Saturday, December 01, 2007

Why Review Pricey Wines?

Is it just me or have you noticed too? Most wine reviews focus on higher priced wines?
There are likely several reasons why this is so - I offer two:
  • Which would you choose if given the opportunity to taste: either '$30 or below' or 'above $30' wines, where the likelihood of an exceptional wine is higher and so is a more gratifying tasting experience? The value may not be there but then you're not evaluating, you're rating the liquid in the bottle. There's some real plusses when tastings of pricey wines are convened. There's the opportunity to rub shoulders with winery owners or their marketing staff both of whom appreciate good PR. They treat you 'special'. Marketing people have their clients in continuous focus... and the reviewer is certainly a client of highest interest... especially those having a weekly column.
  • But what if you aren't given the option. After all, it's not your dime. It's the retailer's. From his point of view if reviewers push the pricey stuff in their columns, especially at seasonal highs, there's a higher likelihood that's the stuff that'll sell. Leave the cheap stuff for conventional advertising, high volume glossies and newspaper ads. Advertising for the masses - that's directed at me! So you convene tastings of predominantly expensive wines. It could be said, the reviewers are being manipulated.
Does a review of pricey wines benefit me? If I assume that pricey wines on a percentage basis end up being rated higher than $30 or below wines, why spend time on them? There's no challenge. Just sip, smile, ask for another... swirl, slurp and spit if that's your style. Give it four stars (who knows what that means?) or in some cases no rating just words and go to the next. However, if you are the target customer for these wines, someone that can afford the $100 bottle, you haven't earned your living by being conned by a slurper and spitter - neither are you convinced by fifty words or less in tasting notes. Increasingly I find myself looking at the bottle price given in each review and skipping the 'over $30's. That critic hasn't been meaningful to me nor, I suspect, to most LCBO customers. The critics whose target audience include folk like me and who are letting themselves be manipulated by retailers should go play golf! Write a book! Get a life!

The recent issue of Wine Access, December/January, lists the 2007 Canadian Wine Awards and the year's TOP 101 Wine Picks. Both domestic and imported wines are therefore covered. A marvelous feat by tiers of panels of some very noted reviewers and well worth the read. The prices of more than 80 of the 101 are above $30, most are well above and one lone Canadian (BC) ice wine makes the cut. For the Canadian Wine Awards the prices are more encouraging being $30 or below with only a few exceptions - when I exclude specialty wines: ice wines, late harvests and fruit wines.

Of the 20 top Canadian wineries 13 are in BC and have negligible representation in Ontario. Of the 413 medals (see note below*) awarded in the 2007 Canadian Wine Awards 165 went to Ontario wines. The two $30 or under (of 5) Ontario Gold medalists were: Hidden Bench Beamsville Bench Riesling 2005 and Creekside Cabernet Sauvignon St. David's Bench 2004. Obviously neither was on LCBO shelves at the time my issue was received. Another 26 Silver and 76 Bronze medals were awarded, a total of 104 Medals or a quarter of all medals were awarded to Ontario wines $30 or below.

The conclusions I'd like you to draw:
  • Ontario wines can hold their own in competition with other Canadian wines - some would say 'barely'.
  • Every Ontario critic should do a self assessment. Who is their audience? Is he/she driving wine reviews to match this audience or is the retailer leading them along their Marketing path?
I would like to see local reviewers do more reviews of Niagara wines that are on LCBO shelves ($30 or below) - not only those released by Vintages but the General list as well, VQA and 'Cellared in Canada'. The reviews should be timely and they should be regular.

That's my opinion, Ww

*Silver Medalists are included on the Wines of the Year pages (pp43-47) under the GOLD MEDALS heading. I have assumed the Medal Report (pp49-75) to be correct.

No comments: