By Chris Miller
Author: Chris Miller | Published: Friday, May 29, 2009
For the last twenty years, I have attended many wine tastings. During this time, some wine trends have lasted, while others have thankfully gone away. Wine coolers are no longer cool, White Merlot didn’t last long and now the trend of poorly made wines is being pushed in the same direction. Why am I upset about this? Well, before, my life as a wine consultant and wine buyer was much easier. I’d go to a tasting and find twenty percent of the wines acceptable, twenty percent very good and the rest had distinct flaws. Those flaws were as varied as under-ripe fruit characters, too much oak, too little or too much acidity, too much alcohol, too light in the mid-palate, too short of a finish and so on. Wines still exist with these and other problems, but the ratio of acceptable and very good wines has increased dramatically in the past ten years or so. This trend can be blamed on the wine critic Robert Parker Jr. and the World Wide Web.
Let’s first take Robert Parker to the mat for this travesty. Mr. Parker began his wine journalism as a hobby and with time, he and his readers turned his publication and rating system into the gold standard of wine. But more than just giving consumers a guide to the best wines and the best wine values, his musings about wine have changed the industry dramatically. At one time, wine was just a status beverage—order the most expensive wine on the list and impress your friends. While Mr. Parker was gaining attention from the consumers, the producers realized that this “American Wine Critic” was not going away, and they began to take steps to increase quality in order to get “Parker Points.” Some feel his influence has been so great that wine has become homogenized, but all in all, his influence on the wine industry has been great.
Now with all Parker has done with criticism, the Internet has magnified his influence—first with the many wine blogs and even his own website getting his musings and scores out, then with the vineyard and wine production information flowing freely on the web. With wine, change can be slow—a winemaker from Chile travels to a winery in New Zealand and learns a new technique in the winery to increase the quality of his wines, but now he needs to wait another year to experiment the new technique. Then the new technique might need a bit of adjustment for the grape or climate, so there goes another vintage. The evolution can take many years. But today, with the Internet, a winemaker can combine a visit to another wine region with all the great versions of content found on the web—pictures, video feeds, live video conferences, etc. This along with the advent of two growing seasons has greatly improved the wine production learning curve. This great convergence of knowledge will only continue and wine will keep getting better in all kinds of places.
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