Tag Archives: wine scores

Winebits 529: The making wine easier and more fun edition

making wine easier

“I wish I had sound advice about how to make wine easier.”

This week’s wine news: How to make wine easier and more fun, including a terrific rant from Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post

You’re not stupid: This column from the Washington Post’s Dave McIntyre is brilliant, and I’d say that even if we weren’t long-time friends. “Are you tired of being wine shamed? There are plenty of people who will tell you what you’re doing wrong with wine. … Who needs that sort of criticism? We are judged on so many things in life. Wine should not be one of them.” Or, as regular visitors here know, drink what you like, but be willing to try different kinds of wine. Dave offers three pointers to help you do that: Quality glasses, the correct serving temperature (with an aside to restaurants and their propensity to do this so wrong), and learning how to tell flawed wine. All sound ideas, and not one revolves around price, varietal, or appellation.

Death to scores! The Wine Curmudgeon is always happy to pass along another indictment of wine scores, and this is one of the best. Writes Katie Finn on the Coachella Valley Independent website: “Your house is lovely, but there’s no pool, so you get an 83.” Which I wish I had written, and will use from now on. Finn’s point? That scores make wine more intimidating and more difficult, instead of easier. Which is their reason for being. “Points give consumers the false idea that there is such a thing as a ‘perfect’ wine,” she writes, as accurate a criticism as possible.

Everyday wines: Eric Asimov, writing in the New York Times, laments the difficulty in finding quality everyday wine amid wine’s confusion: “As much attention as is paid to the rare and profound bottles that fire the imagination, far less is devoted to the sorts of wines that people might actually consume at any given weeknight meal.” Guess he needs to spend more time on the bog, yes? Asimov’s advice is spot on, and especially in finding a good wine shop – which we’ve always advocated here.

Winebits 539: Pepsi Challenge, wine scores, wine production

Pepsi challengeThis weeks wine news: The Pepsi Challenge and how it applies to wine, plus more math criticizing wine scores and a drop in global wine production

Sugar and wine: Jameson Fink recalls the Pepsi Challenge, and how a sweeter soft drink lends insight into the role of sugar in wine. Fink attended a big-time red wine tasting and found that the wines he wanted to like were not the wines he did like, and that sugar made the difference: “But after tasting all these big, tannic wines. … sweetness and fruit was a relief…and made it stand out.” In other words, sugar is a winemaking tool just like anything else. I learned that lesson years ago, watching a winemaker school a younger colleague. He took a sugar packet from a restaurant table, tore it open, and added a pinch to the glass of wine in front of him. The difference was astounding; a bitter and off-putting wine had become drinkable, but not sweet. Shameless plug: I discuss this in more detail in the cheap wine book.

Unreliable scores? Dwight Furrow, writing on Edible Arts, takes wine scores to task, decrying the myth of an “objective” score. Scores “are useful in assessing how much a critic enjoyed the wine. But they mean nothing more than that,” he wrote. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Furrow’s piece is worth reading, if a little dense at times, since he emphasizes that “a wine score is an invitation to try the wine, not a data point in a competition.”

Wine production slump: Global wine output fell to its lowest level in 60 years in 2017, reports the Reuters news service. Production was down almost nine percent from 2016, and the story blames poor weather in Europe. But it’s also part of a longer trend, as European producers keep pulling out vines in the wake reduced consumption in France, Spain, and Italy. And please don’t believe all the scare mongering about wine prices in the wake of this news; world production and consumption are mostly level, so price increases won’t have anything to do with a smaller supply of wine.

Winebits 530: Wine scores, wine snobs, and the Founding Fathers

wine scoresThis week’s wine news: Another study shows yet another flaw in wine scores, plus the wine business is in denial about wine snobs and George Washington’s bar tab

Not surprising: How does a description of “consistently erratic” sound for wine scores? That’s the conclusion of David Morrison at the Wine Gourd, who studied the scores of premium wines over time. Morrison expected scores to improve, on the theory that the best wines get better with age. In fact, he found that “we certainly can’t claim that the scores increase with repeated tastings — if anything, the general trend is more often downwards. There are a couple of possible explanations for this variation, in addition to the obvious one that the critics don’t have much idea what they doing.” Morrison cites bottle variation, as well as whether the wines were tasted blind. And his conclusion challenges one of wine’s most most popular beliefs: That premium wines improve with age.

More not surprising: Many of the wine business are in denial about wine snobs. That’s the word from the Wine Business International trade magazine, which says “Wine people, as I discovered last week, resent the image of wine lovers as pretentious, condescending and – worst of all – full of bullshit.” Yet isn’t that how we are often perceived? The piece offers a concise discussion about the problem, why the wine business doesn’t want to admit it exists, and what can be done. It’s well worth reading.

Bring on the booze: A recurrent theme in U.S. history is that we are not a nation that drinks. Dream on, neo-Prohibitonists. George Washington celebrated the end of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 with a group of ex-soldiers that bought 145 bottles of wine, plus beer, cider, and other assorted alcohol. And why not? As one historian noted, “these people were not teetotalers.” The idea that we have been overlooks the necessities of life in the pre-Industrial world, where there was little clean drinking water. That’s because, if you drank the water, you caught typhoid, cholera, or dysentery and died. So booze.

wine competiton judges

The Wine Curmudgeon’s 100-point scoring system

100p-point scoring systemYes, it’s silly, but is it any sillier – or any less accurate – than the rest of the 100-point systems?

The Wine Curmudgeon’s antipathy to wine scores is well known – they are often lazy, even more often too subjective to be worthwhile, and even biased.

But since I’ve been told I need to be more than merely negative, please consider the Wine Curmudgeon’s 100-point scoring system:

• Is it wine? If yes, 75 points.

• Is the wine red, white, pink, or sparkling? If yes, 5 points.

• Does it have a screwcap? If yes, 5 points.

• Does the wine cost $12 or less? If yes, 5 points.

The total? 90 points for most of the wine I buy.

Yes, this might seem silly and not even particularly accurate. Which is the point.

Is it any sillier than the scores used by the Winestream Media, where price, varietal and region seem to have as much to do with determining the score as the quality of the wine? And is it any less accurate than a system without any standards, and where one critic’s 94 can be another critic’s 87?

Of course not. The only way to determine whether you like a wine is to taste it. You can take suggestions from me or Robert Parker or any of the hundreds of us who do this. But in the end, the decision is yours. Or, as I was told all those years ago when I started doing this: “If you don’t like chocolate ice cream, and someone tells you that chocolate is better than vanilla, would you go out and buy chocolate ice cream? Of course not. So why would you do that with wine?”

Cartoon courtesy of Bob Johnson, using a Creative Commons license

Winebits 491: Wine scores edition

wine scoresThis week’s wine news: More foolishness from the world of wine scores

Only a 95? The news release was so excited that I thought it was going to short out my computer — three Spanish wines from a producer owned by a luxury Big Wine company earned scores of 93, 95, and 90 points from the Wine Spectator. Which is all well and good until you look at what the wines cost – $73, $228, and $30. In other words, the best the $228 wine could do was 95 points, which hardly seems to be worth the trouble and especially if you can get the 90 pointer for one-seventh the cost. And, frankly, the $73 wine isn’t much of a value at 93 points, either. Once again, for those who still think scores have any relevance, this is another example that they don’t.

But it’s all the same: Wolfgang Bitterolf of the Wine Dabbler blog has parsed several scores, ratings, and tasting notes from influential Winestream Media critics and found that, as he puts it, “It appears that I can spend a lot less than $140 to get a hold of wines I like just as much” as the expensive, highly-rated ones the critics like. He focuses on the $140 2007 Pahlmeyer red blend from Napa, which got 96, 95, 93 points from top critics. He then rated the Pahlmeyer using the website Vivino’s 5-point scale, and gave it 4.5 points – the same as its Vivino crowd-sourced rating. And, as Bitterolf points out, that’s the same rating he gave four wines costing from $10 to $28; hence his happiness at drinking 4.5 score wines that don’t cost $140.

Blasephemy! Robert Parker’s successor as editor-in-chief of The Wine Advocate, where Parker made the 100-point system famous, told a wine trade seminar that scores “aren’t everything,” and that reliable tasting notes are necessary, too. In her talk, she sounded a lot like the Wine Curmudugeon and anyone else who has criticized scores because they are incomplete and shaded by the reviewer’s preferences, Of course, this doesn’t mean scores are going anyway, and I didn’t notice that the wine world paid any attention to the  comments. Instead, it yawned and went about its business, which includes using scores to sell us wine we may not like.

Follow-up: Expert scores and red wine bias

red wine biasOur red wine bias study has the Internet buzzing – and people are saying smart things about it

This week’s post about red wine bias among wine critics did everything that we hoped it would do: Get people talking about what our study means. There has been some tremendous discussion – not just here, but elsewhere around the cyber-ether.

My biggest surprise? That so many mainstream wine critics picked up on the study and offered serious comment, instead of dismissing it out of hand. That’s my mistake, in assuming the worst. My biggest disappointment? That not enough people saw the study as one more example of everything that’s wrong with wine scores.

Suneal Chaudhary, who crunched the numbers for the study and deserves an award for his efforts, said, “I’m starting to get a sense that there’s something about the scoring system that’s flawed in some way but can’t exactly put it in words at the moment. The other reaction I’ve seen a lot is that red wines are more complex and so they should rightly score higher. Which is a fine argument if it’s true — but I’m not sure if it is. Personally, I think whites have a different aesthetic to them. It’s like saying the smell of roses is more complex than jasmine or something, but does that make the smell of roses better?”

That was a common theme among the comments, emails, and discussions Suneal and I found – that only wines made with serious grapes deserve the best scores, and the only serious white grape is chardonnay (and don’t even think about mentioning rose). So, according to this argument, why should anyone be surprised by any kind of bias? It’s only natural and right.

Which, of course, made me very sad – the some animals are more equal than other animals theory.

A sampling of other reaction from around the Internet:

• A mostly favorable discussion on the Wine Berserkers site, which also surprised me. It’s the Internet – who says nice things?

• Winemakers, not surprisingly, were split. Those who focus on white wine (and several left comments on the blog) disagreed that red was more difficult or more expensive to make. Red winemakers, not surprisingly, said of that course red was more expensive and more difficult, so why shouldn’t it get higher scores?

• Blog reader Patrick Sirridge’s observation was one of the most astute: “In my view, many wine critics/writers follow the herd and provide higher ratings for higher priced reds,” he said in an email. “Even more modestly priced reds get the benefit of the doubt regarding quality and complexity and thus get higher ratings. Bias in favor of reds – sure.”

• Another blog reader, Bob Henry, found several old magazine articles and blog posts discussing this subject, including an interview with Robert Parker in what was then called Wine Times and today is the Wine Enthusiast. In the interview, which is at the link, Parker said that some red wines are indeed more serious than others, and that his scoring system reflects that. I wonder if Parker would disavow that comment today – or if the Wine Advocate still uses that approach.

You can download a PDF of the report here.

Expert scores and red wine bias

red wine biasIs the Winestream media biased in favor of red wine? Our study seems to show just that

Do experts rate red wines more highly than white wines, regardless of price, vintage, and region? Does this mean there is a critical bias in favor of red wines?

That may well be the case. Data scientist, wine lover, PhD, and former college math professor Suneal Chaudhary did the numbers, analyzing more than 64,000 wine scores dating to the 1970s and taken from the major wine magazines. The results are something I’ve been trying to get a handle on for years, the idea that critics favor reds over whites. The details are after the jump: Continue reading