Tag Archives: wine scores

Ask the WC 25: Three-tier reform, wine prices, wine scores

three-tierThis edition of Ask the WC:  Is the Supreme Court going to take a three-tier system case? Plus, what’s happening with wine prices and why does the WC dislike scores?

Because the customers always have questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. You can Ask the Wine Curmudgeon a wine-related question by clicking here.

Hi, Wine Curmudgeon:
I really liked your post about buying wine illegally. Is there any chance we can get rid of all these stupid laws and buy wine like normal people?
On-line wine buyer

Dear On-line:
A variety of cases are wending their way through the legal system that could make it possible for us to buy wine from out-of-state retailers and on-line. They include my favorite, Walmart’s attempt to overturn a Texas law that says publicly-held companies can’t get a state retail liquor license. Talk about foolish. However, another case is attracting more legal attention — Lebamoff v. Michigan. Lebamoff, an Indiana retailer, sued to be allowed to sell wine in Michigan. In this, it directly addresses out-of-state retailer sales. Tom Wark, who follows these things in his role as executive director of the National Association of Wine Retailers, told me he thinks there’s a good chance the Supreme Court accepts Lebamoff. If so, it should decide once and for all whether Internet and out-of-state retail sales are constitutional. Having said that, there’s no guarantee the court rules in favor of direct retail shipping if it takes the case.

Dear Wine Curmudgeon:
What’s going to happen with wine prices? I thought they were supposed to go down, but all I see is $15 wine in the grocery store.
Cheap wine buyer

Dear Cheap:
Your guess is as good as mine. The grape glut is real, here and in Europe, and I’m working on a post about that for next week. But I agree — prices don’t seem to have responded to an excess of wine on store shelves. The tariff, of course, is one reason. I also wonder if supply chain problems caused by the pandemic are limiting the supply. A limited supply means prices won’t fall, even if demand has decreased during the pandemic. So we will just have to wait and see.

Greetings, Charmingly Grumpy:
I’m new to the blog.. How come you don’t use wine scores like everyone else?
Inquiring mind

Dear Inquiring:
Scores are one of the three or four worst things about the wine business (the others being corks instead of screwcaps, premiumization, and three-tier). They’re biased in favor of expensive wines, regardless of quality; they don’t give enough credit to “lesser” grape varieties or to white wine; and they reflect the critic’s taste and not necessarily whether the wine is any good. In this, they are a crutch for retailers, who can post 88 points and figure that’s customer service. I explain what the wine tastes like so you can make up your own mind.

Photo: “Dallas Food Truck Truck Festival – August 2011” by BetterBizIdeas is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Wine scores rant: Top-notch cava gets 86 points, about the same as a crummy supermarket wine

wine scores
“I said 86 points — so give it 86 points or I’ll put my fingers in your eyes.”

Wine scores show their failings once again in Cellar Tracker’s 86 point rating for spectacular Juvé y Camps cava

The Juvé y Camps Brut Nature Reserva de la Familia Gran Reserva is a top-notch cava, a delicious, elegant, and value-driven $15 Spanish sparkling wine. So why does it only average 86 points on CellarTracker?

Because wine scores are less than useless. They reflect the critic’s biases, and not the quality of the wine. We’ve shown this many times on the blog; sadly, this is just one more example. If the Juvé y Camps is only worth the same number of points as supermarket plonk, then I’m going to start buying $50, 15 percent Napa Valley chardonnay and write poetic odes to it all day long.

This is not a rant about any of the CellarTracker users who scored the wine so poorly. They’re entitled to their opinion. Rather, it’s about the failings of wine scores and the system that has grown up around them – a system that intimidates too many wine drinkers into drinking wine they don’t like. “Oh, it got 90 points, so it must be good,” they think, and then buy it and discover the truth and give up wine in favor of hard seltzer.

There are many reasons why the Juvé y Camps could have gotten such a low score, reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the wine. Two are common.

First, does the reviewer like cava? One of the most difficult things I have to do as a critic is to review wines and wine styles that I don’t like, such as California merlot or Argentine malbec. That’s why so few show up as wines of the week. But at least I know my shortcomings, and try to allow for them.

Second, does the reviewer expect a Spanish sparkling wine to taste like Champagne, even though it’s not supposed to? This happens all the time, and even with the most professional critics. I was talking about cava with a sharp, smart wine writer who I like and respect at a competition several years ago. “Don’t much care for cava,” he told me. “It doesn’t taste like Champagne.”

So no scores on the blog – not now, not in the future, not ever. If scores turn an amazing wine like the Juvé y Camps into something that is barely ordinary, what’s the point? And yes, that pun is fully intended.

More about wine scores:
Scores, value, and the Wine Spectator top 100
Chateau Bonnet Blanc and why scores are useless
Wine business slow? Then boost the scores

The Wine Curmudgeon browser wars: Which loads the WC’s site the fastest?

browser war
Why I am wasting my time timing browsers when I could be drinking wine?

And is this post just about browsers, or is the WC trying to make a larger, wine-related point?

What better way to combine two of the Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite pastimes, wine and computers, than a browser war? Which application loads the WC’s website the fastest?

(And, for those of you who think there is more going on here than just browsers, you’re correct.)

I tested five desktop browsers, cutting and pasting the site’s URL into the browser’s address bar and clicking my phone’s stopwatch. I didn’t test Safari, since I don’t own Apple products. I tested Microsoft’s Edge on Windows 10, while I ran the others on Xubuntu 18.04, my Linux box.

The results:

• Opera 67: 3.11 seconds.

• Chromium 80 (the open-source version of Chrome): 2.99 seconds.

• Firefox 75: 3.73 seconds.

• Brave 1.5 (a new, tres chic, “privacy-oriented” browser): 2.42 seconds

• Microsoft Edge: 4.4 seconds.

So does this mean, as we look to enhance the WC site surfing experience, that everyone should switch to Chrome?

Of course not. The test, though well-intentioned, was hardly scientific. I didn’t include a key browser. I didn’t test the browsers on the same platform. And why should load time for the blog’s website matter in testing browser efficiency?

Which brings us to the larger point here – wine scores, since scores are as unreliable as my browser test. Are scores well-intentioned? Maybe. But that’s far from enough.

If you don’t like California merlot, what difference does it make if the wine gets 88 points? You still wouldn’t drink it. Because, even if Firefox had been the fastest browser, I wouldn’t use it because I don’t like the changes Firefox has made over the past several years. I’m still annoyed I can’t move the menu button from the right to upper left side.

In addition, scores have the same inherent bias that my test did by using Linux and Windows, instead of one or the other. If every wine critic who gave scores had the same palate, then we would know that an 88 was an 88 was an 88. But the platforms are different: Is the Wine Spectator’s 88 the same as the Wine Advocate’s? Is James Suckling’s 88 the same as Antonio Galloni’s?

And finally, how can I test browsers and leave out Safari because I don’t like Apple? That’s a lot like our red wine study, which showed a bias in favor of red wines. How can we depend on scores when the facts show us white wines don’t matter as much to the people giving scores?

So trust your palate. Drink what you like, but be willing to try different wines. Because using scores to figure out what to drink is as silly as wasting a morning running the WC browser wars.

More about wine scores:
Chateau Bonnet Blanc and why scores are useless
Scores, value, and the Wine Spectator top 100
Wine business slow? Then boost the scores

Ask the WC 22: Natural wine, wine tariff, wine scores

natural wineThis edition of Ask the WC: Why is natural wine so expensive? Plus, trying to figure out the European wine tariff and the basics behind wine scores

Because the customers always have questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. You can Ask the Wine Curmudgeon a wine-related question by clicking here.

Hello Wine Curmudgeon:
Love, love, love, your blog! Also recently fell in love with natural wines, like Martha Stoumen, and I’m wondering if you think they will ever become affordable for the daily wine consumer? When I say “natural,” I’m speaking of the wines that use native yeast only to ferment and do not add sulfites. So far, the natural wines that I have found in the $10-$15 range are simply undrinkable.
Curious about natural wine

Dear Natural:
Thanks for the kind words. Natural wine, even though availability is limited, is probably the most contentious topic in wine today. And you’ve identified the natural wine conundrum – and why I haven’t written about it. It’s almost impossible to make a quality natural wine most of us can afford, given the process. Waiting on natural yeast to do the job is not cost efficient. The other interesting thing about natural wine is that its supporters say it should be expensive, so that its producers can make a living. One of their criticisms of Big Wine and “commercial” wine is that these wines don’t give the grape grower a fair return on their effort and time and cost.

Dear Wine Curmudgeon:
I’m confused about the new European wine tariffs. Why is there a dividing line at 14 percent alcohol?
Boozed and confused

Dear Boozed:
Don’t worry – we’re all confused. Most of it makes little sense. And the provision that French, British, German, and Spanish wines with more than 14 percent alcohol are exempt from the tariff is especially confusing. That means most whites will be taxed, but some reds won’t be. Maybe it’s the idea that higher alcohol is bad, and those wines should be punished. Or it may also have something to do with the way wine is taxed in the U.S. where higher alcohol wines pay higher excise taxes.

Hi, WC:
I know this will sound stupid, but I don’t understand wine scores or what they’re supposed to do. Why can’t someone just say if the wine is good or bad?
100 points

Dear 100:
The 100-point scoring system used to be the most contentious part of wine. It’s based on the system we know from school – 90 to 100 is an A, 80 to 90 is a B, and so forth. Its original goal was to expand on good or bad, so that you would know how good or how bad. But – and regardless of every other problem with the system – almost no wine gets less than 85 points any more. Which means one of two things: either no wine is badly made enough to warrant 82 or 79 or 64 points, or the system is so flawed that scores have become meaningless. I think it’s the latter, and that’s one reason why I don’t use scores.

Photo: “Great Sage – Bar” by ZagatBuzz is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0