"Question Authority" was my favorite bumper sticker from the 1960's. It seemed to be especially prevalent in college towns or big cities in those times when cynicism prevailed. But while that was admittedly a different time and place I still wonder whether things are really that different today.
Fifteen years or so ago I attended a wine trade show in Atlanta put on by one of the largest multinational liquor companies. There were wines from five continents including great brands from the best regions of France and California. The employees behind the tables were industry insiders; by default, experts in their field. Yet in a way, they were nothing more than carney barkers inviting the taster to "step right up" and experience what they were paid to pitch as God's gift to the wine world.
Each presentation at each table in the hotel ballroom was the same; moreover, every wine, regardless of origin, tasted pretty much the same. This gargantuan multinational had poll-tested what American wine drinkers liked and then made every wine they represented taste the same! They stood the wine industry on its head and did away with the distinction that a place of origin provides.
So why am I barking about this now? In a Lettie Teague WSJ article from last year, she writes about the "influencers" who are changing the wine reviewing game. Apparently the "expert" wine critics of the past have lost sway and others have stepped in to fill the gap. And make no mistake, it's social media she's talking about.
Now before you stop reading because I've gotten too polemical, the era of establishment wine criticism (Spectator, Enthusiast, Advocate et al.) wasn't all it was cracked up to be either. Remember, the name of the post is QUESTION AUTHORITY. Robert Parker sold his Wine Advocate and got out of the game back in 2012. By that time he had already done plenty of damage by "parkerizing" the industry. In short, he had become too powerful and if wine makers everywhere wanted his approval, they were forced to make the highly extracted style Parker loved.
In a way nothing has changed. Peer reviews seem to have replaced Parker and if that works for wine lovers then it's all good. Things can be taken to extremes though. Apparently celebrity basketball player Lebron James is a wine lover and has legions of followers who trust his wine judgments. Maybe Lebron has exquisite wine tastes. Or maybe we could all develop our own palates so we don't need to follow Lebron or anyone else.
Our weekly wine tastings are friendly low-key affairs. Join us this Thursday after 5pm for a sampling of four types, two contrasting whites and reds. Tell us if you're new to this kind of thing. We might have something special for you!