Oliver Styles is largely right about the purpose of wine reviews. He argues that people don’t read wine reviews to guide their buying decisions.
I suspect this is true. Sure, some wine drinkers might note the score of a wine and choose it over lesser scoring wines. But I don’t know many people who painstakingly sort through and read reviews in order to identify the wines they want to buy, if only because most of the wines they read about wouldn’t be available in their local market anyway. Why then do people read reviews? Styles references his own case:
Mostly, though, it was just to read about wine. I need no-one to help me enjoy drinking it but I do like reading about it, and the reviews form part of that. And this is the thing about wine ratings and about wine writing. For all our talk of scores and sleepers of the vintage and Quality-Price-Ratios, I strongly suspect that what people read about wine for is to be entertained, not to get a bunch of recommendations because they have no idea what they’re going to put in their next mixed case order from The Wine Society, or Kermit Lynch.
Many reviews are of wines that are unavailable. If you read about a fantastic wine of which 2000 cases were produced, good luck getting ahold of a bottle. Reviews are often part of a shipment of wines that have already been allocated or purchased so they couldn’t be giving buying advice. I suspect many people read reviews because they are curious about what other people say about a wine they’re drinking.
Wine writing is really about creating a discourse about wine. Wine writers establish tasting norms, identify trends, stick it to conventional wisdom when its needs prodding, or let people know what is new and exciting in the wine world. The most important thing a wine critic can do is find something new and interesting to say about a wine that readers might have been unaware of without reading the review.
I suppose all of this falls under the category of entertainment.
We read them because we’re in a post-Nader world and I suspect critics take their role both too seriously as a critic and not seriously enough as a performer.
I couldn’t agree more.