Meet the New Breed of Wine Critics

Christine Havens loves wine, plain and simple. She’s a wine critic, writer and former winemaker who has become a Vivino power user with nearly 30,000 followers thanks to her wine ratings and prowess. When she’s not dropping wine knowledge on the masses, she is playing with her pooch Trevor and rewatching the original Star Wars movies.

christinehavens

It began with the decision to abandon our spiral notebooks. My colleagues at the time were searching for an app to track wines we’d sampled at industry tastings so that when the team reconvened to make purchasing decisions, we could quickly and easily share notes.

My notes on Vivino were quite simple at first, little more than a string of descriptors and a rating. “Great nose on this one, like pineapple upside down cake and poached pear. It’s awesome.” Occasionally one of these early (2011-ish) ratings percolates to the surface because another user scanned the same wine and has left a comment. Without fail, it’s something along the lines of, “What happened? Your tasting notes are usually much more detailed.” I smile and respond, “Oh that’s an old note, a really old note.”

Somewhere between then and now, I became conscious of the fact that the reviews are public — shift hastened by the addition of enhanced social integration in late 2013, giving users the ability to comment on wines. As a former winemaker and working wine journalist, I knew that this new platform was the future, and commenters would have direct access to me and my reviews.

And comment they did. They wanted to know why I preferred one wine over another, or if a specific wine should be held or consumed, or they asked me to clarify less common descriptors. “I’ve never encountered asphalt in wine, can you explain this?” Over time, my reviews evolved into detailed, lively portraits of wines shaped by experience and ongoing conversation with the Vivino community.

It’s no surprise that when it comes to the nitty-gritty of making an actual purchase, we’re all looking for a little guidance.

It’s no surprise that when it comes to the nitty-gritty of making an actual purchase, we’re all looking for a little guidance. “I was completely clueless about wine and really needed help,” Vivino founder and CEO, Heini Zachariasson, said. “ When I went to the supermarket, I saw a wall of wine, and I didn’t know what to do,” – hence the “never pick another bad wine” premise as the driving force behind the app.

Vivino‘s database now boasts over 34 million total scans of over 6 million wines, with a rapidly growing network of over 9.7 million users. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Where else can you take a photo and seconds later get info and data that will help make your decision to buy a product or to keep looking?

Buy Aalto 2012, Wine Spectator’s No. 6 Wine of 2015

Aside from free access to an enormous amount of data, just what is it that makes wine apps like these so appealing? Wines are accessed with a scan or a basic search, and users are given a rating, an average community-driven score, and they’re also likely to get tasting notes, prices, and a rundown on which retailers carry the wine.

Where else can you take a photo and seconds later get info and data that will help make your decision to buy a product or to keep looking?

So, with all of this data and sharing, is there a danger that the world’s leading critics will be replaced by apps?

It’s not likely. If I’m looking for a specific vintage report of, say, Ribera del Duero, publications like Wine Spectator and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate will always be reliable, credible sources of information. Seasoned wine writers have years of experience; often they’ve narrowed their focus to just one or two regions. I look for critics and bloggers whose palates I trust, and I advise others to do the same.

But, and it’s a big but, if I’m looking for a casual wine for a Friday night gathering, apps are an indispensable, on-the-go alternative, and a vast improvement over flipping through stacks of notebooks. After all, for 99% of the general public, the wine-buying decision is made the very same way: Staring at lots of bottles on a shelf and wondering which are good. Now, getting that info is just a phone photo away.

Get to know Christine more via her website, Christine-Havens.com.

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