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

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

  • By Steve Body -

    For my entire career as a wine reviewer, I’ve argued this issue with a seemingly endless parade of jugheads whose reasoning starts with something like, “Well, of course, there is no way a great Pinot Blanc can ever be equated to a great Cabernet.”

    OF COURSE THERE IS. If you don’t assign your snot-filled assumptions to the universe of wine and presume the inherent superiority of some grapes, some regions, some styles, versus the “others”, there certainly IS such a thing as the best Cava, the best Pinotage, the best Petit Milo, etc., etc. And comparing across all those genres – weighing the Juve y Camps on the same scale as a Bryant Family Cab or a Sassacaia, with your finger on the scales – is the very definition of Apples & Oranges.

    Each style of wine is its own continuum. You can niggle wines to death, such as drawing distinctions between a Washington Merlot and a Chilean or an Italian, and become adrift in that minutiae, but all you’re doing is imposing your own preferences. I had a Washington winemaker taste an $8 Miguel Torres Chilean Cab and then taste her own – which did NOT come off well versus the Torres – and smugly say, “Well, it’s good but of course they’re not the same product.” Well, KAREN, yes they are. They are on my shop shelf and they both say “Cabernet” on the bottle. And since I never lied to my customers, when asked which was the better wine, I handed them the Torres and said, “Here, save yourself $32.”

    My line of demarcation is grape versus grape. Does a warm/hot and fast-fermented Cali Zin equate to a cool, slow-fermented Puglian Primitivo, labeled as “Zinfandel”? No, but the task of educating every single consumer on those stylistic differences is just pedantry unless they ask for that info. If they just read labels and compare prices, they might well choose that $19 Puglian over the $28 Hartford Family Zin. And they’ll get a nice wine. So, within the spectrum of “Zinfandel”, do I assign 94 points to that Sonoma Zin and 89 to the Puglian, just because Zin is identified with California? HELL, no.

    None of this would matter if we, as Americans, were not such score whores and lemmings. We assume that an 89 point wine cannot be as good as a 94 point wine and the economic ramifications of that presumption are MASSIVE; the sort of fatheaded ‘tude that can put smaller wineries out of business. I’ve taken swings at this MANY times, always grinding my teeth as I did it because I know I have ZERO ability to wean people off the WineAdvocate/Spectator teat. But what you’ve written here and what I write and what every other writer who’s taken up this subject has to say about it SHOULD, MUST be said. Keep swingin’, my friend. It’s a good fight, even if you have one fist tied behind you.

    • By Wine Curmudgeon -

      Thank you for this, Steve. Jugheads, indeed. And those who know the blog know I will keep saying it.

  • By Mike Dunne -

    I may have been guilty of seeking parallels of Champagne in Cava, but I will look for the Juve y Camps in hopes if appreciating it on its own merits. Just based on your comments I have already given it 93 points.

    • By Wine Curmudgeon -

      Thank you, Mike. And not to worry. You weren’t the wine judge who said that to me.

  • By Erin O. -

    “Well, KAREN, yes they are… ” 🙂

    Wine is intimidating. We want something that will help us sort through the label noise without having to invest in an in-depth wine education. Scores do just that. Place a number next to a bottle and it instantly communicates something of value, Bob’s your uncle. And it’s not just limited to wines. Top 10 lists, top 100 lists, abound on every subject – college rankings, every consumer report product, livable cities, restaurants… We are arguably obsessed with ranking. I do have a question, though – Are wine scores as ubiquitous in other markets outside of the US? I can see maybe Britain because it’s an import market, but in France, Spain, Italy – Do their consumers also use scores for marketing?

    • By Wine Curmudgeon -

      Yes, Erin, maybe you are correct about scores and top 10 lists and so on and so forth. But ranking the 100 greatest baseball players of all time is just as pointless as ranking wine. Why can’t we just enjoy both?

      True story about scores in other markets: When I wrote about wine for the Fort Worth newspaper in the 1990s, a friend who worked for one of the biggest producers in the world told me he walked into a Norwegian wine shop and the first thing the retailer said: “How many points did Parker give the wine?”

      Obviously, anecdotal. But I think it speaks to how insidious scores are.

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