Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Know what critics say

Wine Enthusiast Magazine's UnReserved

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011 at 6:19:40 PM
by Joe Czerwinski
penguins_3212214Recently, I received a voice mail from an irate importer, in which he said he was “fairly disappointed” with the reviews his wines had received from me. It seems the same wines have been well reviewed in their home market, and my ratings were “out of whack with what [Critic X] has given them.” Furthermore, he demanded that we not publish the reviews. Oh, and I should call him back immediately.
So I did some homework–I looked up what I had rated the wines, and checked out what another major U.S. wine publication had written–and called him back.

To hear him tell it, because I don’t agree with the judges and Critic X back home, I can’t taste my way out of a paper bag. I shouldn’t publish the reviews because it would be detrimental to his business. And when I explained to him that our policy is not to withhold reviews, the rhetoric buzzsaw jumped to a higher speed.
He’ll arrange to collect any of the wines we haven’t yet tasted. He’ll take this to “the next level,” wherever that is. Again, we’re ruining his business. Again, don’t publish the reviews.
Dude, that’s not the way it works–you send in your wines and we publish our reviews of them. The wines were tasted blind, in flights with like wines, and they were all Good to Very Good (rating 83-89 on the Wine Enthusiast 100-point scale). I have nothing bad to say about them: they’re well made and they show some regional and varietal characters. I’m sorry my scores didn’t live up to your hopes and expectations, but there’s always another critic, another wine, another vintage. And maybe this episode can help make certain things clear for our readers, in the wine trade and public alike.
We don’t withhold publication of reviews at the request of submitters. If we taste a wine and find it Acceptable (80-82 points) or better, we reserve the right to publish that review. Reviews of wines that are deemed Unacceptable (less than 80 points) are never published. Occasionally, we will retaste wines upon the request of a submitter, but that happens only rarely.
Keep in mind that almost all of our reviews are the work of individual tasters whose palates vary; there is no “Wine Enthusiast palate,” nor should readers expect our tasters to always agree with other critics. Readers who take the time to read the reviews of our critics should be able to gain a broad understanding of the types of wines that generally score well with each individual, but even then there are exceptions.
If you have built your business plan based on expectations of critical acclaim, you’re in for tough sledding. Better to have a business plan based on market needs, distributor relationships and consumer pull through. Relying on reviews to sell wine amounts to nothing more than an unhedged–and very probably unsustainable–gamble.

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