Sunday, 8 December 2013

The Wine Critic's Critic part 2. How I rate the world's best critics using my 100 point scale

So where is the science behind my 100 point scale?

I have reviewed my top 10’s web sites and blogs (which contain most of their tasting notes, commentaries and reviews) and scored them using the following criteria and scores:

1.     Quality of web site (look, functionality and ease of use): up to 15 points
2.     Ability to inform the consumer (regular updates on news and events): up to 15 points
3.     Ability to educate the consumer (depth and breadth of content): up to 15 points
4.     Ability to entertain the consumer (so the information and education is easy to assimilate and enjoy): up to 15 points
5.     Quality of tasting notes (content, style, intelligibility): up to 15 points
6.     Overall impression: ability to communicate with their target audience: up to 25 points.

Therefore, I am scoring more than just their tasting notes. I am critiquing their overall ability to communicate effectively with their audiences. My scores also reflect how they compare to each other so out of this will emanate a ranking. I recognize that they are often covering different areas and different consumers and with different resources but consumers like rankings so they will be useful.

The overall scores will be allocated as follows:

Classic (grade A*)
Outstanding (A)
Very good (B)
Average (C)
Belly wash (D, E,…)
Below 60

In the results, while I add up the scores for each criterion and given a grand total, I think the individual scores against each of the six criteria are more meaningful because each site has different strengths and weaknesses, and may be targeting different consumers. My results will show, for example, which sites are best for information vs education vs entertainment.

Consumer groups / target audiences
Having reviewed the 10 sites at length, the critics seem to be targeting four types of consumer groups: 1) the trade; 2) expert amateurs; 3) enthusiasts; 4) novices.

I know I am generalizing with these groups but I do think they are useful. The target audiences, to differing degrees, want to be informed, educated and entertained. They should determine what and how the critic communicates. I refer to these groups throughout my review.

The Trade: The trade represents the body of professionals in the wine business those who typically import and/or supply wines to the restaurants and consumers. They will subscribe to many of the 10 critics identified above.

The Expert Amateur: The expert amateur - I presumptuously put myself in this category - is the marketing man’s dream. We probably read or subscribe to all 10 of the critics. We will not only buy Decanter, La RVF (Revue de Vin Francais) and WS but will trawl the bookshelves looking for yet another tome (think Clive Coates’, Allen Meadows’ and Jasper Morris’ books on burgundy or JLL’s on the Rhone Valley) which explain not just the wines but every contour and nuance of hills, growers and vineyards. Our idea of a holiday is to go on a wine tasting and gastronomic trip to rural France (in my case places like Gigondas, Cote d’Or, Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Hermitage). We have voracious appetites and want to be constantly informed and educated. We are big tasters and drinkers of wines (to justify another important purchase, I cheekily remind my wife that I don’t indulge in cars, drugs or hookers, I do wine). We want to know it all now and they want more tomorrow. Maybe we are wannabe wine professionals who just don’t have the bottle to take the plunge.

The Enthusiast: The enthusiastic amateur takes an interest in wine and could take out paying subscriptions. He/she would prefer to buy their wine in a specialist boutique where they get specialist advice and more focused customer service.

The Novice: The novice is the person who watch Saturday kitchen and buy their wine at one of the major general or wine supermarkets (Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s, Majestic).

I will release the reviews over the next few weeks starting. I will post them on:
·       Twitter: @dberesford12

Disclosure: my preferences
As I often reproach the critics for not offering up their personal preferences when tasting and scoring wine, I want to declare my preference for critics.

I like irreverent and contrarian critics, commentators and mavericks who challenge the status quo and refuse to subjugate themselves to conventional wisdom. I like writers who can embrace a wide range of tastes and styles and recognize and appreciate wines with a sense of place, not just those who espouse international formula.

I don’t look for perfection and definitive conclusions in tasting notes. But I do look for colour and passion in the writing, not just knowledge and experience. I want to be stimulated too. I want the writer to reveal the life and soul of the wines. I am as interested in the context (stories, history, food, people, sport – their whole culture) of wine as much as what is in the glass because this conveys so much more to me than the simple recital of intricate flavours and aromas.  Drinking wine is about the whole experience not just smelling, tasting and dissecting it. Great wines should pose as many questions as answers as they are constantly evolving.

Therefore, before I pass go and offer you my monologue, please remember that these are my personal, subjective views. Feel free to take them with a pinch of salt, in the same way that I treat the critics’ tasting notes and scores. This posting is meant to be a mix of the humorous and serious. I greatly admire the work of all of them, which is why they made my top 10.

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