Lessons in wine: Use Dry January to brush up on your wine critics and make a tidy profit

Jonathan Dart
The Annual Wine Competition Tastings In Tel Aviv
Tastings definitely don't count during Dry January (Source: Getty)

The most important thing to remember is that a wine is subjective. Wine lovers should be guided by the critics, but at the end of the day the only thing that really matters is each individual drinker’s own enjoyment.

With the arrival of the internet, it’s never been so easy to learn about and voice an opinion about wine. These days, everyone is a critic.

And January is the perfect time to go to tastings. Here at City A.M.’s Wine Club, we think wine should be drunk all year long, but if you’re undergoing dry January, then tastings are highly recommended. After all, tastings don’t count, do they? For the rest of you, we also recommended having a great array of wines on standby at home.

So many of us love to give our own fierce reviews at the slightest imperfections. Although, most of us will also consider the views of a small selection of industry professionals and this is certainly the case with wine.

There are just a handful of wine critics who are hugely influential in driving price and demand. It is without doubt that Robert Parker is the most powerful man in wine.

Dubbed ‘the million-dollar nose’, he is revered yet dreaded by even the most famous winemakers.

This American ex-lawyer shot to fame over 30 years ago when he defied all other critics in immediately declaring the 1982 Bordeaux vintage as remarkable; he was right.

Since then it is he who can dictate the success of a vintage merely by voicing his opinion. Chateaux can double or even triple their revenue from a vintage if Parker decides that they have produced a great wine.

However, it is important that we refer to the choice critic for each region to draw an optimum conclusion.

Parker’s Wine Advocate now has Neal Martin taking the mantle for Bordeaux, although most would still argue that Parker is the authority. Allen Meadows, aka Burghound, is the leading critic in Burgundy, a complex region where it certainly helps to have a trusted voice.

Antonio Galloni, an ex-member of the Wine Advocate team, usually agrees on Italian wines with James Suckling, while the latter has a remarkable talent for tasting a huge array of wines from around the world.

If one wants to go closer to home, then Jancis Robinson’s scores (out of 20) are always highly noteworthy.

So why do we rely so heavily on so few critics in the wine world?

Firstly, there are a great deal of grapes, regions and producers out there, far more than any one man or woman could drink in their lifetime, however hard one might try.

This is even before we consider each different vintage. It is a great service to have the experts try these wines on our behalf, although you mustn’t feel too sorry for them.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, critic reviews and scores in particular are an overwhelming factor in determining price and indeed investment potential.

If one is looking at wine as an investment, then a critic’s score (nearly always marked out of 100) is hugely significant.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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