Wine Talk

Snooth User: Craig Bilodeau

Source for Cellar Worthy Wines BEFORE the Ratings Come Out

Posted by Craig Bilodeau, Oct 19, 2012.

Okay.  This question might be stretching the boundaries of what should be discussed in writing.  (Ummm... actually, this question clearly crosses the boundary of what should be discussed in writing, but what the hell...)

Where (or to whom) do experienced Snoothers go to get the inside scoop on wines that are cellar worthy but have yet to be professionally rated (and as a result, are high quality, value-based wines)?


Reply by GregT, Oct 19, 2012.

wines that are cellar worthy but have yet to be professionally rated (and as a result, are high quality, value-based wines)?

Your assumption is wrong. There is nothing to correlate a "professionally rated" wine with quality or value. A rating is just one person's opinion of a wine and one person's opinion as to whether a wine will or will not be age-worthy.

I have plenty of Spanish wines I picked up based on the winemaker, grape, and region. I don't care about someone's rating because I know the wines better than they do. You would do the same thing a critic would do - you'd make an educated guess based on what you know about that winery, the winemaker, the grapes, the vintage, etc. 

If it's a brand-new winery, your guess is as good as anyone else's.

Don't buy wines by ratings. Find a wine you like and explore that blend, that region, that winemaker. You'll develop a better sense of things than by randomly looking for highly-rated wines.  Moreover, a lot of wines someone rates highly might just suck as far as you're concerned.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Oct 19, 2012.

I get a lot of emails for wine retailers/flash sites that sell wine from wineries they have relationships with and they frequently hype the wines prior to the ratings, usually based on anticipation of the rating and referring to a rating from a past vintage.  But that's not something one should rely on.

Then there's the local wine merchant, but often, as an independent, he's getting wines a little later and they have been rated--lots of wineries don't want it on the shelf without a rating, it seems. Still, I know what he likes and what I have bought from him that I liked, so if he describes it as similar to something I liked, I don't care what the rating is.  (My local gets my PN, Temp and Grenache taste and is a little hit or miss on Cab and Sangio.)

But mostly, my local wine friends and here.  Obviously GdP and Eric Guido and other Mentors are "rating" wines, but I also check their comments on threads, since I have a pretty good idea of what they like.  (GdP = a little more austere and Old World than I am; EG = pretty similar taste in Sangio--we both like enough acid to make it mouth watering without being masochistic, and seem to like a range from bright cherry to leathery Brunello, and both want our sangio to taste like sangio and not be overwhelmed by cab or other blenders, excessive oak, etc.) .  For Spanish wines, I rely on GregT because he tastes a lot before they are rated at events he attends as a sometimes-importer.  I also chat a bit with OT and JD via email, and find that they have palates that I understand and,  in the case of OT, we seem to like the same Syrahs especially.  So if he says he tried something and liked it, I can be pretty sure I will, too.  Actually, really sure.  It's a little uncanny.

One thing to note:  I have actually had wine in the presence of all those Snoothers, drunk from the same bottles.  To me, that's still important. It's a luxury that I have been able to get together with so many folks here (albeit only one time with some), but if you are ever in NYC, you will discovery that the Gregs live very lonely lives and need drinking companions.  ;-)  If only they could be nicer to each other.

Keeping an eye on who has been to tastings or visiting wineries lately on here is a big one, too, since some of those wines never get rated at all. I haven't met NG yet, but we visit a lot of the same wineries and often just miss running into each other at stores, apparently.  I know that we like the same Zins and Cabs and Rhones, and differ somewhat in our PN tastes--she likes them tarter by a hair--so I can calibrate pretty well there. 

Frankly, all of those sources--local wine shop, GdP, EG, OT, JD, GregT--count for a lot more than ratings, period.  Not that we like the same things--I would drink no PN if I relied on GregT and wouldn't enjoy a lot of what I drank in PN if I relied on GdP--but if they describe something in terms that appeal to me, I might buy a GdP 88 based on those terms before buying a RP or GdP 90 on the score. 

Reply by outthere, Oct 19, 2012.

I think he meant where to find that wine before the scores come out "and the prices go up". But the answer is the same. Find a wine/winemaker you enjoy and buy direct from the mailing list. Spend some time on Cellartracker and find people with similar palates/enjoying similar wines to you and see what they are drinking.  The more you communicate with people who have the same taste as you the sooner you will start hearing about those gems you seek.

Reply by Craig Bilodeau, Oct 19, 2012.

GregT - I did not mean to suggest that well rated wines are good wines for cellaring/collecting. Instead, I meant that well rated wines cease to be value-based since prices typically go up dramatically when they receive a high RP rating (or the like).  I don't care if the wines that I pick up ever get a professional's rating. What I am interested in is buying wines that will cellar well that I don't have to pay an arm and a leg for because it happened to receive a 95 from Robert Parker. Such wines are typically outside of my price range. 

Reply by EMark, Oct 19, 2012.

Craig, a very interesting question.  I'm not sure why it stretches boundaries of written documents, unless, you feel that people might not want to give up their secrets.  I suspect that you are in the same situation that I am--a wine lover but not involved with the industry and do not have any so connected acquaintances.

The cool thing about Snooth, of course, is that there are people who post here on the Forum, who do have industry connections (or are in the industry), and who do occassionally forecast potentially great wine buying opportunities.  (So, I guess I actually do have some connected acquaintances.)  For example, I was totally unfamiliar with the Myriad label until a few weeks ago when I read a report here about winemaker Mike Smith.  The other day a fairly well-known wine-oriented periodical appeared in my mailbox with a big spread on California Cabernet Sauvignon.  One of the wineries that received a very nice feature article was--ta-dah--Myriad Cellars.

There are probably a lot of resources available on the web to find little gems of information.  The problem is, however, you have to sift through an awful lot of grains of sand before you find one of those gems.  I believe you are a working man and a family man.  So, I doubt that you have the time for all that.  Heck, I neither work nor have kids, and I'm not going to spend that kind of time.

For what it's worth, my method, naive as it may be, is to find a maker in which I have confidence and just keep going back to the well until that maker fails me.  Year in and year out Ridge Lytton Springs has been a favorite of mine.  The minute I see it on the shelf I buy it.  I do not need anybody to validate my reasons for buying it.  If I really was eager, I would get on the Ridge mailing list and order it right from them, but I'm rarely that eager.  Buying it from a retail store is always less expensive than getting it directly from the winery.  If the local retail stores do not carry your favorite, then, of course, you might want to establish a direct relationship with the winery.


Reply by Richard Foxall, Oct 19, 2012.

Lots of great stuff doesn't get sent to RP because the winemakers know that their wine doesn't fit his style and no sense risking a less than 90 point score.  Bell Cabernet is one, IMO.  I think it's insanely delicious, incredibly age-worthy, and only about $45 for the basic Napa appellation.  I doubt that Mauritson will ever send RP their wines, although it would be hard to imagine he wouldn't love them given his recent Ridge scores, because they are selling everything they make at the winery and most of it through the mailing list.  And you have to wonder why Pisoni sends him anything (or Mike Smith) because I can't even get on their allocation lists.  (Nice newsletters, but not much of a consolation prize.) This isn't necessarily the least expensive cellar worthy wine, but some wineries give back a little by selling direct, while getting much more for themselves without the distributor in the loop.  So there's still value.

OT got that totally right about this being about the value play.  Dang, he's smart. And he reads carefully, unlike me, who once asked him for his phone number in a reply to an email that had (yup) his phone number at the bottom.  Still forehead slapping myself for that one.

Even though he's cranky, pay attention to GregT when it comes to his recommendations for Iberian and middle-European wines, because he has a ton of knowledge and his taste in these areas is spot on for folks who like something more generous than the dessicated old world styles but are moving away from fruit bombs and high alcohol fuel.

Reply by Craig Bilodeau, Oct 19, 2012.

Thanks, everyone.  Great responses.  You can bet that I will be checking out some of the wineries mentioned here.  Also, the comment about paying attention to those who seemed to enjoy the same types of wine that I do and then seeing what they liked is an excellent suggestion.  Thanks!!!

Reply by JonDerry, Oct 20, 2012.


Sounds like you want cellar worthy wines that won't break the bank, totally understandable!

Actually, in soe cases wines can get high ratings and still not be too expensive...non-brunello sangiovese comes to mind like Fontalloro and Felsina Rancia Riserva.

Zinfandel's also comes to mind, nice ratings and rarely expensive like those put out by Ridge (Lytton Springs, Geyserville), Carlisle, and even Outpost.

Ridge and Carlisle can be bought at retail, but for Outpost that's definitely one I'd recommend getting on the list for if you like full flavor red wines that are still balanced. Here's the link to sign up - no committment, you'll just be on the mailing list. They do a Grenache, Zin, Cabernet, Petite Sirah, and Reserve's of the latter two. Most wines are $40-60, premium CA stuff that will age 10 years after release no problem..

Reply by GregT, Oct 20, 2012.

OK Craig - one thing to keep in mind is that it's not always true that a 95 point score moves a wine out of reach. In fact, it's one of the more interesting things these days - in a store, the shelf-talker moves wine and it doesn't matter who the score is from. Can be from your great maiden aunt Clara. People who pick things up based on a shelf-talker usually don't know the wine in the first place, much less the critic, so the number is all that matters. But that is a local effect - in the store alone, and it doesn't affect the market price.

If a critic is known for a region, his points MAY affect the market. So to your point - Parker moves Bordeaux and the Rhone and anything else he personally chooses to comment on. If you see the effect that his announcement of some "find" has on a wine's availability, it's pretty obvious.

But you'd be surprised at how limited the effect of points are on prices. The value of points to a wholesaler or retailer isn't that they can jack the price up, it's that they can clear the shelves. 

The WS Wine of the Year becomes expensive. Sometimes a few others do too, but not usually.  So if you look at something like the Columbia Crest Reserve, or was it the Walter Clore - I don't recall but anyway, it was WOTY about 2 years ago. It's usually just shy of $30. I've picked it up (both of them) for 14.99 retail but would pay around $20.  Overnight it was on various commerce sites from private sellers at $100+.  Anyone who bought that is an idiot. Today the more recent iteration is around $28 again.  Every year you know it's going to score in the 90s, the actual score makes no difference, and the price is the same.

The NYT actually moves a lot of wine but only for a week or so.  But there are a host of other highly-scored wines that don't change in price at all.

A lot of people like to talk about Burghound but I don't think he moves the needle at all. The people who are going to buy Burgundy are going to buy the labels that their friends know because otherwise, what's the point? The entire idea is to impress your friends who care about those wines, not to find really good wines. So Burghound is good for conversation, but he doesn't move wine so his score isn't going to make much price difference. Burgundy is priced at what it is because it's a Premier Cru or it isn't, not because one is better than another or because a critic rated it highly.

For Australia in general, they got burned big time because there isn't the hierarchy of wines that there is in France, so people were comparing a big fruity 97 point Australian Shiraz to a Bordeaux 97 points and they didn't understand WTF was going on. Eventually that market simply collapsed. So I don't know if anyone's points move the market for those wines but you can get some tasty Shiraz at under $20 - my advice is simply to take a flier on a few bottles and see if you come up with something you like. Pay attention to the region and the producer and see if there's a pattern in your preferences.  I happen to love Grenache from Australia, pretty much without regard to region.

Pretty much all of Spain is the same story - you can get some very highly-rated Priorat wines on clearance these days whereas before you couldn't touch them.  Not only Priorat too - recently I saw Maurodos San Roman for 29.99. Granted, 2006 was not an excellent vintage but it was OK and you have Spain's best winemaker at the helm - I'd bet that wine will be good in 20 years. I was sorely tempted but I have a lot of it from other vintages already. 

And for Italy, it's almost impossible to correlate a price shift to a score because there's a flood of Italian wine but there's no single individual who really matters in the market. Tre Bicchieri doesn't really move the market, James Suckling is kind of the clown of wine critics and pretty much anything he tastes will be 95 points, Galloni has a small and dedicated following and he's really not all that bad as a critic but he doesn't have enough of a name to move the needle on prices, and the various other wine magazines and critics don't really affect the prices of things.  Viticcio Chianti Riserva is going to come out. If you like it, buy it. Sangiovese with a little bit of Merlot. It's a guarantee that Suckling will give it 93,4,5 or even 96 points. Everyone knows that. But it's still going to cost $23.00, whether you buy it before or after the points.

And then, even if the critic has some traction, it's all about the grape.  Napa Cab?  Price may change if it gets a really high score from Parker, maybe from Laube, but much less, and it won't move at all with a score from anyone else.  Napa Syrah?  You'll be able to get it on discount no matter who scores it highly.  CA Pinot Noir? There are a few that Parker has blessed and now that he's not reviewing CA any more, I doubt that any more will show up.  Bordeaux?  Parker alone moves the market.  Cahors? Who cares what anyone says about the wine?  Look around for the 95 point wines, if they exist - the price won't change a dollar.  And if the wine is from Greece or some other "emerging" region? Negotiate a discount with the retailer because he's probably dying to get it off his shelves.

Most of all, I think what the above posters have said is important - if you find a producer you like, try additional wines from that producer. And don't be afraid to call a spade a spade. I love Ridge and have a fair bit of their wines going back to the 1980s. Used to love Geyserville, now I kind of prefer Lytton. But sometimes they just suck. Their Grenache is interesting as an academic exercise, but it's rarely inspiring. Their Carignan is hit or miss - sometimes great, sometimes a pass. The various Zin bottlings can be hit or miss. The consistently best value is the Three Valleys IMO. In fact, that may be all I buy in the future. Several times I've put it in blind tastings with other Zins, including the more expensive Ridges, and it's always the value play of the day.

Anyhow, remember that the wines usually hit the shelves before the scores come out, except for Bordeaux. So if you like something, shop around for the best price and try the new vintage or try a different bottling from the producer you like.

Cheers and happy hunting!

Reply by JonDerry, Oct 20, 2012.

Stuff to take away from Greg's post...the region tends to determine price more than critics...unpopular regions have pretty stable pricing, due to lower demand. Popular regions will be priced high, though if they're big enough you can always find value, however in these regions like Napa, Bordeaux, Burgundy, etc. high ratings make the wine/s too costly.

Also, maybe more than that, definitely ignore James Suckling ratings!


Reply by EMark, Oct 20, 2012.

The entire idea is to impress your friends

Quite possibly the truest eight words that have ever been posted on this forum.  I would expand the context, however, beyond Burgundy to all wines.

And I definitely do not exempt EMark from this sentiment.  Heck, he's probably the leader of the pack.

But it's still fun.

Reply by outthere, Oct 20, 2012.

 The people who are going to buy Burgundy are going to buy the labels that their friends know because otherwise, what's the point? The entire idea is to impress your friends who care about those wines, not to find really good wines.

I nominate this for post of the year!


Reply by GregT, Oct 20, 2012.


If you want to see who matters, this is interesting - Schrader CCS, lowest price on Wine Searcher

2005    $425    WA95     WS95

2006    $699    WA100   WS93

2007    $1095  WA100   WS100

2008    $978    WA100   WS95

Reply by Richard Foxall, Oct 21, 2012.

The 2007 Schrader gets points hype plus vintage hype, 2006 was released into the teeth of the recession and the rep of the vintage was mixed, and '08 as a vintage has little rep. There you go.

Truer words were never spoken about Burgundy, and that can be extended to Bordeaux, vintage champagne (except they don't declare vintages unless the year is good, so there's that), and a lot of stuff.

Me, I like to impress people by serving them some grape they've never heard of.  That way if it sucks I can just blame their lack of experience with the grape.  Sadly, can't really pull that on this crowd. 

Reply by jtryka, Oct 21, 2012.

I really don't know much, but I know what I like, and when you can find a few wineries that meet your needs, why not just buy from them and to heck with the ratings?  Granted, I tend to have a more narrow focus when it comes to domestic wines, but I've found 3 or 4 wineries that I really like and they are good.  I also like to bargain hunt as apparently you do, but sometimes knowing your local wine merchant is just as much a key to that as having advance knowledge of the ratings!

As an example, this weekend I was able to get some '07 Domaine de Marcoux CdP for only $25 a bottle, which is a hefty discount to the normal retail price.  Given my local merchant's relationships he can get far better deals than I ever could, and the plus side is that he knows what I like and can introduce me to new wines that I might never have tried before, he's the one that got me hooked on CdP about 2 years ago!  All because he noted that I like Grenache and Syrah blends, so why not add some Mourvedre and call it a day?

In any case, I think fostering those sorts of relationships will bring you much more satisfaction for the long run, than correctly predicting who may win the ratings lotto in the next year or two, just my 2-cents!

Reply by Richard Foxall, Oct 22, 2012.

I really don't know much, but I know what I like.

Not to be all Zen, but knowing what you like is knowing quite a lot.  I think the rest of your post explains it perfectly.  In fact, knowing what you like is pretty much all GregT and I are trying to recommend in our insanely long winded posts. The thing is to be able to tell a prejudice from a preference.  Now don't make me go all TS Eliot on everyone again.

Reply by Craig Bilodeau, Oct 23, 2012.


Took your recommendation and got on the Outpost mailing list.  Nothing available now, but I certainly will pick up a couple bottles at their next offering.

Re: the statement, "The people who are going to buy Burgundy are going to buy the labels that their friends know because otherwise, what's the point? The entire idea is to impress your friends who care about those wines, not to find really good wines", I have it really easy in that department since most of my local friends don't know the difference between Cupcake and Stags' Leap.

Reply by JonDerry, Oct 23, 2012.

Good deal Craig...I'm not sure if we'll be offered/allocated any Cabernet when that comes up in Januray. I signed up earlier in the year but supposedly their Cabernet is a little more popular and 10' and 11' were kind of weaker crops as far as yields go. 

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