Decanter or Wine Spectator?
Let us start with a basic fact, that Decanter is based in Great Britain while the Wine Specator is based in the U.S. Yes, both magazines can be found outside their respective countries but it is probably a safe assumption that their greatest impact is in their own countries.
Now, the U.S. has a thriving wine industry, and consumes far more of its own wines than it imports. Britain on the other hand imports nearly all of its wines, consuming about 17% of all worldwide imports which places them above all other countries. The U.S. consumes only about 10% of worldwide imports. Monetarily, British wine expenditures equate to almost 20% of the total spent on international wine exchanges. In addition, Britian is the center of the international wine auction market.
Now, both Decanter and Spectator primarily concentrate on wines available in their respective countries. But, there is one significant difference, the types of wine markets in those countries. In the U.S., there is a three-tier system for wine distribution, as well as a multitude of different state laws which make it far more difficult for many people to acquire the wines they desire. For example, wines available in Massachusetts may not be available in Georgia or Texas. If a Masschusetts resident wants to get wines shipped from California, it is extremely difficult. So, readers of the Spectator may have problems trying to acquire the wines that are reviewed there. That lessens the importance and influence of Spectator.
Britain on the other hand has a unified market, so that the same wines are available all across the country. Thus, British readers of Decanter will almost always be able to locate the wines that they see reviewed within those pages. That certainly makes Decanter far more valuable to its British readers than Wine Spectator is to its U.S. readers. Wine Spectator may have greater circulation numbers than Decanter, but it is far more useful to its British readers who know they can acquire the wines they read about. That would seem to be a very important element to me.
This post was inspired by information from Wine Wars: The Curse of the Blue Nun, The Miracle of Two Buck Chuck, and the Revenge of the Terroirists by Mike Veseth, a new and fascinating wine book. Check it out for more details on the comparison of Decanter and Spectator, as well as plenty of other wine issues.