No, this isn ?t a post about snagging that $100 Bordeaux for $97.50 or slipping one over on the wholesaler. It ?s some solid, consumer-oriented advice about saving money on wines people really drink.
Last night, I tasted the Sterling Vineyards Pinot Noir Vintner's Collection 2006. As I always do, I tried to guess how much it cost while I was tasting it. And I figured the Sterling was around $18, which I thought made it an OK wine ? nothing more.
Turns out the suggested retail is $13, which means it ?s probably available for as little as $11 in some parts of the country. Which means the Sterling is a heck of a wine. Which is when the Wine Curmudgeon had a brainstorm: Wine scores don ?t matter ? prices matter. Shouldn't there be a way to take that into account when evaluating wine?
? Top winemaker has had enough of overdone wine: And the winemaker is none other than Tom Eddy, one of Napa ?s leading cabernet sauvignon producers. "After 35 years of making wine I still can't tell the difference between a 91 and a 92 score, but I can tell the difference between a balanced wine and an overripe, raisined cabernet with 16 percent alcohol," he says. "Come on, if I really wanted the alcohol, I'd rather have a Cognac. ? This is news ? Eddy is not an outsider criticizing the industry, but an insider who has had enough.
? We ?re drinking less: The Wine Curmudgeon can never get enough of alcohol consumption surveys, mostly because most of them contradict each other. But I did notice something intriguing in this one. There's been a gradual decrease over the past 50 years in the average amount of alcohol people drink, and more people today don ?t drink than did five decades ago. Alcohol consumption among men has gone from about 2 1/2 drinks a day to 1 1/2.
? New Zealand wine exports: The standing joke about New Zealand is that the country has more sheep than people. Now, you can add wine to the punch line. The Kiwis expect to export about US$700 million by 2010, which works out to $170 worth of wine for each resident. By comparison, wine exports in the U.S. in 2007 were $951 million.
At a wine function the other day, I met two intelligent, well-read wine drinkers. This was a big-deal tasting, and they wouldn ?t have been invited unless they knew what they were doing. I introduced myself, and I told them what I did for a living. One of the duo asked me how I scored wine. I told her that I didn ?t use scores. She was quite surprised. How do you evaluate wine if you don ?t use scores? she asked.
It was another Wine Curmudgeon moment.
Regular visitors here know how I feel about scores. And if you ?re here for the first time, you can probably guess. I don ?t like them.
At best, wine scores are sloppy, an excuse for discussing what the wine tastes like and what it pairs with. At their worst, scores are dishonest. No one is ever going to give a $100 wine an 88, and no $10 wine will ever get a 95. Even the most horrible wines rarely score worse than 80, which is supposed to be the cutoff between good and average.
And none of this takes into account individual taste, what mood the person doing the scoring was in that day, or any of a dozen other variables like experience and wine knowledge. My scoring (if I did it) is going to be different from yours which is going to be different from your next door neighbor. So why should my wine scores count more than yours? You ?re going to be drinking the wine, after all.
I tried to explain this to the person at the tasting, and I think I made some headway. She nodded in agreement when I said my goal was to give the reader enough information to make up his or her own mind. I ?m the conduit, I said, not the final arbiter. Her husband seemed to be even more favorably impressed, and I may even had made a convert.
One down, millions more to go.
A footnote: One of the wines served at this event was a 100-pointer (which I ?ll write more about later). I glanced at my companions when we found out what it was, and they both shook their heads. Neither could believe it was perfect.
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Obviously, wine consumption in the U.S. differs by region. People in New York are going to drink differently from people in Alabama who are going to drink differently from people in Oregon. But those consumption patterns are even more different than you might imagine.
That was perhaps the most intriguing bit of information in he 2007 Nielsen Beverage Alcohol Overview. It ?s just not different ? it ?s quite a bit different, and there doesn ?t seem to be any real reason. In the 52 weeks ended Jan. 12, 2008, for example, wine sales increased 15.6 percent in Dallas and decreased 6.3 percent in Birmingham, Ala.
The Wine Curmudgeon does not like livestock wine. This has nothing to do with its quality. Some of it can be quite good, despite the cuddly creature on the label. My objection is the label itself, which influences people to buy the wine not because it tastes good, but because it is cute.
Livestock wine ( a term invented by the incredibly palate-talented Lynne Kleinpeter) refers to wine which has some sort of animal, cartoon or other clever picture on the label has made huge strides in the U.S. According to the Nielsen survey, the various animals, cartoons and characters accounted for 11.5 percent of the wine sold in the U.S. in 2007 in dollar terms.
Livestock wine is, apparently, here to stay.