I found myself reading Time magazine today, quite literally a found copy, and I was struck by how poor a magazine it has become. No longer satisfied with supplying the news, it has become a series or articles pushing an us against them agenda, desperately in search of demons and willing to vilify the opposition at the slightest suggestion of a division. What was most striking about my hour spent with the magazine was the reliance on estimates and opinions while purportedly reporting on the news. Most glaring in the face of all the little morsels of facts the magazine now offers those of us with less than a two minute attention span to digest. Thank you internet.
This might seem an odd way to begin an article on wine, but the whole experience got me to thinking. Thinking about the world of wine reporting today and how it sadly mirrors what one finds on Time's pages. Wine reporting is suffering from the same fate. We write today not only to inform our audience, but at the same time to attack those we disagree with. Take the recent report from the Association of Wine Economists that purports to show that the power of the internet is breaking down the walls of traditional wine media. The paper takes a look at the data on Cellartracker.com, and their evidence finds:
"a significant direct relationship between the wine evaluations to which respondents were exposed and their own subsequent wine evaluations."
In other words people's opinions about wine tended to fit a norm that was present in pre-existing data for that specific wine on Cellartracker.
Furthermore the researchers found that:
"the more uniform the earlier evaluations were, the closer the subsequent wine evaluations were to the average rating of the earlier evaluations."
So, If there was a party line subsequent tasting notes for that bottle tended to hew that party line. And now here is the kicker. The final determination of the study was that
"Results did not, however, support Hypothesis 4, that wine evaluations would be more in agreement with prior evaluations, when those ratings were made by more “credible” group members."
This is the evidence that wine critics are losing sway over the populace at large, with one small problem.
"it appears that informational social influence was not operative in group members’ wine evaluations, or that despite using four possible indicators of credibility or expertise in the wine domain, we failed to detect greater impact of more credible group members because the construct validity of our measures of expertise was low."
That's right. the authors of the study were unable to accurately account for expertise. So what in the world does this have to do with the persuasive power of wine critics? Very little, painfully little in fact. It is in the end just another piece of reporting designed to try and illustrate the waning power of the professional and further fuel the frothy mouthed proclamations of the death of the wine critic. Long live the wine critic!
You see the folks arguing that the wine critic is now dead are in fact those very same people who are currently writing about wine, albeit with much less reach than the most successful wine critics. Like me for example. I write about wine, I even use the despised 100 point rating system, which we are also told is dead. And yet, I'm not writing about, or rooting for the end of the wine critic and the wholesale adoption of social media as the end all in wine referral.