The NYT Rethinks Wine Criticism and We Agree

Adam Hobson 0 Comments

Hi there! Adam here, and for my first post, I’m going to take a different direction than my wife, Wine Cutie, usually does. I keep a bit more up-to-date with the news and opinions of the wine industry, and from time to time I’ll write a reaction and share my opinion with you. This specific reaction is a little meta, but that’s mostly because the original content was so strong and inspiring.

Eric Asimov, the wine critic of the New York Times, writes, “It’s Time to Rethink Wine Criticism.”

It’s time to re-examine the nature of American wine criticism today, a methodology that Mr. [Robert M.] Parker helped both to popularize and to institutionalize. And it’s time to consider a better model that might be more useful to consumers, a system that would empower them to make their own choices rather than tether them endlessly to critics’ bottle-by-bottle reviews.

We consume a lot of wine-focused media: films like Sideways, Bottle Shock and Wine Country; documentaries like Somm and A Year in Champagne; books like Judgment of Paris and Crush: The Triumph of California Wine and blogs like Wine Folly and The Armchair Sommelier. We’ve even had a subscription to Wine Spectator off and on.

Bottle reviews have never appealed to us. Part of it is that we don’t really learn anything, but mostly they’re just dull. And we say that as people who drink a lot of wine, consume a lot of the aforementioned wine-focused media, have taken some consumer-focused wine classes and started this very blog focused on wine. If bottle reviews are boring to us, who are they really serving?

Please read the rest of Eric Asimov’s words for yourself. The following points stand out to us and speak to our goals and vision with It Starts with Grapes (ISWG):

With nothing else to go on but these reviews, consumers are not liberated by knowledge; instead they are bound to reviewers, dependent on the direction of the critical thumb. The best consumers can do is to learn whether their own tastes correlate with one reviewer’s more than another’s.

This site is still in its infancy, we’re still searching for both what you want from us and how we can best deliver it to you. We’ve written on a few different topics already, dinners we’ve attended, interviews we’ve conducted and wineries we’ve explored. We’ve got plenty more in our short term plans, more reactions to the news and opinions of the day and some trips down memory’s way.

However, bottle rating is simply a type of content we have no plans for. We’re not wine experts, we’re not somms. We like wine, we drink wine, we respect wine. We understand that everyone’s palates are different and what may taste good to us, may not taste good to you. We don’t always agree between us on how a wine tastes or how each of us likes it. We don’t imagine that we know if you prefer your cabernet sauvignon earthy in the style of Bordeaux or if you desire Napa Valley fruit bombs.

We’ll describe what we’re drinking, the wines that stand out to us, either due to just being damn great wine or due to a unique characteristic. When we do describe a wine, we’ll try to make the note useful–less poetry, more simplicity. Or in Wine Cutie’s case, she’ll just call most wines, “woody,” “smooth” or “fruit-forward.” All joking aside, I’ll reiterate again that we’re not trained sommeliers, but those three simple descriptors will tell you a lot about a wine and whether you may want to try it for yourself.

The best way for consumers to negotiate this confusing but pleasure-packed landscape is with some good general knowledge and the courage to explore.

We’ll share all the wine knowledge we can as we come upon it, but we’re mostly here to inspire you to explore your own passion in wine. In the short time that ISWG has existed, there are already a handful of moments that really stand out to me. One of those is when we had wine paired with sushi; specifically the moment when Wine Cutie’s mind was blown by the perfect pairing of a “butter bomb” chardonnay with a mild and slightly salty miso-marinated black cod. Another moment was at MacLaren when we tasted the differences in three different syrahs all from Sonoma vineyards, but with differing levels of fog and types of soils to really understand the concept of terroir. At Mayacamas, we tasted a vertical of three different cabernet sauvignon vintages and discussed the differences in each.

In each of these moments, we gained a deeper knowledge, understanding and respect for wine, and I hope that sharing these adventures of ours gives you just a bit more courage and inspiration to try an unusual wine pairing, give a varietal or style you don’t typically drink a fresh try, or simply learn more about a wine you already love.

Wine writers have so much to offer beyond the bottle reviews: introducing unfamiliar regions, grapes and producers while revisiting old ones; offering critical appraisals of styles; and assessing what’s new and what’s ripe for rediscovery.

We’re still getting our footing here, but if there’s one thing that is clear, we’ll likely concentrate our explorations in the San Francisco Bay Area simply because that’s where we live and have easy access to. Luckily we’re not limited to one or two AVAs, but rather have a whole host of regions to explore, from Napa and Sonoma to Monterey and the Santa Cruz Mountains.

However, we won’t limit our explorations to just popular wineries and producers. We want to find compelling winemakers who are doing something unique with their wine and share them with you. That said, our ambitions for ISWG are not limited to a single region, state or country. We drink wine from around the world, and we want to share those with you too. We have some upcoming plans to explore outside of California–one hint, Wine Cutie will travel east, but not to Europe. ;)

I believe that the most valuable thing wine writers can do is to help consumers develop confidence enough to think for themselves.

We’re new-ish to wine, though we’re a bit consumed by it right now–or it’s consumed by us… You might very well know more about wine than we do. We just drink a lot of wine (responsibly), visit a lot of wineries and talk to a lot of interesting folks in the wine industry. We’re here to share our adventures.

However, we’re going to take the above to heart and remember it as ISWG evolves and grows. Our vision is not to review the world of wine bottle-by-bottle, but simply to inspire a passion for wine.