Stuffing the Ballot Box

“Consider the source”—that piece of advice has never been more relevant, as the Internet spawns a thriving industry of fake reviews.


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A story published in The New York Times in late August should have consumers of fine wine carefully considering the sources of their wine information. The story reports on the proliferation of paid reviews on peer review Web sites as well as some major online retailers such as amazon.com: “…an industry of fibbers and promoters has sprung up to buy and sell rave reviews,” reported the Times writer, David Streitfeld.

With increased competition and the astronomic rise in online customer commentary, review factories are springing up to satisfy the demand for positive reviews of hotels, restaurants, books and more. Streitfeld quoted from one ad offering this service: “ ‘For $5, I will submit two great reviews for your business,’ ” and at the other end, “ ‘I will pay for positive feedback on tripadvisor,’ ” was the solicitation by a business. To be clear, reputable sites such as amazon and tripadvisor do not solicit these reviews and are doing their best to weed them out, but it’s difficult.

Are wine review Web sites subject to the same manipulation? It wouldn’t surprise me.

In this economy, you want to be sure you’re getting your money’s worth when you spend your dollars for a bottle of wine. And if you buy that wine based on a review, you want to be sure that review was written with integrity—not the producer’s own boast manufactured as an unbiased review, and not some keypad-for-hire’s boilerplate praise.

This is our special value issue, and it contains hundreds of verifiable reviews of wines that offer great quality for, in most cases, $15 and under. And unlike anonymous reviews found online, you can count on these reviews because we tell you whose opinion they are.

Since our in-house tasting program was established in 1999, it has set a high standard for credibility, reliability and expertise. Many of our tasting panelists live within their territories—notably, California, the Pacific Northwest, Italy and France. Wines are tasted blind; our reviewers do not know the identities of the producers until after the wines have been rated and the notes taken. Our database now consists of more than 105,000 ratings and reviews, and you can be sure that each one was generated with the highest professional ethics. And they are all available for free at the click of a mouse at winemag.com.

This integrity is the backbone of our success as a magazine. As evidence, I point out that the issue you hold in your hands is our biggest in our 23-year history. I am so proud of our incredible team of journalists, who have shared their insights on wine in these pages, and I want to express my thanks to you, our readers, for your support over the years.

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