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Snooth User: Cat X

What do you think of wine critics?

Posted by Cat X, Jul 22, 2010.

A few months ago I started a wine blog, freshvino.com.  It's mostly news, facts and stories about wine and the wine business that I think will be interesting to people.  There's almost no wine reviews because I think so many of them are pretentious.  I was wondering whether other people like reviews on blogs?  I DO like ratings, like the ones you find on Snooth, because they are composites.  Cat X

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Replies

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Reply by gregt, Jul 22, 2010.

I respect some wine critics and not others.  If someone actually knows what he or she is talking about, and shares that knowledge, I don't find that to be pretentious.  If someone simply offers opinions, with limited knowledge, that's maybe less worthy of attention.

Composite ratings are essentially useless IMHO.  Unless you know who is contributing to the rating, why would it matter?  Knowing that some random person I don't know happened to like one wine and not another isn't of any particular use to me.  Remember, composite ratings gave us TV programs like American Idol and wines like Two Buck Chuck and Yellow Tail. 

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Reply by Bob Fyke, Jul 22, 2010.

I find reviews that contain specific information about the character of a wine to be useful. Tell me if its balanced, and if not, what stands out. Tell me about the complexity or lack of it. Anyone who has tasted a lot of wine should be able to tell me about the characteristics that differentiate a good wine from a bad one. For a professional critic, it can't be about liking it or not. It's got to be about the elements of well made wine.

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Jul 22, 2010.

You need to understand what drives a critics thinking

Parker rates diffferently to many UK critics like Jefferd and Robinson

Some have favourite hobby horses and dislikes

My view has always been take them for what they are - sources of information and insights into wine

I always remember an old friend pointing out that many movies that are successful at the box office do not get critical acclaim and many critically acclaimed movies flop at the box office

And as I have reported before, I hate green peas in any form but I am apparenty part of a very small minority group, but if asked I will tell you I hate green peas and they should be avoided at all costs

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Reply by MilanB, Jul 23, 2010.

I trust wine critics from people I know - in this case know how (if) they are biased.

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Reply by StevenBabb, Jul 23, 2010.

i take them all with a little grain of salt.... it's all opinion... and everyone has an opinion.... sometimes i agree and sometimes i don't....

when i offer my thoughts about a particular wine to someone, i always remind them that it's just my opinion.... they may feel completely different about it....

for example when i'm pouring them wine, i'll give them two or more to compare, weigh in with my thoughts, and then ask their opinion.... great way to build trust with my guests....

 

 

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Reply by Andrew46, Jul 24, 2010.

I would trust wine critics a lot more if they did the tasting in a more controlled, blind way.  The big problem winemakers see with wine critics is that they are driven, at least in part, by who advertises in which magazine and who is friends with whom.  Some bias is direct and intentional, for profit, while other bias is unitentional.  The bias will always be there.  If the taster were to taste blind, then it would reduce they bias dramatically.

I have done enough blind wine trials in the winery to know that if you don't taste blind, your oppinion will be colored by what you thought going in.  If you do taste blind, somtimes what you like surprises you. 

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Reply by StevenBabb, Jul 24, 2010.

there really is no telling who is working for who...

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Reply by gregt, Jul 24, 2010.

Andrew - complicated subject. The ad thing certainly provides the appearance of conflict, but knowing some of the guys at WS and WE and W+S, they actually have plenty of integrity when they're tasting.  As I've met more of them I respect some of them more (others less). 

Personally I like the idea of blind tasting.

OTOH, there are some arguments against it.  Mostly they have to do with the divorce of the wine from context - "it may be tight and closed but this wine always goes thru this stage, etc".   And some people want to see a wine evolve over a day or two, although I think they can still do that in a blind setting. 

Overall however, I agree w you. I think some people can still do a great job non-blind, but knowing the wine means you know the importer/distributor/winery and if you've been treated well by them, feted and catered to, then maybe you'll call it an 88 point wine but maybe the extra 2 points reflect some of your positive memories, even if it's not consciously your plan. 

In either case, the personality of the reviewer matters most.  Which is the problem with composite reviews - if the composition of the group is variable, there's no way to understand the mindset. 

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Jul 25, 2010.

The issue I find with ratings is the narrow scale - take the 100point scale

Vinegar gets 50

The basic pass mark seems to be 75/100 which was classified as a distinction at my Uni.

The difference between an 85 and 90 seems to be significant.

If ind myself too often rating and see ratings that are 90+ which suggest a top decile wine yet 85-90 almost seems to be average mark for "premium" wines.

This brings me back to wine critics and how they get consistency into their scores.  Inone of our Wine Mags - Winestate they often taste the same wine as part of a varietal or regional set and often the marks vary dramatically depending on the type of benchmark and the judges [Note all their tastings are blind].  I should also say all their judges are well regarded show judges and/or winemakers/sommeliers/wine trade people/journos etc

So it is a difficult subject and I do believe blind tasting is important to get a more honest assessment

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Reply by napagirl68, Jul 28, 2010.

Well.. a critic, if he/she is REAL (integrity), can be a good guide.  I think you need to find a critic, be it a "small potatoes", local person, or popular critic (maybe even somewhat beholden to certain vendors), that matches your palate.  This is my same advice for a wine shop (I have only found one so far who shares my palate).

Perhaps this is not nice.. but I, personally, dislike a certain critic, who writes for a certain San Francisco Bay area newspaper, who also rates wines for a certain San Francisco Bay area discount wine chain.  ICK...  anything mr. w rates as great is horrible by my palate.. 

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Reply by Andrew46, Jul 28, 2010.

napagirl,

What about WW's high rated wines do you find unpalatable?

I am no defender - I am curious about the details behind your general statement.

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Reply by dynowine, Jul 28, 2010.

I think the best wine critics would present information objectively and clearly enough for the potential end-consumer to understand reasonably well how he/she might experience that wine.  Use of standard terms, common words, standard scales, analogies, what might pair up well with the wine, all would help.  

The best ratings (in my opinion) would use defined quantities to rate different aspects of the wine on a scale and a bottoms-up approach (someone said something similar above), eventually aggregating the scores into a single final number without losing sight of the first-level breakdown (doesn't WSET have such an approach?).

Regarding point system(s), there is one major flaw in them, namely, comparison of "apples and oranges".  A 90 point southern french rose and a 90 point Calif. fruit bomb are completely different wines.

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Reply by napagirl68, Jul 28, 2010.

Andrew46- everytime I have gone to a certain SFbay area wine chain and bought a wine I didn't know anything about, based only on favorable ratings by you-know-who, I absolutely hate it.  That is not to say that everyone else would as well, I have just found that my palate disagrees!  It is actually a joke in my circle of wine friends that if it is rated well by this critic, we avoid it like the plague.

Now when it comes to the local newspaper's top ratings that are done by this critic, I do find some decent wines on his list, but I usually disagree with their designation as "the best".  I just personally think other critics do a much better job. 

 

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Reply by dmcker, Jul 28, 2010.

So Napagirl, why don't you name names? I've mentioned in the past when I don't like Parker's ratings and notes, do like Jancis Robinson's, etc. Don't even get me started on wine and restaurant reviews in the English-language press in Tokyo. Those names aren't even worth naming... ;-)

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 28, 2010.

I am with NapaGirl on this one:  There's too much conflict of interest in the Wine Writer being an employee of the BigMarket. (Dmcker, I think she has said enough for everyone to know who she means and she doesn't need to be sued by the chain, but my post will help.  It only matters if the chain is in your area, so it should be clear by now.)  Frankly, if the wine is only rated by him and the store carries it, I avoid it not because of his taste (wouldn't know, having never had anything he's rated) but because I assume, since the shelf talkers do feature other critics' ratings that the wine in question received poor or no reviews from independent writers.  I think the Willful Wrong of this is that many people don't realize he is an employee of the store. The conflict is worse now that they have "partners" on the vineyard side.

 But, strangely, my advice about wine writers is to pay little attention and to patronize a LOCAL store, not a chain, tell the folks who help you what you have liked before, and trust their judgment.  It won't be perfect, and it's true they have an interest in selling you the wine they carry--duh!-- but then you can give them feedback the next time to help guide them in helping you. They will want to keep you as a long term customer and not just upsell you or foist a bad bottle on you.  Plus you learn what they and other knowledgeable folks mean by purity, minerality, grapefruit, leathery... and you help your local economy.  In the Bay Area, WineMine in my nabe, Paul Marcus in Oakland, Vintage Berkeley, and of course the larger K&L have good prices and are helpful, far more so than the (really) 12 point scales of wine writers whose publications thrive on advertising. I am sure Marin and the Peninsula have this knowledge base, too, in their stores.  The prices are fine, often lower than big stores, and David Sharp at WineMine (who almost always has the lowest price on anything he carries) will apologize if he recommends a more expensive wine than you initially asked about. On the East Coast, they know Euro but bupkiss about California, IMHO.  (My wife is from NY and we have to buy the wine whenever we visit her family because they don't know from vinegar, so I spend a fair bit of time in wine stores--sob.)  But on the Upper West Side, I have seen lots of personalized service even when it's very busy, like Thanksgiving. Again, knowing that they rely on their neighbors to keep them in business means they want to keep you happy.

Let's not forget that there are other kinds of wine writing that do make sense--histories, geographies, references. And isn't wine writing and critiquing kind of what we are doing here?  Just take it all with a grain of salt, as someone said, and get to know your sources.  That's half the fun.

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Reply by dmcker, Jul 28, 2010.

Foxall, can you explain to me what it is Napagirl wrote that could even theoretically open her to a lawsuit if she had used real names (his and hers)?

Otherwise, I'm generally in agreement with all you say (except there are other good wineshops even I know of in the Bay Area). ;-)

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 28, 2010.

dmcker, I think it's time to start a thread about "best advice you received at a wine shop and where," and I think it would be great for you to start.  I selected my favorites from within a couple mile radius of my home.  But I am looking forward to hearing about more.  You never know where you will be when you get thirsty.

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Reply by jamessulis, Jul 28, 2010.

Listening or reading reviews about wine is actually food for fodder.  I am the type of person that listens, objectively then decides where to take the information at the appropriate time. I do respect the opinion of Gregory Dal Piaz here on Snooth. I try to relate my tastes to the terms and adjectives learned for my current and future wine drinkings. I have a very long way to go. I am still trying to figure out what is is in Layer Cake Malbec that hits my wine spot, I've also experienced the same tastes in Owen Roe's Sharecroppers Cabernet Sauvignon.

I also found reading the bottle description is quite useful and treat some of the information on the bottle as a wine critic from the place where the wine came from. As you are all aware some of the statements on the bottle are quiet generic, some vintners just toot their horn but others describe the taste you may experience with their wine. I like sorting this information out and knowing whether the wine will taste like citrus, vanilla, has a smokey finish or is woodsy.  This helps tremendously locking on to the wine tastes that I enjoy.

Lefty - The Great Pacific Northwest 

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Reply by Andrew46, Jul 29, 2010.

napagirl,

I get who you mean. 

Can you please describe what specifically you don't like about his picks?  Are they too high or too low on acid, or alc.?  Does he rank flawed wines highly?  More info, if possible, than just I don't like his picks.  If you can, will tell us somthing about his taste in wines and yours.

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Jul 29, 2010.

I agree with the issue of people who write for major chains, we have 2 major chains that control 60+% of all retail sales in Australia.

Their critics are paid employees who write good things about their specials.  But we are intelligent human beings and we should know what to expect from people writing under management direction.

The guys and gals who work in the local shops are usually very good and many independent owners employ Uni students studying wine or wine marketing and older bods who have a bit of a passion for grog in general.

I most times find their advice very good and they are always throwing in new things to try - which is great - I don't always like what they advise but thats OK because they are genuine when they say to try it. Often they direct me to something I do not know which is very good like an Adelaide Hills Chardonnay made by a guy called Michael Hall - worth a crack if you see it should be in US at around USD40-50 per bottle if it gets there.

I also like waiter/waitresses/sommeliers that give you some good advice and even better if it is good and they know where you can buy it.

 

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