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.