The issue of ethics remains an active one in wine writing. The relationships between wine writers or critics and those who make the wine can be opaque to all except the two parties involved.
It seems widely accepted among wine consumers that some wine publications favour reviewing the wines of those who advertise in their publication, or at the very least subscribe to it, essentially a form of ‘pay to play’. And, at the time of writing, the blind tasting practices of at least one major wine publication have been called into doubt in recent times. In short, the actions of some publications can leave the subscriber wondering exactly who the critic is writing for – which can leave a bad taste in the mouth.
Of course, there are no advertisements on Winedoctor, it being funded solely by subscribers, obviating ethical concerns like those mentioned above. Nevertheless, like many writers and critics I maintain close relationships with many winemakers. With this in mind I thought I would provide transparency on my tasting practices, both here on Winedoctor and with other publications.
For Bordeaux I add several thousand new tasting notes each year. The vast majority of these are encountered as samples poured in Bordeaux; I travel to the region, covering the costs of travel myself, for the primeurs in April/May, and to retaste the wines after bottling, in December/January. Other frequently attended tastings which feed into my Bordeaux reviews include the annual Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tasting and the annual Ten Years On tasting hosted by Bordeaux Index, both in London. Again I cover all costs of travel myself. I will taste every wine possible and do not favour the wines of any particular producer. Nobody pays to have their wines reviewed. When I am in Bordeaux some châteaux offer support through accommodation or dinner, and this is always disclosed at the foot of the appropriate report.
I receive a tiny number of Bordeaux samples throughout the year (as of 2022 this is once again the state of play, although during the Covid-19 pandemic like many critics I was swamped with samples). All are tasted, and the majority (because there are so few) reviewed on Winedoctor, the notes slotted into relevant vintage reports, or a Weekend Wine slot. No payment is taken for reviewing samples in this manner. A subscription to Winedoctor is not required in order to submit samples.
Many older Bordeaux wines I review, typically in reports of wines aged more than ten years, or individual wines in my Weekend Wine slot, have been pulled from my own cellar, and purchased by me, sometimes decades ago. Reports on very old vintages are often a cobbling together of tasting notes from dinners in Bordeaux, principally with the Académie du Vin de Bordeaux. In such cases I add comments on the source to the tasting notes.
For the Loire Valley, I add over a thousand tasting notes each year, and as with Bordeaux the vast majority are poured as samples when I visit the region. This might be when attending the salons, including the Salon des Vins de Loire and Salon Saint-Jean (in Angers), La Dive Bouteille (in Saumur) or at Wine Paris (no prizes for guessing where) each February/March, or when staying and visiting in the region, typically in May/June and September/October each year. The travel and accommodation costs associated with these trips are met by me; thinking back over two decades of reporting on this region I can think of less than a handful of occasions when I received assistance in the form of accommodation or a meal, and this has always been declared on the appropriate report. Again, nobody pays to have their wines reviewed.
The number of Loire samples received at home is even fewer than those from Bordeaux. The majority will be reported on. No payment is taken for reviewing samples in this manner. A subscription to Winedoctor is not required in order to submit samples. I also report on many Loire wines at three, ten, fifteen years of age and beyond, and these are all pulled from my own cellar, having been purchased by me, sometimes many years or even more than a decade before.
In short, no moneys are taken for wine reviews. I fund the vast majority of my travel and accommodation myself – thanks to my subscribers for that – and where I accept support, usually in the form of accommodation or dinner, it is disclosed.
Over the years I have taken on other wine reviewing roles where the arrangements might be different to those outlined above. I provide what detail I can on these here.
I have judged wines for Decanter, both as a member of a tasting panel for reports published in the monthly magazine (exclusively on the Loire), and as a judge for the Decanter World Wine Awards (mostly the Loire, sometimes Bordeaux). All the tastings were rigorously blind (in all the tastings I have been involved in, I have never seen any taster break this rule). Samples are provided by producers to Decanter, who also – in the case of the Decanter World Wine Awards – pay Decanter for this service. I cover my own travel costs to and from the tasting(s), as well as accommodation expenses, but in both cases Decanter pays me for my time judging.
I also judge for another publication, an agreement I expect to be announced during course of 2023. Here the samples are sent to me and thus the tasting is not blind. Again, samples are provided by producers to the publication, who also pay the publication for this service. The publication pays me for my time judging.
Key to these ‘off Winedoctor’ paid roles is that the tasting notes and scores generated are ‘firewalled’ from Winedoctor. None of the notes and scores generated when working in these other paid roles will ever appear on Winedoctor pages. All my notes and scores held in the Winedoctor database are generated using the system described under ‘On Winedoctor’, without exception.
If there is any element of this description of the way I work which requires further clarification, I invite you to contact me in order to address it. (19/8/23)