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3 Tips to Avoid a ‘Pay-to-Play’ Wine Review

Pay to Play Wine Review

It’s bad enough that artificial intelligence can generate credible wine reviews without needing a human to actually taste the wine. It turns out we can’t necessarily rely on human-generated wine reviews, either. Some of the wine reviews written by people are part of “pay-to-play” wine review schemes.

One recent blog post by wine journalist and publisher Jason Wilson, who writes Everyday Drinking, reported a number of pay-to-play schemes for favorable wine reviews, including a public relations firm’s payment of about $25,000 to a certain wine publication to ensure that its clients’ wines were reviewed.

Pay-to-play wine review schemes evidently is not new, and has been corroborated by other writers, such as David Morrison, founder of the Wine Gourd, which specializes in reporting on wine data. Morrison describes ploys such as suppliers paying for strategic placement of wine labels in periodicals for advertising purposes and payments to influencers for a favorable Instagram post.

However, many of us wine consumers rely on these reviews in publications and at wine shops to make decisions about what to purchase. So it’s a little disheartening to read that we are being duped by some wine reviews that are the product of a pay-to-play scheme and thus not trustworthy.

So what are we wine consumers to do?

I caught up with David Morrison, who assured me that the situation isn’t necessarily as bad as it may seem.

“As far as I am aware, Pay-for-Play mainly shows itself as a choice of which wines will get reviewed – a wine may not get reviewed if the supplier doesn’t fit in. Also, if a wine is not too good, then the reviewer will simply decline to say so publicly…. So the reviews themselves, as they get published, are generally okay – what the reader does not know is what was left out.”

So how to reduce the risk that you’ll be taken by a review that’s part of a pay-to-play wine review scheme? Here are three tips we recommend.

Pay to Play Wine Review

1. Rely on Trustworthy Sources

One of the best ways to rely on a wine review is if it’s coming from someone or somewhere you know isn’t being swayed by money. I trust recommendations from a couple of knowledgeable friends with no skin in the game. Some newspapers have strict ethics codes and prohibit their food and wine writers from accepting anything for free, even a dessert.

Also, trust yourself. Morrison suggests going to your nearby wine store when it offers tastings to sample wines available locally (and you can make your own decision as to whether you like the wine).

2. Seek Consensus

There’s usually reliability in numbers. If more than one wine reviewer is touting a particular wine, that’s a good sign that the wine deserves that favorable review. Morrison recommends websites with aggregate reviews from multiple sources, since there will be general agreement among the reviews for good wines.

3. Look for Transparency

A wine review is more reliable if you know whether the reviewers are upfront about their approach. For instance, two wine reviewers I particularly admire are Joe Roberts, who writes 1 Wine Dude, and Frank Morgan, co-founder of Drink What YOU Like, who both expressly state on their websites that while they may receive wine samples, they retain their independence when reviewing the wine and won’t necessarily give it a favorable review.

The bottom line: pay-to-play wine review schemes aren’t surprising, but an eye-opener, nonetheless. Consider the source of the wine review and understand that you may need to take it with a grain of salt.

What influences you to purchase a particular wine? Would that change if you thought the review was part of a pay-to-play wine review scheme? Let us know at Always feel free to reach out to us with any questions or feedback.

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