The Real Review Alliance

This is an open letter from Huon Hooke & Bob Campbell ONZM MW to the wineries & retailers of Australia & New Zealand. Please forward to your wine industry colleagues.

Dear colleague,

We’d like to share some news with you which we feel is very important to wineries, retailers and the wine industry.

As many of you will know, independent opinion in wine has come under pressure from several fronts:

  1. Excessively high scores by some critics, which undermine the credibility of wine ratings for the consumer
  2. Wine writers being paid directly by retailers, or entering into revenue share arrangements, for reviewing wines
  3. Advertorials masquerading as independent opinion
  4. “Cash for comment”, i.e. wineries being asked to pay to get featured

As wine critics, we need to make a living, but we prefer to derive income from a wine industry that recognises the virtues of integrity, experience, independence, consistency and professionalism.

As two major critics of Australian and New Zealand wine we have formed an alliance to promote and differentiate our approach to wine reviews. We are making a stand for even-handed, transparent, ethical and independent reviewing.

We call it The Real Review.

The Real Review Alliance

Free to get reviewed. Pay for commercial use.
  1. We do not charge to review wines.
    If you send your samples, they will enter the tasting queue. Whether or not you hold a commercial plan is irrelevant for your review and rating. We will occasionally send messages to wineries with noteworthy results, or you can check on The Real Review.
  2. A license is needed to use our content for commercial purposes.
    For example, when promoting your wines on your website or social media with our content, you will need to obtain a license.
  3. The commercial licences are completely independent of how much wine you sell.
    Our wine writers do not get paid more if more wine is sold.

Everyone’s wine is treated fairly and equally

Fair and Equal

Frequent and fair opportunities to be listed in articles, weekly Cellar Talk wines, and Top Rank charts for key regions and varieties.

Harmonised Rating Scales

Harmonised rating scales and star ratings so you and your customers know what a rating means. See The Real Review Rating System.

Consistent Wine 360s

Consistent Wine 360 icons that you can use in your marketing. See The Real Review Wine 360s.

Gold, Silver & Bronze Ribbons

Top Ranks and Wine Charts

Top Value Awards

Trusted Reviews

Credible reviews that your customers will recognise, understand and trust.

Support #TheRealReview initiative today.

  1. Forward this page to fellow wine friends.
  2. Become a member and use #TheRealReview for your marketing: see our memberships for wineries / distributors / retailers / individuals

We’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback on these important topics. Drop us a note below in the comments, or contact us at

There’ll be further additional updates coming in the next months, so stay tuned to The Real Review!

Huon Hooke
Bob Campbell ONZM MW

45 thoughts on “The Real Review Alliance”

  1. Avatar
    Robert Joseph says:

    A good initiative, guys. Good luck with it!

    1. Avatar
      John Hoehn says:

      This ‘Alliance’ and ‘Initiative’ is a way to conjure up ‘yes’ votes.
      Take a look at the Huon Hooke WIKIPEDIA page: a similar political attempt to bolster his image, which backfired, as the Wiki monitors pasted a prominent warning on it, quote:-

      “A major contributor to this section appears to have a close connection with its subject. It may require cleanup to comply with Wikipedia’s content policies, particularly neutral point of view“.
      i.e. Wikipedia articles must not take sides.

      Whereas the Wikipedia’s site for James Halliday is ‘clean’.
      Halliday praises and respects his peers, not denigrates them. see Hooke’s review ‘Tuesday Table’-The Age 3.4.12 as ‘locker room bragging’, a sad attempt at rubbishing worthy and eminent predecessors, such as Len Evans and Max Lake in the wine industry.
      Note: the preface of this book was written by Hooke’s rival Halliday!
      See also Marilyn Frederiksen’s comment, May 2015, below.

      1. Avatar
        Tony Wilson says:

        John you may be right in relation to Wikipedia but I do know that many of the high rated Halliday wines really are quite average in my opinion. I have found the Real Review recommendations far more reliable.

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    Antonio says:

    From Bodegas Toro Albala Spain, thank you from your team for our two gold ribbon for our wines. thank you

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    Vinrac says:

    A very welcome iniiative… I would say however that the Pricing Benchmark will be hard to control going forward, don’t get me wrong, I think is a very valid metric, but as prices for wine fluctuate the benchmark pricing may become out of sync..

  4. Avatar
    Niall says:

    Some people are just looking for a bottle at a certain price that they’re confident they’ll like, without comparing it to a bunch of other bottles they may also like. They don’t want to know “Will this be amazing?”, they want to know “Am I about to waste my money?”.

    I think this is why we’ve got so much point inflation. It’s valuable to wineries to have an identifiable brand on a bottle that says “you won’t hate it”. A lot of people value reviews but don’t want to spend a lot of time going through them to get the best, just something that’s not bad.

    Halliday charges for his book and website membership, but I expect most of the money comes from producers paying to use reviews. Most people reading his reviews probably haven’t sought it out to consider it in-depth. More likely a few choice quotes have been pushed at them at the point of sale on the website/cellar door/wine seller email.

    “Unctuous, vibrant, amazingly generous violets. Cellar till 2173, 95 points, $15” is much more likely to get a sale out of the reader than “Good, but not the best in the region or price point, here’s my evidence”. I know which review I’d rather read, and if I was a wine maker, I know which review I’d rather pay for.

    I started reading Halliday’s best wines of the year flyer at some point in the past, then I saw the note that the wineries had paid to be included. It suddenly seemed more like “Halliday’s top 100 bidders for inclusion in the ‘Best wines of the year flyer'”.

    Like they say, if you’re not paying, you’re not the customer – you’re the product. Wineries pay the real money for reviews, not consumers, and most reviewers sell customers, not information.

    I hope you’re successful, Huon.

  5. Avatar
    Michael Law says:

    Very impressed. “Grade inflation” has long been the curse of our country’s ‘market’ approach to tertiary education and now has become the curse of wine ratings. Your decision to take a stand against ratings for cash is very welcome. I write this as a ‘joe average’ consumer who has to rely on the ratings of trustworthy critics in order to get best value for my limited wine dollar.

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    Jim says:

    Interested to learn more on how this stacks up against traditional scoring systems.

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    Peter Meier says:

    thank you Bob, and about time too, as the impartiality of some of the wine reviewers / critics surely must be questioned. And I agree with some of the above comments, in that the culprits should be named or weeded out

  8. Avatar
    Annabel says:

    Great initiative – I am concerned about licensing costs – this appears to be the same model adopted by the ‘bigger players’ – with licensing costs being prohibitive and thus tending to exclude smaller producers from participating.
    I like the Trans-Tasman alliance.

  9. Avatar
    mountainstirrer says:

    As an enthusiast consumer I welcome your initiative. Get scoring back to some realistic figures.

  10. Avatar
    HSMITH says:

    Yep we want to know which reviewers are compromised, accepting money for their reviews. Time to name and shame and put #RealReviews on the map.

  11. Avatar
    Dr Graeme Kerr says:

    Bob, This was so needed -as a consumer along with other submitters. (Dr) Graeme Kerr ex Marlborough, now living in the UK

  12. Avatar
    Mark Rodgers says:

    Perhaps you would like to name the reviewers that have entered into a revenue sharing arrangement for reviewing wines.

  13. Avatar
    morty says:

    Another consumer here supporting your initiative. I’ve been collecting wine for over 25 years and directly rely on judges of your independence and calibre when buying. There are other published wine critics whose views I don’t value and avoid, because they over-score and never say anything critical.

  14. Avatar
    Nicola McConnell says:

    I’m loving the Kiwi-Aussie alliance! Both markets are so important for each other and the media and winemaking environments are similar.

  15. Avatar
    John Elliott says:

    It is good to see your ethos. Can you take it a step further and correlate your rating system to the out of 20 scale used by most major shows?

  16. Avatar
    John Mullane says:

    Huon et Bob. We need as objective an assessment process as we can establish,I trust your call and will follow with interest! Shamus

  17. Avatar
    Karen Macalister-Hohnen says:

    Congratulations to both of you for standing on the edge.

  18. Avatar
    garrulousggGeoff Garratt says:

    Refreshing, in this ‘cash for comment’ world.

  19. Avatar
    Peter McAtamney says:

    Great stuff. Well done

  20. Avatar
    Darshak says:

    Excellent initiative, Huon & it is only fair that retailers or wholesalers who promote wines based upon your reviews pay something for that privilege.

    It is also important that the integrity of the wines being promoted is maintained. Too often, they want to sell you one vintage whilst offering a (usually, better!) review of a previous vintage.

    Retailers promoting wines should not be coy in revealing vintages or reviews of the vintage of wine they are flogging!

  21. Avatar
    Andrew Stubbs says:

    I support the initiative of a more honest scoring system but a little worried about the price benchmark? As all retailers have different fixed and variable costs dependant on thier chosen business model to quote an unsustainable price would put some establishments at a disadvantage to larger volume driven business models? As a retailer that puts more $ into employing knowledgeable staff we are more likely to be reliant on our own scoring than be at the mercy of being put into a box of being expensive due to a price bracket that is unrealistic?Price although being third in heirachy of needs to the consumers, is still an important part of the purchase decision and if as we know competitive advantage is by this means than the consumer wins but the industry for many will become unsustainable which leads to monopoly like situations.Price benchmarks should be made by the supplier which gives them opportunity to decide what supply chain best serves thier business.
    For Example: A winery with only 1000 cases to sell may need to give value to those retailers that support it whilst also giving a reasonable sustainability to on premise Whilst another with 80,000 cases may deem it necessary to sell to supermarkets as thier business model is such that they need the level of exposure to mass market.

  22. Avatar
    sr4d says:

    Great initiative. I’m a consumer, not an insider. I drink ANZ wines almost exclusively, and think of ANZ as a single market. Improbably high scores by compromised reviewers and retailers’ “tasting panels” are a blight. So are misleading use of reviews, e.g., quoting a review for a 2012 wine while selling the 2013 vintage. Great news, and best of luck with the alliance.

  23. Avatar
    ALEX ROSSER says:

    Great initiative of which I fully approve. Winewise has been playing the same tune for years.

    btw I query how meaningful your “Price Benchmark” is. If by “average” you mean “mean” then one or two grossly over-priced wines will inflate that. On the other hand a median or modal price could be misleadingly low as it would be in the middle of the also-rans. The relationship of price to quantity (i.e. number of labels) is probably a power law relationship. e.g. at (say) three times the price, you will find one third the quantity. Hard to give one number here.

    1. Avatar
      Silk Road Reversed says:

      I agree Alex. First of all, what price will be used for the wine reviewed. “Recommended Retail”? I have often thought that Huon’s quoted prices are higher than the actual market price. If an industry-wide price monitoring service such as is used it would be more realistic.

  24. Avatar
    Darren Burke says:

    Great initiative Huon and Bob. Far too many 95’s handed out these days. Maybe we need some marketing campaign about not forgetting 85 – 94 wines. It seems to me so many people are missing out on some awesome wines because they will not go below 95.

  25. Avatar
    NZWineDirectoryJohn Bartlett says:

    Great stuff Guys – just shared across my Social Media Networks…

  26. Avatar
    Drew (The Wine Wankers) says:

    I fully support your initiative Huon – but what about us wine writers who don’t rate wines out of 100 and don’t review wines with traditional descriptors. How do you see our style of wine writing living under the #realreviews banner. All our wine reviews can be found on Instagram (@winewankers), where a picture often tells the story. We are always overly positive about the wines we review, because we genuinely love them! Our followers feed off this enthusiasm and love being exposed to wines they’ve never heard of before. FYI – we have never taken payment for a review either, and never will.
    Cheers, Drew

  27. Avatar
    James Dominguez says:

    Wonderful initiative Huon.

  28. Avatar
    Graeme Shaw says:

    Thanks Huon I thought as much , it’s a pity a lot more of other scribes don’t do so

  29. huon
    huon says:

    To Graeme and Suzanne, I’ve always tasted blind. To Marilyn, oh dear! I’m sorry to read of your cynicism. Things aren’t that bad. Some of us are still fighting the good fight.

  30. Avatar
    Graeme Shaw says:

    Great idea, are the wines tasted blind ?

  31. Avatar
    Suzanne Little says:

    Sounds like a great initiative, does it also mean that wines are all tasted blind?

  32. Avatar
    Marilyn Frederiksen says:

    I can help but wonder why if you are honest that you have to tell us that you are honest. This whole wine things. I think all the wine critiques are cashing in these days.

    1. Avatar
      John Hoehn says:

      Much public flack about their ‘honesty‘ to bring it to the front? Yes, their reaction seems fishy.
      Re Hooke’s comment on Tuesday Table book ( ISBN 978-3-033-01786-3) in The Age 3 April 2012.

      Why attempt to review a book when your forté is wine reviews?
      Note that the book Preface was written by his counterpart James Halliday.

      Is there animosity amongst such peers? I doubt if Hooke got past Halliday’s preface, as he missed the point entirely.
      The book is mainly a concentrated comparison by Hooke’s eminent predecessors; – between top class French & European wines versus emerging top Australian wines in 1960’s- 70s.

      How dare he downplay serious comment, as “locker room bragging”, by Australia’s leading experts at the time:- Max Lake, Len Evans, Rudy Komon, Doug Seabrook, Reg. Egan, Hermann Schneider, John Campton & Alan McCulloch.

      They were Australia’s top wine show judges, winemakers, merchants, restaurateurs and well known personalities; – those who greatly helped Australian wines get to where they are today. The book is an untainted tribute to them and an important historical reference.
      Yes, keep an honest, open mind about your peers!!

      John Hoehn,
      Hirsch Publishing

      1. Avatar
        W B M says:

        Sad, Mr Hoehn. Try to keep the balance and the comments to the point.

    2. Avatar
      John Hoehn says:

      To WBM,
      Trying to whitewash the bias fails miserably. Take heed from Wikipedia’s Tablet Message about the main contributor for the page on Mr. Hooke.

      1. Avatar
        John Hoehn says:

        This contributor uses initials WBM instead of their real name, thus camouflages the origin of their comments (anyway, we know who he is). Has this person something to hide? A Master of Wine (MW) I happen to know, plus my daughter, a qualified Sommelier/food and wine lecturer say this ‘Review’ thing is fishy, becoming a farce. Sad indeed!

  33. Avatar
    mark Cohen says:

    I am only reviewing Kosher Wines, and would like to join your alliance. Wines are discussed on kosherwineAus on facebook. I review kosher wines for the Melbourne Jewish report. Most of the wines I review are Israeli, as only a few Australian Kosher wines are made.
    Malescowinebroker our brokerage does not trade in kosher wines and has no conflict in self promotion for our own needs. Look forward to hear from you

  34. Avatar
    Clive McManus says:

    There’s always a place for expertise with honesty.

  35. Avatar
    Lester Jesberg says:

    I fully support the initiative. Winewise has always operated under the principles of #RealReviews. We’ll adjust our star ratings accordingly.

  36. Avatar
    Darren Jahn says:

    Sounds good to me. What will be the charge for commercial use?

  37. Avatar
    Gary Walsh says:

    Nice one. Exactly the same manifesto/modus operandi that we have at The Wine Front.

  38. Avatar
    Peter Gibson says:

    I like the initiative, the dynamic duo!

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