines among consumers. The borderline between business and private use of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and similar platforms is gradually being eroded. Social media users browse their favourite channels out of both personal and business interest. Nowadays, wine experts and consumers alike more often share information about wine via social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and wine blogs.
Furthermore, the smartphone has made it possible for digital content to become available anytime, anywhere. Wine drinkers can compare multiple evaluations concurrently – not just at home but in the wine shop and restaurant.
It’s now widely acknowledged that part of a successful marketing effort means paying attention to the mobile consumer. The point is that, whether we like it or not, our mobiles play a very important role throughout our day. A significant part of a smartphone are the applications running in the unit. Wine applications, or “apps” as they are better known, for this facility have flooded the market, and choices abound, depending on what attributes suit your fancy.
There are hundreds of wine-related apps available for download, but not all are created equal in accuracy, reliability and features. Some are free relying on income from advertising and marketing promotions and made by groups of students or hobbyists, some are made by people just hoping to create something of value, and others are developed by companies dedicated to the world of wine. There are even apps designed by wineries themselves, used to better interact with their customers.
Users want to know more about a wine, where they can buy it and what others think of it. Some offer premium users access to consultations with a wine expert. Certain wine apps even claim to predict whether you’ll like a wine before you taste it. Now wine-related applications for the iPhone and iPod allege that using label-recognition algorithms can instantly retrieve and display on your mobile phone wine ratings, reviews, grape variety, region, vintage, average prices, tasting notes and food pairings. A consumer can add his or her own reviews and ratings.
As time goes by, the recommendation and rating features on these apps will only continue to improve. It has been acknowledged that younger wine lovers are more likely to take a friend’s considerations when making purchasing decisions, and wine rating apps are likely to be of use in this way. Some journalists believe that people will rely on the applications instead of talking to the sommelier or wine-store retailer for advice. However, wine can be a very complicated subject. If only it were a simple matter of red and white! Instead, the drinker confronts a bewildering array of issues covering geology, climatology, plant biology, bio-chemistry, aesthetics, history, economics, grape varietals, vintages and terminology among other things. In the end, it comes down to a simple question: do I like what’s in my glass? If a wine critic helps you to say yes more often than not, he or she is doing a good job.
The question addressed here is whether, in future, wine lovers may have no need to scrutinize the opinion of any specific human agent, but will instead consider whatever consensus has precipitated from the accumulation of individual opinions.
Most of us are still looking for “expert” guidance, perhaps by reading a newspaper column, or studying the results of a wine competition. Blind faith in any wine critic is not a good thing. It does not encourage wine drinkers to learn and discover for themselves. In an ideal world, people would taste and think about wine sufficiently deeply to form their own opinions.
Wine critics have traditionally played a role in moulding our views of a wine’s quality but they no longer rule the domain. They are the bond rating agencies of the wine market. Their scores give many wine buyers the confidence they need to make what really is a risky purchase. At their best, wine critics serve a useful function of reducing uncertainty about what’s in that bottle and whether it is worth the price.
The internet has provided myriad sources of information on wines, and social networks are an increasingly important source for recommendations. Instead of a wine critic aristocracy, we are heading towards a world where everybody is an expert and nobody is an expert, where wine enthusiasts follow their own tastes and feel free to spell out their preferences.
Learning about wine is something best done over time and out of love, by drinking it and by occasionally visiting wine-growing regions of the world, which are invariably beautiful places to go on holiday, even if you’re not a wine geek. However, experience of a few hundred bottles is nothing – especially when many are consumed without analytical thought, but just to wash down a meal or lubricate a social occasion. Also, without some study and background knowledge, many wines – for example those that don’t carry a varietal label – probably add nothing to the consumer’s knowledge-base.
For most, wine is a luxury product and not many people have the time, money or interest to rigorously learn about wine through research and extensive tasting. Critics and wine experts drink a ton of wine, so hearing what they think about a bottle can be useful, in the right context. Things can change, especially as people become more proactive and outlets begin guiding consumers, helping them explore in order to discover what they like instead of using a rating system to advise them what to drink.
The world is full of interesting and delicious wines and maybe we ought to try a little harder to take advantage of this great diversity. The thing that makes wine so special is that it is a deeply personal experience. Seek out new wines from new places and then circle back to under-appreciated old wines from old places.
Cheers and HAPPY NEW YEAR to all!