Sunday, June 04, 2023
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A Rant on Wine Scores, Wine Ratings, and Reviews…

Wine Industry

Bottom Line: We need more “ungabunga” in wine reviews.


Wine Point Scores

1st – most of the ratings given on the 100 point scale are between 80 -100 points, and very rarely under 70. So it is diluted, since 70% of your rating options aren’t utilized. In this scenario, do you only need 30 points to score a wine?


2nd – driven by numbers with a product that is all about life, love, and epicurean delights seems shallow and empty. The context is essential. Company, age, temperature, food, mood, etc., etc., etc. (I will point out that this hypocrite currently uses numbers in the Gunslingin’ Rating System, but it refers to perceived value) Scores don’t account for the context of the tasting you are a part of.


3rd – consumers purchase wines based on the rating that was awarded at a previous moment in time. Wine is always evolving, for better or worse. When the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 List comes out every December, most of the wine scores are from the previous 12 months (and previous WS issues). I revisit wines all of the time to see how they have grown. They are almost always different. Some better. Some worse. These scores all point to marketing science, not true precision of wine making.


4th – Who is the reviewer? Are they credible? Do you click with them?

Group A – How do you find the best book, realtor, school, brownie recipe, car, caterer, or cigar?

Group B - How do you find the best surgeon, attorney, movers, airline deal?

With Group A, it applies to you, your personal experience/history, and your personal taste/needs.

With Group B, it applies more to win/lose.


Wine reviewers need to be from Group A. It is all about the reviewer, their perception and communication. Hopefully their review clicks with the consumer. Unfortunately, I believe that in general that if any mainstream reviewer speaks very highly of a wine, that that wine will ‘taste’ good to the consumer. My experience is that for most folks, if you walk into a wine thinking it will be a positive experience, it generally will be. I can’t even begin to tell you how many highly rated wines I’ve tried and considered them a joke. And most importantly, a huge loss of credibility for the reviewer! It’s all about personal history, experience and consistency.


Wine Tasting Notes

Wine descriptors are difficult to agree on and for the most part are not technical. There is no on/off switch. The flaws of a wine (ie: volatile acidity, ethyl acetate, a corked wine) stand out more as black & white (precise) and more times than not can be tested by chemistry. Trying to apply ‘absolute’ wine descriptors (as fact) to wine is like doing the same with cheeses of the world. The grey side is where experience rears its head. Not all reviewers are created equal. Wine tasting experience. Wine Experience. Experience. …Then academia.


Example: I describe a wine as tasting like raspberries. You may hate raspberries and don’t try the wine due to my description. You may have tried the wine, never have tasted anything reminiscent of raspberries in the wine and it possibly could have been your favorite wine of all time.


It’s rare that I agree with a wine review. When I do, it is usually a reviewer that is unique in their perspective and doesn’t waste their time reviewing the bladom of much of the univibe juice that’s on the market. These univibes are what I refer to as the Velveeta Slices genre. Most of the time, I won’t go through the trouble of describing a wine because I tend to think that most wines carry the same description-worthiness level as a generic Chips Ahoy-style Cookie or a slice of fructose corn syrup-dipped white bread.


Of course, it’s contingent upon the reviewer having had tens of thousands of wines to see the stretch of what can be.


Wineries, restaurants, and retailers have a tendency, when using scores, to only promote the higher scores, regardless of source. The source doesn’t seem to matter. I was speaking with a winemaker recently and with no skip-of-beat he said “it’s all about the press these days”. I realize this, but there is a subtle acknowledgement of letting go of the reigns in favor of a very few “respected” critics and letting the trained become flights of wind. If you follow the Connoisseur’s Guide then I believe you should always post their puffs. If you follow the Wine Advocate, then you should point out the ugly as well. The reviewer may be mentioned, but it is always selective, as a marketing tool. Once again, the consistency context of the ‘fast-food’ bottle grab is blurred. I rarely see a consistent pattern in the numerical ratings. The style/taste of a 93 point Cabernet might taste exactly like the style/taste of a 88 point Cabernet. We need context. We need reference.


Suggestions for the 100-point overhaul:


Option A – Good Taste Report’s Gunslingin’ Rating System

It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.

Wines are rated on 3 different scales, with the following in mind…
(a general retail price is given in U.S. Dollars)

GRADE (is you is or is you ain’t?)
(considering what the varietal/land are capable of – scale of “A”, “B”, “C”, “F”)

(ie: “B” is a solid dime-a-dozen. Not a life-changer, but drinkable)

(’Best-of-Breed’ value in its particular market – how the asked retail price matches with competition)
( “=” or “+” is assessed as a value in its market )
( “-” is assessed as overpriced in its market )

(***** – 5 star scale saying how much “you should buy this wine!”)

Here is an example.

‘95 Ch Randle Syrah $25 A+ +15 *****

Vintage: 1995
Producer: Chateau Randle
Region/Varietal: Syrah
General U.S. Retail Price: $25
Grade: A+ (great example of high potential of Syrah!)
Value: This wine is worth the Best at $40 (Incredible Value! It is a $25 wine!)
Out of 5 Stars: ***** (so, you should buy this wine!)

Option B – 20 point scale divided into 4 categories

5 points for the well-made/balance vs. flaws

5 points for terroir-driven taste

5 points for value

5 points for good job

Potentially Totaling 20 points



…More to come… in part 2…

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