Losing faith in opinions of 'experts'

It has been a good summer and I can start to feel Mr. Fall peeking around the corner in the evenings and mornings before Mr. Sun scoots him back to the lengthening September shadows. It won't be long before the reverse is true and we see Ashlanders bundling up with autumn leaves tugging at our ankles.It's nice that we have all of the seasons in Ashland, and particular wines go with them.

This summer I had quite a few folks from out of town, as well as my local clientele, visiting the Cellar. There arose a phenomena that was both intriguing and novel — concerning both groups — that I had rarely witnessed before or, more correctly, that I have not encountered on such a large scale. This phenomena was not unlike a virus that has somehow caught hold of wine folks and has not let go; the total reluctance to believe in the results of wine competitions and/or value points attached to certain wines by the national wine press.

Let me explore a little of this with you and illuminate these two evaluation methods;

Commercial wine judging — This is an event where wines are judged by a panel of wine "experts." It seems simple enough. Wines are presented "blind," which means that the panelists/judges evaluate wine without "knowing" which wines are being judged. Then the wines are weeded out until the better wines receive some sort of recognition in the form of ribbons or medals that the wineries (for the most part) attach or somehow allow the consumers to see on the labels.

This is the major point of the competition, or it should be the major point: allowing consumers to choose seemingly the best of the best so that they might go out in the world and purchase the wines with the confidence that someone with a more knowledgeable palate did the weeding out for them. The other point of interest is that cities and states that host competitions will normally have festivals attached to the competitions so that folks will taste the wine and food, spend money and enhance the economy of the overall area, as well as the wineries and restaurants.

This is all well and good if the panelists do a good job and the wines are really deserving of the acclaim as to which they are being presented for all to see and taste. If this is not the case and consumers are not agreeing with the results of major wine competitions or magazine ratings, this can be bad news not only for the wineries, festivals and competitions but for those retailers and restaurateurs who are holding the wine for purchase. And I am hearing a ton of complaining about undeserving wines as well as the high price being asked for them! The other gripe I am hearing is the anger many of the consumers are feeling when the price goes into orbit when one of these wineries hits the gold.

Wine mag ratings — Not unlike the wine competitions, a wine writer or a panel of wine writers will do the same thing as in a commerical competition, but instead of medals and ribbons they will award points up to a 100 level for a seemingly perfect wine. This doesn't happen much, but there are many wines receiving more than 90 points with the corresponding prices attached to the number.

The question arises; Why are consumers looking the other way, or at least being vocal about no longer believing the hype? And why is this all happening now?

From what had become a very lucrative cottage industry in wine magazine sales, festivals and sales from wineries receiving these accolades, I am now seeing a reluctant buying clientele ignoring the gold! What was once acquiescence has now become resistance — at the least a questioning of what these "experts" are trying to tell them.

Next week I am going to tell you what I think is happening and why it is just beginning to rear its head and become vocal. See you then.

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