Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A wine review standard?

Wine scuttlebutt in Australia often includes the practice of wine criticism, especially around reviews, scores and what might be 'endorsements'. To me, wine journalism should follow the standards of journalism, such as sketched out in media codes of practice. But wine criticism, including the writing and publishing of reviews, tasting notes and scores, is in the main not done by journalists, nor done as journalism.

So what might a standard for wine reviews look like?

My initial thinking is that a wine review standard (something a reviewer or publication might sign up to in some fashion) could contain something like the following:
  • A clear description of what the reviewer wishes to receive (if they receive samples) and what they are not interested in receiving. A general statement about how wines are obtained for review could accompany this.
  • Any conditions for receipt and consideration for review. For example, does a price need to appear on the bottle? Are pre-final-label samples accepted for review? What images need to be supplied? Are there required types of information about the winery, importer, distributor or the wine?
  • If samples are received but not reviewed, a commitment that they should not be on-sold at retail or by auction without the consent of the shipper.
  • If scores, stars or similar rating systems are used, these should be explained clearly and obviously. For example, are scores 'within class' or universal. If there are standard conversions of your scores to other scales to hand (such as how your points convert to show medals), then this should also be clear.
  • If price is part of, or excluded from, the consideration of scores or ratings, then this should be made clear.
  • If there are charges for the publication of a review, or an image to accompany a published review, these are made publicly available. If charges vary depending on the type of wine, the treatment in the review publication, the size of winery or size of make of the wine, then this should also be specified clearly and publicly. If a reviewer is paid by a publication for a review, with copyright vesting in the publication, then the reviewer will not attempt to solicit additional payment from a winery for the review.
  • A clear statement about conflicts of interest and how these are handled, including situations regarding accepting direct or indirect funding from wineries (indirect funding to include travel assistance, accommodation etc). This statement to also cover any practitioner involvement in the wine industry (such as if the reviewer also makes and sells their own wine, or has wine made by another winery which you may or may not review).
  • If advertising appears in a reviewers own print publication or website, the conflict of interest statement should include words on the kinds of advertising accepted and the extent, if any, that this impacts review practice. 
  • A publication with multiple reviewers should produce a common conflict of interest and advertising statement covering all participating reviewers, with any exceptions to be clearly specified. All advertorial or advertising content is to be clearly specified as such.
  • A copyright and fair reuse statement. If small or large wineries are both free to use your notes, in part or full, with or without permission, payment or attribution, then spell this out clearly. A winery submitting you samples in the hope of getting a useful review should be able to know the conditions of review reproduction and use prior to sending samples in.
  • If the reviewer tastes and reviews with the assistance of other tasters and reviewers, the specific author or authors of a particular review or tasting note should be specified directly and accurately.
  • A common or default circumstance for tasting and reviewing should be described clearly and accessibly. For example, are wines tasted individually or in brackets? With or without food? Unmasked, blind or double-blind?
  • If prices are published, the type of price should be clear. For example, is it recommended retail price as supplied by the winery or distributor? Is it a cellar door price or list price? Review readers and users should be able to tell which.
That is my first go, and not in any particular order, at what might make up a standard for wine reviewing. I would be interested to hear what people think about this. In the main, I think my practice with this site stacks up fairly well against that list, but there are some points I miss, including having some of these statements clear and separate from the run of posting.


  1. Some salient points there. WineFront covers most of those requisites, as an aside. Good work getting these thoughts out. MB

  2. Thanks Mike. Quick off the mark, there.

  3. Always interested in good writing! MB

  4. A thoroughly worthwhile post Paul, and one which will have me making some additions to my own site - even though a lot of these conditions are already met.

    One further point of interest, at least to me, involves relationships with wineries and winemakers (or even 'movements'). One need not be payed by a winery for conflict of interest to become an issue.

    It's only human that we interact with different winemakers we meet in different ways. Some may leave us cold and some may even become friends. It's impossible to 'legislate' against that and a good reviewer should do her/his best to rate the wine independently of that relationship. Unfortunatley, the world is not so ideal and I suspect friendships and alignments often make their way into scores and reviews. I have no definitive answer on how this can be addressed, but I do think it's worth bearing in mind.