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Expert Opinion

Wine Writer Nick Ryan Asks: What’s The Point of Pointless Points?

By Friday 15 December 2017March 2nd, 20183 Comments

It’s a tough business out there and it’s hard to get heard. Nick Ryan reports on an email from a winemaker desperate for endorsement.

My email inbox is a transit lounge for a multitude of curiosities. Offers of more width and girth than I’d ever need, hot Russian brides apparently keen to check out those promised improvements and, in a worrying new development, regular correspondence offering to help cure my tinnitus and fungal foot infections.

But I got one a few weeks ago even stranger than all that. But this one didn’t come from a spambot or some poor Nigerian trying to give me heaps of cash.

It came from a winemaker.

And it was all business.

It was a direct, almost blunt, invitation to transact.

The winemaker needed some notes and numbers on a couple of wines because the online clearance house he was hoping to sell to prefer to see a bit of wine writer endorsement on a brand before they cut the guts out of it and shit in the cavity left behind.

So where could he send the wines and in to what bank account could he deposit funds for services rendered?

As a helpful guide he also mentioned another writer who had performed this service in the past and that the scores came in around the 92-93 mark.

Now wine writing isn’t exactly a platinum canoe ride down a river of cash but it’s not so bad that I need to be resorting to what is little more than cash for comment.

In New Zealand, several wine writers offer this kind of service as a legitimate part of their business and it is, to say the least, a little controversial.

I’m not saying paid assessment isn’t accurate because money changes hands, or that anyone’s palate operates differently when it’s getting paid and when it’s not.

I’m just wondering what’s the point of pointless points?

I don’t actually publish points anywhere in print – that’s a discussion for another time – so that was the easy way to decline this particular request.

It would just ring even more false than it already does if my name and numbers were being used by an online retailer when they don’t exist anywhere else.

I have no problem with my published work being quoted by those I’ve written about. Those opinions have been considered and deemed suitable to run in The Australian, Gourmet Traveller Wine, GQ or this fine journal itself. If someone thinks those words can be useful to their cause, they’re free to reproduce them.

If I was a little more entrepreneurial I could probably license them but, for now, I’m not.

But if an endorsement exists for the sole purpose of endorsement itself, is it worth anything?

If a tree falls in the forest, does anyone hear?

If a tasting note is never actually published, is it even real?

It’s a tough business out there and it’s hard to get heard.

If I had to find an outlet to write about every sample I got sent in any given week I’d need column inches in every newspaper and magazine in the country and a team of trained monkeys tapping away around the clock to help me produce it.

But the difficulty of getting your wine into print is what drives the value when it does.

That your wine has stood out from the crowd is strong endorsement all by itself.

I don’t blame the winemaker for asking.

But I’m pissed off at the retailer for putting him in that position in the first place.

I should probably be flattered that someone thinks my opinion is enough to get a deal over the line.

Hell, I spend enough time wondering if there’s any point to this whole lark I should be grateful when somebody thinks there actually is.

But if you’re in the business of buying wine, then your palate should be what tells you if it’s worth buying, not mine.

And if you don’t trust your palate to work well for your business then hire one that will.

If you’re in the business of selling wine, then find your own reasons why you want to share a wine with your customers.

If you need artificially extracted points and unpublished words from wine writers to move your stock, then you’re just not doing the job properly.

• This article first appeared in the November-December issue of WBM – Australia’s Wine Business Magazine. To subscribe to Australia’s best wine industry magazine, visit



  • Craig says:

    I have had a gutful of so-called wine experts that write or talk before they think. If they dared to stop and just consider the subjective nature of their opinion it might just help our industry educate the buying public and understand it’s a point of view and not fact. I can’t be bothered sending wine to you because you all get caught up in how important you are in your little lunch boxes. There are thousands of restaurants out there, they fail to see it’s the products they sell that brings people back not just their food. As a consumer, I don’t say “Oh no, not another plate of food!” In your case “Oh no, not more wine to critique!” Without the producer, as a writer you’re nothing, or corresponding in some remote country or a dead-end job like writing for The Insiders. We are a collective chain that all need each other. Please take each wine with the mindset that it’s been a labour of love by someone and it could well be a fabulous wine. Don’t stand on your soapbox and tell us how everybody wants to hear what you’ve got to say. I only heard of you today when I picked up the paper by mistake.

  • Smithy says:

    Best Article Ever.
    Never understood what a number does, especially when most winewriters taste and point..(or retaste and repoint) knowing full well exactly what the wine is.
    If I ever get around to rating Wine Writers you are looking at a 95 at least.
    ( seems only fair, a winemaker’s efforts get rated all the time)

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