Friday, April 27, 2007

Today I read a bunch of articles about influential wine critic Robert Parker. Actually, I think 'influential' is putting it mildly - apparently the difference between getting a 91 rating from him and an 89 amounts to 6-7 million euros for the winery. As a result, winemakers around the world, including the 'greats' from Bordeaux and Burgundy, have been catering to the style of wine Parker prefers.

Why did this happen in the wine world and not the music world? I know many, many people who adamantly support music that most other people hate. I know punks, I know hipsters, I know metalheads, I know hip-hoppers; and each is dedicated to his/her musical taste. Many of them can't stand mainstream music either.

The opposite occurs in the wine world. I've heard friends argue over Sufjan Stevens vs Iron & Wine, I've heard friends argue over Miller Lite vs Bud Light, but I've never heard anyone argue over Voigniers vs Pinot Grigios.

Is it education? You hear music everywhere, and once you acquire a copy of a song it's yours forever. So your level of familiarity with music is high. By the time a person becomes a teenager he/she has probably heard many thousands of songs, some of them probably hundreds of times. So perhaps everyone, to some extent, can call themselves a music expert. At least everyone has enough experience to know what he/she likes best. This is also true with beer (for a lot of people) - 95% of the people I knew in college tried dozens of varieties of beer by senior year's end, and had had several types (esp. Natty Light) many, many times over. So one's familiarity with beer allows us to make such personal distinctions as "I like Newcastle" or "I don't like ales".

Wine has traditionally been an exclusive drink, and maybe this is a bad thing. As Noam Chomsky once said, "The most effective way to restrict democracy is to transfer decision-making from the public arena to unaccountable institutions: kings and princes, party dictatorships, or professional wine critics." (I guess this was the inspiration for the site That is what has happened with Robert Parker. His tastes are completely unaccountable - this is what he likes, and so be it. Wine stores figured out that they can just post his score next to a case of wine and they can save time and money that would otherwise be spent on training their employees' palates. And this is sad, because the homogenizing of wine will weaken the market in the long term. This happens all the time in other disciplines - lack of variety equals a lack of competition and thus the overall product suffers.

Just some thoughts for today.

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