Y’know, I was going to try to sit down and analyze the three glossy buying guides in (in)glorious detail. However, contrary to appearances, I do not really consider that a good use of time. I traveled down this road before, in a two-parter published in Wines & Vines {July & Sept., 2006; happy to email a pdf of those articles to anyone who emails tish (at) wineforall com}. Based on perusing recent issues of Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Wine & Spirits, however, I can say with confidence that the most relevant points I made back then still hold. In short, the buying guides may appear similar to the eye but are very different in execution, selectivity and transparency. To keep focus here, let’s stick just with the label presentations that wind up int said “buying guides.” To wit:

  • Wine & Spirits: Labels in the buying guide are “a form of advertising,” as explained in the box that presents tasting methodology; they appear once, along with the reviews, in the regular run of the guide, where wines are arranged by descending rating, within categories.
  • Wine Spectator: Labels in the WS buying guide are never paid for by producers or marketers; they appear only in the beginning of the guide, and are flagged as “Spectator Selections,” for the express purpose of editorial endorsement, having been “selected” for their overall quality, cellaring potential or value. Wines whose reviews are showcased up-front receive only a refer-back-to-page-## note in the regular run of the guide.
  • Wine Enthusiast: Labels, identified in a box about methodology as “paid promotions,” are presented as a gallery, beginning on the opening editorial spread and continuing for full pages (8+ pages in Feb. ’09). These “gallery” labels are accompanied by rated reviews which are stripped of the taster’s initials; they appear in descending numerical order, except for those also flagged as “Best Buys.” Each gallerywine has its review appear again in the regular run of the guide, with taster’s initials, minus label. There is literally no separation of the reviews with “paid promotions” from the rest of the buying guide; indeed the placement of the labels—nested in the buying guide, starting on its opening spread—implies editorial endorsement.

So, my point? Well, cynics out there who know that I was an editor at WE from 1988-’98 may well think I am once again trying to skewer them. No doubt; this is patently deceptive in my estimation. But those who follow my ranting at http://wineforall.com over the years, and more recently at http://dregsreport.com, know that I have ranted against plenty of targets, and have taken WE to task for other ethical breaches. And in this case I don’t give W&S a free pass either; their labels are ads and should be more obvious to readers.

The greater point I aim for here is: What if bloggers were to adopt a similar model for reviewing? In other words, what if a blogger were to blind-taste wines, determine his/her favorites, and then, without changing a word (or, in rare cases, a rating), then contact the producer or marketer of these already-commendable wines and offer also to display a visual image–for a fee? Would that be any different?

Taking it one step further, forget about the blindness of the review. A lot of the best wine recommendations I have received—and many that I give to other wine lovers—derive from personal experience that is not blind. These are wines that have been had in situ, at meals, or perhaps in some other context where particular wines rose above a pack of peers That’s real world stuff. And in my experience, recipients of such recommendations are happy to get the goods.

So why shouldn’t bloggers, especially given the rapidly expanding world of wine communication, take a page from print and begin to monetize reviews? Is anyone going to be worse for wear if independent, real-world wine experts with blogs began to generate income from reviews that they have already determined by whatever judging standards they deem best? As long as the blogger’s tasting policy is transparent and the paid nature of images is spelled out as part of the same policy, it seems to me that everyone–wineries, bloggers and readers–stand to benefit.