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Tag Archives: wine reviews

How to manipulate on-line reviews with a clear conscience — get a federal court ruling

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manipulate on-line reviews yelpAlways wondered how legitimate the scores and reviews were on sites like Yelp, Angie’s List, and the Wine Spectator? Now, thanks to a federal appeals court ruling, you don’t have to wonder: Legitimacy may not matter. The sites may be able to manipulate the ratings, and they don’t necessarily have to tell you what they’ve done.

Or, as Lou Bright, the blog’s unofficial attorney, says: “This does have the ethical aroma of dead rat, doesn’t it? Yet neither Yelp nor the Wine Spectator are legally bound to be morally upright. The First Amendment allows for an awful lot of disreputable speech.”

The court decision, made earlier this month in San Francisco, didn’t break new legal ground when it found that the possible “engineering” of review postings on Yelp, based on whether businesses bought an ad on the site, were legal. The ruling came after several businesses sued Yelp, claiming the site moved unfavorable reviews higher and moved favorable reviews lower on the site – or removed favorable reviews altogether – if the businesses didn’t buy ads.

Said the ruling: “It is not unlawful for Yelp to post and sequence the reviews. As Yelp has the right to charge for legitimate advertising services, the threat of economic harm that Yelp leveraged is, at most, hard bargaining.”

A legal thing here, so I don’t get sued. Yelp’s senior director of litigation said the company didn’t make review decisions based on whether anyone bought ads, and there is a disclaimer on the Yelp site. And I’m not saying Yelp does that. Or that Angie’s List, the Spectator or anyone else does it. Or that it goes on at all anywhere.

Rather, as W. Blake Gray wrote when he broke the story last week, the ruling reaffirms that sites or magazines that do reviews can charge for upgraded placement, higher scores, or better reviews with a clear conscience. After all, it’s just hard bargaining.

I talked to three other attorneys for this post, and each said the same thing as Bright: It’s not a consumer-friendly practice,and there may be risk in the long run, but it’s not necessarily illegal. As long as the site or magazine doesn’t commit libel (which is often difficult to prove, says Dallas attorney Trey Crawford), and doesn’t run afoul of the Federal Trade Commission, it’s on safe legal ground. Some court decisions have even gone as far as to equate engineering with “editorial discretion.”

What can you do to make sure ratings and reviews aren’t engineered? Look for a disclaimer on the site, like the one I use, and will continue to use. No one pays me for favorable reviews or to review their product, and it will always be that way. Because, if there isn’t a disclaimer, anything is possible.

Wine of the week: J Winery Pinot Gris 2013

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 J Winery Pinot Gris 2013The Wine Curmudgeon has almost run out of nice things to say about the J Winery pinot gris. You can look here. Or here. Or even here. But given that the 2013 vintage may be J’s best yet ($15, sample, 13.8%), I’ll try to find a couple more:

• Round, soft white fruit — peach, perhaps — but not flabby or overdone so that the fruit is the only thing you taste. 

• Fresh and crisp without any bitterness in the back, something else that is not common in this style of wine.

• Honest winemaking, in which the goal was to make a quality wine and not to hit a price point or please a focus group. Those are things that also happen too often with this style of wine.

This California white wine is highly recommended, as always, whether to finish out the summer on the porch or with grilled chicken or even fried catfish.

Wine of the week: Two reds from Josh Cellars

wineofweek

Josh cellars wine reviewsBecause both of these red wines from California’s Josh Cellars are worth wine of the week honors. But, given the way the blog works and that I don’t like to do two similar wines from the same producer as the wine of the week, I’d have to leave one of them out. And there isn’t enough quality cheap red wine from California to do that. In this, Josh Cellars is an example to the rest of California about how to make cheap wine honestly and honorably.

The 2012 cabernet sauvignon ($11, purchased, 13.5%) somehow combines cabernet varietal character with California fruitiness (very black) for less than $15. If I hand’t tasted it, I wouldn’t have believed it. Plus, this is not a soft wine, which is also surprising, since most cabernets at this price (like the old Avalon) sacrifice style for fruit. Look for some spiciness as well as well integrated oak. Highly recommended, but it does need food and especially red meat.

The 2012 Legacy ($13, sample, 13.9%) is a merlot-based red blend that has all the qualities it should have — sweet blueberry fruit, smoothish tannins, and enough acidity to offer some structure to the wine. It has more heft than I expected, which is quite welcome, because the fruit doesn’t get in the way. Like the cabernet, it needs food and probably red meat. Not quite as terrific a value as the cabernet, but that speaks more to the former’s qualities than the latter’s faults, since it’s also well worth drinking.

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