Our friend Joe Roberts aka 1WineDude penned a great piece about the inferiority of an expert’s opinion over that of the wisdom of crowds when it comes to wine reviews.
The Dude offered a well-reasoned argument, suggesting, that while it was not without some value, the wine “expert” review is actually “less valuable than the opinion offered by an educated, engaged, passionate, and diverse group of people…”
And he based it on…gasp…science and research!
You can imagine the reaction of the “experts” commenting. Au contraire, Dude, if we relied on the “wisdom of crowds” we would most certainly prefer a “Honey Boo-Boo” or “Dumb and Dumber” style wine over that of say, “Mad Men” or “The Godfather.”
Especially if we chose wines based on reviews from a group of wine drinkers who post notes we can read on-line for free, versus reviews written by the paid expert in a magazine that costs us a $75 subscription.
Why the Backlash?
The Dude was tackling the ever-present blog bashing by guys who are often paid to taste wine by the publications who advertise the wines also reviewed in the same issue. Part of the bashing is by guys whose primary motive is self-preservation. If wine consumers stopped relying on the expert, he would cease to be relevant. Wineries would stop sending his magazine wine for him to taste. The winery would stop spending all that money on advertising, and the expert’s employer would be forced to shrink its magazine, lower its subscription costs or even cease to print. The expert would be out of a job, and he might be forced to blog…and well, heaven forbid should he be counted among those people!
I say, “guys” because for the most part, the “experts” are relegated to an “old boys network” where women are few and far between. Which is a bit amusing, since a woman’s senses of taste and smell generally are much more acute than that of a man.
But I digress…
Lost in Translation
It is not that simple.
For one thing, the “experts” skipped right over “an educated, engaged, passionate, and diverse group of people…” and thought “anyone who isn’t in my highly selective club with its own secret language and special decoder ring.”
Read any “expert” wine review and you will see a bunch of jargon and insider language that means nothing to the average consumer. “Petrol on the nose” and a “mouthfeel like quince jam.” And a wine that is “pretty taut for about five years after the vintage date.”
The average consumer reading that might think…
What? it smells like gasoline and makes me feel like I have a mouth full of what I put on my toast at a continental breakfast…? Quince…You mean that stuff they call membrillo in the foreign foods’ aisle?
Sugary, jelly-like gasoline? And it’s “taut.” You mean tight? Like Billie Joe says about Green Day before he flipped out and smashed his guitar on stage? Right before Rehab?
I know, we at Another Wine Blog are sometimes guilty of doing the same thing. Sometimes our friend Wine Dog calls us on it. In our defense, there are only so many ways you can describe an Australian Dry Riesling.
Which Review is More Useful?
Why would a collection of reviews from a group of passionate wine drinkers be superior to that of an individual expert?
It comes down to which is more useful to the consumer.
Wine experts tend to write about wine for the benefit of other experts not for the average consumer. The average consumer who has not just returned from Bordeaux where he was wined and dined and lodged at a lavish Chateau.
Or, whether or not the expert may like to admit, for the benefit of the winery that so generously hosted him in an effort to impress and garner an equally generous review. I don’t mean in quid pro quo fashion; although there is certainly some of that, albeit subconsciously, probably going on.
But for the wine drinker who is about to go out and buy one or more bottles of wine to go with dinner, or to serve at a party, a collection of opinions from other wine drinkers is much more useful.
We’ve started collecting opinions of other wine drinkers at monthly tastings. we call First Fridays. There are all levels of wine lovers at the tastings — wine makers, sommeliers, lawyers, accountants, NASA computer programmers, flight attendants and airline reservationists. People who work in retail and people who serve Overseas. Stay-at-home moms and Stay-at-home dads. Millenials to Baby Boomers and the folks like us in between.
It is interesting to hear differing opinions on the same wine. But it’s helpful to bring us back down to earth. It helps us to remember why we got into wine in the first place.
Wine should be enjoyed by many, rather than judged by just a few.