Tag Archives: Winestream Media

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

Winebits 458: Wine recommendations, alcohol levels, natural wine

Wine recommendations

This week’s wine news: Wine recommendations most of us can’t afford, plus the feds help with alcohol levels and the market for natural wine

Pricey, pricey, pricey: How about a list of fall and winter wine recommendations where all but four of 20 wines cost more than $20? Sadly, that’s what happens when you ask restaurant wine types for wine advice. It’s not that there aren’t some excellent wines in the post from Bloomberg News (the $22 Domain Berson Chablis, for one) and that these people don‘t know their business, but let’s be honest. I didn’t want to spend $145 for my once in a century wine if the Cubs win the World Series; who is going to do it because the weather is cooler? Making matters worse is the headline: “20 wines you need to drink this fall.” No I don’t. The only one who got the pricing right was Ryan Arnold of Lettuce Entertain You, a restaurant company in Chicago started by one of the world’s great restaurateurs, Rich Melman: a $16, a $17, and a $30 wine.

More accurate: W. Blake Gray reports that a change in the way the federal government approves wine labels will mean more accurate alcohol percentages on the label, and perhaps the end of the ubiquitous 13.5 percent. “In many cases wineries have to submit the label for approval before the final blend of the wine has been decided,” he writes. “They have to guesstimate how much alcohol the actual wine will have. That means label approval has driven many winemaking decisions, which is bad for everybody.” Now, since they won’t have to list the alcohol percentage to get the label approved, they can make the wine and put the correct alcohol level on the label afterwards. That’s not only better for producers, but consumers as well. One reason we see 13.5 percent on so many labels, even if the wine isn’t really 13.5 percent, is that it’s easier to do that for a variety of complicated and legal reasons.

Not too many people: The Wine Curmudgeon frequently laments the wine fads passed along as fact by the the Winestream Media, and it’s a pleasure to see a serious discussion about whether natural wine is anything more than one of those. “Are sales in this niche finally starting to have a global impact – or is it just a hipster bubble that could burst as fast as a poorly made pet-nat?” asks the Wine Business International trade magazine (full disclosure: I freelance regularly for the magazine). The conclusion: Assuming one can define a natural wine, since there is no accepted standard other than an organic wine isn’t natural enough, “market share in most countries has yet to reach even the first percentage point.” Case closed. Now we can go back to arguing about something important, like the efficacy of scores.

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

neo-Prohibitionists

Rudy K. and neo-Prohibitionism

neo-ProhibtionismRudy K. is Rudy Kurniawan, the con man convicted last month for bilking wine collectors out of millions of dollars by passing off cheap wine as rare bottles worth thousands. The story, not surprisingly, was huge among the wine writing fraternity, both traditional and on-line, and a Google search yesterday turned up 1.8 million references to it.

On the other hand, a story that could affect every wine drinker — and not just those who can drop a couple of grand for a French first-growth that may or may not be real — was mostly ignored last year. That was the National Transportation Safety Board’s proposal to cut the legal drinking limit, which would be two glasses of wine for most women and three for men. Yesterday, there were just 37,000 Google references to the plan.

And some of us wonder why no reads wine blogs anymore. This contradiction, and what it says about wine writing and the wine business, is after the jump:
Continue reading

Five things not to say about wine this holiday season

A-Hint-Of-BS

There but for the grace of of the wine gods. …

The holidays are fraught with peril for wine drinkers, and especially for anyone who is intimidated by all the wine drinking going on. Which, truth to tell, is more of us than most of us care to admit. Or, as one 20-something woman asked me during a Cheap Wine book signing (shamless plug alert!), “Is it OK if I bring this $5 wine to a party? Will people make fun of me?”

Hence this guide, because we don’t want to embarrass any of our fellow wine drinkers. Because there but for the grace of the wine gods. …

1. “I can’t believe you’re drinking sweet wine.” Some of the best wine in the world is sweet — rieslings, whether from Germany, New York or elsewhere, and dessert wines, including the $550 French Chateau d’Yquem. Yes, pink moscato or red raspberry is not highly rated by the Winestream Media, but who are they to judge? After all, don’t they believe in the magical gateway wine?

2. “I used to buy that, and then I learned more about wine.” This actually happened to me. A guy I knew saw I was buying an ordinary French red, and said I should buy his French red. Which I did, and it was a waste of money — more expensive and not any better. I learned an important lesson that day about wine and peer pressure. Which is to ignore it.

3. “I just bought a bunch of 92-point wines, and they were only $30 each — such a deal.” Any wine that costs more than $15, given the foolishness of points, should score 92 points. At least. In fact, given the rampant score inflation that has apparently going on over the past couple of years, anyone who spends $30 a bottle for a 92-point wine shouldn’t be bragging about it. They should be consulting the $10 Hall of Fame.

4. “Texas wine? Haven’t they given up on that yet?” You can substitute your local wine region here, but the sentiment is the same. Despite all of the progress we have made, too many wine drinkers, wine critics, and wine snobs still insist they know best about regional wine because they didn’t enjoy the glass they had when Jimmy Carter was president.

5. “The last time I was in Napa, I had the most amazing wine. … ” Wine travel snobbery is among the worst, implying that the only amazing wines can be found by people rich or lucky enough to go where the wine is made. This is obviously not true; the Wine Curmudgeon has found some amazing wines digging around the closeout bin at his local Italian wine specialist. Which is 10 minutes from my house with free parking.

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Winebits 304: Celebrity wine, wine critics, 7-Eleven

? Does celebrity wine sell? It all depends, says a study from a group of Canadian researchers. The Wine Curmudgeon mentions this because he banned celebrity wine news from the blog for just this reason, that the idea of celebrity wine is about the celebrity and not the wine, and that’s more or less what the study says. The Brock University report found that “a more prestigious sport like golf received a higher ‘fit’ level than a sport such as wrestling, which is not commonly associated with the product category of wine.” Also, celebrity endorsement meant less to more knowledgeable wine drinkers than to the less well versed. In other words, celebrity endorsement in wine works about the same way it does in most consumer goods.

? Cranky old men: Kyle Schlachter at Colorado Wine Press has written one of the best put-downs ever of wine writing, wine critics, and the Winestream Media. It’s satire taken to the next level, and though it gets a little insider-ish, it’s still pretty damned funny: “This generation, your generation, that reads these blogs and whatnot, really needs to figure out how to learn about wine. If you don’t listen to experts, how will you ever learn what good wine tastes like?” Sadly, I know people exactly like that, and who still don’t understand that wine is about finding what you like, not what others tell you to like.

? Making it more convenient: 7-Eleven made news a couple of years ago with its version of Two-buck Chuck, Yosemite Road, citing the growing demand for wine from its customers. The company took that one step further last week, announcing that it would sell expensive wines in its stores, including $50 bottles from Napa’s Stag’s Leap. This news is not as shocking as it sounds, given the role of the biggest wine companies in the business today. Stag’s Leap is owned by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, a one-half billion dollar company, and 7-Eleven will also sell wines from the $3.2 billion Constellation Brands and the $3.4 billion E&J Gallo. An independent producer, worried that its wine in a convenience store would destroy its reputation, wouldn’t sell it there. But the multi-nationals, given a chance to sell lots of wine to a mammoth retailer, have fewer qualms. They just want to move product, and 7-Eleven, if Ste. Michelle wanted it to, could probably sell all of the 130,000 cases Stag’s Leap makes annually.