01438 741177         thewinesociety.com

The Society's Community

Paid subscriptions to wine websites

I gave up my subscription to JR.com last March and it’s been liberating to no longer have a clue what scores wines get.

Whatever the real advantages of subscription services my experience of wine has been improved greatly by this absence of ratings when making decisions about what to buy or drink.

13 Likes

I think the change in Decanter’s focus towards the international market has been detrimental. There are now more advertorials and articles on wineries that don’t export outside the USA or when they do they are at premium prices.

I mainly enjoy the columns by Andrew Jefford, Hugh Johnson and some of the content but a lot of it I just skip through so have let my subscription lapse.

4 Likes

I always think that paying for wine websites is just money that I could spend on wine. There’s enough out there in the public domain and this forum is a great help in discovering new styles and producers.

7 Likes

The counter to that is that paying (and I am deliberately picking one of the cheapest here) £25 a year for drink rhone might mean that you better spend those £££(£?!)s you are planning to spend on Rhone En Primeur.

As always with wine by spending money you are actually saving money :upside_down_face:

4 Likes

It is just possible that subscribers to paid for sites will conclude that they are “mugs” and not post up to date reviews.
For example, I subscribe to Drinkrhone, JebDunnuck, Parker and Vinous.
Quite often there will be a major disparity between reviewers scores.
Sometimes, only one or two might review a particular wine, to be useful for our EP offer.
Also, when did they pay their last visit to Rhone or are they relying exclusively on samples?
I have noticed (but have no evidence) that when a Domaine produces a great wine, publication may be delayed or not even made. Coincidence, perhaps.
Some reviewers might score a Domaine historically lower than others.
Some reviewers might score lower than others, across the board.
Some reviewers might be profligate with their scoring.
There are so many issues to get one’s head around.
The upside for us this year, is Marcel was in Rhone - tasting, up until the last permitted minute, and his words will be like gold dust, more valuable then any other year.
The reviewers from Vinous, Jeb and Parker have been holed up in their US tasting offices (their passports currently of no use) awaiting pallets (I kid you not :open_mouth:) of samples to arrive; and the recycling to contend with!! :rofl: :+1: :dragon:

2 Likes

resurrecting a bit this topic

Vinous and Galloni have been attracting quite a bit of controversy this past week with their decision to offer a special Vinous subscription package that allows to get 48h preview on any scores they would release.

This means subscribers of this package could front-run some of the hype on well rated wines and hoard stock/ adjust prices ahead of the “public” release of ratings.

See the follow thread on wine-berserkers : https://www.wineberserkers.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=179690

Our community is fully aware of the impact wine critics can have on prices and availability of wines (at a reasonable / close to release price level) - in the case of Galloni, Barolo (and the famous Burlottery) comes to mind obviously…

A takeway for me, is that it reinforces why being a member of the Society is really good for wine amateurs: prices at the Society are not dynamically adjusted according to scores and demand. I think the Society has longstanding sourcing agreements with producers that avoid the stock being hijacked by opportunists in the trade…

Of course, in the long end, producers will adjust prices based on supply/demand shifts, and that’s not something the Society can do anything about… but at least, we get shielded from the initial hype and craze…

edit: while Vinous is getting flak for this new offering given their positioning as a wine critic with a focus on wine consumers and amateurs, we need to be aware that they might not be the only ones in the industry to offer such services - whether they are publicly marketed or only available through custom arrangements…

8 Likes

Not wishing to sound curmudgeonly, but it’s not really a great loss - Galloni has done wonders for the global profile of Piedmont (I also think the producers have pulled their weight too), but his scores need to be taken with a pinch of salt. He always seems to favour bigger wines in his reviews, despite talking a good game about traditionalists (Burlotto is the one outlier that I can readily think of).

1 Like

I have to say many thanks for posting a link that has taken up rather more of my time over the last 24hrs than is probably healthy :smiley:, though I think Bordeaux and Piedmont aficionados on here should take note of some of the concerns raised as Neal Martin and Antonio Galloni are huge influencers in those markets, and inevitably their actions could potentially affect prices across the board (I don’t think TWS is entirely immune to this).

And a few pages in Galloni’s response (sorry for length, but I thought people might be interested)…

Antonio GalloniAntonio Galloni Posts: 4,802, April 27

"From the very beginning, Vinous has been a customer-centric company. Our customers are at the core of everything we do.

In our seven years we have raised prices only once, and when we did, we gave subscribers the opportunity to pre-pay their renewal at the old price. We wanted to reward our loyal subscribers with a special offer. Along the way, we have continued to build out our editorial team in a significant way and invested every dollar back into the company. In 2020, despite all the logistical challenges during the pandemic that turned writers’ homes into warehouses, Vinous published over 28,000 reviews, more than in any other year.

All of the above works under one basic premise. And that is that subscriptions must be priced according to the utility various users derive. That is what is fair. When this does not happen, consumers (who use Vinous for personal use) are subsidizing the wine trade. which uses Vinous fo commercial purposes to drive a large part of their business through email campaigns, republication on websites, social media, etc. This strikes us as an absurd situation.

We offer a number of programs for our trade subscribers, as we have made plainly clear in our Terms of Service for years. These include digital access to our reviews via API and other data licensing options. Vinous Preview is a test program with a number of features, including 48-hour preview access to reviews. Preview is based on a similar program offered by another of the world’s leading wine publications. It is priced appropriately, as a data service, which naturally limits it to a small audience.

Among other things, this allows us to grow our team as we have continued to do and will continue to do. This year we expect to introduce at leas one new critic to the team. Our critics spend more time in the field than most, if not all, of their peers at other publications, year in year out. A an example, I am presently planning a trip to Santa Barbara, where I will spend at least ten days meeting with many dozens of producers individually, as I have done for a decade. It’s the same in all or virtually all of the world’s main regions, and even many of the smaller regions. We have an exceptional track record of writing about new, up and coming estates everywhere, and we bring readers coverage of niche regions that are economically unviable if taken alone. Look at the depth of our coverage, the insight in our articles and the producer commentaries tha accompany reviews, often completely missing now in other publications.

I can certainly understand that change is unsettling. The reality is that over the last 10-15 years, the wine business has become very sophisticated and tech-savvy. That is not of our doing, but it is the reality of our world. Publications must choose whether to be deep and comprehensive, or one-man shows that cover only the most commercially viable regions. We choose the former. We choose to bring our readers the widest and most comprehensive coverage of wines available anywhere. Yes, there is Napa and Bordeaux, but there is also Loire, Montepulciano, Alto Piemonte and the hottest young producers in California making their first vintages, not to mention many regions we would like to cover.

The number of wines where the 48-hour preview is meaningful applies to only a tiny subset of what we review. Do not be fooled, the minute a Vinous review is published for a wine that is in the market, prices and availability can change immediately. All around the world people are refreshing their screens waiting to pounce on new information. That informatio is often then rapidly disseminated within minutes both through email offers to customers and in the wine trade, often against our terms of use. A few years ago, within minutes of publication, a Bordeaux firm copied one of Neal Martin’s articles in its entirety – introduction, every review, score and drinking window – and sent it to their entire mailing list.

We asked them to please not do that again. A few days later, that firm did the exact same thing with my article, except they were even faster the second time around. Does a small number of trade entities having a preview of scores really affect the consumer negatively? It might if you no to jump in and buy a wine in the seconds after a score is released, and that wine scores unexpectedly well and is one of the tiny minority of wines that moves price meaningfully, and that the merchant you choose is a specificone that is prepared to adjust pricing immediately or before the scores are published rather than minutes later. On the flipside, in virtually all cases, readers benefit immensely from our unrivaled coverage of tens of thousands of wines that they may choose to buy.

We would much rather have both consumer and trade subscriptions and a strong economic foundation that allows our critics to do the work they want and need to do rather than have the need to incessantly hype vintages and give wines ridiculously high scores they will never live up
to, all for the means of blatant self-promotion, a strategy some other critics/publicationshave clearly chosen. That is true independence. A quick look at major reports of popular regions covered by multiple publications, for example 2018 Bordeaux or 2018 Napa Valley, will prove beyond any doubt that Vinous scores are among the most conservative. Why? Because our reviews, the core of what we do, always puts the consumer first. Not self-promotion, not the desire to be quoted in social media so we can re-broadcast, not the desire to ingratiate ourselves with producers. Rampant score inflation is far more deleterious to the consumer (Vinous subscribers and not) than anything Preview offers. Ask yourself when was the last time another major publication actually critiqued a well-known or established producer. We
have, and, when appropriate, we will. Nothing changes that or will ever change
that.

Let’s look at some examples. The chart above shows the average scores for a number of critics for the 90 most frequently searched 201 Bordeaux on Liv-ex. We started by looking at 100 widely reviewed wines, and then focused on 90 covered by five critics. To that we added three more well-known critics. The number in parentheses indicates the number of wines reviewed within the subset of the initial 90 wines. The data clearly shows that the consensus for the 2018 vintage forms around four publications, with three outliers at the top and one at the bottom.

Only Vinous gives readers two completely separate, independent sets of reviews. That’s two travel/lodging/food bills (in non-pandemic years) and two editor bills. Neal and I never taste together or talk about the wines prior to publication. The data bears that out. Moreover, the clustering of three single-critic-based publications with narrow areas of coverage at the top suggests that these critics have a natural incentive to rate wine on the higher side, and that makes sense. Those critics depend heavily on the visibility of their scores for their businesses. What is in the best interests of the consumer? It is hardly a coincidence that three single-critic publications are clustered at the high end, while those writing for broader publications are all grouped together in the middle and lower end of the ratings. Any suggestion of Vinous trying to direct or influence the market ispatently absurd.

Let’s turn our attention to Napa Valley. The chart above compares the percentage of 98+ rated wines and 100-point wines for Napa Valley’s 201 vintage for four critics. Vinous has the lowest percentage of very high-rated wines (98+) and one of the lowest numbers of 100-point wines. Since our founding in 2013, we have grown to have subscribers in over 100 countries. In those years we have also come to
nderstand that we have readers of all types, from casual wine consumers, to students, to experienced collectors and in all parts of the win trade. We are extremely grateful for that support.

We strive to deliver the maximum value possible for all our readers, while recognizing their needs are different. Over the last year, we hav supported those audiences in many ways. We offered free subscriptions to all sommeliers and wine directors, globally, who lost their jobs becaus of COVID-19. Recognizing that education is a central part of our mission, we later extended that offer to students in the MS and MW programs who had passed at least one level of their respective programs. With the exception of the pandemic year of 2020, we have always provided a educational seminar for sommeliers at our Festa del Barolo.

For the casual wine lover, we publish more free content than ever before. Vinous and I personally have supported various charitable initiative designed to give back to those less fortunate. At the height of the pandemic, when people were at their most anxious, we launched a series o free webinars to help alleviate stress and give people something positive to look forward to. We took a public stance against systemic racism an started our BIPOC Mentorship program. In most years we offer a Young Wine Writer Fellowship, although in 2020 the challenges of the year simply did not leave enough time. I am pretty confident our engagement with the community of wine is second to none. In fact, our work in these areas may very well exceed that of all other publications combined.

For consumers, we added Delectable as a tool for keeping track of bottles, engaging with fellow wine lovers and also finding wines. We adde CellarWatch, which gives Vinous readers unprecedented access to valuation and market tools that are otherwise only available to Liv-ex’s tra subscribers. We will soon move to a new website, which, among other things, will give subscribers digital access to view our California vineyard maps, for free.

Ultimately, we are accountable to all our subscribers. I am always here, on this forum, to answer your questions. Most publications don’t give their subscribers access to their critics much less the final decision maker on a public forum. If you see wines with suddenly huge scores or anything that is not consistent with the past, let us know. But you won’t. Our team is 100% focused on bringing you the most comprehensive an in-depth writing on wine available anywhere in the world. As always, we pay for all our travel, hotels and meals, and accept no advertising Vinous Preview was launched as a test program. If we need to make adjustments, we will. Thank you for your invaluable feedback.

Ethics, integrity, independence. None of our core values have changed. Anyone can say what they want or write whatever they want on the internet or on social media. That does not make it true. What matters is what you do when no one is watching."

4 Likes