A Guide to Wine, Food & the Good Life


Allen R. Balik • 3/14/13        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share

 shifting sands


Allen R. Balik is a Underground contributing editor (to read his biography click here) who also writes a bi-weekly wine column in the On Wine section of the Napa Valley Register. The article below first appeared in the February 21, 2013 edition of Napa Valley Register. It speaks to the subject of wine and how it has been impacted by “wine critics” and a 100 point scoring system. The triggering event for the article was the sale of Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate and the subsequent resignation of his California wine reviewer, Antonio Galloni. These events created a furor with an out pouring of comments about the details and what it would mean. The Underground chose to refrain from the initial feeding frenzy and wait for the sale event to move off the front burner. We will now start by offering this well reasoned article by Allen. Later, when less attention is being focused on the sale, I will offer the historical perspective of the Underground relative to wine consumers and the role of “wine writers” and “wine critics” in another One Winedrinker’s Opinion editorial – John Tilson

“During the past three decades the tempo of the wine business has been somewhat predictable given the late 1970s advent of Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate and the 100-point scoring system. Other publications followed suit — some with greater success than others — yet for many it was Parker who seemed to reign supreme when it came to “determining” quality and what the wine drinker should be drinking. 

While I greatly respect and appreciate the importance of the critic’s role in many areas of the arts, literature and wine, I’m sure my business associates, friends and readers know well by now of my skepticism and reservations about the completely subjective 100-point system and its affect on the market. 

Over the years, the system’s “persuasive character” has been largely seen in the trade and among wine drinkers as influencing and restricting choice, elevating prices and determining the wine style needed to garner higher scores to sell more wine. 

However, over the past decade or so this “scoring” dominance has been greatly diluted by a new wave of millennial generation wine drinkers looking for something new and venturing out on their own to find it. At the same time, the internet’s popularity has spurred on a wave of bloggers, chat rooms and social media disciples to become a more popular platform giving a younger audience an alternative view on “what’s hot and what’s not.” 

The consequence of this interchange has revealed a shifting landscape now showing itself in the wine critic’s changing role and methodology as well as resulting in the increased breadth of choice consumers are finding in the marketplace. 

Last December, the wine world expressed surprise (not necessarily shock) on hearing Parker had sold a significant interest in his Wine Advocate for an estimated $15 million to a group of three Singapore-based investors. With the announcement, a new editor-in-chief was appointed and editorial offices were opened in Singapore

But on Feb. 13 the industry was set abuzz when news broke that Antonio Galloni (Parker’s once rumored heir apparent and since February, 2011 The Wine Advocate’s California reviewer) was resigning his position with the Advocate — reportedly inspired by the sale — to launch his own web-based multi-media enterprise. 

I admit to being a wine news “junkie” when it comes to daily monitoring the industry happenings. But never before have I seen the mass proliferation of articles, blogs, interviews and opinions on any other subject (including Parker’s revelation of his December sale) as resulted from Galloni’s announcement. 

Galloni’s declared motivation in making this move was to return to his “entrepreneurial roots” and “aim at younger wine consumers by providing a continuous flow of information, rather than focusing on long articles, big tastings…and print media.” 

His stated intention is to also seek out little known wines and wine producing areas for his younger audience but no mention so far if he will continue to score wines on the 100-point scale or take a different tack. 

Parker and his Wine Advocate have long dominated the critical world of wine writing. Many wineries have staked their fortunes on Parker’s reviews and scores as have a large number of wine consumers and collectors. But today the landscape is shifting rapidly and will continue to reflect the many changes occurring throughout the press, consumer base and trade that promise to evolve over time.”



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2 comments for “A SHIFTING LANDSCAPE”

  • I think this is all for the better. How many consumers can tell the difference (Or tasters for that matter) between an 89 point wine and a 90 pt. wine? The 89 sits on the rack waiting to be discounted while the 90 pt jumps off the shelf. And all of this becasue of one man’s opinion on one select day?

    There has to be a better way…….Greg Mc, Contributing Editor, UWL.

    • John Tilson says:

      Thanks Greg,
      Agreed! And, the answer to your question is no one including the person or persons who created the number.
      Consumers need to treat wine the same way they do anything that they consume. Individual tastes vary tremendously and the sense of taste does not always remain consistent for anyone.
      So the idea that a number is the answer is like buying only clothes in “one size fits all”. Wine is the only thing sold with a number. It makes no more sense for wine than it does for any other food or beverage. And, as I said in the introduction, more on this later in the Underground!
      In Vino Veritas,

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