The Internet, the story goes, is going to make wine critics like Robert Parker irrelevant. Blogging and Tweeting and CellarTracker are going to bring the wisdom of crowds to the business of assessing wine. Ring the churchbells! The era of the all-powerful and deeply resented critic is coming to an end! Today dawns a Brave New World of democratized wine criticism!
Yeah, well: Bone’s, the Atlanta restaurant that introduced the iPad wine list reports an 11% boost in sales over the conventional paper list, and other restaurants using the technology are reporting similar results.
The devices seem to be spurring deeper interest in wine and empowering bolder, more confident selections, they say, potentially revolutionizing the psychology of dining’s most intimidating passage.
“I felt like they had given me the answer sheet to the test,” said Bradley D. Kendall, a Bone’s regular who recently used the iPad to select a 2005 Corté Riva cabernet franc for $102, about 25 percent beyond his usual range.
With results like that, expect restaurants by the hundreds to move to iPad lists, a great triumph for technology that begs the question: why are iPad lists so much more successful? Gizmodo has an answer:
The reason is simple and logical: Reviews. Most people don’t know most vinos in a restaurant wine list…Now, if you had instant access to a short review for each wine from a credible source, then you can make a decision on the spot. So when Robert Parker says that a 1995 Pingus is “one of the greatest and most exciting wines I have ever tasted”, then you may decide that it’s well worth the price tag.
So there you go. Confused wine patrons, looking to cut through the noise of 50,000 wine brands, are turning to critics they know and trust. They’re bypassing even the sommelier, widely perceived as either a snooty bastard or used car salesman, up-selling patrons into inferior, high-margin wines.
Which means that critics, rather than going away, are going to be more important. Because the reviews are going to have a more direct influence on which wines restaurant patrons buy, they’re going to have more influence on the wines restaurants stock. Robert Parker, widely reviled as an anachronistic symbol of wine’s primitive past, turns out to be the most powerful arbiter of wine’s promising future.
So much for the Brave New World.