These are the kind of things that one discusses with friends while sitting in a wine bar during a snow storm in Raleigh, North Carolina:
“75% of wine media is focused on 1% of the wines produced.”
What I mean to say is that most of the wine media (magazines mostly) seems to focus only on the highest quality top chateaux and boutique producers and not on what the average wine consumer is actually purchasing. Occasionally wine writers or news-oriented mainstream media will have articles about “value wines” – wines that “over-deliver” for their price point and are worth seeking out for that reason. I’ve always found those articles to be kind of funny because I’m pretty sure that the writers themselves aren’t really interested in finding the absolute best $4 wine available. It’s like a food critic reviewing the new Carl’s Jr. in Penticton. Nobody consults the restaurant reviews sections in culinary magazines to find out if the MacDonald’s in Spokane, WA has good quality McNuggets. There just isn’t any value or point in critiquing homogenized processed food restaurants.
For me, it always calls into question the whole premise of wine reviews. Why and for whom are they important? Movie critics don’t seem to have much impact on actual box office or else all of the Transformers movies would have been miserable revenue failures. Clearly they weren’t box office failures so why are there movie critics? Is the journalism industry that hard up for features? Not really. But the movie industry needs that critical machine to function because it gives airtime, builds conversation, and hypes a current release thereby keeping it in the media so that people are aware of it. Negative or positive reviews are irrelevant. The Madonna School of Promotions has taught us that any publicity is good publicity. Think that cone bra was comfortable? Not likely. But every caricature of Madonna in the last 20 years includes it and it got people talking about her wether they’d actually heard her music or not.
Wineries love getting good reviews and will use those reviews mercilessly in their own promotional material or social media campaigns. Bad reviews are just ignored and left behind like the lees in a freshly racked tank where they will ultimately get rinsed out and washed down the drain as if they never happened. Perhaps this is because the perception is that wine reviews, unlike those of the film industry, actually correlate strongly to wine sales. And perhaps if not from the general public, then importers, wholesalers and distributors who are the general public’s ultimate gatekeepers to the most coveted wine products.
Consumers possibly look at the reviews although the short-hand point scores are probably the only thing that they really see. And they can’t help but see it because if they don’t see it in the magazines then they are sure to see the shelf-talkers in the store aisles of their local wine store.
The reason this topic of conversation came up at this particular wine bar (The Wine Feed in Raleigh, NC – which inspired this article as well) was because the wines that they featured on their pouring menu and flight samplers were not from high-end, top cru classé chateaux, ultra-premium, boutique cult wines but rather a solid collection of wines priced from $7-$35 US per bottle with most of the wines topping out at $20. They were awesome wines for sipping and sparking great conversations with staff and my new friends sitting at the tasting bar with me. Did they all blow me away with their amazing balance and bouquet? No. There were some plunkers for sure but there were also wines that I probably would never have even thought to try. I have my criteria for wines that I choose. Loosely, it must be from ‘somewhere’, be a unique new variety or blend, and have character that changes as I drink the wine. A wine that tastes exactly the same from beginning to end is not interesting to me and should be called ‘juice’ not ‘wine’. And right now, I’m looking at trying all kinds of different varieties of wines. Thankfully the wine world is huge and there are lots of wines to explore.
Perhaps that’s why wine blogs have really taken off in recent years. Wine blogging has really changed in the time that I’ve been involved as a blogger. It’s morphed from the introverted navel-gazing that I saw at the Wine Blogger’s Conference in Walla Walla in 2010 to outwardly opinionated, researched, and potentially powerful (hello, bill C-311) tool of communication that is a media channel unto itself. Not that I believe I am anywhere near influential in almost any capacity as a blogger – I just like to write about wine and occasionally about some chips that gracefully land on my shoulder now and then. There are certainly many more widely-read, more elegantly prosaic, more astutely rendered, thoughtfully conceived – better, really – there are better blogs out there that are excellent at creating interesting reading within the medium.
What I like about them is that they are now focusing on the other 99% of wines that may otherwise never be written up, featured, or rated in a big wine magazine. The Demystified Vine’s recent article on Zweigelt. Jameson Fink’s article on a special bottle of Barbara d’Alba that he was saving. With blogs you can follow along with the journey as bloggers travel through wine countries around the world as April Hennig’s recent posts from Portugal. You can’t get that close to action by flipping pages of Decanter. (Although truth be told, I do love my subscription to Decanter…)
So in a way, thank goodness that 3 quarters of the “traditional wine media” is looking at such a small percentage of the wine world. There’s so much more to the wine world than big value brands and grand crus which is all we get to read about in big national wine magazines or traditional media. I think the most interesting stuff is from the small, independent producers and thankfully there are a lot of them.
So if you want to find out about all of those small, up-and-coming winery in your local wine country – we bloggers will have it covered.
Cheers from wine country!