Tag Archives: wine 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

Winebits 601: Coke and wine, canned wine, wine scores

coke and wineThis week’s wine news: Coke and wine – is the soft drinks giant pondering the wine business again? Plus the confusing sizes of canned wine and bias in wine scores

We’d like to teach the world to sing: The Wine Curmudgeon reports this item with a caveat – there has already been one correction made to the story, and there may be another error in it. Still, it comes from the usually reliable drinks business trade magazine: An Australian newspaper reports that the Aussie Coca-Cola bottler, Coca-Cola Amatil, wants to buy the wine brands owned by Pernod Ricard, the luxury French booze house. Its products include Chivas Regal whisky, Absolut vodka, and Beefeater gin. Pernod’s wine holdings include Jacobs Creek in Australia, Brancott Estate in New Zealand, and California’s Kenwood. Know that this isn’t exactly like Coke’s first foray into wine, which was a disaster (and which the story in the link overlooks). The Atlanta-based company lasted six years in California and New York before selling its holdings. Coca-Cola Amatil is partly owned by Coke, and there is no indication that if it buys Pernod’s wine labels that it will be like Coke actually owning wine again. This is something else the story in the link is unclear about.

One size doesn’t fit all: Talk to anyone in the wine business about canned wine, and their first complaint is that there are three sizes for canned wine, as opposed to one for beer and soft drinks, and none of which are 12 ounces. Plus, one size can only be sold in a three- or four-pack. That’s the legacy of federal booze law, which regulates package sizes according to alcohol content. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) wants to change that. He’s asking the federal Tax and Trade Bureau that oversees these regulations to streamline the process and make it possible for wine to be sold in 12-ounce cans.

The inherent bias of wine scores: The Wine Gourd’s David Morrison, who apparently dislikes scores even more than the Wine Curmudgeon does, regularly runs mathematical analyses of wine scores. His current examination, looking at scores form the Wine Advocate and the Wine Spectator : “All three datasets show that variation in wine-quality scores is substantial, and that it arises from several sources. When you combine these sources of variation, it is difficult to attribute any mathematical precision to the use of numbers for wine commentary.” It’s good to know that the math agrees with those of us who see scores as inherently biased, thanks to the flaws that are an integral part of post-modern wine criticism.

Photo courtesy of the Daily Telegraph, using a Creative Commons license

Winebits 593: Sommelier scandal, wine scores, sparkling wine glasses

This week’s wine news: Ron Washam puts the sommelier scandal in focus, plus more on why wine scores don’t work and yet another examination of sparkling wine glasses

• “Ethics and truth are Roundup for the wine business:” Ron Washam, writing on Tim Atkin’s website, offers some much needed perspective on last fall’s sommelier scandal, in which a then-sommelier apparently gave a list of the wines to be used for the blind tasting portion of the master sommelier exam to one of the candidates. “The wine world moves on,” he writes, “unconcerned with ethics and truth, as well it should. Ethics and truth are Roundup for the wine business. You don’t want to use them liberally, or at all, they pretty much destroy the ecosystem.” As Washam notes, the Court of Master Sommeliers has brushed the scandal under the rug, and sommeliers remain wine royalty. Is it any wonder that I worry about the future of the wine business?

No more scores: Ian Cauble, writing in the Robb Report, hits scores firmly up the side of the head: “A high score doesn’t always mean the wine is excellent. …” he says, and then explains why. In this, his is one more voice trying to free us from the tyranny of 92 points. “Don’t assume the score tacked onto a shelf is Holy Writ,” he writes. “Drink and acquire what you like. Above all, remember that wine is about the land, the people who make it, and the friends with whom you enjoy it. A single score never defines the full story.” I could not have said that better myself, and I have been trying for almost 20 years.

Put it in the glass: Christopher Walkey, writing for Glass of Bubbly, dissects sparkling wine glasses in all their shapes and sizes. In fact, there’s even a photo of seven kinds of glasses – just looking at it made my head hurt. The reason for the article is the past several years worth of carping about which glass best serves sparkling wine and Champagne. Which, to Ron Washam’s point, says a lot about what the wine business considers to be important.

Photo: “Sommelier” by Antonio Calero Garcia is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

Winebits 582: Wine scores, corkage, nutrition labels

wine scoresThis week’s wine news: A Swiss study finds wine scores continue to be unreliable, plus an Aussie restaurant jacks up the corkage fee and a consumer group consortium asks for nutrition labels

Not really: David Morrison, analyzing wine scores from two top U.S. critics, does not mince words: “I have rarely seen scores differ by this much — 13 points is a lot of quality-score difference. It is pertinent, I think, to ask whether these two people were actually tasting the same wines!” In other words, his math confirms what those of us who don’t use scores have said for years. Scores, at best, are an overview. At worst, they’re damaging to the wine business, confusing consumers and putting people off wine they might otherwise like.

Yikes: A Swiss wine merchant claims an Australian restaurant charged him A$8,000 (about US$5,700) to bring eight of his own bottles to dinner. The story, from London’s Daily Mail newspaper, doesn’t have quite as many facts as I would like, but seems to be legitimate. This practice is called corkage – when one brings their own wine, the restaurant charges a corkage fee. It ranges from $10 to $30 a bottle; this way, the restaurant can make up for the lost sale but not gouge the guest. In this case, though, the Swiss claims he was charged $725 a bottle, about five times the value of the wine. It’s good to see Australian wine service can be as shabby as service in this country.

Yes, labels: So much for the Wine Curmudgeon’s good intentions. I promised that last week’s post would be the final effort on the blog  about ingredient and nutrition labels, but then this happened: The Center for Science in the Public Interest and 67 other groups have asked the federal government to require labels “covering alcohol content by percentage and amount, serving size, calories, ingredients, allergen information, and other information relevant to consumers.” Which, of course, is what I have been begging the wine business to do for years.

aliens

Aliens (no, not that one): A wine parable (sort of)

aliensWhat happens when aliens from another galaxy discover wine – and the scores that go with it?

“I don’t understand,” said Brzyx. “What’s the point?”

“We’re humans,” said Miller. “We rate things. We list them. We rank them. That’s what we do.”

Brzyx’s accent was thick, but Miller could understand it without too much trouble. And why not? If its species was advanced enough to travel hundreds of light years to get to Earth, they could certainly speak passable English.

“But why can’t you just enjoy it?” said Brzyx. “It’s different, this wine, from anything we have at home. It’s pleasant. It’s – what’s your word? – enjoyable. I like the – what are they? – fruit flavors. I like the feeling I get from the thing you said was alcohol.”

“None of that is enough for us,” said Miller. “We have to sort things in order, top to bottom, first to last.”

“But scores?” said Brzyx. “All they do is spoil the fun, take the joy out of this wine thing. What possible difference could it make to anyone if something is 91 points or 92? Who can even tell the difference?”

“They claim they can,” said Miller. “It’s a huge business – lots of multi-million dollar companies, hundreds of experts claiming to know more about wine than anyone else. Telling people what kind of wine they should like.”

Brzyx sighed. At least Miller thought it was a sigh. It was kind of hard to tell.

“So you have all these wine experts spending all this time and money – scarce resources on your world – to give something as wonderful as wine a score, instead of using those resources to solve your world’s real problems, like hunger and poverty?”

“That’s pretty much it,” said Miller.

“Now humans make sense,” said Brzyx. “All that time and energy for nothing. No wonder you’re still stuck in this solar system and we had to find you.” He took a sip. “But I do like the wine.”

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.