Slate: how the Internet has democratized wine drinking

wine web critics Mike Steinberger posted a synopsis earlier today of the recent policy transgressions, policy changes and general tone deafness at Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate. It advances the discussion since his angle is that the moment of the Internet is now:

But while the online world has clearly changed the way in which wine information is disseminated, the notion that it might fundamentally alter the critic-consumer dynamic was, until recently, mostly a matter of prognostication—everyone agreed it was bound to happen, but at some indeterminate point in the future. What the Parker imbroglio demonstrated is that the future has arrived…

We are moving from a monologue to a dialogue, and this reflects a fundamental truth about wine: It is a matter of taste, and taste differs from one person to the next. There’s still a need for expert opinion, but authority is going to have to be worn a lot more lightly going forward, and it isn’t going to command quite the deference that it used to.

Check it out. And also be sure to check out, if you haven’t already, the lively discussions by the “purged and the disaffected” over on Wine Berserkers!

“We’re All Wine Critics Now: How the Internet has democratized drinking.” [Slate] (Crop of image from Slate)

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17 Responses to “Slate: how the Internet has democratized wine drinking”


  1. I wonder if I’m a purged & disaffected wine blobber now? :-)


  2. Too bad, Joe. Your career as a writer is over. No one needs expert analysis anymore. The pros like me and the soon-to-be pros like you are old hat, passe, deader than Merlot. I am an old, self-appointed has been. You are a young, self-appointed has been. No less an authority than Tish said so over on Tom Wark’s blog yesterday. Now, Mike Steinberger has confirmed it.

    The entire wine drinking world is purged and disaffected. Those millions of folks who read Parker, the Spectator, the NYT, the WSJ, Decanter, Gambero Rosso are going to walk out en masse and become democratized.

    Hallelujah.


  3. well like someone said you still can’t “Trust” the palate of Cellartrack scores, some people give all wines 89 to 100. Tho If I see detailed analytical notes I will check a couple of there other wine scores see if they give out 80s or what not.


  4. “There’s still a need for expert opinion . . .”
    Really? That seems somewhere dubious and wishful, because the tide has turned. Michelin had its day and had its way, and now Zagat rules–and we have not been ill-served, either. Now Zagat’s probably in danger too, as restaurant reviews grow exponentially.

    For Parker, maybe it’s time to hang ‘em up. When you can’t afford your own principles, what’s the point of plodding on? He’s made money by the long ton, surely. He’s been given awards and medals and honors and banquets. He’s just over 60 and has had job-related health problems, so this is a good time to close up shop, write a memoir, make his own wine, play the Grand Old Man. The un-pretty alternative is to keep on cutting corners behind our backs while his associates cut corners behind his back, leaving his reputation in ruins.


  5. Bill, all of us who started writing in the 1970s when the wine boom hit are going to hang it up sooner or later. But, I don’t get your point.

    You are confusing Parker’s problems with a universal problem that does not exist across the wine review universe. And, by the way, have you checked Parker’s subscription numbers lately, or Decanter’s or WS or WE or Gambero Rossi sales, etc.

    You question whether there is a need for expert opinion, yet your alternatives to expert opinion are still opinion. What you apparently are suggesting, and I would welcome your corrections of anything I have missed here, is a form of collective opinion that, by its weight, will have power. That is still expert opinion. It is still outside guidance. And if outside guidance is useful, then it is reasonable to expect that there will be single voices as well as collective voices.

    Will Cellar Tracker be faster, smarter, more able to differentiate small differences than Parker or CGCW or Tanzer? Do 25 opinions of wine drinkers look like expert opinion or an uncritical melding of reactions? Tom Merle likes to refer to Trip Advisor. I used to use it extensively. I know better now. The ratings are popularity contests, not qualitative analysis.

    Whether Parker’s problems ultimately mean he should leave the scene now or not is an interesting question. I happen to think that he deserves, has earned, the right to try to fix the problem before he gets tossed overboard like yesterday’s a dead cat.

    But, Parker really is not the issue. It is the question of how and in what form the large body of wine drinkers will get information going forward. It would surprise me if the “democratization” of wine commentary means the end of the experienced, articulate, trustworthy wine reviewer.

    Parker will eventually go; I will eventually go; Laube will eventually go. Others will take our places. They are already. People like Joe Roberts, Jordan Mackay and others already have established themselves as important voices.


  6. “Old Media” versus “New Media”, it is the same debate on so many fronts. It is not an either/or proposition. The Internet is simply connecting millions of people that were not formerly connected. Simple as that.

    Eric LeVine,
    CellarTracker.com


  7. Why is this a competition? The two media can co-exist just fine. There’s room for magazines as much as the internet has room for blogs. As long as every blog/magazine provides its own mission and backs that mission with specific content, there’s no reason for overlap. However, what I do find encouraging is what was mentioned by Eric–now more than ever, the internet is connecting people of similar tastes. This is not just in wine, but in anything. You could enjoy a hobby of extreme ironing, and, assuredly, you’ll find people online who meet your enthusiasm for the niche sport. This system in no way replaces expert opinion, rather it complements it by connecting those audience’s with certain tastes to an expert of those same tastes.


  8. Just for the record, Wine Enthusiast is doing just fine. With the recession nearing an end (we all hope), our revenues are bouncing back.


  9. Dylan–

    Fine points. The funny thing, though, is that all the wine pubs have discussion groups and are thus already connected to an “expert”.

    Co-exist. Yes, and probably get to look a lot more like each other over time. The ultimate result of all this changing world will be that some publications will adjust, some will go away, some bloggers will become publications. Indeed, some already are. They just publish online–as, by the way, do almost all the existing print publications.

    Conversations about wine, or almost anything else, are not new. They have existed from the very first extensions of the Internet into a public medium. Before that, they were called Letters to The Editor and could become quite heated and go on for months. Technology has made everything more immediate, but it has not changed the human condition. We all have had opinions and expressed them, and we still do.


  10. One day soon, we’ll be able to look back and acknowledge that, for all the struggles of the medias – both new and old, that we are living in a golden age of wine.
    More labels for those who like and can afford them. More family producers and vineyards. Custom crushers. More winemaking clubs than ever before. All in all, it can’t get better than this.


  11. Charlie,

    You are correct that conversations are not new. One thing that is new though are large, systematically (or organically assembled) catalogs (e.g. 700,000 unique wines on CellarTracker) and then the ability for people to attach a load of interesting data (reviews, drinking window recommendations, price paid, label images) to this catalog. The mix of structured and unstructured data makes for some powerful scenarios that heretofore where not necessarily possible. Combine that with a new business model (free access funded by traffic-based monetization, voluntary subscription or ‘freemium’ model, commerce etc.) and this has potential to create pressure on some existing models. That said I don’t think that these different models need to replace each other, and each model (and type of data) has its own obvious strengths and weaknesses.

    Thanks,
    -Eric
    CellarTracker.com


  12. Wow–I found a link to this site via Mike Steinberger over at MSN…great stuff. My kudos to Dr. Vino, too for getting the word out there!

    It was only a matter of time before someone exposed the full scope of corruption, temptation, nepotism and goes on inside the wine industry. I find myself asking why so many people take the opinions of “Professional” wine critics like Parker, James Laube, and Steve Heimoff, the editor at “Wine Enthusiast” as gospel. It’s no secret that a lot of these guys are arrogant, self-important hacks who have sustained their careers by perpetuating an “expert credibility.” They exploit the subjectivity of wine; What makes THEIR palate any different than YOUR palate?? Ask yourself next time you read Wine Spectator or spend your hard-earned money on a wine regarding their endorsement. TRUST YOUR OWN TASTE!!

    It’s good that the internet has allowed more of your voices to be heard. As for Parker, Laube, and Heimoff…”The Emperor has no clothes”…and I’m happy to see more people are realizing it, too.


  13. Corruption, temptation and nepotism.

    Got any evidence that Laube or Heimoff can be accused of any of those things? I suspect you do not.

    It is entirely appropriate to argue that people should pay attention to their own palates.

    It is far, far different thing to accuse reputable writers of being criminals. Either offer proof or apologize. This kind of nonsense has no place in the annals of honest debate.


  14. Hahaha one interesting thing to note about Steve Heimoff is how brazen and audacious he is when defending the accusations of conflict of interest that seem to be prevalent with a lot of these wine “critics.”

    “Look, folks. Every wine writer with any influence or connections has partaken of gourmet meals for free,” Heimoff writes.

    “…Every wine writer with any influence or connections has been hosted, or limo’ed, or accommodated, by his or her hosts, to some degree, and at one time or another. I have, and so has each critic I’ve ever known…”

    “…I don’t know Dr. Vino personally; perhaps he is that rare bird, a wine writer and critic who has never taken a dime from a winery or winery organization. If that is so, he must be independently wealthy, which few wine writers are.”

    WOW. What kind of a journalist can get away with that??? Don’t you think there’s a credibility issue here??? Is this guy completely clueless?

    You can find this article (the one where he attacks Dr. Vino) here:

    http://steveheimoff.com/index.php/2009/05/26/parker-redux/

    It’s only a matter of time before these critics get their due!!!! POWER TO THE PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!


  15. A lot of us seem to forget that wine critics are human too. It’s unfortunate that some people seem to take them at their word when they claim that the preferential treatment they receive has “no effect on their ratings whatsoever.” Maybe some of their opinions are genuine and honest—but it’s an insult to our intelligence to think ALL their reviews are fair and on the level. How do we know a 93 point review isn’t a “I’ll Gift You, and You Gift Me” trade-off? We don’t.

    The good news is as communication (Blogging, Twitter) continues to change the way we obtain information, the more informed and confident we will get in our own tastes—and the less people will rely on the Parkers and Millers and Heimoffs!


  16. Essentially, Steve Heimoff’s assertion is, “EVERYBODY IN THIS INDUSTRY DOES IT, CRITICS WILL CONTINUE TO DO IT, SO PEOPLE SHOULD STOP COMPLAINING.”

    That doesn’t make it right!

    When I was young, my mother taught me a thing or two about integrity. It’s an IMPORTANT THING when it comes to his line of work. Is Heimoff that dense and unengaged with reality that he does not know what he is really saying?

    THANK GOD bloggers like Dr. Vino exist to put these keep these “professionals” in check!


  17. Thanks for the insight. Looks like I will not be renewing my subscription to “Wine Enthusiast!”


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