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10.27.2008

Is There Any Point to Negative Wine Reviews?

A little less than five years ago when I started this blog, I naively thought that I might try to do something different from all those big wine critics. They were only telling part of the story, I said to myself, but I was going to tell the whole thing. I wasn't going to pull the punches that I felt everyone else was avoiding. I decided I was going to write negative wine reviews -- just what the world needed. Or so I thought.

I think my pioneering attitude lasted about six weeks, after which I was left with a (now) blindingly obvious set of revelations:

1. There was so much mediocre wine out there in the world that lukewarm or negative reviews could easily take up the majority of my writing time.

2. Writing negative reviews is about as fun as completing the writing comprehension section of the SAT.

3. People mostly want to know which wines are great much more than they want to know which wines to avoid.

Since those early days, I've developed a more nuanced point of view on the subject, but I hadn't thought about it recently (nor had to defend that point of view) until I was politely "cornered" at the recent Wine Bloggers Conference and asked to publicly state, and defend, my position.

The question of whether negative wine reviews benefit anyone does not clearly resolve into black and white, which means it's something that was certainly worth talking about, and on reflection, writing about.

As readers will probably recognize, I almost never write negative reviews here on Vinography. The few times I have were situations where I felt like there was an honestly useful, even more specifically educational, value in writing such a review. They are few and far between.

I don't write negative reviews of wines because I don't think that they are particularly meaningful or relevant for another set of reasons in addition to those listed above:

a. Many times, I don't necessarily know that the bottle I happen to be reviewing isn't simply just a bit off -- whether from a fault that I am not detecting or identifying or simply due to bottle variation of some sort or another.

b. A bad review is quite damaging, because it is often read as a condemnation of the winery itself (despite any care or attention put to the contrary by the author) even though the particular wine in question could be part of a portfolio of truly stellar wines.

c. Likewise, bad reviews are often read (and written by irresponsible critics) as being absolute and categorical judgements about a winery, when in fact they are mere evaluations of a specific wine in a specific vintage. That particular wine could have been great the year before, or it could get great the next year. But bad reviews hang around in the minds of consumers like skeletons in the closet, much longer than they should.

d. Bad reviews also hang around in the minds of winemakers and winery owners a lot longer than they should. Like it or not, anyone who seriously attempts to write consistently about wine in a critical fashion has a symbiotic (or as Jancis Robinson would put it, a parasitic) relationship with the wine industry. Bad reviews burn bridges in ways that make it difficult for the writer to ply their craft.

As readers know, when I review an individual wine, I spend a lot of time (and words) in the process. To do so, only to pan a wine, would be a waste of my time and the readers for all the reasons stated above.

There are a couple of slight exceptions to this rule, however, when it comes to my coverage of large categories of wine at major public or trade tastings or my reviews of the entire portfolio of wines by a single producer. In those situations I often (but not always) include the scores of the wines that fall the lowest on my scale. In the case of large public tastings, I am not writing tasting notes or any other kinds of notes about the wines, only offering their scores relative to a much larger group of wines. In the case of a producer, I am including that wine in a group that includes wines I think are excellent as well (otherwise I wouldn't write the review), so I believe there is enough context to mitigate my negative assessment of the wine.

These exceptions lead me to the conclusion, however, that if I was going to attempt in any way to offer a comprehensive set of criticisms about any particular category of wine, that I might indeed write negative reviews. For instance, if I ever happened to be able to attend the En Primeur tasting of top Bordeaux Chateaux in the Spring, my goal would be to provide readers with my reviews and scores for every single wine, and that comprehensive coverage would by necessity have to include those wines which I did not care for.

I rarely find myself in a position with the time or the opportunity to be so comprehensive in my coverage of any type or showing of wine, however.

Nonetheless, the fact that such a situation might exist, certainly forces me, in answering the question that titles this post, to not only concede that there certainly could be a point to negative wine reviews in certain situations, but also to admit that my position on the subject isn't quite as strong as I might believe.

For instance, if I ever got into the habit of publishing every tasting note I ever made (hard to imagine given the effort of doing so at the moment) I might consider including the bad ones as well.

But I suppose I'm lucky that I don't have to suffer through that at the moment. Instead, I choose to take the time that I do in order to write carefully and passionately about individual wines that I love. Life is too short to drink bad wine, and it's also too short to write 500 words about a wine only to recommend that no one should buy it.

Comments (45)

Sam Goth wrote:
10.28.08 at 12:30 AM

Alder,
What if you substituted "a good review" in the points above (a,b,c, and d)-does your logic also follow through (in the opposite direction) on these wineries?

Alex wrote:
10.28.08 at 1:29 AM

With a monstrous back log of tasting notes (& recipes ... & restaurants ...) I find I only have inclination to write up the gems. However, the exception to that is if I've bought a wine for a specific purpose: a blog event, food and wine matching, trying to hit a particular price point, or trying a new grape or blend. Then I try to be even handed and find at least one nice thing to say - although this is often a lot easier to do if you are writing about the wine in some other context, rather than just about the wine itself!

Glen Ferguson wrote:
10.28.08 at 3:29 AM

I feel Sam (above) has an excellent point. Negative wine reviews help me understand the preferences of the reviewer so I can consider their bias when reading tasting notes. Also, point c strikes me as not giving your readers very much credit.

10.28.08 at 6:10 AM

Jane Garvey writes our monthly wine review column, and has for over 3 years now. When we started, we decided to avoid publishing any wines less than her score of 85. No one buys wines scoring 85 or less, and in the end, it is a waste of time and editorial space, not the least of which the winery/wholesaler feels you are panning their wine. Best to just avoid altogether. Our wine review is read by 18,000 and no one has ever complained that we don't show 85 or less wines.

10.28.08 at 6:21 AM

To me, "good" has no meaning without "bad," so I have no problem with the concept of negative reviews. To me they're just as valid as positive ones.

Alex wrote:
10.28.08 at 6:51 AM

"No one buys wines scoring 85 or less" - how does that work?

I'm sure I've bought wines that would have scored 85 or less or someone's scale. I don't hunt out a review of every single wine I buy before I buy it! More often than not I use reviews after I've drunk a wine - to find out more about it and to see if my experience is typical.

Alder wrote:
10.28.08 at 7:25 AM

Sam,

I'm not sure I'm following exactly your question, but I think there's one big difference between a good review and a bad review at the end of the day -- and that is that the good review gets people to buy and try the wine. Once they've got their own experience with it, that impression tends to override any "effects" of the review (point worshipping notwithstanding).

Alder wrote:
10.28.08 at 7:32 AM

Glen,

Thanks for the comments. I understand your point, and it's fair - I guess I'm speaking there about the broader, average consumer audience which makes up a portion of this blog's readership. I don't know what to say other than it's a fact that there are wine drinkers out there who are too easily swayed in their opinions about what to drink -- witness the Sideways Effect on Merlot and Pinot Noir sales -- than they should be. It's that type of categorical reaction to criticism that I want to avoid if possible. Clearly a lot of my readers would not take one negative review as a referendum on the quality of a winery's products, but I realistically expect some people to.

Sam Goth wrote:
10.28.08 at 8:38 AM

Hi Alder,
Thanks for the response. The point I was trying to make was that your arguments lack consistency in two ways.
First:
If we find a bottle agreeable it's ok to praise the entire bottled lot and ergo the producer.
If we find a bottle not agreeable it's ok to withhold comment on the entire bottled lot and the producer.
The first reason allows you to give valuable information to the buyer, last reason allows you to withhold valuable information. In both cases the weight of the information is the same and can lead to a buy/not buy decision.

Second:
Sampling one bottle from any release (which will be hundreds of btls by commercial necessity) and extrapolating its characteristics to the entire lot seems flawed. But every reviewer is guilty of this, and raises the q of how many btls need to be sampled to get a good picture of the lot.

Thanks for reading,
Sam

Leio wrote:
10.28.08 at 8:39 AM

Alder,

I think you make some great point about not reviewing 'bad' wines. However, maybe you could just list all the wines you tasted and only write up the ones you think deserve special attention? This would allow the reader to at least get an idea about wines that may not be good, as well as perspective about what kind of wines you end up preferring.

Seems like a win-win to me, the reader is more informed about possible bad wines, your palate, the wineries save some face, and it saves you a lot of time on write ups!

Ted wrote:
10.28.08 at 9:19 AM

Alder, great topic. As a producer, poor reviews are just ignored. If one critic gives you a 79 you just dust off your double gold from the Dallas Morning News and use that on your press kit. Consumers don't often see bad scores because they don't get repeated a thousand times like the good scores do. My point being the positive reviews should get the bulk of your limited time.

One exception is when there is a conflict of interest like Gary V's case. As a retailer, I think he has to pan wines to maintain credibility with his viewers.

Dean Tudor wrote:
10.28.08 at 10:12 AM

Another great topic from the sterling Alder...

I find it very hard to review average wines (there are extremely few bad wines in the marketplace: bad wines are flawed in the bottle, for the most part, are are easy to find and write about if you note the flaw).

In reviewing average wines, I have developed a faint praise index (as in "damned with faint praise"). I could post it here, but it is too large..Try www.pathcom.com/~dtudor/faintpraise.txt

Morton Leslie wrote:
10.28.08 at 10:13 AM

It's really not complicated. Everyone should focus on the positive. There is nothing to be gained by being negative.

The customer of the critic is looking for help in the face of thousands of labels on the shelf. They want to know what is good in their chosen price range. Telling them what not to buy is of no value to them. They want to know what to buy.

Similarly a retailer advising a customer has no business panning a wine that he sells. He should not be selling the wine in the first place. If he bad mouths a wine he doesn't sell, he immediately raises a question of his motive. The retailer has the most to gain from recommending wines that will please his customer.

Inferior wines should simply be ignored.

10.28.08 at 10:22 AM

Morton, I couldn't disagree more with your statement, "Everyone should focus on the positive. There is nothing to be gained by being negative."

I can't think of another industry where critics publish only positive reviews. Music? No. Art? No. Movies? No. Food? No. TV? No. Why should wine critics be any different?

What if Consumer Reports only published positive reviews and we never found out that certain vehicles fail crash tests, etc.?

To me that is just as ludicrous as wine critics only publishing positive reviews.

Dean Tudor wrote:
10.28.08 at 10:25 AM

When you are dealing with a limited number of productions or people, it is all right to slam a theatre or music performance or movie (these are only in the low thousands in number each year)...but when you are dealing with hundreds of thousands of different items such as wines or music recordings or books, then you must be selective -- there just is no print or broadcast space for them all.

It has always been this way...but maybe with blogging, we could be able to come up with some kind of negative reviewing system -- parcel it out. I can take on negative reviews for Ontario wines. Find someone else for New York, Washington, BC, Sicily, Campania, Macedonia, etc etc....It would probably have to be a local blogger.

BUT it can be done, if we want it...

10.28.08 at 10:34 AM

I have to agree with Morton, Ted and Alder. What is the point of trashing a wine? Some sort of responsibility to consumers? Wines are submitted with the hopes of getting some PR, simply ignoring the wine and failing to mention it should be punishment enough for the producer. I think Alder is being very responsible in his approach.

I think there is a fundamental difference between reviewing negatively wines that have been submitted and wines that are tasted at a public venue. When a producer pours a wine at a public venue he isn't seeking the praise or opinion of a reviewer, they are simply practicing good old grassroots marketing, letting consumers decide for themselves. THis should be respected by 'critics'.

I also feel the posting of endless negative reviews would further the 'pompus' and 'snobby' view of wine culture, something that hurts everyone (except Screaming Eagle), consumers and the industry alike.

Sam Goth wrote:
10.28.08 at 10:52 AM

Hi Dean,
What is the point of drinking any wine that you plan on reviewing? I suspect the wine(s) are chosen because they have attributes the readers are interested in and can relate to. So wine selection is already occurring. I recently posted on another board my experience with a Salice Salento-mostly positive from my perspective (red fruits, herbs, good structure, medium body, inexpensive) however, did I experience strong leathery, bretty aromas. Notwithstanding these brett aromas may be offputting to some (it was in the wine after all) so what is wrong with reporting that?

Jon Webster wrote:
10.28.08 at 11:18 AM

I can't help but think that by not writing bad reviews, wine critics run the risk of becoming cheerleaders. I'm generally leary of bad reviews, thinking a reviewer may have had a bad/corked bottle, and I've had enough wine that's been scored in the 70's that has been good/great to take all such reviews with a grain of salt. That being said, if i see several poor reviews of a product across several publications, I am likely to spend my money elsewhere. These negative reviews do provide a needed service. What goes hand in hand with the negative, is the idea that the critic is not reviewing based solely on their personal taste, but that the product is deficient in some way. What we don't need is wine reviews that say

"Chateau WombatSweat Cabernet sucks, I wouldn't give it my worst enemy. 17 Points. Crap!"

The way I think about this is that we don't need bad reviews, or good reviews. Just review the product, If its no fun to write a bad review, too bad. Put a quick note of what you've tasted recently that didn't pass muster at the end of some glorious prose on a wine that you did love. Just my 2 bits.

Sam Goth wrote:
10.28.08 at 11:21 AM

Hi Jerry,
I think the point is not to trash a wine for trashing's sake, but to give out information both positive and negative. This for the consumers, not the producers sake. Once the bottle leaves the producer and goes to a reviewer, the reviewer shouldn't be beholden in any way to praise nor damn the producer. If the producers want PR, they can buy it in an aboveboard manner. The rise of Robert Parker and other independent reviewers was a much needed reaction in part to the unhealthy intertwining of the interests of wine reviewers and producers at the time. A well informed, confident consumer will ensure that a good producer's wares find a home.

Darian wrote:
10.28.08 at 2:08 PM

Interesting topic and great discussion. I would note that not publishing wines you thought were "bad" basically means readers get short-changed on your full experience. I guess my point is an extention of the understanding-your-palate argument.

That said, maybe there is a better way to note wines that you did not appreciate. Rather than provide full reviews, some abbreviated review--although I know this isn't ideal there must be a way to share more of your experience...

In my own wine notes, I take care to review all wines even if I don't like them and use those notes to avoid them when I go shopping. Also, I've found my own tastes change and that a wine I didn't like one night had much more appeal later (not because the wine got bbtter but because something in my attitude or approach to the wine changed).

Anyway, this is a fun topic to discuss. I tend to think there is no "correct" answer but really ones' own personal belief or preference. That fact that you give full disclosure on what you "report" and what you don't is the important thing.

Liz wrote:
10.28.08 at 3:18 PM

Your viewpoint on this helped me a lot with my wine blog. After talking with you, I went back and deleted the slightly negative reviews from my blog, because they really were not useful. People want to read about what to buy -- for the most part....and life really is too short to spend a lot of time writing bad reviews. Thanks for helping me to get clear about this. Liz

Eric wrote:
10.28.08 at 3:53 PM

I think another point worth mentioning, especially for reviews in the blogosphere is to find ways to review wine outside the accepted "norm" of wine scoring. Put another way, I believe it's possible to express displeasure with a certain wine without trashing it. I'd also take that a step further and say it's getting harder and harder to find truly terrible wines. There are several people (myself included) who are having fun tasting through wines bought at Trader Joe's.

You know going in that you are probably not going to find a 100 (or in Alder's case a 10) point wine for $3.99 but taking into account price versus enjoyability you can easily say good things about a wine no one produced or sold to win awards, only to have someone enjoy at the end of their daily toil.

Thus a wine Alder might only score say a 6.5 may be more than worth a shot if it sells for $11.99.

Not sure if I'm arguing for or against Alder's original post at this point...

Thad W. wrote:
10.28.08 at 4:02 PM

I look at this issue on two levels: first, as a wine blogger and second, as a wine blog reader.

As a wine blogger, I publish both positive and negative reviews of my experiences drinking wine, visiting a winery, or attending an event. Why do I include negative reviews on my blog? I believe it would be irresponsible not to inform my readers of these less-than-satisfying experiences, for there is a direct cost in shielding them from this valuable information.

For example, what if a recommended wine is not available in one’s market or sold out at the winery? If the only information accessible is a positive review, then what is to guide one's purchase decision on alternative wines that reviewers didn’t like but intentionally withheld a review?

Most consumers want to know what’s best before they buy, but in the process they also want to know what to avoid. With the lack of information available, especially in the form of negative reviews, consumers end up wasting billions of dollars on bad wine each year. With the inherent scarcity that exists with wines receiving a positive review, the problem remains as to how to efficiently and effectively inform consumers of the wines to avoid.

I believe it is incumbent on me as a wine blogger to educate and empower my readers, regardless of the challenges that come with writing negative reviews or the impact this practice might have on my standing in the trade.

As a wine blog reader, I tend to look upon reviewers who only cover the positive as being either lazy, biased, or both. Am I calling Alder biased? No, for his candid post helps explain the reasons why he has chosen to focus only on the positive. Am I suggesting Alder might be a bit lazy for not including negative reviews? Frankly, yes, for I think Alder has at his disposable a tool that can easily publish and effectively distribute his tasting notes, both good and bad. I know of other wine bloggers, who combine lengthy, positive commentary with a separate section detailing positive and negative tasting notes.

Regardless of what approach Alder chooses to take, I do hope that more wine bloggers will provide balanced coverage of their wine experiences going forward. Not only will consumers benefit from this information flow, but along the way the wine blogosphere is sure to gain increased credibility. The alternative is to become a collective voice that merely articulates and accentuates the positive, which is a path well trodden by traditional wine magazines and newspaper columnists.

Big Daub wrote:
10.28.08 at 4:09 PM

Alder,

Look at this from the movie critic's position.

With "only talk about the great stuff" philosophy...
I would have seen Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Aliens Vs. Predator:Requiem and any of that scat Ashton Kutcher tries to pass off as entertainment.

So said with kindness and deference, you can discuss the crappy.

BB wrote:
10.28.08 at 6:01 PM

Ironically, I saw this new post immediately after I wrote a mostly negative review of several wines at a tasting.

I can appreciate both sides of the matter. I feel a bit more comfortable writing negative reviews when I've tasted at a winery since I was able to try most of their line-up and interact with the bartender(in some cases the owner themselves)and see the actual property. Negative reviews aren't fun to write, but I don't mind reading them.
I don't run out and try a restaurant or movie based solely off 1 person's opinion, why would wine be any different?

10.28.08 at 6:07 PM

Alder - I like your commitment to reviewing only the wines that you like. As consumers, we are faced with a SEA of wine choices. If we only knew what to avoid we'd really be no closer to what to DRINK. That's the advice we need...TRY THIS!

Richard

10.28.08 at 6:57 PM

Sam,
I have to agree that if a producer submits a bottle for review then the producer should live with the consequences.

As far as negative reviews go, the blogosphere has created an environment where anyone can become a wine reviewer. I, for the most part, see this as a positive thing. However I do see some issues. Honestly I don't have much faith in most 'critics' ability to detect flaws. I also think there is a tendency for most 'wine geeks' to have a style that is prefered within a varietal or region and anything that falls outside of that style could be judged harshly. The problem comes when I try to discern what reviewer X's 81 points means. Is the wine flawed or is it just produced in a style that doesn't agree with the taster? What if the taster has an off day? What if the wine was poorly handled during shipping or was stored improperly? What systems do reviewers have in place to do thier 'due dilagence' before posting negative remarks?

Bottom line is I would be much more supportive of negative reviews being published if there were more 'checks' on the credability of reviewers.

Enobytes wrote:
10.28.08 at 7:02 PM

We post both the good and the bad reviews because we believe the public deserves a fair and honest review. When we come across a wine we don’t like, we don’t scream, "this wine sucks, don’t buy it", we simply lay out the facts and give the consumer the information they need to make an informed buying decision. If we are familiar with the producer and the wines that they produce, we might go into detail about how/why the current vintage doesn't live up to past vintages and we do this with a (hopefully) sincere voice. As Darian, Dale and many others point out, I think we are short-changing consumers by focusing on only one side of the story which is not a good policy.

Thad W. wrote:
10.28.08 at 7:24 PM

It is surprising to see how those in the "positive reviews only" camp quickly call into question the credibility of bloggers writing negative reviews. However, none of these folks have raised the issue of bias in many positive reviews. This bias clearly exists amongst bloggers who are either associated with the wine trade to begin with or are trying to gain favor with it. Let's hope that suggestions such as those calling for "more 'checks' on the credibility of reviewers" are ignored. We don't need regulation, just more transparency. Those bloggers who fail to disclose do so at their own peril, for the reader will eventually shun these writers.

Sam Goth wrote:
10.28.08 at 8:46 PM

Jerry,
We are playing the game of "what makes the perfect wine critic"-from my pov, this would be one with catholic tastes, can recognize uniqueness regardless the wine's origin, doesn't interject personal likes/dislikes into their analysis, is financially independent of the trade, and has a consistent record. To sum, a breadth of knowledge and tasting experience, no material interests, and an even handed approach in criticism is what I want to see so that no one's interests are shortchanged.

Benito wrote:
10.29.08 at 12:25 AM

For the first two years of my blog, I reviewed everything that I tasted, and that was a hell of a lot of wines. I gave good and bad reviews in one sentence forms, and I got bored of this style. I switched to writing more in depth about wines I really enjoyed, and I think my readers prefer this. Even if that particular wine isn't available in their market, there's still the opportunity to look for that grape, region, or producer.

The exception, in years 3 and 4 of my blog, has been various bizarre, non-mainstream wines I've gotten to try. "Soviet Champagne" from Belarus, a horrid Romanian white, and an unfortunate French abomination called "Sushiwine"...

I think that beating up on White Zinfandel or Yellow Tail comes across as elitist or arrogant to everyday readers. If a wine is merely uninteresting, I see no reason to write about it either pro or con.

Also, we don't have a good tradition of "vin ordinaire" here in the United States. There's a bunch of pretty boring table wine that's consumed throughout Europe on a daily basis (and I doubt anyone spends a lot of time reviewing it), yet equivalent wines are looked down upon here in the U.S. You're expected to either drink fine wine or none at all. So what if you always order the house Merlot by the glass? At least you're enjoying yourself.

Gary wrote:
10.29.08 at 12:50 AM

Alder,
Great post as usual. Without repeating what others have already said, and fully understanding your position (burning bridges etc), I respectfully submit that negative wine reviews can be incredibly useful.

Let me make the case very simply. Consider a wine like 2005 Mollydooker Carnival of Love:

Robert Parker
RP99: "A selection of the finest Shiraz barrels, it boasts an extraordinary black/purple color, gorgeous notes of blackberry liqueur, camphor, and smoke, and an enormous voluptuousness that would make even Pamela Anderson jealous..."

Jeremy Oliver
77/100: "...spirity young shiraz has a spicy and candied plumcake-like aroma backed by plenty of vanilla and treacle…before finishing with lingering dead fruit characters and without much freshness..."

Having tasted the wine at a dinner, I am very grateful that Jeremy Oliver posted such a negative review.

10.29.08 at 2:32 AM

Great post on a topic I've been mulling over for some time.

"Journalistic integrity" versus biting off the hand that feeds you.

I think that honesty and independence are vital and, as bloggers, we're not limited to the column inches in newspapers.

What I find difficult is the effort or motivation to write a poor review. I just want to throw the stuff out and open a new bottle.

For poor reviews, I do a quick SMS/Twitter to Loudervoice.com so at least it's on record

JD in Napa wrote:
10.29.08 at 7:24 AM

Interesting to see all the comments by reviewers/bloggers on just how much (or little) information to provide to the unwashed masses. Here's this consumer's perspective: give it all to me. Too many folks seem to either think it's beneath them to publish a less-than-stellar review, or that they'll get thrown off a producer's list for a bad review. To me, this means you're blogging as an ego trip, not a public service. A poor review is just as valuable to the consumer as a poor one. Don't worry about bottle variation and such; if I see a bad review of a wine or producer I like, I go look for other reviews for back-up. Just like reviewers/bloggers look to see what others are doing, we consumers seek more than just one source of information, and the more, the merrier. Yes, it's a bit of work, and we need to learn to benchmark to find palates that mirror ours, but those who are truly interested will do so. I agree with those who say "don't slam" the wine, just write about what you observe. Finally, for those who think publishing the good plus the bad is too much work, perhaps you should try to be more concise; we consumers aren't looking for War and Peace. In my view, Connoisseur's Guide (yes, I know it's print, not blog) provides a perfect format, being concise and honest, whether they think the wine's good or bad, and they also provide perspective.

Dirty wrote:
10.29.08 at 8:00 AM

Even the most read critics state that their reviews are opinion, to their taste, and nothing more

I include negative reviews, but I try to tell them why I didn't like it- Too hot, flabby, tasted like an explosion at the Robitssin factory, etc... My readers know I have a different palate, and conversely, many of them have gone out of their way to try the wines I've passionately hated the most.

Alder wrote:
10.29.08 at 11:08 AM

Benjamin,

I hear you. I, too, have exceptions to the bad review rule, which I consider to be more around educating my readers on exceptional cases - for instance my post on Egyptian wine (which is positively horrid).

Alder wrote:
10.29.08 at 11:26 AM

JD,

Thanks for the comments. Let me make clear that when I talk about "burning bridges," I dont mean getting thrown off a mailing list. I think you'll find most bloggers, me included, are on very few winery mailing lists, mostly because we're broke and can't afford to be. The golden rule approach to wine reviews is not about ingratiation, it's about simply spending time on the good stuff.

As for the effort question, every writer decides how they want to review wines. I've decided that tasting notes and scores are the least important part of wine reviews, and instead I want to tell stories about wine that are interesting and worth reading on their own merits, regardless of whether someone gets to taste the wine. I don't see myself as simply "buying support" for wine lovers -- you'll get no annual buying guide with 10000 reviews in it here.

So if I've decided to tell stories about wine, doing so for crappy wines is just not worth the effort. Not for me and, I believe, not for my readers. As someone who squeezes this blogging into a very full life with a wife, a baby, and a more-than-full-time-job, spending time writing up lousy wines doesn't excite me in the least. And after all, the only reason I do this blog is because I enjoy it.

Tish wrote:
10.29.08 at 3:19 PM

I think it comes back to context. As you point out, ALder, you include negative reviews in whole-portfolio tastings and large walkaraounds; in these contexts, the wines you did not like are absolutely instructive.

Anybody who thinks 85 points is a good dividing line for inclusion or exclusion in written reviews has been either brainwashed or has just given up on trying to create their own relevant voice.

10.29.08 at 6:58 PM

I think there can be a place for negative reviews. John, above, first mentioned the possibility of putting a bad wine experience at the end of a regular, more positive, post.

Comparing it to food reviews could be relevant, as my favorite restaurant reviewers usually go to a place 2-3 times. Could wine reviewers do the same thing? I'm not sure, as wine in a store or received in the mail is usually bottled together, so how different could the bottles be? Going back to the well, so-to-speak, might not translate as well for wine critics.

Maybe, as I mentioned above, you need to use "wine experience," instead of wine review, as then you can tell the back story, which I find appealing, and then talk about how one bottle didn't live up to your expectations, but you'll need to try it again or offer others from the same winery that were good.

Hank wrote:
10.31.08 at 5:51 PM

I tend to agree about the damage a poor review can do -- for all your reasons, plus the fact that different people taste wine differently, physiologically. What suits my taste buds perfectly may put you off.

And then there is the question of what I ate with the wine? If nothing, then how do you properly evaluate wines designed to be enjoyed with food?

tom farella wrote:
11.03.08 at 10:24 AM

Don't get me started! The process of tasting wine for ratings is almost diametrically opposed to a real wine and food scenario.
Rarely do you see qualifications for style and scores that reflect the style. It's monolithic, bigger is better. Period. A bad review is just a few degrees away from the monster in the flight. How does a consumer benefit with this skewed proposition, sco-hoes aside.

Madeira wrote:
11.06.08 at 4:10 PM

Well I think if you are going to write a review on a wine that you have never tasted before to atleast try it twice and from a different supplier or different batch. I say this because once I bought two bottles og Barolo and the first bottle played with my head really pulling it. I would have probably given it a negative review, but when I tried the second bottle even though I was worried that it would do the same thing it was smooth, nice and really enjoyable.

So the point is whether testing wine or infact anything else, the anomaly you found should be reproducable in order for it to be documented as a negative review.

William G. wrote:
11.09.08 at 8:40 AM

It seems to me that the discussion here, for the most part, assumes that most wine consumers (or wine blog consumers, as it were) only examine one source for information about wines they have the opportunity to purchase. For my own part, I probably read reviews, comments and notes from eight or nine different places - the presence of negative reviews helps to dispel the myth of consensus when one reviewer puts forth a tremendously favorable take on a particular wine, and so, can have substantial value.

Sleepy Mike wrote:
11.16.08 at 6:02 AM

Dear Michael Bryan,

I think what you meant to say was that people who use NUMBERS EXCLUSIVELY to purchase wines don't "buy wines scoring 85 or less". Your hyperbolic use of the word "nobody" (buys wines under 85) is discrediting to your argument. Certainly, MOST consumers buy wines rated less than 85, otherwise the wine industry would simply not exist.

Personally, I think the 100 point scale (used almost exclusively for wine) is baseless and stupid. For example, if your publication only chooses to indicate scores from 85 to 100, you have a defacto 16 point scale (yes, 16 points: count it on your fingers or write it out on paper if you cannot conceive of this in your mind).

Olbermannism: What, sir, is the point?

I have no problem with a more human 16 point scale -- but why pretend? Do you really want to wake up and find out you have become Parker or Shanken? Perhaps this is your fondest wish... Disabuse me.

Sleepy Mike

11.22.14 at 10:37 AM

Ich wollt? einfach einen netten Gruss dda lassen. Bin e?en auf
d?e Homepage gestoss?n.

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