New York Times wine columnist Eric Asimov has been rolling out the advice lately for how wine reviewing ought to change. In a series of articles and interviews he provides an alternative vision of what wine criticism could be. His views are fresh and very much needed.
In his column entitled “It’s Time to Re-think Wine Criticism” he argues that the standard wine reviews offered by major wine publications do little to educate consumers. He questions the value of reviewing single bottles, which he thinks gives the impression that wine quality is random. He advocates instead for more focus on wine types and styles and evaluations of producers and their approaches rather than individual bottles that would give consumers general knowledge they can use to develop their own preferences. He also argues that critics taste too many wines at a sitting, lose crucial context by tasting blind, and by tasting individual bottles provide only a snapshot of a product that is continually changing.
In an interview in Meininger’s Wine Business Daily, Asimov endorses the idea that wine criticism is about discovery:
[Interviewer] What about the role of the critic as somebody who discovers things worth trying, who says, “I found a wine you should know about”?
I think that’s a more important role for a critic than simply reviewing bottles. Critics can expose you to wines that you never considered or never heard of. They can get you to look at wines in a new and different way.
And then he adds.
One of the things that I am working against is this expectation that a wine writer’s job is to recommend a bottle that people will be able to find at their convenience. And you know, I can understand the frustration [of readers not being able to find that bottle], but I also think there’s educational value in knowing what is made in this world, what is available in this world and how different people are thinking about wine. [emphasis added]
I’ve been making these points for several years. Does Asimov read this blog?
Finally, in 15 Helpful Words for Talking About Wine he advocates replacing precise, analytic fruit descriptors with a vocabulary better suited to giving an overall impression of the wine. After all, as he rightly points out, most people experience wine as a holistic entity rather than a vehicle for individual properties. The descriptors he promotes include energetic, tense, plush, lean, structure, linearity, length, depth, focus, power, precision, life, sweet, savory, and minerality.
They sound a lot like the vitality forms I use in my reviews although I focus more on how the wine changes on the palate.
I couldn’t agree more with all of this; it’s great to see someone with actual influence making the case for more useful wine reviews.