What exactly is a wine critic? A strange person, indeed. He or she tastes more wines than would seem humanly possible, and passes on that information to waiting consumers looking to sip something decent. A noble vocation, for sure, as there are literally thousands of labels, varietals, and styles from almost every country in the world out there, all vying for the consumers’ attention, and wine critic’s information has a welcoming audience.
How do you choose a critic to follow? Before addressing this issue, it’s important to understand what a wine critic is all about and what his or her credentials, if any, are.
If the critic is a wine specialist, it would make sense that that person has a reasonable knowledge of wine, regions, varietals, and styles, and preferably has travelled to wine regions extensively. He or she should possess a decent palate and a good understanding of what a quality wine is. A certain amount of experience tasting wine is definitely a major asset.
If any of these folks are paid to write for publications, it most certainly adds credibility and legitimacy to their positions and works. Of course, in today’s world, anyone with a computer, access to the Internet, and minimal experience can play wine reviewer and post tasting notes and ratings online, but one might question that person’s credibility.
Wine reviews use many different ways to rate products. Most common is the 100-point system. Since most of us have been socialized in school with grades out of 100, we seem to relate best to this format. Some reviews use five or 10 points, while others utilize an alphabetical format (A, B, C, etc.) or a star system (5-star, 4-star, 3-star, etc.).
Regardless of what system a wine critic uses to rate wines or who you choose to follow, there is one extremely important factor to take into account. All reviews are subjective and a personal opinion of someone. Aside from objective quality of a wine, it is basically what one person thinks about it. It is a representation of that person’s taste, likes, and palate.
We all differ in these important areas, so even though a particular critic raves about a specific wine, it may not be to your liking. Perhaps the critic favors big, bold flavors in a vino, but you enjoy more delicate, elegant styles. In this case, you probably won’t like the critic’s suggestions. Maybe his or her thresholds to certain components in wine such as tannin (bitterness), acid (sourness), sweetness, alcohol, etc., are different than yours, making a suggested wine unenjoyable to you.
Any of these factors can play a huge part in a critic’s evaluation, and unless your palate and tastes are exactly the same as that person’s, your experience of that wine may be totally different. Just keep in mind that wine critics’ reviews are not a “one size fits all” concept.
The best advice I can give to someone looking to choose a wine critic to take advice from is to experiment. Try purchasing wine based on different critics’ reviews, eventually finding and following someone who mirrors your palate and preferences as closely as possible. No one will be exactly like you, but you will eventually come up with someone whose overall taste and palate reflect yours the best.
Edward Finstein is an award-winning author, TV/radio host, renowned wine journalist, international wine judge, professor of wine, and consultant. Learn more at winedoctor.ca.