The Ethics of Wine Critics

Founded by the late Daniel Rogov, focusing primarily on wines that are either kosher or Israeli.

The Ethics of Wine Critics

The vast majority of wine critics demonstrate a well-balanced sense of ethics
10
30%
A small majority of wine critics demonstrate a well-balanced sense of ethics
8
24%
Less than half of wine critics demonstrate a well-balanced sense of ethics
5
15%
More than half of wine critics demonstrate unethical behavior
2
6%
Most wine critics demonstrate unethical behavior
1
3%
I have no opinion on the issue
7
21%
 
Total votes : 33

The Ethics of Wine Critics

Postby Daniel Rogov » Sat Jul 26, 2008 6:18 am

In the late 18th century Dr Johnson observed that "most journalists have the ethics of monkeys". Let's jump to the early 21st century and look exclusively at wine critics and how we feel about their ethics.
In addition to your vote, your comments are most heartily invited.

As for me - I'm purposely going to hold for a full week before responding as I have some strong opinions on this and do not want to bias others by sharing my own thoughts too early on.
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

Postby Doug Z » Sat Jul 26, 2008 8:53 am

u r the only critic i really read consistently.

if u have the ethics of a monkey...

well, i like bananas anyway.

but seriously, and in light of the some of the points made in that article on st emilion that i posted...(“Cher Bob, I don’t manufacture ink.”) its unfair that some people can have such sway over the pocket books of so many people.

too commericial and mercenary in my view.
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

Postby Rotem Perets » Sat Jul 26, 2008 10:58 am

This is a very interesting subject.

But before we proceed with answering such a poll, we must satisfy one other question.

What would we consider as a "Sense of Ethics" when it comes to Wine Critiques?

It is very interesting to hear your thoughts on this as well.

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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

Postby Daniel Rogov » Sat Jul 26, 2008 11:56 am

Rotem, Hi....

You ask how I perceive the ethics of the wine critic. Fair enough…. In order to develop and maintain an ethical presence:

a. The critic need not be a winemaker but must have a thorough working knowledge of the entire winemaking process, that from the vineyard to the bottling
b. Included in the above is a good working knowledge of vines and grape varieties
c. The critic should have a good overall working knowledge of the wine industry. That is to say, not to be "in" the business but to know how it works from the vintner to the winery to the store to the client
d. The critic should have an ever increasing repertoire of tasting
e. The critic should have a certifiably good palate (using that term to describe both sense of taste and smell as the two are inseparable)
f. The critic should have and always be developing a set of standards that different types of wine should meet.
g. Those standards should be broad and generally agreed upon by others in the profession
h. The critic should be aware that there need not be any relationship between his/her personal tastes and the standards. That is to say, he/she should be able to write objectively even about wines that are not to his/her personal liking
i. The critic must realize that he/she is neither the friend or the enemy of any winery or winemaker but that they are colleagues – that is to say, both the winery and the critic have the same "clients" – the people who buy the wines of the winery are those who read the critic. Although they are in this sense colleagues, they have vastly different tasks – the winery has something to sell; the critic has to decide what is worth buying
j. The critic must maintain a certain "distance" from those at the wineries. That is to say with only rare exceptions (see my note below) one cannot develop close friendships with winemakers or others at the winery. One can enjoy their company and have warm and friendly relationships and can have respect but becoming "too close" builds in a certain possible bias and that must be avoided.
k. Related to the above, it should make no difference to the critic whether he likes and respects or dislikes and has no respect for any given winemaker. What is being reviewed is not the winemaker but his/her wines.
i. The critic cannot have any commercial interest in or any commercial relationship whatsoever with either wineries or any outlets (stores, internet sites, wholesalers, whatever) that sell or promote wines
j. More than anything else, the critic must be aware that his "boss" is neither his publishers nor editors but his clients. It goes without saying that loyalty is due to one's newspaper or other publications but there are distinct limits that have to be called into play as the final client (the reader) is entitled to know that what the critic writes is uninfluenced by anything other than his/her own honest reactions to the wines and wineries under review.
k. The critic must him/herself be open to criticism. If critics are not open to criticism, nobody should be so open!
l. It should go without stating (but somehow needs to be said anyhow|) that critics should never accept any kind of bribe from any source whatever. Among things that the critic can receive – a single bottle of any wine from any winery that cares to send it for tasting purposes; note pads or ball point pens that are put on the table at most tastings (so long as the pen is the kind that one uses in most office buildings….in other words, no Parker gold pens); the occasional p.r. corkscrew that comes your way). What is not acceptable is to receive three, four or more bottles of the same wine, gifts of any significant cash value (say more than US$5.00), cash for any reason whatsoever. The critic may also accept transportation to a local winery as supplied by the winery but not to one abroad. Invitations from abroad must come from governmental bodies or other bodies who expect no "return" on their investment.




One should note in all of this that I consider two different types of legitimate wine reviews – let's call those "expert critiques" and "naïve critiques". All critics have to start and no-one starting out on any road is already an expert. That is perfectly acceptable so long as the naïve critic admits to his/her naivety and does not bluff to convince their readers that they are experts. What that means, among other things is that while the expert can compare a wine to dozens or hundreds or even thousands of others in a similar category, the naïve or beginning critic can legitimately say , e.g., "I find this wine pleasing (or displeasing) because….." No bluff there, therefore each acceptable at its own level.



One final note…. In the name of what Americans like to call "full disclosure", with regard to good friends in the industry, one of my dearest friends is the owner-winemaker of an Israeli boutique winery. This person and I had developed that relationship long before he even dreamed of opening a winery. It would not be fair of me, in a country as small as Israel not to present his wines to the public. The public is entitled to know. Solution for me – to taste his wines blind (as I do with almost all wines at any rate), to make my notes and then to ask two highly respected colleagues who do not know the winemaker in question to also taste his wines. If their notes or scores are lower than my own, those are the scores he receives.


I warned you all in my opening post on this thread that I had a good deal to say about this matter. And this too-long essay is just off the top of my head. Apologies for wordiness. Perhaps to sum it up, John Rawls once defined "justice as fairness". This holds true for the critic.

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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

Postby Robin Garr » Sat Jul 26, 2008 12:43 pm

Daniel Rogov wrote:You ask how I perceive the ethics of the wine critic. Fair enough…. In order to develop and maintain an ethical presence:

You, sir, are my kind of critic. I would agree with your points virtually from top to bottom without quibble.

I do have a couple of special rules evolved from my own experience that I do not necessarily recommend to, or require of, others:

1) I generally do not accept even a single bottle of wine for tasting. I buy my own wine for review, with my own money, at local retail sources as much as possible. This is not to suggest that an ethical critic can be "bought" with a wine sample. I don't believe that. However, when I started the WineLoversPage.com website in the early '90s, it was easy for me to adopt this policy because I had been bound to it as a wine critic for the Louisville newspapers in earlier years; and perhaps more important, because it distinguished me clearly from a number of "critics" who were setting up Websites apparently for the primary purpose of acquiring free wine for review. Same's true, perhaps even more so, with the proliferation of "bloggers."

I understand that this arrangement is not feasible for critics who review wines in mass. The nature of my publication is such that I generally review two to four wines a week - I'd be drinking that much at my own expense if I weren't a writer at all!

2) Initially I did not accept trip expenses but conducted wine travel only at my own expense. I'll admit that, once I felt my bonafides were established as an ethical critic, I rewrote this rule to a degree: I'll accept travel as long as I'm delivering a quid pro quo: Serving as a wine judge, making a presentation, conducting a workshop, providing consultation. It doesn't seem reasonable to me that I should insist on paying my own way if I'm being hired to provide something of value (as opposed to enjoying a junket in exchange for an unspoken - or spoken - agreement to pen a fine story).
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

Postby Jan Schultink » Sat Jul 26, 2008 1:31 pm

I think most of the critics are more or less OK. Especially those that are kept in check with a critical Internet audience. :P
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

Postby Daniel Rogov » Sat Jul 26, 2008 1:46 pm

Robin, Hi....

We remain in agreement.

With regard to receiving wine bottles for sampling purposes... I do have a budget from my various newspapers but that comes nowhere near the ability to pay for the 1000+ wines that I taste monthly. In fact, it would have me and my newspapers together in bankruptcy court. My policy is to accept one bottle from wineries that choose to send them, and that of any wine from any vintage they make. No winery is expected to send bottles and if they do not they are not "penalized" and either my budget or other tasting possibilities can often cover those wines. I recall only four exceptions to that rule in my career - the first two on onreceiving a bottle for advance tasting, those being corked and, because the wine was not yet on the market, requesting a second bottle; the second an annual thing with one local boutique winery that always presents me with three of each of his five releases shortly before release, he knowing me well enough to realize that those bottles will not be consumed for my pleasure but will be going into tastings in another two, five or more years; and the most recent just this week on attending an advance tasting for the press and finding all of the bottles suffering from heat shock (not cooked but ye gods, dead in the bottle) and requesting one bottle of each wine for blind tasting at in my own tasting room.

With regard to travel abroad.....my rule was originally set by Le Monde and the Journal de Geneve and later by HaAretz, all of whom follow the same policy - that of accepting invitations exclusively from governmental bodies. In my own case, on receiving such invitations I always send a thank you letter saying whether I can or cannot accept and with that a note to the effect that I will be attending in the role of critic and what and whether at all I publish afterwards will be fully in line with my role as critic and that with both regard to the event and those wines that I taste.

I have no problem at all with those who accept fare and expenses in return for acting as a judge. In my own case, and as is fairly well known, I have "problems" with competetitions in general so no longer accept such requests. But that is food for another topic altogether, and perhaps best one day over a fine meal and at least several fine wines.

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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

Postby Bill Hooper » Sat Jul 26, 2008 2:57 pm

Daniel Rogov wrote:i. The critic cannot have any commercial interest in or any commercial relationship whatsoever with either wineries or any outlets (stores, internet sites, wholesalers, whatever) that sell or promote wines


There are some critics whom I respect who do have a financial stake in wine. Armin Diel in the German Nahe also writes for the Gault Millau (Weingut Diel is mentioned in the publication, but isn't rated.) 'Tis a slippery slope, as he is certainly qualified to comment on his neighbors wines (The Gault Millau is a Big fan of both Donnhoff and Emrich-Schonleber), but they are also regional competition for Diel. I have never once doubted his professionalism. He seems to take the position of being an embassadeur of German wines first. But what about the critic who does SELL wines on-line that he rates, the prices of which are often the result of these ratings? Are these the same? In a perfect world I guess I would like more boundaries.

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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

Postby Daniel Rogov » Sat Jul 26, 2008 3:20 pm

Bill Hooper wrote:But what about the critic who does SELL wines on-line that he rates, the prices of which are often the result of these ratings? Are these the same? In a perfect world I guess I would like more boundaries.



If the person in question is presenting himself as a critic and is also selling the wines he/she rates that person is, for lack of a better phrase "a whore".

If, on the other hand the person is (as is, for example the case of Gary Vaynerchuck) the owner and/or representative of a sales outlet, that person is simply selling wine and those that interpret such as valid criticism have never heard the expression "let the buyer beware".

In the specific case of Gary V., my first reactions to him and his presentations were somewhat negative. Simply not my style. I have since come to realize that Gary, as the salesman par excellence, is introducing an entire generation to the world of wine. Fair enough. I agree that with his special brand of salesmanship Gary can "speak to" an entire generation that would never read the likes of me or even of wine forums such as this and the WLDG. Truth be told, I am looking forward enormously to meeting Gary when he visits Israel in the not-too-distant future. I think he and I will have a great deal to discuss, debate and argue about but in the most friendlly of fashions.

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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

Postby Robin Garr » Sat Jul 26, 2008 3:40 pm

Daniel Rogov wrote:Simply not my style. I have since come to realize that Gary, as the salesman par excellence, is introducing an entire generation to the world of wine. Fair enough. I agree that with his special brand of salesmanship Gary can "speak to" an entire generation

Exactly so! WineLibrary (and Gary) is one of our major sponsors, WLP in general having a broad demographic that includes youngsters and geezers alike. I felt much as you did about his style at first, but gradually came to realize that the man's a genius: He has a far, far larger audience than Parker, much more influence with them, and almost none of his negatives.

As long as I've been in this business, the industry has whined about not being able to reach young people. Now Gary is doing it. Watch that man ... he's going places.
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

Postby Daniel Rogov » Sat Jul 26, 2008 4:54 pm

Alex responded as follows on the WLDG side of these forums. I am quoting him in full here to give more of a sense of continuity to this discussion.


Over the years I have done some freelance journalism, and seen how hard it is to stay "objective", insofar as this is actually possible.

When you fraternize with wine producers - as one inevitably does - rating their wines or talking about them necessarily
becomes ambiguous (this is not forgetting, of course, that there's "slightly ambiguous" and "very ambiguous"!).

I did a series of château profiles at one time.
What do you do when someone spends half a day with you and invites you to a great lunch with rare old wines?
Say their wine is crap?

Obviously, there are ways around this if you need to be critical.
There's what I call "damning with faint praise" - describing a wine in such a way that an intelligent person will read between the lines and catch your drift.

But, I believe that it is *impossible* to dissociate oneself *entirely* from personal relationships one may have had in the world of wine.

I'll give you an example of a case of inadvertent bias. There's a very good wine blog called The Wine Doctor, written by an English doctor names Chris Kinnock
whom I was pleased to meet once in Bordeaux. I recently went to his site to check out his opinions on a Bordeaux château or two. I also came across an interesting
overview of market trends, and was delighted to see proper attention given to the "lesser wines" of Bordeaux.
http://www.thewinedoctor.com/regionalgu ... ture.shtml
The only problem is that, among the small selection of wines he cited, 3 are owned by fellow Brits and one by an American.
This is hardly representative of Bordeaux, and gives a skewed picture of things.
Its by no stretch of the imagination dishonest! What it does show is that people write about what they know. And who they know.

Do corrupt wine writers exist? Sure they do. One very well-known English wine writer regularly receives gifts of expensive wine.
I have an intuition though that this is the exception rather than the rule.
You may well ask: does receiving that wine imply that the critic has necessarily been "bought"?
I am tempted to answer: yes.

Most wine writers I know edit their notes according to a wine's reputation. Taking what I know best (Bordeaux), scores are "readjusted" according to the wine's reptuation and price tag. In other words, there's a pecking order here, and critics tend not to stray too far from it.

The crux of the issue is this: should critics be unfailingly honest, even if it means giving a poor impression of someone they know and like?
Is an itsy bitsy bit of indulgence really that awful?
In an ideal world, the answer would be yes, yes, and yes.
However, as the issue is not all black and white, I think that even people who *try* to be honest and open, have great difficulty doing so!

Speaking of honesty, I'm a great fan of blind tasting.
Many critics do not evaluate wines this way.
That is, unfotunately, a way of loading the dice in my opinion.

Once again, I'm not rejecting this or any other method wholesale, just pointing out how I see things .

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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

Postby Rotem Perets » Sat Jul 26, 2008 5:03 pm

First I would like to thank you for educating us (well, me at least).

I think it would be to hard to assume, that I have any idea, as to whether any wine critique do hold up to all the rules mentioned above.

One can only hope so (-:

I do believe that on the most professional level, critiques such as yourself do hold a "Sense of Ethics".

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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

Postby Daniel Rogov » Sat Jul 26, 2008 5:15 pm

Alex, Hi….

Responding to your comments.

When you fraternize with wine producers - as one inevitably does - rating their wines or talking about them necessarily becomes ambiguous (this is not forgetting, of course, that there's "slightly ambiguous" and "very ambiguous"!).


A danger that must be kept in check. In a sense one does not so much "fraternize" as to sometimes accept and/or exchange hospitality but always aware that while "we" (the critics) want something from them (e.g. information, barrel tastings, advance tastings, vertical tastings), "they" (the wineries and winemakers) also want something from us. The truth is though that as they owe us nothing and are gambling when the invite us, we own them nothing in return except of course, our courtesy.

What do you do when someone spends half a day with you and invites you to a great lunch with rare old wines? Say their wine is crap?


Yes indeed, but you manage to say it like a gentleman while getting the message across loudly and clearly.

… I believe that it is *impossible* to dissociate oneself *entirely* from personal relationships one may have had in the world of wine.


Disagreed but that on the basis of the advance knowledge it is a great deal simpler to lose friends in the trade than to make them. I can list several wineries that will not allow me on the premises as well as one that will not even allow me to taste their wines at public events. In such cases those wines are always later tasted blind to eliminate any bias (and/or even anger or frustration) that I may feel.

… that people write about what they know. And who they know.


That we write about what we know is clear. Has nothing to do, however, with whom we know. In my own case for example, I write about literally hundreds of wineries with which I have no personal contacts whatever.

… Do corrupt wine writers exist? Sure they do. One very well-known English wine writer regularly receives gifts of expensive wine. I have an intuition though that this is the exception rather than the rule.You may well ask: does receiving that wine imply that the critic has necessarily been "bought"? I am tempted to answer: yes.


And I am tempted (oyez, oyez) to agree with you.


Most wine writers I know edit their notes according to a wine's reputation. Taking what I know best (Bordeaux), scores are "readjusted" according to the wine's reptuation and price tag. In other words, there's a pecking order here, and critics tend not to stray too far from it.


As might be said, "no way San Jose". My notes and scores are written in most cases at blind tastings and are finalized, including scores, before the bottles are unveiled. Price has no relationship to score, scores and tasting notes relating entirely to the qualities of the wine. Adjusting scores is cheating pure and simple. If really surprised at a wine's performance after the wine is unveiled, a second blind tasting is arranged.

The crux of the issue is this: should critics be unfailingly honest, even if it means giving a poor impression of someone they know and like? Is an itsy bitsy bit of indulgence really that awful?


Two questions, two answers. The critic must make every attempt at unfailing honesty in his reviews. If that is going to hurt someone, so be it. If that person has both intelligence and taste they will understand. If not, they will despise you. So be it. As the "itsy-bitsy bit of indulgence", I'm sure we all know the apocryphal tale of the man at a party who approaches a woman and says: "Excuse me, but I find you very attractive. If I offered you a million dollars would you go to bed with me tonight?" The woman thinks for a moment and answers affirmatively The man then says "And if I offered you twenty dollars?" She becomes indignant and says "What do you think I am?" He responds: "We've already determined that. Now we're just bickering price".

Speaking of honesty, I'm a great fan of blind tasting.


As am I. Not always possible (e.g. at trade fairs, when visiting wineries) but certainly whenever possible and when not at least a random sample of tastings to be followed up in blind tastings.

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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

Postby Thomas » Sat Jul 26, 2008 5:39 pm

This is what I posted in the main wine forum:

I think everyone should be honest. With wine critics, I'm more concerned that they have technical training before they go around making proclamations.

Self-appointed, completely subjective critics give me absolutely no valuable information, and like Alex, I believe that they stack the deck or load the dice (not to mention that they remove all objectivity) by not evaluating individual wines on their merits--blind.

Addendum:

To the subject of ethics: I assume you mean should critics expose their wine reviewing methods. Yes, they should. They should make it plain where and how they come by the wines that they review and what they are looking for when they review wine. They should also be honest about the wines that they don't like as much as they are honest about the wines that they do like. Again, if they are technically trained, the reviewers' reasonings are more enlightening to me than their hedonistic view of the wines.

Unfortunately, wine reviewing seems to have veered in the direction of mainly reporting to consumers more about the wines reviewers and critics like and less about the ones they find wanting. If there is any value in wine criticism, it is wasted if all the consumer gets is discourse on wines that receive scores of a certain level and up.
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

Postby David M. Bueker » Sat Jul 26, 2008 7:34 pm

As a consumer I am generally ok with the ethics of the major critics. There is one exception which I will get to in a moment.

I have no problem with critics accepting samples. If they aim to be comprehensive they must either be multi-millionaires (with risk-free investments that pay handsomely) or they must accept samples. I have no problem with Parker owning a winery since he is very careful about what he says (or really doesn't say) about it.

My one issue is with one Joel Payne & the fact that he reviews Schlossgut Diel for Stephen Tanzer's IWC. He is Diel's partner in the Gault-Millau German Wine Guide & as such should (must!) recuse himself from reviews of Diel wines. When he first did this there was a lame comment about his reviews being more critical than other people's reviews, but it did not change the fact that he was reviewing the wines of his business partner. I decided to not renew my subscription to the IWC from that moment. I miss Tanzer's writing, but I really could not stomach the oh it's no big deal attitude about the Diel reviews. They should have been omitted with comment or Tanzer should have done them himself.
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

Postby Daniel Rogov » Sat Jul 26, 2008 8:22 pm

Thomas wrote:...If there is any value in wine criticism, it is wasted if all the consumer gets is discourse on wines that receive scores of a certain level and up.


Agreed completely. In my own case my policy is to review in print all wines that will be of potential interest to my readers. In my book on Israeli wines, for example, one winery receives scores of between 50 and 55; in one of my columns that appeared last week in HaAretz, one winery's wines received scores of between 68-84 (see that column at
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1004545.html ) and when responding to requested notes on the internet wines get precisely what they have earned.

The only limitation is that of physical space (every newspaper editor is concerned with the famous question of "inches") so in reviewing I will generally omit those wines that are unavailable for one reason or another (e.g. already sold out) or of no possible interest to a person reading a wine column (e.g. sweet red wines meant primarily for sacramental purposes).

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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

Postby ChefJCarey » Sun Jul 27, 2008 1:37 am

With my sincere apologies, I attempted to quote from your post and in error, probably because I am not yet used to this format (and am a well known computer screwup) deleted your comments. Again, my apologies. ....Rogov


David M. Bueker wrote:I realize it's anathema to invoke Parker with this crowd.


May I ask why the mention of Parker is anathema?

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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

Postby Bill Hooper » Sun Jul 27, 2008 2:17 am

ChefJCarey wrote:I realize it's anathema to invoke Parker with this crowd. But, he does recuse himself from Beaux Freres.


But is it ethical for him (like Diel) to rate his competition? I am on the fence with this one.
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

Postby Daniel Rogov » Sun Jul 27, 2008 5:16 am

With regard to critics who do have an interest in a winery.

If that interest is "purely coincidental" (e.g. the critic's brother owns a winery and the two are partners in many things in life) - I believe the ethical professional can in such rare cases put aside any bias and so long as he/she does not review those wines.

If the interest is "one of intent" (e.g. active partnership by buying into a winery), maintaining the required distance is far more difficult and even if reviewing the wines of competing wineries is questionable. It should be noted that in the UK this practice is acceptable to many so long as full disclosure is made. In France the critic who does that is open to a fine of up to 50,000 Euros and a potential jail sentence of 12 months. In this case, I'm with the French.

And then, of course, there is a related issue - of the critic who is an importer and/or distributor of wines.......

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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

Postby AlexR » Sun Jul 27, 2008 6:02 am

I think a related issue is why more critics don't admit when they're wrong, i.e. when they retaste a wine that they scored far too low - or too high and acknowledge the fact publicly.

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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

Postby Daniel Rogov » Sun Jul 27, 2008 6:28 am

AlexR wrote:I think a related issue is why more critics don't admit when they're wrong, i.e. when they retaste a wine that they scored far too low - or too high and acknowledge the fact publicly.



Agreed. Critics should realize that they can make mistakes and then should be the first to go public with their updated notes and corrections. Funny thing is that admitting to an error does not make one look foolish.....on the contrary, it makes the critic appear at least a bit more human.

Possibly amusing story......some years ago I reviewed one of the Don Melchior wines of Concha y Toro and my bottom line was that the wine seemed tightly closed and without the potential for opening. The day the crit appeared, the importer phoned me to say that I was wrong and that the wine would open within the next 6 - 9 months. I promised to re-taste the wine in 9 months and his comment was a sarcastic be'eemet!!! (literally from Hebrew "really" but used in this case in a truly sarcastic tone).

Nine months I tasted the wine. My column that week opened: "I goofed and I goofed big. Nine months ago I reviewed the Don Melchior of Concha y Toro and predicted a poor future for it. I was wrong. The wine has, as the importer suggested, not only opened but blossomed and is most surely deserving of our attention.,.." I then printed my new crit.

Two things happened.....the importer phoned me, amazed....Rogov, ata gadol (Rogov, you're great). And my editor received some twenty plus letters and faxes saying that people were delighted that I could admit to having made an error.

Camus once wrote that "the only important question is that of suicide". He was wrong. The only important questions deal with morality and ethics.

Best
Rogov

P.S. And indeed, I am far from being or aspiring to becoming a Saint. Fortunately, however, I write about wine and not my personal life and its various complexities. One day perhaps in a series of post-modern essays, an autobiography. That will be a different story altogether.
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

Postby Chris Kissack » Sun Jul 27, 2008 6:40 am

An important and interesting debate, and one that I have been drawn to for obvious reasons.

I have been writing online for eight years, on my site which predates the very existence of blogs (and so I have never thought of it as a blog Alex....it doesn't really follow that format). It started as a labour of love, and I suppose in many ways it still is; it certainly doesn't pay the mortgage! But that means samples are almost (not totally) non-existent, and the vast majority of the wines I write about I am responsible for buying myself. They might be bottles bought for me to drink, or those paid for collectively with friends that we drink together. Doing it this way makes it very easy to be honest about the wines. Received samples - those sent to my house - I write about in a separate section of the site, so hopefully readers can spot these easily. With such a small influx of samples I have always been in personal communication with the retailer/importer/winemaker first, and I always make it clear to them that I will only write honest opinion. I don't find that difficult to do; and it is the only way to build respect with (a) them and (b) readers.

As for inadvertent bias, I think there is a double-edged sword here. Firstly, as has been pointed out by several in this thread, you can't taste/drink everything these days. The world of wine is too large. When I started out I wrote about wines from Australia, Chile, South Africa, Italy, Lebanon and yet never did more than scratch the surface. With time I realised that I should be more focussed, and now certain regions - eg. Loire, Bordeaux - are more strongly covered. This in itself is a bias I suppose - I like the wines of these regions better than others. But here in the UK there is only so much you can do, especially when trying to get down to the level that you discuss, Alex, the little-known wines of the region. They aren't very present in the UK, and I still need to explore this further, just as in the Loire I need to get to grips with some of the rising stars - Antoine Sanzay, Bruno Dubois - as well as the famous old names. The only way to do this is to spend time in the region; I have just returned from three weeks in the Loire at my own expense (the fourth time in five years I have made such a pilgrimage, and I am already planning a return in Feb 2009) trying to do this.

And so the problem with the article you mention, which I accept, is a failure to be comprehensive at that tier. I don't feel it is biased, for several reasons. I have tasted wines from every estate name-checked in the article, to write about those I haven't would be dishonest, and so what I write reflects my knowledge and opinion alone. I think those with the inclination to read my site are aware of that. Second, if four of the 22 estates are owned by non-French nationals, so be it. From looking at the estates where I have most experience, it comes from tasting their wines in the UK rather than in Bordeaux, so it probably reflects willingness on their part to travel and show their wines, or their marketing budget, or availability in the UK. Perhaps they are different in this respect because of their nationalities, but writing about them certainly doesn't reflect some sort of relationship with them.

So I accept that my knowledge in the 'petit-Bordeaux' arena is less comprehensive than it might be, but if I moved to Bordeaux, would I be in a stronger position?

The writer ensconced in a region has other difficulties that weaken his/her position - notably increasingly close relationships with the people he/she writes about. They can be more comprehensive, which is really the problem you have highlighted with the article discussed above, but at much greater risk of accusations of bias. Witness Guy Woodward's comments to Jacqueline Friedrich in a letter published on her blog (http://www.jacquelinefriedrich.com) about her relationships with Loire winemakers. Witness your invitations to lunch where you have been served old and venerable wines. Witness the problems identified by David above, with regard to Joel Payne writing about Schlossgut Diel. All these potential or alleged ethical conflicts come from being too close to the wines and the winemakers. That's something I have found easy to avoid up until now, but there is perhaps a price to pay in the depth of what you can write about.

Lastly, I am many things (I suppose), but I have never been a Kinnock (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Kinnock)!

Best wishes.
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

Postby Birger Vejrum » Sun Jul 27, 2008 11:22 am

In Denmark we have an winejournalis who never attend invitations from Danish importers, nice guy meet with him several times. He is a winejournalist for a major Danish newspaper, he "only" have the wines sendt to him. I have invited him some times but he always says no as he will not write an "thanks for the food and wine" review in the newspaper he is working for.

Ciao
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Re: The Ethics of Wine Critics

Postby Thomas » Sun Jul 27, 2008 11:26 am

Neither of the wine reviewers--Daniel and Chris--address my claim that critics ought also to have technical wine training so that their analysis exceeds subjectivity. I know it's not exactly an ethical issue, but to me it is an issue that goes to the heart of wine criticism.

Should I take silence on that issue to mean that you believe that criticism should be subjective and nothing more? And if it is a subjective exercise, please enlighten me to the benefit in knowing what someone else likes or dislikes about a wine.

I'm not trying to be sarcastic, just trying to understand something about wine criticism generally. For instance, in other professional criticisms (theater, movies, some food critics but not all, etc.) the critics often have years of study under their belts, and they add production value to their discourse. Rarely does a wine critic talk about what a winemaker may have achieved differently had he or she done such and such instead of this and that to the wine.
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