Tag Archives: wine scores

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.

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.

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