Thursday, February 4, 2010

Role of The Wine Critic

I was talking to the well-known Berkeley-based wine retailer and importer Kermit Lynch yesterday and he said something I agree with completely about the role of the wine critic.

“The job of the critic is first to say whether a wine is correct – that is, balanced, clean and not flawed, and then to guide the reader to how to best appreciate it -- for instance, don’t drink a Muscadet with spicy tacos. Everything else is personal taste.”


I was trained as a news journalist so my orientation is to give readers information so they can decide an issue for themselves. Some wine writers, I’ve noticed, think it is their job to sell wine. I say, leave that to the salesmen. My job is to let people know the information that will guide them toward making the right choice of wine for their individual tastes. It certainly isn’t to do what some other critics do, which is to say, “Drink this wine because I like it.” In fact, it isn’t to say “Drink wine,” at all. If someone says to me “I don’t drink wine,” I would never say to them, “Oh, but you should.”

It’s not my job to do anything other than guide readers in the direction of what wines are well-made, quality products at all price levels, and what wines they may like. Writing for the British wine magazine, Decanter, I’ve had to give star ratings before, but I also had 50 words or so to describe the wine so readers could decide whether it was to their taste. If you don’t do that, what’s the point?

Another thing Kermit said was, “Maybe someday there will be lots of wine critics out there instead of just a few being so popular. I would love to see that.” So would I, and I think the blogosphere is contributing to that future.


  1. Wine preferences are such a personal thing -- I totally agree that those 50 words are crucial in providing an accurate overview of the wine. Of course, this comes from someone who usually chooses boxed wine over bottles (convenience, price, and yes, even taste). :-)

  2. Nice post, Janice.

    When I reviewed local restaurants in the '90s, I made a supreme effort to describe MY reaction to the food I ate rather than telling people what they should eat (except in very rare circumstances) and I think that also makes a lot of sense in the world of wine too.

  3. Good advice, and something I have written about often at the Wine Curmudgeon. Why do we have to approve of wines. Why can't we just tell people what they taste like and let them make up their own minds?

  4. I agree with you and Mr. Lynch completely. It's better to give people information they can use to make their own decisions, rather than give them "directions" about what to buy and how to enjoy it.

  5. I am in complete agreement with Kermit. I review wines for and am very aware of my personal preferences and palate. However, it's important that I also evaluate a wine's structure and complexity -- and whether or not it is clean. Great post, Janice! I'm really enjoying your blog.

  6. Couldn't have said it better.

    I love when a review guide me towards dinner suggestions and provides a description that will help me decide whether or not the wine will appeal to my palate. I don't pay attention to Parker's numbers and go more on wines from vineyards or regions I've liked in the past.

  7. I like Kermit Lynch's advice, and not just because I live in spitting distance of his store in Berkeley.

    Guidance with respect for personal preference...the sort of advice that applies to many aspects of life, wouldn't you agree?