Every year the wine world holds its breath, waiting to hear what Robert Parker will say about Bordeaux. But it’s not just Parker whose opinion often dictates what we buy, and what we stow away for the future – every wine critic who has become influential will have some bearing on how wines perform in the market. Yet the kind of consumers who listen to what the experts say tend to be a cut above the buyers that head straight to Bargain Booze to stock up on Blue Nun – many of them have tasted extensively and have a decent knowledge of what wines will go with their favourite foods. They often have highly evolved palates of their own. So the question is, do we need to have a panel of experts tasting the wines before we do, and telling us what they think?
I suppose the straightforward answer is, not really. What do these tasters actually achieve? Well, they often inflate the prices of wines they like beyond what the average consumer is willing to pay. They make certain wines difficult to get hold of, and if they don’t like a certain wine they might influence our opinion so we don’t even consider trying it for ourselves. Now I don’t want to get into a ‘is tasting subjective’ debate, but half the fun of tasting wine is developing our own taste buds to learn what flavours we like and what we don’t.
And then there’s the envy… it might be just me, but I can’t help slightly resenting these so-called experts when I read their Twitter updates telling me what tasting they are off to next. I don’t doubt it is hard work. But it is still getting paid to travel around the world drinking great wine and eating great food. Aren’t you just the tiniest bit jealous?
On the flipside, the average wine drinker can’t afford to travel the world seeking out boutique wineries to blog about. We might enjoy a wine we tasted while on holiday, and tell a few friends about it. But without the likes of Jamie and Jancis, a lot of great wines would simply go unnoticed. Without someone with a high profile and a decent following to champion them, they might never leave the region where they are made, with their talented winemakers slipping into obscurity instead of enjoying the recognition they deserve.
No, we don’t need people to tell us what to drink. We are capable of choosing for ourselves, of course. But we might need tasters occasionally just to bring something to our attention; a little hidden gem from an up and coming producer in Sicily that has only just begun to be exported, a reminder that Alsace had a brilliant vintage, another wine that’s just as good as Cloudy Bay that your wine merchant will permit you to buy more than one bottle of, or maybe just a wine that tasted so delightful that they just had to tell the world about it. Trusted experts have got to where they are through passion and dedication (and one day I hope to get there myself) and provided they use their powers for good, not for evil, there is no harm at all in listening to them from time to time.