Do wine writers have an incontrovertible right to taste a producer’s wines? I doubt it’s something the media, let alone wine lovers, have cause to think about often, if at all.
But recently two British journalists were told by legendary Loire producer, Domaine Huet, at the annual local wine exhibition, that they may not taste the wines. I don’t want to dwell on this specific case; although I’ve read some background, further enquiries suggest there’s more to the story.
Phrased as it is, my immediate answer to that question would be no. No producer is under any obligation to offer wine writers, critics, call us what you will, the opportunity to taste their wines whether by invitation to the property, private tastings elsewhere or when sending out samples. Locally, producers, or maybe it’s their PR companies, pick and choose which media they will interact with, which doesn’t mean they don’t want the others to taste and review their wines. They presumably target those from whom they believe they’ll gain maximum publicity; though I do sometimes think it’s all a bit random. That said, there’s nothing to prevent the rest from buying the wines for that purpose.
In a world of true independence, there should be no freebies of any sort. But we don’t live in such a world; the relationship between producer and writer is often symbiotic, which doesn’t necessarily result in biased reviews and at least allows for reviews. Wine media are notoriously badly paid; having to fork out for bottles of wine, especially the more expensive, would leave many blank spaces.
But I divert.
If a producer privately refuses to let a member or members of the media to taste his or her wines, that’s one matter, one that would probably remain something between them, though I can think of a few members of the local media who would make a meal of it.
It’s a different matter if such refusal is at a tasting where others are present, as it was in the Huet case. However civil the exchange, the refusal would surely be so unusual as to raise eyebrows, wherever the event, whoever is involved.
The point is, once a producer’s wines are out in the market, he or she can’t stop any member of the media (or indeed the public in this day and age of the blogger) from buying and reviewing them.
Negative reviews, whatever has brought them about, including the producer refusing to let the reviewer taste the wines, is something most winemakers have to endure.
There can be few incidents too big to be worth more than bad PR, which is what a recalcitrant producer is likely to receive, especially turning away a writer in public.
So, while wine writers don’t have an incontrovertible right to taste any producers’ wines, I’d think very carefully before banning a writer from doing so.