Meet The New Wine Expert: You!

Vinted on October 7, 2009 binned in commentary, wine 2.0

I have seen the future of wine criticism, wine dialog, and wine expertise.

Wanna see it?  Great – go look in the mirror. Because the future wine experts look an awful lot like you.  You look great, by the way – did you cut your bangs?

A little over a week ago, ran a piece penned by Mike Steinberger in which Steinberger, among other things (like skillfully recapitulating the recent kerfluffle over code of ethics violations on the part of Robert Parker’s staff, and ending sentences with prepositions), offers a glimpse of what he sees as the future of wine writing and wine experts:

“Like other journalistic niches, wine writing is in crisis at the moment… We are moving from a monologue to a dialogue, and this reflects a fundamental truth about wine: It is a matter of taste, and taste differs from one person to the next. There’s still a need for expert opinion, but authority is going to have to be worn a lot more lightly going forward, and it isn’t going to command quite the deference that it used to.”

I know what you’re thinking: Did Joe actually use the word kerfluffle? Also, what’s the big deal about that?  This post isn’t about blogging, is it?

Don’t worry, this post is not about blogging.  It’s about you, and (albeit tangentially) about how Steinberger might have gotten it just a bit wrong.

You see, wine writing isn’t in a state of crisis, unless you get paid for it, in which case it’s in no more a state of crisis than any other form of paid journalism – welcome to 2009, folks.  If you’re a consumer of wine information, on the other hand, then wine writing is actually in a state of liberation.

I think Steinberger is right on the money when he says that tastes are ultimately personal, and that there will still be a need for expert opinion – he’s just missing the point of where that opinion is, which is of course with YOU. That’s because YOU are the new wine expert…

Take me as an example in terms of a potential wine “expert.”  If you look at the header of this blog, you will see various wine certification credentials.  Do they make me a wine expert?


They make me a potential expert on the topic of wine, which only means that I can tell you a lot about wine itself (how it’s made, for example).  I can bore you to tears, and drive you to near insanity talking about it, actually.  That doesn’t make me a wine expert any more than writing a book about day care makes you an expert on how to best relate to any one child in daycare that is having a bad day and missing his mommy.  What worked for one child in that circumstance probably probably won’t work for all of them.

The logical final conclusion of experts not wearing their authority heavily, coupled with the general embracing of the subjectivity of taste, is the abdication of their authority in terms of that authority being based on knowledge.  In other words, my certifications don’t give me any more knowledge over and above what you could freely obtain on the Internet.  What matters is how that knowledge is utilized to help you connect with your inner wine-tasting god or goddess.

What matters most when it comes to knowing wine is not that you memorize arcane details (e.g., how different soil types impact the styles of sherry); what matters is that you get the most enjoyment out of wine that you can, and that you push the wine industry to continually offer a better quality product for your money.

Wine is a consumer good, but it’s also capable of being a work of art.  Few other consumer goods have that kind of breadth. Are there basic levels of quality that underpin all wines?  Maybe – and that’s where those 100-point scores might be useful.  However, no matter how talented any expert wine taster might be, fundamentally they cannot tell you whether or not YOU will enjoy that wine.  That’s where the 100-point scores fall flat.  Guess what – only one person on earth can make that kind of call.

That’s right, mirror boy: I’m talking about YOU.  Experts?  Please – in the arena of finding wines that you will love, any expert’s skills are worth precisely f—k-all unless targeted at you in a useful way.  Forget about wearing their authority more lightly – in this case, the experts’ authority is like wearing the Emperor’s new clothes – transparent and ultimately totally useless.  It’s a bit like the ‘readerly’ view of postmodern literary criticism – just as the novel cannot exist without the reader, the wine expert is ultimately worthless unless somehow helping others to enjoy wine in some way.

At this point you might be thinking, So why should I be listening to you then?

Well, that’s easy: if you want to learn about wine in general, listen to me. If you want to learn what wines are best for your palate, then don’t listen to me, listen to your palate!

If you want to become an expert on the topic of wine, by all means go ahead and do it.  Or rely on those you trust who have already made the time investment to become experts – there are many out there and several of them are very, very talented.  But if you’re looking to those people to tell you what wines are the best wines for you, then you need to remove your head from the sand and manifest your real destiny.

That destiny is to become your own personal wine expert.  And there’s only one person ever born who can actually step up to that challenge. That’d be you!


(images:, 1winedude)a





  • ConstanceC

    Interestingly enough, I posted something exactly like this on last night… this article defines the times. Parker has been a valuable part of the wine business for several years, but now that the general population is becoming more educated about wine, and younger and younger winos are emerging (such as myself) the 100 point system is not as readily accepted. A great deal of commotion has been occurring over this in the recent past (I need not repeat,) and what I have noticed from being around industry professionals for the past few years is that those who know something about wine take the 100 point system with a grain of salt. The 100 point system promotes sales at every level, but to understand if a wine is truly good or not – it is most important to taste and evaluate it on your own.

  • 1WineDude

    Really? Dammit, I can't do anything original! :)

  • 1WineDude

    I've just realized that I might possibly receive a call from child services about the photo I included in this post…

  • mydailywine

    Great post Joe. Yes, I think this is an inevitable step towards the democratization of wine in American culture. As wine is accepted as an everyday beverage to have with meals, people are less likely to need an 'experts' opinion on said wine. They just want to enjoy it with dinner. For special occasions, etc they will continue to look for professional guidance.

    • 1winedude5036


      Certainly I expect people to consult expertise about expensive purchases (that's only logical) as you quite rightly point out. Hopefully, the will be consulting based on what they *know that they like/want*, and not based on a rote reaction (like a point score *only*).

      I feel like the dawn of the educated, smarted wine consumer is finally upon us – and many of them are blogging, which is awesome.

  • Dylan

    "Well, that’s easy: if you want to learn about wine in general, listen to me. If you want to learn what wines are best for your palate, then don’t listen to me, listen to your palate!" This is my favorite thing you've ever said. The novice is not a threat to be beaten down but a source to be nurtured. While experts teach wine and increase knowledge, novices develop their sense of the world and become more enthusiastic about wine, then returning to the expert to learn more. It's a great cycle for all involved.

  • 1winedude5036

    Wow – thanks, Dylan, very kind of you!

    I think you've captured exactly the gist of what I was trying to say. However, it looks bad if I only write one sentence so I used a lot more to basically say the same thing ;-). Cheers!

  • @suburbanwino

    I think there's a little value to tasting notes from "experts". If anything, they provide education to novices on how the traditional sensory evaluation process goes down (even though WSET, SWE, etc. have different protocol). That being said, I think the responsible writer/expert needs to clarify that taste and smell are ultimately subjective, and what's "good" and "bad" is purely personal opinion. I think those fighting the good fight (who truly want to educate for the good of the land) do that, but when tasting "expertise" is thrust upon folks to influence their decisions, kefluffle ensues.

    • 1winedude5036

      Thanks, Joe.

      It's still not *easy* for the average person who's just looking to understand and sop for wine better – but it is getting easier.

    • 1winedude5036

      Not sure we will ever escape kerfuffle, however! :-)

  • Ken Payton

    The distinction between a drinker's palate and education, though reassuring for advertisers to hear, does not adequately address why it exists in the first place. Or even whether they are durable distinctions. All of my experience in the wine biz, making, selling and writing about the stuff, has demonstrated to me just how starved the public is for information about wine. Indeed, this whole idea that we must 'protect' the consumer from 'education' by constantly reminding them of how perfect and complete their world of taste already is, I believe is wrong-headed. And such coddling aligns us with the cynical forces of the ad industry which is predicated on the commercial principle of cultivating narcissistic pleasure at the expense of thought.

    Just as cruises to the Caribbean make sure no contact with impoverished communities will occur, so do wine advertisers relentlessly police their images for all discordant messages. The consumer is always right (provided one severely limits the terms of the discussion).

    Americans may fear and be suspicious of the notion of education, smacking, as it does, of Big Brotherism and the cult of expertise; but it is not, therefore, the proper course to cater to our nativist anti-intellectualism, our 'exceptionalism'. There are environmental, political, cultural, and even spiritual dimensions to wine. Simply re-enforcing the commercial mantra 'I'm okay, you're okay' gets us nowhere.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Ken. I don't see the empowerment of wine consumers as falling into a miasma of subjectivity if it's balanced with some education.

  • Chriso

    Joe, Great post! reminds me of a piece I wrote last September for my blog "Get yourself some wine self-esteem…
    Its time to conquer our wine insecurities!"

    I always enjoy your insights and humor. Wine has always been and will always be subjective experience. this post brings to mind a Star Trek quote "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few"

    Live long and prosper!

    • 1WineDude

      "Dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor not a wine expert!"


  • Newmicon

    Haha, thanks we do actually look pretty good. I actually did just get a haircut, how did you know?

    • 1WineDude

      I KNEW there was something different about you!

  • vinogirl

    Great post…the YOU bit was a great angle :)

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks. Well, it IS you, after all! :)

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