Can You Trust A Wine Blogger?

We are not to be trusted.  I can assure you with great confidence, based on highly credible, quantitative data, that 75% of traditional, print media wine writers consider wine blogs to have “somewhat,” “very little” or absolutely “no” credibility.  In short, our words have less credence than the dreck we drink…and then blog or tweet about, especially if we got it for free.  And the so-called “credibility gap” separating the highly prolific wine bloggers and tweeters from traditional information outlets is cataclysmic.  In contrast to today’s slumping print media, wine blogs are free to read, cheap to maintain, and updated faster than you can down that 750 ml bottle.  Couple that with data showing that wine bloggers are more likely to write opinion pieces, review wine, and raucously broadcast their judgments (but actually have significantly less wine writing experience), and you’ve picked the scab on a raw abrasion.  Inter-allegiance bias notwithstanding, it’s not even surprising that 64% of wine bloggers consider their colleague’s wine blogs to be “very or extremely credible.”  The gauntlet has been thrown down; there’s a line in the sand.  The stuffy, old establishment, that clubby clique of print media titans snub their highly trained noses at us newbies.  And who can blame them? Anybody with time and gumption can write a wine blog.   And everybody is an expert.  What credentials are mandatory?  (None, actually).  Blogs are a dime a dozen, and based on my informal web surfing surveys, rife with misspellings, improper grammar, and poorly concocted sentences.  Heck I wouldn’t trust most of what I read on the web, and I write a wine blog.  And it’s posted, streamed, re-tweeted, and rehashed with endless, pointless commentary like eerie specters that just won’t die.  All 800 of them (up from 5 wine blogs back in 2004).  That’s a lot of noise.  What’s a wine lover to do?  Lucky for us, reams of free information are available at the touch of a keystroke, but how much is simply garbage?  What tools can we use to sift the good stuff from the nonsense?  And there is much good to be mined from the cyber-deep.  But whom do you trust more - Robert Parker or “One Grape-Loving, Wine Guzzling Vino Dude?”

I am not the first wine blogger to respond to Tom Wark’s 2010 American Wine Writers Survey.  The data compiles the responses of 186 wine writers from 400 original invitees.  (No, I was not asked to participate).  Stats on the sample group sound decidedly old school - mostly male, over 50 years old and well educated (yawn).  But as soon as you tease out the internet hoofers from the print dogs, the divide is apparent.  Internet wine writers write for a national audience (75%), weekly or daily (80%), use Facebook (85%), Twitter (77%), and maintain a blog (68%).  It’s nice that Internet writers are disproportionately younger - 32% are less than 40 years old compared to 13% of print writers.  Unfortunately, the Internet writers are clearly the less experienced bunch.  Consider respondents who have written for 5 years or less.  60% write for blogs and only 14% receive 30 or more wine samples per month.  In contrast, amongst seasoned wine writers with 20+ years of experience, only 9% write for blogs but nearly half write for newspapers and magazines, with 30% of them tasting 30 or more samples/month.  Then ask the print writers about their blogging brethren.  Only 6% of print writers think “blogs are very or extremely trustworthy” and 26% state “blogs have very little or no trustworthiness.”  Ouch!  That’s the crux of the smack down.  And this data only exposes the surface of the murky wine blogosphere.

Here’s what I really want to know: how are other young, twitter-hungry, blogging hipsters evaluating wine?  Are they like me?  How are they trained, and how do they document their expertise?  Are they drinking or tasting?  If truly tasting, do they employ standards, ones that can be reproduced and reinforced regularly?  Show me your bias, and I'll show you mine!    Everybody knows that I can't distinguish Rioja from cabernet under truly blinded circumstances.  The day after sampling 8 different Anderson Valley pinot noirs I puked in a public bathroom.  But the writer who worked as Robert Parker’s personal attendant, followed by a 3 year stint as a junior editor at Wine Spectator is of a different cloth than a casual drinker like me, one armed simply with WordPress know-how.  If a wine blogger is only getting 4 or 5 samples per month, what’s the standard for comparison?  One can’t very well perform a vertical tasting of 2009 California Grenache without more juice.  That's simply an opinion as to whether or not you like what you've been sent.  This is very different from a blinded, rigorous tasting by a trained panel of tasters (and yes there is such a thing).  I am not saying that blogging an opinion is a bad thing.  Hey, it’s what I do, too.  But there needs to be some accountability if a wine lover types “good California cabernet” into the Google search engine and the top match is a tweet from “One Fine Vine.”  (*Disclaimer-this is a contrived hyperbole devised to illustrate my point).

2010 is a truly exciting time for the dispersal of wine informatics.  Never before has so much wine-centric data been so readily available.  Between the plethora of social media and the ease of self-publishing, the sheer volume of wine writing is astounding.  And certainly younger wine devotees are more apt to appropriate internet dialogue than traditional print media.  I just wonder how much is static noise? 

Data compiled from American Wine Writers Survey, Tom Wark, Wine Business Monthly, December 2010 & The 2010 American Wine Writer Survey, Wark Communications.