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A Solid 92 on the 100 Point Dubious Scale

Not all business is good business.  That’s what I want to tell Wine Spectator.

On a certain level, I want to be sympathetic to wine glossies – particularly Wine Spectator.  While Wine Spectator and I have a tumultuous relationship, and I’ve wondered aloud about their content approach to their audience, I do find myself wanting to give them the benefit of the doubt on an ongoing basis. 

Laube has an excellent palate with very good tasting notes, they taste blind and they seem to have less eyebrow arching moments of back-slapping correlating to advertising than others.  Heck, at the end of the day, I can even acknowledge that their online pay content approach is probably a good bet in the long run and helpful for the future of wine content online.

Further, I never put much stock into the “fake restaurant” sting they were caught up in last year around their Award of Excellence restaurant wine program. Every single one of us could get caught in a ruse if it was well executed and filled with intentional deceit.

The reality is that Wine Spectator is the wine world’s equivalent of The Wall Street Journal and having them successful and healthy is much better than not having them.

That said, something is really bugging me.

I have seen an increasing amount of advertising in wine magazines that have wineries touting their scores from the same magazines.

It seems that absent good, quality, attention-getting, brand-building advertising, wineries and wine companies are just announcing the scores that they received from said magazine.

This is a problem in two areas:

1)  It perpetuates the back of the mind gnawing that occurs with consumers about the relationship between scores and advertising, irrespective of ethical policies.

2) It stifles creativity with wineries because 98% of winery advertising sucks


Hell, in the current issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine I saw an ad that touted a winery’s scores from Spectator, Wine Advocate and Wine & Spirits – everybody’s scores but Wine Enthusiast where the ad appeared.  Goodness gracious; if that’s not an unspoken, back-handed pimp slap I don’t know what is.

Now, mind you, this point’s promotion via advertising isn’t anything new, I’ve just noticed more of it lately.  As well, I don’t have an issue with wine points.  They’re not going anywhere, they’re useful for what they are and they bring a modicum of order to a consumer category that is very unruly.

I just have an issue with the wineries feeding the magazine beast with advertising that touts the scores that they got from the magazine. 

In the last two issues of Spectator (August and September issues), Diageo has placed two double page ads touting the wines in their portfolio that have earned 90 point scores from Wine Spectator.  Diageo has even gone to the extent of publishing a quick and dirty web site at:  I say the web site is quick and dirty because, aside from re-purposed imagery from the magazine ad and a re-publish of the Spectator score and tasting note, there is no content. And, a quick check at indicates the web site URL was registered on June 25th, 10 days after the supposed close of advertising space for the issue in which their double page gatefold ad appeared.  Hello, afterthought.


Something just smells off when Wine Spectator accepts a two page gate-fold ad on the inside cover of the August issue and a two page spread in the September issue that is specifically designed to promote the wines from Diageo that have earned a 90 point + plus score from, yes, Wine Spectator.

It seems to me that while editorial and advertising sales are two different magazine functions, whoever leads ad sales at Spectator can do a better job of understanding the difference between good and bad revenue.

Advertising your points earned in the magazine that gave you the points is bad revenue and leads to much of the dubious questioning that arises on an ongoing basis.

And, it’s a simple solution – Wine Spectator should require that any advertising in the magazine not include scores from Spectator, even better if they don’t allow points from ANY magazine.  Duh, what a novel concept! Maybe this way a winery will actually think about building an actual advertising campaign while using their scores however they want (but elsewhere) in the wine sales value-chain.

By way of analogy, if Wine Spectator takes the Fight Club approach to wine reviews and points, “The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.  The second rule of Fight Club is, you DO NOT talk about Fight Club” then they serve their own needs by perpetuating the sanctity of the wine reviews while fostering those scores to take on a life of their own elsewhere. 

And, as mentioned, a side benefit is that many wineries will actually think about building an advertising campaign that resonates with consumers by achieving something more memorable than a presentation of a number, none of which stick with me longer than the time it takes me to flip the page.


Posted in, Good Grape Daily: Pomace & Lees. Permalink | Comments (16) |


On 08/12, Joel Goldberg wrote:

What a quaintly old-fashioned journalistic concept: let’s separate the folks doing the content from those running the sales pitch.

Clearly targeted at readers who came of age prior to the Gary V generation. And those who are, in fact, readers rather than video viewers.

On 08/12, Dr. Horowitz wrote:

Nice fight club analogy.

I prefer the Playboy Top 10 Playmates of the Year analogy.

Last year I was in Chile at Casa Lapostolle ( ( and everyone was excited that we were going to get to taste the #1 Wine Spectator wine of the year.  Casa Lapostolle spent a bunch of money on their winery and it was impressive, just like the Playboy top 10 spend a lot of money on how they look and are, well, impressive.

On 08/12, 1WineDude wrote:

OK… that 90 pt. club jazz makes me wanna vomit…

On 08/12, Dylan wrote:

Content is the lifeblood of these publications. Anything that reduces the integrity of that content, even in the slightest way, is worth total avoidance.

On 08/13, Fred wrote:

I think the more damning aspect of this is not WS’s ethical appearance but rather Diageo’s marketing hubris.

There is zero logic to buying a 4-page gatefold (for what, $100,000?) to advertise a “parent” brand. Nobody shops for Diageo. And Diageo is the only thing that links these nine disparate wines. That and the fact that they all received 90+ points. Which, when you think about it, really isn’t that notable an achievement.

The gaffe is compounded by the superficiality (purposelessness) of the website. Should anyone bother to go there, they will find nothing more than a regurgitation of Spectator tasting notes. No details about each individual wine, its provenance, winemaking or back-story. Not even a link to their respective websites.
So, what’s the point? Who does this ad serve?

Were I the conspiratorial sort, I would characterize this ad buy as a kick-back to the magazine. Because they’re the only one who benefits from it.

On 08/13, Jeff wrote:

Thanks for the comments.

Fred - you hit the nail on the head.  I would have gone down that road were it not too speculative.

But, really, the advertising and the really, really poor web site is nothing but a useless spend of money and for what reason?

Interesting, but hard to corroborate, though I touch on it, the URL for the site was registered AFTER the art submission deadline for the magazine.  So, you’re telling me somebody submitted an ad that points to a web site, but the web site URL wasn’t registered until 10 days later?

It’s cause for one to wonder ...


On 08/13, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

I always admire the way the glossies monetize their wine scoring. If you are the producer you first hear from the glossy about a high score (they never tell you the exact score) and you are offered a chance to advertise with a label placement. Next you hear the score from a distributor who wants to buy that wine they told you a week before was too expensive. (As the producer you haven’t seen the score because you haven’t paid the extra for email advance notice.)Retailers also have paid for the advance notice and they have placed orders for the wine that you haven’t yet shipped to the distributor. The retailer has also taken orders on the wine from their “number” buyers. So about three weeks pass, you have sold out the wine to distributors, retailers have sold the wine, it is unobtainable in the market. This reinforces the appearance that the score was correct, since the wine is sold out… and finally your issue of the glossy arrives and you realize there was no need to have paid for the ad. Crazy business!

On 08/13, Bob Rohden wrote:

Maybe you should spend some time on the Grand Awards program. It could be interesting.
Case in point:
How many former Grand Award recipients have lost their status? Why?
Hint:  Not having a sommelier might figure in.

On 08/13, Tish wrote:

Excellent angle on 90-point madness. I wonder if those self-congratulating ads in Wine Spec are more for the distributors that for consumers. Producers and marketers love to tell their distribs that they are “supporting the brand,” and scores are what the wholesale reps love….

Meanwhile, that is very funny about an ad in WE featuring scores from everyone ELSE! Last I heard, WS had a policy prohibiting mention of any WE scores in ads that ran in WS. It’s all part of politics as usual among the glossies.

On 08/14, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

Thank you for your support of Wine Spectator in general and James Laube in particular.

Of course you are entitled to your opinion about the quality and usefulness of any particular advertisements that appear in Wine Spectator or any other magazine. However, I would like to clarify that all the ratings referenced in the Diageo advertisements were the results of our standard blind tastings, and that Diageo was not informed of these ratings in advance of their availability to our subscribers.

In response to Morton Leslie, the chain of events you describe does not apply in any aspect to Wine Spectator. We do not sell label placements; we do not inform the wine trade of reviews before they are made available to subscribers; there is no connection between editors and reviewers on one hand, and ad sales on the other.

Finally, let me say that I respect the Diageo wineries for their commitment to quality and the scores they are achieving from us (and other critics). And I am pleased they feel Wine Spectator’s reviews are credible enough with wine consumers to publicize them in their advertisements.

Thomas Matthews
Executive editor
Wine Spectator

On 08/14, Jeff wrote:

Hi Thomas,

Thank you for your comments.  Since you’re here, would you like to comment on any of the following questions that were offered in the post?

1) Development of a potential policy at WS that would stipulate that no advertising can present scores from WS in WS thereby fully separating church from state in terms of reviews and advertising?

2) How do you reconcile the fact that according to your issue deadline information space closed on 6/15 with material due on 6/18 for the August issue.

Yet, the web site address that was featured in the Diageo advertising was only registered on 6/25.

It would seem that registering the web site a week after materials were due to Spectator is a pretty bold bet on behalf of the advertiser.

To me, this speaks to what is the premise of the post and that’s—not all revenue is good revenue because based on circumstantial evidence I’m led to believe that accomodations were made for Diageo when the principal function of the advertising is to present their Spectator scores.

Thanks for any additional thoughts you have,


On 08/14, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

In response to 1): The “separation of church and state” occurs at the time of the reviews, which always result from blind tastings. Once the review is public, the public may use it, whether as a shelf-talker in a retail store or an advertisement in a magazine. You may notice that some ads in our magazine cite scores from other critics. That’s fine, too.

Would you argue that the New York Times should not accept ads for movies, or books, or restaurants, or wines, that include quotes from Times reviewers? Because they do.

In response to 2): I don’t understand your question, or your suspicion. I don’t know how Diageo runs their business. I do know that all the wines featured in their advertisement that ran in our August issue had been previously reviewed, so those scores were already public. For example, the ad featured a 95-point score for the 2005 Almaviva; that review was published in the May 15, 2008, issue of Wine Spectator.

I don’t think your “circumstantial evidence” holds water, and I can assure you that no editorial policies were breached in order to accommodate Diageo in any way.

Just to return briefly to the New York Times, I noticed earlier this week an article on a new ad campaign by The Gap; in the same day’s paper, there were several full-age ads running from that campaign. Do you believe this is “circumstantial evidence” that Times’ writers are “accommodating” their advertisers in some unethical way? I don’t. I would hope readers would investigate our policies, and understand that Wine Spectator editors are equally committed to the principles of journalism.

Thomas Matthews
Executive editor
Wine Spectator

On 08/14, Jeff wrote:


Thanks for the comment.  Your response is largely rhetorical and definitely a red herring.

If you were to indicate that the Diageo advertising was a late addition to the magazine, after your advertising deadline, an accommodation that you make frequently based on leeway in the print schedule, and that you do not have a policy against your wine reviews being used in advertising (and don’t plan on changing that) coupled with the fact that your general readership save for the chattering class online have never questioned the type of advertising that appears in your magazine, it would have answered my questions.

Since I don’t have an axe to grind, we’ll move on.

Regards and thanks again for commenting.


On 08/14, Fred wrote:

Jeff: Now if only you could get someone from Diageo to tell us why this was a sensible way to spend marketing dollars…

On 08/15, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

Me, I want producers to go back to recognizing quality writing as opposed to just putting up numbers for for your ads.

Maybe that way I can again find work… wink

I tried telling a few producers about the sorry state of their back label prose, but you can’t argue with the Joe who wrote the sorry stuff.

My point: the quality of wine advertising is without doubt among the worst in the world.

On 05/04, TN Pas Cher wrote:

ling a few producers about the sorry state of their back label prose, but you can’t argue with the Joe


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