Should Negative Wine Reviews Be Published?

by Tim Elliott on July 24, 2006

Like a lot of people who write about wine, I have chosen not to publish negative reviews although my scale allows for low marks. If you do a search here, you’ll not see any wines under 7, although my tasting log has some 6′s recorded. This policy doesn’t seem like such a bad idea watching what is happening with fellow wine blogger Cam from Appellation Australia. Even though he prefaced his notes in the nicest possible way, the winery, Graeme Miller Wines, has threatened legal action based upon his negative review. So if you Google Graeme Miller Wines now, you’ll see 4 negative posts on the first page of 10 results. Nice job keeping the bad review quiet, guys. As more bloggers write about this, the more bad (online) press will spread. This is what makes wine blogging so compelling to me. While the wine press keeps these things silent (for the most part), wine bloggers provide another way for consumers to be better informed before buying wine.

This whole episode has me reversing my policy of not posting negative reviews. The next bad wine I taste will show up here with the details of what I didn’t like. With so many good wines on the market, it makes sense to warn readers of the wines to avoid.

  • http://wineamateur.blogspot.com MalB

    Tim

    It is great to see you supporting Cam. As you well know, his post has triggered some debate amongst wine bloggers. I’m with you! I will post honest reviews good or bad and let the chips fall where they may!

  • http://winecast.net Tim

    Thanks for your comment and support, Mal. I’m sure Cam will be fine in the end, but I’m sure it’s stressful. Instead of having a chilling effect on the wine blogging community, my hope is that this provokes action like it has with us.

  • http://www.winelifetoday.com Joel

    That is OUTRAGEOUS! That negative review isn’t even “over the top”. I’ve always told people that Vivi’s Wine Journal (my blog) represents my inner monologue and that they can feel free to send me a sample or I’ll purchase it from the store. I’ve hammered a couple of wines (White Lie comes to mind – and they sent me a sample!). Not only to I preface the post softly, I warn anyone who sends a sample that if I don’t like it I’ll write exactly that. Rediculous!

  • http://winecast.net Tim

    Thanks for the “Toast”, Joel. I agree that this is an outrageous situation that will resolve itself in favor of the side of free speech… Tom has posted an insightful piece on the issue, as well.

  • Annette

    As a wine producer, I feel the need to comment here. I read the wine review in question as well as the blogger’s story of how he came about tasting the wines, posting the reviews, and then the aftermath. First of all, when a winery sends samples to a wine critic, they are taking the risk of getting a good review or not; it is that simple. But, when a critic tastes a wine in an “industry tasting”, where the winery is not soliciting critical review (which is the case here), I think it is irresponsible of the critic to publish anything less than a glowing review. At least from what I can tell, the winery didn’t specifically solicit Cam’s opinion. And in “industry tastings” where there are usually lots of wines and people, it is extremely difficult to evaluate each wine thoroughly and give each it’s due (I’ve been to countless “hog-call” industry tastings, and more often than not have come to a snap judgement about a wine when in fact I probably hadn’t evaluated it properly).
    Also, I think it was irresponsible for the blogger to post the remarks because he did have an idea that there might be something wrong with the particular samples he tasted. He told the folks at the winery he thought something was wrong, but they didn’t feel it was necessary to open another bottle. The way I look at it, it was a missed opportunity on the winery’s part for a potentially good review (they could’ve been accomodating and opened another bottle), but the fact that they missed that opportunity doesn’t mean they should be, essentially, punished for it.
    Critics — and this includes all critics, even those who are “just” blogging — need to keep in mind first and foremost that they shoulder responsibility to not only their readers or consumers but also to wineries and the wine industry in general, and it is their duty to consider thoroughly what the impact of their reviews — good or bad — mean to all involved.

  • http://winecast.net Tim

    Annette,

    Thanks for posting your thoughts on this issue. As someone also involved in selling wine, I well understand the issues you have put on the table but I also believe that it is our responsibility to present our opinions honestly and without fear of intimidation from anyone. You do bring up a good point about tastings at industry events versus in our dining room that somewhat moderates my policy of posting all my negative reviews. In future, I will taste the wine a second time under more controlled conditions before committing the review to the blog.

    I also really appreciate the writing on your blog; it is among the best of the growing wine blogosphere.

    Cheers!

  • http://www.lenndevours.com Lenn

    Tim…thanks for bringing this to my attention (along with Tom). I’ve occasionally written bad reviews, both on LENNDEVOURS and in print. More often than not, the bad reviews don’t make it to LENNDEVOURS — not because I don’t think it’s right, but because writing about bad wines isn’t any fun and LENNDEVOURS is supposed to be fun, right?

    Annette…with all due respect, I think you’re incorrect. As someone who works in marketing/sales (though not in wine) I constantly remind my co-workers that EVERY SINGLE PERSON we come in contact with is a potential customer…and this holds true here as well. Every single person at a trade tasting is potentially going to write a review that will appear SOMEWHERE.

    Maybe I need to re-think my posting policies…perhaps every wine that crosses these lips should appear. I think I’m with you Tim.

  • Eric

    Regarding Annette’s post, I have to say that i’ve rarely seen anything more preposterous than the statement, “I think it is irresponsible of the critic to publish anything less than a glowing review.” A critic’s duty is not to be an advocate for only good wine. The duty is to the consumer, to highlight the good, the bad, and the ugly.

    It is the duty of a critic to let us all know what is bad, so that we can avoid the bad products and so that substandard winemakers can try to improve their products. Frankly, without critics, i doubt that the wines that we regularly drink would be nearly as good as they are today. Would anyone care to go back to the 60′s, when Lafite was an expensive cruel joke? Were the old-school English “critics” doing anyone besides the owners a favor when they regularly sung the praises of bad wine?

    Bloggers: Please keep posting ALL reviews. Doing anything less will do the consumers a disservice.

  • http://winecast.net Tim

    I agree with you Eric and I think other wine bloggers do as well from some of the comments here. From now on I will be posting all the wines I taste instead of just the good ones and encourage other wine bloggers to join me.

    Cheers!

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  • http://wines.mobi mike

    Plenty of good and bad wines rated.
    The folks from Wines.mobi introduced an expanded 100-point Wine Scale
    http://wines.mobi/ratings.htm
    and currently offer their database for free: Wine Listings, Prices & Reviews.
    O yes, you can surf the web site on your cell phone.
    Knock yourself out!

  • http://winesmobile.com Jean

    How low can you go?

    Well, quite low. We’ve seen wines that only nominally can be called wines. We tasted Russian wines made from apples. Very bad. Slightly above vinegar. But not by much!

    And we tasted Algerian red wine, which was even worse. Apparently, Algeria produces a huge amount of red wine for export. But since most of their winemakers are Muslim they do not taste their own products! They just blindly follow the recipe. And to make things worse, Algerians are using oil tankers for the oversees shipping. They claim to use a strong chemical to clean the oil tanks. Good luck there!

    Many East European countries encourage production of the low-quality wines and vodkas to keep the folks home happy.

    In the 1970s and 1980s, before Russia emerged as a major oil producer, its wine and liquor industry generated a quarter of the GNP!

    In Armenia and Georgia winemaking has ancient roots going back 2,000 to 3,000 years. They produce amazingly good wines which rarely reach our stores.

    The worldwide movement of wine created a situation where you, the buyer, can find Austrian, Australian, South African, Italian, French, California, German, Israeli, Hungarian, Romanian, etc, wine at your local wine store!

    But at the same time millions of gallons of generic and unbranded wine travels to be mixed, processed and bottled under some legitimate-looking labels.

  • http://WineRank.com Dan Mann

    Response to Annette:

    You got it totally wrong!

    It’s the obligation of the write to write both good & bad experiences.

    These days many wine producers go ‘wine mobile’ where they mix so-so wines wwith really bad ones coming from overseas. They buy truckloads worth of these wines & stamp then with nice-looking labes to fool the buyers.

    A big chunk of my local wine store if full of this worthless product.

    I try to check wines at the store by going mobile
    http://www.WINES.MOBI

    Works every time.

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