Vol 5 No 1 Take your rating and shove it!

(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?

TB

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

 

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traderbill

How did Trader Bill originate? It was conceived by me as a way of providing information summaries of global financial markets so that friends and associates could bring themselves up to speed on events and changing market conditions upon their arrival at work. In addition, it provides information on speakers and economic releases that day with consensus estimates and level of last release so that the reader is prepared to react, or knows how the market might react upon the release of information. Who is Trader Bill? Initially any reference to me was as ‘i’. This is to remove the aura of ego and to suggest that i am but a humble reporter, albeit with 35 years of investment experience. Investments are demanding of ego, however, or one would not feel that he was qualified to manage someone else’s money in the first instance. Therefore i needed an ‘alter-ego’. Like Winchell and Mahoney, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy and especially Trader Vic and Mai Tai’s! Why Trader Vic? Because he was a likeable man who delivered pleasure to his customers and knew exactly what their desires were. The reason for the alter ego became obvious once I introduced Trader Bill into my commentaries: people started asking what Trader Bill thought. They had never asked me what I thought before, but suddenly they wanted to know what TB thought! Now mind you they KNEW that I was Trader Bill but for some reason he became bigger than life. Maybe it was the small ‘I’? What does Trader Bill try to do?His goal is to educate from his years of experience. Consider that most of the traders and people managing investments weren’t even around in 1987 for the crash! Consider that Graham and Dodd, and even Warren Buffet are not relevant to them, too old hat. Their historical perceptions of markets and fundamentals (earnings, price/earnings ratios, bonds, debt service coverage) are irrelevant in this fast moving world. This is the NEW ECONOMY, or is it? How did your style originate?Years ago i found that i had a knack and talent for writing. In addition, i developed an ability to analyze market news about 15 years ago. It took the Crash of ‘87. Prior to that i was just listening to what others said about the economy. But bond yields had been soaring in ‘87 yet the stock market just kept hitting new highs. That was when i began to learn about markets. i have both a dry and witty sense of humor (some call it inane!). Therefore i attempt to make even the worst news somewhat amusing: whether it is the absurdity of an economic release, or the comments of a CEO. This is trading desk humor (or gallows humor). It isn’t politically correct but it does ease tension. Ironically, it is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel (in the Navy they say: it’s always darkest before it’s pitch black!), that allows you to be more objective in your analysis, as bad as a situation is there will still be a tomorrow! You will see that i practice three-dot journalism, a style made famous by San Francisco reporter Herb Caen, whom i idolized. At least to me it is effective. What is so special about your analysis?Frankly, i don’t know that it is special, but at least it beats “the market closed down today on profit taking.” What i do know is that most of what you read is spat out without considering whether or not it is rational, like the above statement. Is it right? Sometimes yes and sometimes no, and that is the key to what is different about my analysis: it is meant to make you think. Is Dan Rather right or is Trader Bill right? If it causes you to stop and think about it, regardless of whether you agree, i win! Because THAT is my goal…not to have you think i am a guru, got that? Bet you never heard that ANYWHERE before in my business! Instead they want you to think just how smart they are but remember in this business if you are right 60% of the time you ARE a genius! Another thing that is different is when i am wrong on an analysis i will tell you, not hope you forget what i said. So now you have the tools to do what the speculators and hedge funds do: challenge authority, and if you make money it is because YOU did it not me. i was just a tool, your flunky to do the grunt work and let you decide…course you could be wrong too but at least you looked at the big picture. But the goal is also to have fun! This shouldn’t be a business of hushed tones and grim faces. It is a living, breathing thing and nowhere else in the world do you have the odds as much in your favor as here. Just beware of the guy who wants to put his arm around you and tell you he is your friend. So there you have it. I hope you select me as one of your sources for market information. If you do I promise to work my best for your financial success. Trader Bill

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