Dear Good Somm Bad Somm,
I recently fell in love with a wine that a Sales Representative brought to my place. I was shocked and embarrassed when I found out that the wine had received tremendous press and very high scores from the "wine magazines".
Now I am worried that I will look like a sell out to my friends and peers. I just cannot, in good consciousness, support the "scoring process" and wine reviews if I want to be taken seriously.
What do I do?
Sell Out Somm
Dear Sell Out Somm,
This sounds more like a "self confidence" issue to me.
Firstly - the reason you're in the wine director position is because you have some serious skill. Have confidence & trust in yourself. Your instincts are there for a reason. Don’t ignore them. You are who you are because of your opinions & your palate and now it happens to be in alignment with the press & trade magazines. Why be ashamed of that?
I understand your concern. You are afraid that you will seem like a follower to your Sophisticated Somm friends and peers. But the press and trade journals act as a reference point for many people from beginners to experts. As you grow and learn as a sommelier, it’s important to focus on YOU. Don’t be so concerned with how your peers may react. It's your wine program and it is a creative expression of who you are!
There's good wine for everyone out there in every style. And you vote with your dollars every time you make a purchase. But the biggest truth about wine scores is this: Scores are meaningless if you're confident with your own pallet.
Dear Sell Out Somm,
I guess it's fashionable for young, hipster Somms to hate on wine critics now. I hear it a lot. When you're not grooming your facial hair or planning your next tattoo or trying to discover the next wine no one cares about from the new place no one's ever heard of, it's pretty trendy to demonize, tear down, and throw stones at members of the wine press.
And I get it. I really do. And I admit, once upon a time, I would get a few drinks in me and pontificate about the "homogenization of the global wine pallet" and bitch about Michel Rolland and the like.
But guys like Robert Parker, Jim Laube, and Anthony Dias Blue have been writing about, talking about, and promoting wine for over three decades. They've been drinking wine since most of us "Somms" have been in diapers. And if any of us have even a fraction of the impact on a global industry that they have had, I'd be seriously impressed.
Without them, I doubt organizations like The Court of Masters and WSET would exist in the way they do and/or enjoy the extreme popularity they do!
Ask anyone who's ever been a wine rep or supplier or owned a wine store or ran a program: Scores sell wine (weather we like it or not). Scores inform consumers. Scores create the "wine collecting and drinking as sport" mentality amongst consumers that really allowed the wine business to prosper as it has.
Wine scores have also given us a vibrant Sommelier movement to counter-act their impact! "Pursuit of Balance" could be considered just as overbearing as Wine Advocate, but with the "pendulum of judgment" swinging back in the other direction! But that doesn't mean I'm going to tear down Raj Parr or complain about a California Chardonnay being too lean.
If a wine is grown by sincere farmers who care about the earth and if the wine is made by people who are devoted to their craft and have something to say: I'm not concerned with the scores either way.