(Postscript added. Also correction on The Wine Gourd link. See below)
Okay, that’s a bit strong but what does a single point score (or from several critics) mean? That THEY liked or disliked it which doesn’t translate to YOU liking it! Why do Americans have so little confidence in their ability to discern quality in a wine while Europeans trust their palate? Have you ever bought a wine with a high (90) rating and just thought it was okay after plopping down $50 or more (since Parker left the Wine Advocate more 90’s are being awarded and for wine priced down to the $25 range). Then there is the WIne Spectator who recently listed 400 Oregon Pinot Noir’s with an amazing number at 90 or higher. TB won’t get into comments I have heard from several sources on how many of those ratings were achieved.
With so many raters, it seems that if you can’t get a 90 rating from one of them, you might as well get out of the business. TB has discussed ratings several times over the four years since he started the blog, and they have all been less than positive.
Did you hear about the guy who went into a wine shop during a tasting. He said, “this wine tastes terrible.” The clerk replied, “really? Parker gave it a 90!” To which the guy said, “I’ll take a case!” While I haven’t experienced a terrible one, I have had some with that I regarded as mediocre. As an author friend titled one of his books, “you don’t have to be wrong for me to be right.” We all have different tastes. Do you prefer Coke or Pepsi? Seven-Up or Ginger Ale…you get the picture.
Remember too that these ratings are not on how well they pair with food, and how many of you take the time to check what pairs well with your special eggplant? When we travel in Europe outside the major cities, we always drink the local wine. Several times I have bought the wine and later wondered what the hell was I thinking. In many areas of the world they have only one or two grapes varieties and thus can do little to the flavor of the wine, especially with primitive equipment and no temperature controls. If you can’t make the wine go with the food, make the food go with the wine. Adding certain ingredients, spices, and others can make most any wine go with it…well, usually.
Rather than rehash my prior articles on ratings, I would like to call your attention to a very different type of wine blog: The Wine Gourd (www.winegourd.blogspot.com). I highly recommend it. The author is very quant oriented but in a good way. His posts take a topic and then graph the variables to prove whether the reporting is accurate.
The last three posts have been of particular interest to me. The first discussed a fundamental problem with wine scores. To simplify, imagine a 20-point system (like UC Davis uses). The purpose of this is to break down the wine into characteristics such as color, clarity, aroma…you get the picture, with just two points for overall quality. Let’s say two wines each scored an 18. Doesn’t it matter which categories got the maximum scores? You bet it does. What if one wine had one point each for clarity and aroma but scored higher than another wine in two other categories? Now that we have seen it in basic form let’s consider the Parker created, but widely differentiated scales. Specifically, Parker has 20 points for subjective evaluation while some have 25. So just in this one category there could easily be a 10-20 point difference…let’s say from a 70-90!
Ah, but it gets worse. You can take your wine to a lab that specializes in telling what you have to do to make it a 90-point wine. Is that what you want? All cabs, chards, or pinot’s, to all taste the same? Not for me or the winemakers I admire. They want a ‘sense of place’ or terroir. Now it is different for a 2,000 case winery from a 100,000 case winery, the latter where people are expecting the wine to taste the same from vintage to vintage. But, as my friend, Carlos Pastrana of Priorat, says, “then why put the vintage on the bottle?” I, and many others feel the same. But for most, given that the average life of a wine is less than an hour: the time to get from the grocery store to the dinner table.
Now let’s look at the tastings held at state and county fairs with perhaps six tasters. The wines are usually tasted ‘double blind’. In other words, after tasting the all the wines of a class they are tasted again in reverse order and the scores of each judge are averaged. What could be fairer than that? Well, it is fair but it usually results in a wine of good overall quality exhibiting the characteristics of a given varietal getting the gold, while the outliers may have characteristics of the others may turn off some of the judges. Again, we would like to know how the individual wines did in each category scored. But get a gold and the world will beat a path do your door, so that is what you should shoot for if volume selling is your bag.
That is why it is important for a small winery to develop a group of loyal followers who will buy the wine for its merits and because of warm feelings they have for the staff, the winemaker, the blend, etc.
Next comes descriptors…something every somme can provide you in great detail. Some of them are freshly cut garden hose, cat pee, a broad range of fruits and berries (I don’t believe grape is one of them), and I have always been embarrassed that I can’t make those descriptions, but then I learned neither can a lot of winemakers. TB once took a winemaking course from a man who later became a Master of Wine…one of the few in America. We nervously brought our finished product to class, and if he liked them he would say, “that’s wine”, if not, he just passed on by.
In 1981, having recently moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, I was fortunate enough to attend a Bordeaux tasting at the Clift Hotel, hosted by Anthony Dias Blue, and “the maestro”, Andre Tchelistcheff. A fantastic experience for the paltry sum of $25! In every case, Tony’s comments were more elaborate than Andre’s. After tasting one of the wines, it was Andre’s turn to go first, and he said, “this wine is mousey”. Tony quickly jumped in to add,”what Andre is trying to say is it smells like a room that has been closed up for awhile and a mouse was in it.” Andre immediately cut him off with “no Tony, this one had his whole family with him and stayed there for a long time.”
Andre hated descriptives…well, unless they related to the feminine. He once listened to a young well known winemaker describe a wine breaking it down into its components, and interrupted with “that is disgusting…who would want to drink that? When I taste it I think of the breast of a young woman in winter, surrounded in fur.” That, my friends, is sensual wine tasting, although few could get away with that today.
As for me, I love wines that bring back a memory of a dinner, event, or a great wine I once tasted. Isn’t that what we all want…really? Do you want a somme to tell you what you are about to taste? Doesn’t that just eliminate you? Perhaps you should just say, no thank you, that provided all I need from that wine.
The latest Wine Gourd ended with a survey of wine buyers on what influences their purchases. Basically, it asked what influenced their wine purchases the most on a scale of 1-7 . The results are the percentage in each category who gave it a 7:
Advice from a knowledgeable family member: 42%!; 90+ point score: 25%; recommendation from store staff: 31%; tasted wine in store 60%!; wine from a country or region they like 45%; positive review read in print or online: 21%; wine on sale for 10% or more off 13%; recommendation from a wine ap 8%; wine is on display 5%.
With only 25% relying on a 90+ rating, it seems like use of descriptors and numerical ratings might just be spinning wheels. TB will close with a comment from a wine retailer:” I can get all the 89 point wines but I can’t sell them, and I can sell all the 90 point wines but I can’t get them.” Are you capable of discerning a one point difference?
Whew…TB is exhausted…needs a glass of one of his 89 point wines. Maybe even an 88!
Happy Wine drinking…why taste when you can enjoy a glass instead?
Update 1/30: Would you go to a museum with a pencil and paper and rate artists? Hmmm, Rembrandt is an 89; Picasso 92. Stupid, unfair, and downright silly. Yet, a small group of people believe they can do that with wine. So? There is a cost: do you want all cabs, or chards, to taste alike? Doesn’t technique or terroir matter? Perhaps not to you, but TB says: no, and hell no!
(c) traderbillonwine.com 1/29/2019