Tag Archives: wine scores

Winebits 416: Wine retailing edition

wine retailingSome intriguing news about how wine retailing works just in time for the holiday shopping season.

? Best places to buy wine: W. Blake Gray ranks the nine best places to buy wine, and it’s not surprising that his top pick is the independent where someone waits on you. More important, though, is that he speaks rare truths about a couple of respected retailers: At No. 4, “You won’t find bargains at Whole Foods, but over $25 you will find interesting wines” and No. 8, where “there’s a widespread myth that Trader Joe’s wines are great values. Actually they are just cheaply sourced wines: an $8 wine there has the same markup as an $8 wine at ay other store, but most other stores put more effort into quality control.” That’s the kind of honest wine writing I wish we had more of on the Internet — and in print, as well.

? Because points matter: Australian wine writer Philip White details the sad and not exactly honest relationship between wine scores, wine writing, and wine retailing. “Put very simply, whether it ?s the wine shows or the shiny mags or books, the system of scoring wines has not done much to improve the average quality of the wines made in Australia. Rather, the scores are awarded according to fad, fashion and what needs to be sold, usually as dictated to the judging teams by their chair.” In other words, the only way retailers, producers, and wine media is with high scores, which don’t necessarily benefit consumers or the quality of the wine. Wonder if White is the down under version of the WC?

? Don’t forget the wine: How powerful is Costco (which ranks No. 5 on Gray’s list?) So powerful that one stock expert called the warehouse company, the largest retailer of wine in the world, “Amazon proof.” There is no higher praise for a retailer these days, given how Amazon has helped destroy entire categories of traditional retailing. But “Costco has been able to incentivize in-store visits by offering items that members need or prefer to buy in person ? namely, gasoline and food.” And, of course, wine, which the story doesn’t mention but which has played a key role in the retailer’s continued success.

Scores, value, and the Wine Spectator top 100

Wine Spectator top 100 The most important part of the 2015 Wine Spectator top 100 isn’t the top-ranked wine or even the wines themselves. It’s this line, buried in the fifth paragraph:

Overall, the average score and average price are the same as in 2014 ?s Top 100: 93 points and $47 — an excellent quality-to-price ratio

That the magazine’s editors could write this speaks to how screwed up scores are and to how little the Spectator understands about the relationship between quality and value. A few thoughts:

? A $47 wine should get 93 points, if only because it costs $47. What’s the point of buying it otherwise? I could just as easily buy a $35 wine that got 90 points, which offers a better dollar per points ratio (a concept that, as I write this, makes my stomach turn).

? If I owned a winery and spent the millions of dollars necessary to make $47 wine and I didn’t get at least 93 points, the winemaker’s job would be in jeopardy. Baseball managers who don’t win get fired; why not winemakers?

? True value is a $10 wine that gets 88 or 90 points, a dollar per points ratio of .11, vs. the .51 for the $47 wine (sorry — couldn’t help myself). These are the wines that score-driven consumers have been to taught to buy, and I hear from them all the time. “Parker gave that $12 wine 90 points. Do you know where I can find it?”

? No score can guarantee whether you’ll like the wine. No. 21 on the list, with 93 points, is the Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc from New Zealand. It’s a nice wine, but certainly not my favorite New Zealand sauvignon blanc and certainly not the 21st best wine of 2015 if I was doing the ranking.

? And, in one of those peculiarly Spectator leaps of logic, the rankings list scores and boast about them but the wines aren’t ranked by scores. Rather, they are chosen for “quality, value, availability and excitement.” Excitement? Did Fred Sanford judge the wines this year?

The Comet Lovejoy wine phenomenon

comet lovejoy wine

But how do they get a bottling line up there?

Astronomers were surprised to find that some comets produce alcohol, as well as sugar, as they travel around the solar system. “We found that comet Lovejoy was releasing as much alcohol as in at least 500 bottles of wine every second during its peak activity,” said Nicolas Biver of the Paris Observatory in France.

This is huge news, given that one theory supposes that comets crashing into the the Earth 3.8 billion years brought with them the carbon-based organic molecules, like alcohol and sugar, that may have jump-started life on our planet. Which is all well and good, but comet Lovejoy wine raises equally important questions for those of us who worry about those things:

? Do the comets know about the three-tier system? Lovejoy was producing the equivalent of 150,000 cases an hour, and we all know that the country’s distributors aren’t going to let that happen without them. They’ve paid entirely too much money to state legislators to let a comet ruin things. And I can only imagine the horror if Lovejoy passed anywhere near Pennsylvania, with its state store system.

? Will E&J Gallo, the Big Wine producer that has made hundreds of millions of dollars of acquisitions this year, buy the comet to add to its portfolio? A sweet Lovejoy red, since the comet threw off sugar, would slide in nicely next to Gallo brands like Apothic and Barefoot on grocery store shelves. And how could a back label that said “Comet Lovejoy wine — out of this world” miss?

? Can the Winestream Media adapt its tasting notes to comet-produced wine? Toasty and oaky, given how cold it is in space, just aren’t going to work. Maybe something like “hints of vacuum linger on the finish”? And how do you a score a comet wine? Does it get 92 points just because it’s from a comet? Or do you take points off for that, since outer space is not Napa Valley?

Photo courtesy of Adam Block Photos, using a Creative Commons license

Winebits 403: Big Wine, wine scores, wine regions

big wine ? The big get bigger? An industry analyst says Diageo, one of the biggest wine producers in the U.S., should merge with beer giant SABMiller to increase profits as the global drinks business slows down. Talk about Big Wine: the combined company would total $8 billion in sales, and its products would include Miller beer, Johnnie Walker scotch, and Rosenblum and Sterling wines. How do we know the speculation is more than gossip? The news story included the word synergies, as in the combined company would save money because it had them. As regular visitors here know, synergies — which, like unicorns and wood nymphs — exist only in the minds of those who believe in them, and are always given as an excuse for a multi-national merger. Because, otherwise, what’s the point?

? A wine snob temper tantrum: The Italian Wine Guy, who knows more about Italian wine than almost anyone else in the world, recounts his experience with a wine drinker, and it’s not pretty. The customer wanted a 100-point Robert Parker Brunello, and he wasn’t going to suffer anything as foolish as advice from one of the most knowledgeable Italian wine people in the world. What’s worse is that the customer was rude about it, treating the Italian Wine Guy as if he was some idiot foisted on the customer by an inept store owner. This is the harm in scores, regardless of anything else: If all we do is buy wine by scores, we cheat ourselves of all wine has to offer. It’s snobbishness of the worst degree, as bad as the snobs who make fun of people who drink sweet wine.

? Calling wine by its regional name: The U.S. and the European Union have been arguing for some 20 years about strengthening the international agreement that prohibits U.S. producers from calling their sparkling wine Champagne and stops French companies from calling their potatoes Idaho. Now, though, the two sides may be close to an agreement, thanks to a U.S. compromise. The article, from the Conversation.com website, is long and little legalish, but it does a good job of explaining why these trade laws exist, why the U.S. traditionally didn’t care for them, and what might happen next. Who knew Feta cheese was a deal-breaker?

Has the wine establishment turned its back on wine scores?

wine scoresThe Wine Curmudgeon writes stuff like this all the time: “Why the 100-point system of rating wine is irrelevant.” In fact, I write about the foolishness of wine scores so often that you’re probably tired of reading about it. But what happens when a member of the wine establishment, someone who uses the word “somm” in everyday conversation, says “the future of wine ratings and recommendations will rely largely on friend recommendations and approval.”

It means wine scores are one step closer to going to where they deserve to go.

Jonathan Cristaldi, who wrote all of that, is about as wine establishment as you can get — an instructor at the Napa Valley Wine Academy and deputy editor for The SOMM Journal and The Tasting Panel Magazine. In other words, he does not espouse the wonders of $5 wine at Aldi or complain about the Winestream Media.

So when Cristaldi says the 100-point scale and wine scores are increasingly irrelevant, it means something. How many of the old white guys who keep defending points were once called a new ?Wine Prophet ? by Time Out New York magazine? Writes Cristaldi:

More and more people will learn of wine ?s complexities through social engagement. Friends and confidants (trade and non-trade) will replace the lone critic and his bully pulpit. Wine drinkers will realize the power and worth of a discerning palate because of the value their friends place on such expectations.

The key here is that Cristaldi isn’t writing for consumers, the 95 percent of us who will never spend more than $20 for a bottle of wine and don’t care one way or the other about scores when we buy Little Black Dress or Cupcake. He is writing for the elite, including the five percent who buy high-end wine; everyone who has helped to make scores part of selling wine over the past four decades and has helped it become the shell game that it is today.

There won’t be a need for wine scores as we know them, says Cristaldi, because of that social engagement. This is more than the social media that the old white guys like to make fun of because they just know that Facebook and Twitter are stupid, but a fundamental change in the way the wine supply chain works. Today, when a retailer or restaurateur buys wine, the distributor’s sell sheets — a handout they give customers — include Parker and Wine Spectator ratings and other wine scores. Because, as one top Dallas chef-owner told me, if the wine gets 95 points in the Spectator, he has to have it, whether he wants it or not.

But in Cristaldi’s future, retailers and restaurateurs will buy wine because someone they know and respect recommends it, and the score will be just one part of that. And, given social media, they can check those recommendation in seconds, whether with a text, a tweet, an Instagram picture, or in apps like Vivino, Delectable, or CellarTracker. He calls this new breed ?social sommeliers, ? because they participate in “the social conversation about wine.”

These people, who are younger and include women and people of color, aren’t waiting for the distributor’s sell sheets with wine scores; they’re already talking about the wine with their colleagues around the world long before the distributor arrives. This is something that has never happened before in the history of wine, and it’s something the old white guys can’t even begin to understand. They think sell sheets are still the cutting edge.

And, finally, if you still think this is all silliness, know about a conversation I had with a 20-something wine drinker during a cheap wine book appearance. Why should I buy your book, he asked me? Who needs it? I can do this — and he twiddled his phone with his thumb — to find a good wine to drink.

Image courtesy of Jacksonville Wine Guide, using a Creative Commons license

Computer-generated wine reviews

Wine Spectator: If you can’t buy it, we won’t review it

wine spectatorThe Wine Spectator, in a stunning reversal of policy, announced today that it will only review wines that people can buy, ending a decades-long practice where it preferred to critique wine made in such small quantities that there were never any for sale.

“Frankly, when we started to think about it, it seemed kind of silly to review wines that weren’t in stores,” said a magazine spokeswoman. “Yes, there was a certain cachet to do wines in the Spectator where the producer only made three cases, because it showed how much better we were than everyone else. Because we are much better than everyone else. But, in the end, we are a wine review magazine, and if our readers can’t buy the wines we review, there isn’t much reason for us to exist, is there?”

The new availability policy, said the spokeswoman, was based on the one used by legendary Internet blogger Jeff Siegel, the Wine Curmudgeon. Siegel, who declined to be interviewed for this story, uses what he calls general availability: He only reviews wines that consumers can find in a quality wine shop in a medium-sized city. Said the spokeswoman: “Considering how much fun he makes of us, and that he is has no credibility because he is an Internet blogger, Siegel’s policy seems quite practical. Just don’t tell him we stole it.”

Reaction from the wine world was immediate:

? A host of cult wines in the Napa Valley, whose production rarely exceeds 100 cases each, announced plans to increase the amount of wine they make so they can be reviewed. “If we’re not in the Spectator, what’s the point of making wine?” asked one winery owner, a Silicon Valley zillionaire. “It’s not like I care about the wine. I just want my friends to be jealous when they see my wine, which they can’t buy, got a 99.”

? Several other wine magazines said they would follow suit, although the Wine Advocate said it would use availability in China as its threshold. “Listen, when you pay as much money for the Advocate as we did,” said a co-owner, “you really don’t care if anyone can buy the wine in Omaha.”

? The country’s largest retailers, including Costco and Walmart, made plans for special Wine Spectator sections in their wine departments, now that the Spectator would review most of the wine that they carry. “They’re already selling some wine for us with their scores and shelf talkers,” said one retailer. “So why not just get rid of the pretense and let them do all the work?”

More April 1 wine news:
? Supreme Court: Regulate wine writing through three-tier system
? Gov. Perry to California: Bring your wineries to Texas
? California secedes from U.S. ? becomes its own wine country

 

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