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Critics Play Minor Role in Wine Choices

A consumer shops for wine at a liquor store in New York City
© AFP | A consumer shops for wine at a liquor store in New York City
The best source of advice for wine consumers? A wine-loving friend.

Not a fan of Robert Parker? It's time to celebrate. Founded by Parker in 1978, The Wine Advocate is measurably less influential than sommeliers, wine shop assistants, and the Wine Spectator, when it comes to taking wine advice, according to a new survey.

Wine Opinions CEO John Gillespie released the findings of a survey of 1,151 high-frequency American wine drinkers at the 22nd Wine Industry Financial Symposium in Napa on Tuesday. They suggest that the most influential source of recommendations is a "wine knowledgeable friend," with a rating of 6.0 on a scale of 10. Nearly a full point lower are recommendations from "wine shop staff" (5.3) and "a sommelier in a restaurant" (5.2).

Of the wine media. Wine Spectator had the highest influence rating at 4.7, followed by Wine Enthusiast at 4.4. At 4.1, "Robert Parker's Wine Advocate" had the same rating as an email recommendation from a wine retailer.

After his presentation, Gillespie cautioned that the survey may not fully capture market influence.

"I don't know if the Enthusiast is as influential on the market as Parker," he said. "People who are Parker fanatics are true acolytes. They're slaves. But the Enthusiast has a huge database of anyone who's ever bought anything from them: wine openers, anything. They've done a good job of leveraging that."

Eric Asimov's recommendations in the New York Times earned a 3.3 rating, below "recommendation from the wine columnist in your local newspaper" (4.0), but above ratings on CellarTracker (3.2).

Wine sales professionals might be pleased to see their opinions are more highly valued than all wine media, but Gillespie said the power of friends' recommendations, either in person or on Facebook, is overwhelming.

"If you work at Binny's in Chicago and you have worked years to get certifications, and two people walk into your store and one leans into the other's ear and says, 'Buy that one,' you're finished," Gillespie said. "You can't do your job. That must be frustrating."

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  • Comments

    Alana Gentry (@gitlwithaglass) wrote:
    30-Sep-2013 at 19:05:52 (GMT)

    Good article and study. It rings true to me because it explains niche markets. I have found that industry people who are non-marketing pros would greatly prefer to have a magic bullet one-size-fits-all strategy (like get 95 pts and game over). Blake's illustration about what really happens when people go wine shopping is spot on. Paul Rickett's comment below also speaks to it. There are lots of reasons why we want recommendations from family, friends and trusted store staff (and I would add trusted wine bloggers like Joe Roberts, IWineDude). Parker has a niche following - people who can point to Parker's rating to introduce their wines to friends. Wine Spectator has a niche following--people who read wine mags. The masses are getting their recommendations in the same way they get recommendations for everything else they buy, from their social circle.

  • Paul Rickett (twitter @paulrickett) wrote:
    28-Sep-2013 at 03:18:21 (GMT)

    3 years ago I published a study on wine purchase influence at point of sale (i.e. in store) It is based on survey I did with my customers. The results above echo what I found then. Friends and Family and Trusted Store Staff (whom one might consider as a friend too) will outperform any critic. FWIW #ItsAllaboutTrust can be downloaded for free from http://ow.ly/1KmUe if you'd like to read it.

  • Bob Henry wrote:
    27-Sep-2013 at 07:45:43 (GMT)

    Blake, I found this sentence very interesting: "Eric Asimov's recommendations in the New York Times earned a 3.3 rating, below 'recommendation from the wine columnist in your local newspaper' (4.0) . . ." Are there ANY local newspaper wine columnists any more? Is there ANY wine editorial in your local newspaper any more? ~~ Bob

  • Rod Haden wrote:
    26-Sep-2013 at 17:54:25 (GMT)

    An interesting survey result, but I, for one, haven't written off the Advocate and Parker as yesterday's news. Of course all experienced wine drinkers want to see personal palate preferences trump (or serve as a foil to) any critic's assessment. Still, Parker and the Advocate can move markets on many high end wines (regarding pricing and consumer demand) in a way that far eclipses any retailer or individual rep. So true in Napa, Bordeaux, and the Rhone! In store consultative sales help at retail is fine when available, but how about the millions of shoppers at Costco who sometimes spend serious $ on wine? They get no help at the point of sale other than a shelf-talker with a score. Ditto at many large outlets that sell expensive wine, and ditto at many boutique stores where consumers don't get professional help because pro-active consultative selling isn't usually part of the skill-set and training wine geeks at retail (based on my 30+ years of buying all over the country).

  • The Sediment Blog wrote:
    26-Sep-2013 at 17:27:43 (GMT)

    Be honest. Would you rather trust a car salesman - or the friend you took with you? The real estate agent - or the friend you took with you? The salesman in the clothing store - or the friend you took with you? The salesman in the wine merchant? Or... <a href="http://www.sedimentblog.com">The Sediment Blog</a>

  • Winn Roberton wrote:
    26-Sep-2013 at 15:45:42 (GMT)

    I can relate to the last paragraph. Working the floor one night, after a great 3-minute conversation with a guest about grower champagne, his friend butts in and exclaims that we have Veuve and it's "the best." The conversations was over and I had a bottle of Veuve Cliquot in my hand.

  • Milt Gersh wrote:
    26-Sep-2013 at 14:50:11 (GMT)

    Hi, Having been in the wine business over 30 yrs. It's important that each person rely on their own tastes and individual preferences. I remember a salesman telling me that "drinking wine is an adventure,try something different" One should use the the wine writers only as a guide as to what to taste. Thanks

  • C.Hedges wrote:
    26-Sep-2013 at 14:38:16 (GMT)

    Scorevolution.com. Blake, it's happening. Scores are an unnecessary tax on wine.

  • Francis Kennedy Jr wrote:
    26-Sep-2013 at 10:53:20 (GMT)

    I find it strange that wine drinkers go nuts on Parker's ratings. Moreover, everyone has a different profile, my first stop is usually Cellar Tracker then store owners, lastly, IWC! Drink what you enjoy regardless of critics point. Variety is the spice of life!

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