Tim Atkin, one of my favourite wine writers, has written an excellent editorial in this week's Off Licence News. It's about the Skinner scandal.
Matt Skinner is a young-ish Aussie sommelier who UK wine book publisher Mitchell Beazley have been attempting over the last few years to cast as the trendy face of wine. Initially, he was based in London as part of Jamie Oliver's 15 restaurant project, and this was when he began his annual wine guide, The Juice. A couple of years ago, he returned to Australia. This made doing an annual wine guide for the UK market problematic, because he's no longer so in touch with what is available here. But MB have persevered with him (although a third of his choices are Australian).
So what is the scandal with the 2010 version of The Juice? Skinner was caught inventing tasting notes for wines he couldn't possibly have tasted. This is because the deadline for the book was May, and some of the wines he included were from the 2009 vintage and weren't released by this time. Skinner admitted this deception, but defended himself by saying that the wines in question were consistent from year to year.
'This is dangerous territory,' comments Atkin. 'Wine writers aren't infallible, but what evolves over a period of years is a form of trust between a taster and his readers, based on the knowledge that the former is doing his best to point people towards good booze.' He adds, 'I do hope Skinner will change his modus operandi for The Juice 2011, because an author who selects a wine he hasn't tasted is short-changing his readers. Just as significantly, he is insulting his own profession.'
Tim is right. I'd go further. I wouldn't have so much of a problem if this had just been a general recommendation for a wine; the fact that there are tasting notes for wines untasted is the biggest problem, because this enters deeper into the territory of dishonesty. A specific tasting note is based on the wine and the clear contract between the reader and writer is that the wine has actually been tasted. To say that, for example, Montana Sauvignon Blanc is a consistently good bet year on year as an affordable Marlborough Sauvignon is a very different matter from me giving you a tasting note of the 2010 vintage (which would clearly be absurd).
For further reading, see the excellent Decanter news piece.