Tag Archives: CellarTracker

Chateau Bonnet Blanc and why scores are useless

Chateau Bonnet BlancChateau Bonnet is the $10 French wine that is one of the world’s great values and has been in the Hall of Fame since the first ranking in 2007. As such, it has always been varietally correct, impeccably made, an outstanding value, and cheap and delicious. The 2012 Bonnet blanc, which I had with dinner the other night, made me shake my head in amazement. How could a cheap white wine that old still be so enjoyable?

What more could a wine drinker want?

A lot, apparently, if a couple of the scores for the 2012 on CellarTracker (the blog’s unofficial wine inventory app) are to be believed. The Chateau Bonnet blanc scored 80 points from someone who said the label was ugly and 83 points from a Norwegian, and that a Norwegian was using points shows how insidious scores have become.

The irony is that the tasting notes for the low scores were quite complimentary. The 80-point mentioned “crisp dry tones and pleasant blend of melon flavours” while the 83 described herbs, minerals, and citrus, and neither noted any off flavors or flaws. Yet, given those scores, the Bonnet blanc was barely an average wine, hardly better than the grocery store plonk I regularly complain about on the blog.

Which it’s not. Those two wine drinkers are allowed to score the wine as low as they like, and they’re allowed to dislike it. That’s not the problem. The problem is consistency; someone else gave the Bonnet blanc a 90, citing minerality and lime zest — mostly the same description as the low scores. Yet a 90 signifies an outstanding wine. How can a wine that three people describe the same way get such different scores?

Because scores are inherently flawed, depending as they do on the subjective judgment of the people giving the scores. If I believed scores and I saw the 80 or the 83, I’d never try the Chateau Bonnet blanc, even if I liked melon flavors or minerals and citrus. Which is the opposite of what scores are supposed to do. And that they now do the opposite of what they’re supposed to do means it’s time — past time, in fact — to find a better way.

For more on wine scores:
Wine scores, and why they don’t work (still)
Wine competitions and wine scores
Great quotes in wine history: Humphrey Bogart

The new CellarTracker — improved and easier to use

CellarTracker, the on-line wine management and inventory tool, has long been the most effective way to record my wine drinking. It was straightforward, it was flexible (I could use it for my purposes, which are not quite the same as most wine drinkers), and it was free. What more could the Wine Curmudgeon ask for?

That ?s why I was not happy when CellarTracker impressario Eric LeVine released the new, upgraded version and everyone had to switch Yes, the original CellarTracker had its flaws and could be clunky, but it worked. And my experiments with the beta of the new version always left me unfulfilled.

Fortunately, my fears were overblown. The new CellarTracker does what what the old one did, and does much of it better. Meanwhile, its new emphasis on social media and sharing reviews with other wine drinkers doesn ?t get in the way of its basic function, which had been a concern.

I am, in many ways, a computer geek. I run a Linux operating system, I mess around with beta versions of software, and I have even uninstalled and reinstalled Windows (complete with fixing a corrupt boot loader). That I tried the beta for the new CellarTracker and didn ?t switch to it immediately should tell you how much I didn ?t like it.

Much of that was me. I have entered more than 2,500 wines over the past five years, and I was fixed in how to do it. Click this, point here, type that. That I had to hunt ? often frustratingly ? to do the same thing on the beta made me crazy.

That ?s because CellarTracker, in both versions, has never been especially intuitive. LeVine comes to wine from Microsoft, and CellarTracker is a lot like Windows XP ? sturdy and reliable, but not very zippy.

Still, once I was forced to switch, I was able, after a week or so, to use the new version effectively. Its best new features:

? The ability to add more than one wine from the same producer (even different producers!) at the same time. In the original version, one had to add the wines one at time, typing the producer name over and over. In the new version, you can search for a producer and then click boxes for the various wines and vintages that you need to add.

? An improved search function, not only for searching the entire CellarTracker database, but for personal consumption as well (which was one of the old, clunky things). It ?s now possible to use one click where several clicks and curses were necessary before.

? Wine and food pairings. It ?s possible to see what CellarTracker users paired with the wines they drank. For instance, look for duck, search by individual wine, and you ?ll find that 6.7 percent of the users who ate duck and entered the information drank the 2009 Clos des Papes Ch teauneuf-du-Pape. I ?m not sure how useful this is, but it is fun to do.

Finally, a few thoughts on CellarTracker ?s focus on social media. When I interviewed LeVine 18 months ago, it was because he had stumbled on an industry-changing development: His software ?s ?transformation from wine geek tool to social media platform, ? as I wrote. People were using CellarTracker not just to record wines; even more were using it to read wine reviews written by other wine drinkers. That ?s about as social media as it gets.

Hence the new version ?s upgraded ability to follow specific CellarTracker users (I have two followers); see who has written the most tasting notes; and to like a wine, similar to liking something on Facebook. The idea is to build a wine community where people can share what they know with the like-minded ? and not have to bother with the professionals who used to tell them what to drink. In this, the new version is even more revolutionary as the first.

It ?s so revolutionary, in fact, that if I ever get a smart phone, it will mostly be so I can use it for CellarTracker.

CellarTracker and the rise of social media

CellarTrackerWhen Eric LeVine came up with the idea for CellarTracker, the on-line wine inventory system, he thought it would appeal to wine geeks like himself and to people who needed to manage sizeable wine cellars. He never envisioned that he would be helping to make a revolution in the wine business

Because that’s what CellarTracker has done. The number of people who visit the site far outnumbers the number of people who use the site to track their wine collections. CellarTracker has about 40,000 registered users, but 90 percent of the site’s visitors are not registered — and it gets a couple of hundred thousand unique visitors a month. Which means people aren’t going to CellarTracker to mark off a wine after they drink it; they’re going to CellarTracker to read wine reviews written by amateurs.

Which is mind boggling, given the way the wine world works. Wine knowledge is handed from the top down, and we’re supposed to drink what our betters — Robert Parker, the Wine Spectator, and the like — tell us to drink. But that’s not what’s happening with CellarTracker. We’re looking for advice from people just like us.

“These are real people, spending real money for a real bottle of wine,” LeVine says. “There’s a much broader audience out there than I thought, and that was my first really big surprise.”

More, after the jump:
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Web-based wine tools

What do you do when you're ready to take the next step in wine drinking? As noted last week, anyone can learn about wine. But what do you do after you're starting to feel comfortable with the basics? You have found several wines and styles that you like, and you're ready to be more adventurous.

That's when it's time to start doing the paperwork, which is not as off-putting as it sounds. What it means is keeping track of the wines you drink, how much they cost, and whether you enjoyed them. In addition, now is the time to improve your wine vocabulary — not because you should start talking that way, but because so many other people do.

Fortunately, there are several tools to help you do these things. They're mostly easy to use, they're free and they're web-based. The latter means that you can access them from almost anywhere you find yourself drinking wine. After the jump, a look at four sites that will make your wine drinking easier, and even if you're not a novice.

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