This post compares a debate between some wine pros with a debate between some Naked Angels. The difference is really interesting. Scroll to the bottom if you’re impatient.
“There are some styles of wine I really dislike, and I’m not going to do the silly thing of giving them high point scores.” –Jamie Goode
Wine journalist and critic, Jamie Goode, wrote an interesting piece on the objectivity of wine critics (well, it was interesting to me and a bunch of other wine nerds).
He wrote in an essay style, honestly asking “Should critics allow personal style preferences to influence their work?”
At the risk of oversimplifying Jamie’s original post, his point was that even if a wine critic wants to write “for all the readers of a magazine…a critic will have to make a call on style, because some wines force you into this.” It’s a good read.
An even better read is the comment section and all the other posts in response. Thankfully, Jamie has rounded up and grouped the feedback.
Many wine pros focus on the consequences their reviews have on their customers and on their own ethics.
A lot of the conversation revolved around the words critic and reader. Not many people mentioned winemakers.
The word critic appears over a dozen times in the feedback roundup. The word reader appears 5 times. The words winemaker, producer, etc. don’t come up.
And that’s understandable. Nobody loves us winemakers (just kidding!) It’s understandable because there’s a special relationship between critics and their readers and the critic feels a debt to the readers (they pay the bills) whereas they don’t feel the same debt to their subjects, the winemakers.
All fair. But an interesting thing to notice. And here’s the kicker…
Wine drinkers (at NakedWines.com) focus on the consequences their reviews have on the winemaker.
What’s fascinating is that the same exact question came up in the Naked Newbies group about a month ago. And there were pretty different conclusions. (Also a bit less tempest in a teapot!).
“Why give a wine a low heart rating if it’s not your style of wine..? To me that is not fair to the winemaker and just lowers the over all rating of the wine just because you don’t like that style of wine. If you like dry wines and sample a sweet wine..please don’t just say ‘yuck.. too sweet’. Just describe what you’re tasting… To me that’s like going to a restaurant, ordering something you don’t like, then asking for you money back. Just my thoughts.” –Michael S., Angel since April 2013
In his own disarming way, Michael is agreeing whole-heartedly with Jamie. You can’t be objective when reviewing a style you don’t like. But in his own disarming way, Michael is making a much different point: why rate it at all?
I’ve looked over Jamie’s post and the comment sections a few times and I don’t think anybody captured this very succinct point: If you don’t feel qualified to rate a wine in a certain style, don’t.
Another Angel comments “They [other customers] don’t understand it is not helpful to the winemakers”
Yet another adds “We should all keep an open mind to what we are tasting and remember our winemakers…yes they are ours and we like it that way…depend on our ratings and reviews to keep them here!”
One more on the pile, “Part of the rating process is to let wine makers and other angels know what you think.about a wine”
Kent R., who was a new Angel at the time, said “Reviews tell the winemaker both what we like and what we don’t like.”
Loads of good comments in that thread. I highlighted the ones that specifically mention the winemaker because I’m proud of the relationship between Angels and winemakers.
This was a spontaneous conversation in one of our forum groups. I only got involved after most of the discussion took place. Many participants were newbies. And yet, all of them felt a very direct personal connection with their winemakers.
The reviews we write are for the winemakers. That’s fantastic.
Wine writers have to juggle a lot of things: financial incentive, personal preference, duty to readers…
Wine Angels mostly think about their relationship with the winemaker.
[edit: Another great post on the subject of subjectivity by Asimov of the New York Times. Another defense of subjective opinion that carefully evaluates its effect on the critic’s ethics and the reader. I should mention that Asimov differentiates Yellow Tail from “small-production” wines, nodding to the idea that Jamie brought up about how you might judge wines differently based on who made them or what market they were made for]