Thursday, 11 February 2010

The consumer must not become a wine critic

The title pretty much explains where I'm going. It follows Beverley Blanning MW's reappraisal of Tim Hanni MW's comments on her blog.

Now I will make a concrete case against the consumers becoming their own critics.

1 - I used to hate leeks as a kid, now I love them - I even grow them. This can be the same as wine. Let me illustrate: has anyone seen the film Big Night Out? No, well it's about two competing Italian restaurants in an American town. One gives the diners what they want: meatballs in tomato sauce, lasagne, etc. and is wildly popular and successful; the other cooks beautiful, traditional Italian cuisine with a hugely talented cook, but is failing because no one understands it. It feels like a terrible shame.

Now, I'm not saying that a wine bottle in the hand of shopper is like an iPhone in the hand of a chimp, I'm simply saying that critics can lead us to a better understanding of wine (like a bone in the hand of a chimp - with the 2001:A Space Odyssey music to boot).

Put simply, if we let the consumer decide what's what, the already fragile bottom of the Fino Sherry market will drop out comprehensively. Seriously, find me a wine lover who loved Fino at the first taste (I thought I was going to throw up, but now I love the stuff).

2 - As I've said before, who gains? Yes, we all love a bit of power to the people (not least me - but we wont get into my voting preferences here), but in this guise of returning wine to the people, who is going to influence the consumer if no wine writers can? I'll tell you: people like wine merchants (ask yourself who Hanni has developed his personal tasting gizmo with), wine marketeers, supermarkets and the writers of the back label.

Why are wine companies now offering so many win-a-week's-winemaking-and-blog-for-us competitions? Because it does just this: it takes the power away from the wine writer (the 'subject supposed to know' if you like Lacan) and more or less ensures a malleable voice that will promote the winery in an entirely positive light.

3 - THE MOST DANGEROUS ASPECT: the argument doesn't make sense. The fundamental mistake that we are making here is to equate personal enjoyment with personal choice.

Hanni is telling us to be our own critic, assuming this means we can choose our own wines. Herein lies the problem. Imagine a film critic saying: 'you be the judge, and then go and see the film' can you judge it without seeing it? You'd have watch every single film available (or made) - by which time, I'd probably rate you quite highly as a film critic.

The same is true of wine. Unless, of course, the consumer is allowed to try any wine before they buy it - something I am entirely in favour of. But you see the issue, right? It doesn't make sense. By the time you've bought it to assess it, the cash register has already sounded, and everyone (bar the wine writer and possibly the consumer) is happy.

So there you go. Sure, the consumer can become a wine critic, but let's do a test - let's allow him or her to taste any bottle on the shelf before they buy it...

Then they'd be a real critic. Until then, we must not allow the marketeers and wine merchants to take over the realm of recommending wines.

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At 11 February 2010 18:27 , Anonymous timhanni said...

Hi Oliver,

I understand the points you are making and they are consistent with many of the conventional wisdoms concerning wine, food, acquired tastes and human nature. The 'concrete case' you are making is actually easily and clearly understood inside the immense amount of work in the fields of 'neural-gastronomic programming' and taste physiology my work in done in. I apologize for the senastional, hyperbolic and inacurate headline, written by a sub-editor, at the Guardian and here is a lot more to what I do than was covered or than meets the eye.

If you are at all interested I personall invite you to take some time and learn about what I am really doing, how we are doing it, the information and insights from the 20 years of research behind it and, most importanly of all - WHO we are doing it for! Beverly Blanning, Jancis Robinson and dozens of other wine experts, sensory specialists, chef and people for fields of neuroscience and anthropology are all working on this together. I guarantee that if you take the time your world will be rocked! Beverly spent hours interviewing me, the researchers I work with, lokked at the data and drilled down into what my work is REALLY about.

One of my most ardent attackers on the Wine Lover's Page now want too teach the principles of my work. With the interent and nano-sensationalism it is a shame to see my life's work go from a very excited article by Oliver Thring to a headline in the Guardian to bolog to response and on and on with no time taken to ask the source - me - 'what is really going on?' So give me a shout! I have had high level discussions with scientists and researchers in the UK and Sydney, a lunch meeting and interview with George Taber for a chapter in his new book, helped another scientist rewrite a section of hiw new book and spent 2 hours reviewing consumer research data from a survey we are conducting in the US. we have a concurrent survey in the UK as well and will be looking at the data from these against the results of the Consumer Wine Awards at Lodi.

I love the movie analogy and will cut and paste a silly thing I posted at another site here - you can delete it if you don't like the playfulness. Hope you also have a good sense of humor but I can guarantee the work I am doing is serious and for most people, including the likes of Jancis Robinson, many really great Chefs and many, many wine experts around the world, it answers a huge number of 'unanswerable questions' about the enjoyment of wine and our vastly different points of view.

At 11 February 2010 18:45 , Anonymous timhanni said...

Oh, by the way, I loved Fino Sherry at first taste!

"Welcome to MegaCinema Theater. We have 1,000 movies arranged by country of origin, region or principle player, or combination of principle players. Also, the appropriate choice of foods for you movie is important. We recommend popcorn with corny comedy - it is the appropriate match. Buttery popcorn is best with love stories and chick-flicks if you want to butter up your date. Hot dogs are for...well, you can guess. Just think complex candies with complex movies, simple candies with anything featuring John Candy.

Only immature, uneduated people see films rated less than 3 stars or that we consider vapid and not complex and you will find those down the long, dark and lonely hallway to the left. By the way, we offer movie appreciation classes so you can learn more about what you should like to improve you enjoyment. Remember, you should sit comfortably in your chair but don't slouch. Leran to tilt and slightly rotate your head during the show so that you can get the full sensory effect of the wide screen - this 'aerates' your vision and allows you to use your full peripheral vision. Crossing your legs cuts off critical blood flow and impairs your overall sensory ability to fully experience the movie - just don't do it. For a nominal fee we offer the new Riedel chair, specially designed to improve you movie experience and can help you select from the 47 chair types each designed to enhance a particular genre of film Of course you should clean your ears to remove ear wax - how the hell would you expect to get the full effect of our sound system? Fondling, caressing, drooling on your neighbor is discouraged, particularly if you do not know them. Don't forget to sit through the credits - great pictures have a 'long finish' and you will be asked to answer questions about the origin, duration, principle components plus their background, heritage and training. By the way, did you know that the Foley credits at the end, Foley artists, etc., come from the fact that the process was invented by Bob Foley's granfather* - Bob is the brilliant winemaker at Pride Vineyards and his own Robert Foley Wines and if you can sneak on of his wines in it will pair perfectly with a robust, full-length movie with bold sound effects, bucolic mountain scenery and anything involving dark fruit!

Remember that the soda, candy and poporn choices are VERY important. You can choose to compliment or contrast your movie and food selections. One way to make sure not to screw up is have a Big Gulp for a Big movies, heavy food with a dark or somber movies and light fare or picnic foods with anything having to do with summer. Of course always have nachos with anything remotely latin or having a latino star or music. For hot, sexy and spicy films don't forget the salsa!

At 11 February 2010 22:29 , Blogger Oliver Styles said...

Hi Tim,

Thanks for taking the time to comment on my blog - I'm glad you liked it! I have to admit that from reading through your film analogy, I'm a bit at a loss as to where your project differs from a conventional wine tasting but I guess that with all that you're putting into it there must be something to it!

Where can I find all this information about what you are doing?

Best wishes


At 12 February 2010 13:46 , Anonymous timhanni said...

Hey Olly,

I think the best explanation can be found by reading the goings on at where I have responded to the questions and concerns relatively (!) well and also provided a wealth of information on the background and research of my colleagues. That said, nothing beats a chat! I have Skype and would love to do a direct Q&A - e-mail me and let me know a number plus an early evening time and day that works for you. Love discussing the truth about my intentions and ideas. I am seriously not all that godless. Nor am I anti-critic.


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