Wine Talk

Snooth User: mloco2

Wine Ratings

Posted by mloco2, Jul 2, 2011.

Hi All,   I have a few thoughts/questions that I would appreciate comments on. I have been some-what seriously drinking wine for about eight years now. I am 61 years old and before the "wine enlightenment", drank mostly micro-brewery and other not so chic types of beer. Every year now for the past four, I have held a blind tasting of different red wines for family members and close friends. Usually 12-16 people sampling 8-10 wines. Some of these people are fairly serious wine drinkers and some are quite casual about wine and probably red wine in particular. Every year I will have a couple of cabs and bordeaux blends in the $125 to $175 a bottle range, along with any number of different varietals and price range wines. ( down to $4 a bottle once) They problably average around $60- $65 a bottle. The average pro rating for wines this year was around 95 points. (depending on whose scores you use). My issue is this . A high scoring / more expensive wine has never won our tasting. For the second year in a row a $20- 91 point wine has won the event. ( same varietal-different wineries). My main question is this. Are our palates that far out of tune with the general population of wine drinkers or perhaps is there only a select few that can detect all of the different nuances that I hear described in the wine tasting notes, and which apparently are giving these wines their high scores? When I research wines that I like on Wine Spectator, they generally score quite low. They do quite a bit better with the folks on Cellar Tacker however and so I am wondering if perhaps most people do not sense or appreciate the myriad of different qualities that make wine special. Or perhaps it is just me and my group. At any rate, I have no intention of giving up on wine. I find it infinitely enjoyable, both in the sudy and the consumption. I also will not give up on trying to find a high quality wine to win our tasting event. ( just bought a $250 bottle of Araujo for our next event) We'll see how it goes and thanks for listening

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Reply by gregt, Jul 2, 2011.

Way too complex to talk about in a line or two but CT allows anyone to comment, regardless of experience or knowledge.  That's fine, but makes the ratings totally useless.

I do blind tastings pretty much weekly and you can't really generalize other than to say that price is only loosely correlated to quality.

For example, the 2001 Ridge Montebello was rated by Parker at 94 and then he recently retasted it and said it's 99.  Watch the price movement.  Or Rauzan Segla just decided to double the price of their wine.  Is the quality going up?  Nope.

Alion in Ribera del Duero was supposed to be a $25 wine.  It got good points, went up to $45.  Got 95 points in 2001 and now it's $79.  But the current vintage isn't nearly as good.  Price hasn't dropped tho.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 2, 2011.

Oh, boy, this is going to be a fun thread.

My opinion:  Ratings are suspect, unless you know they were done blind, how they were done (all wines in same price range? did the tasters know what which wines would be in the tasting?), who the tasters were and how their tastes match up to yours or what odd preferences they are.  And on and on. It's multivariate analysis on a scale that would cause Nobel Prize winning econometricians to struggle. 

Your ratings, and those of your group, are just as valid--no, more-- for the purpose of deciding what wines appeal to the relevant population:  People you like to drink wine with.  You could argue that quasi-mass market wines are meant to appeal to a larger group of people and that's why you unwashed slobs (no, I don't mean it) like them better.  Or you could say, the emperor has no clothes--who tasted those $125 and up wines under what conditions that makes them think it's so great? 

It's also kind of absurd to say price alone makes a bottle mass market--some wines are low priced because they have a smaller market, aren't perceived as worthy (hardly anyone will pay $100 for carignane, but if you drink 3-6 year old wine, why pay $100 for an "age-worthy" cab when almost any decent red will be holding up quite well for at least that long?) And lots of really pricey wines are made in HUGE volume, including lots of Bordo.

In fact, a lot of great juice makes it into second labels or "shiners" (my favorite hunting ground) just so the brand can protect its price by limiting an already large supply just a bit. But people pay $$$ for a bottle with the same juice because they KNOW it's Chateau Blah Blah, not something dicey. (That's when it's nice to live in wine country and know some of the players.) And wineriess can, through judicious picking, purchasing, sorting, blending, or manipulation, do a lot to make excellent or at least highly appealing wine without using the rarest grapes grown on the most exalted terroir. 

So you and your friends like what you like.  Ratings can be a useful shorthand, if you can keep them in perspective and sort for biases, but that's a lot of work, too.  Frankly, I'm more interested in what my friends and local wine guy think--a recommendation like GregT's of a wine that won three blind tastings in his circle carries a lot more weight than what RP and JS say. I also like GregT's tastings of wines that got highly divergent scores from well-known critics.  What does that say?

Whew.  I was just going to make this a short post saying, "Ratings? Pheh." 

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 2, 2011.

Geez, GregT was writing that while I was typing my monster.  And he said it perfectly in a lot fewer words.  I stand in awe again!

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Reply by mloco2, Jul 3, 2011.

Thanks for the thoughts, group.I guess I'll just keep experimenting, and  not beat myself up too much because I can't distinguish some of the finer tastes that are supposed to be in my bottle. I'll end this now, because it's the first of the month and I need to get to that bath thing.

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Reply by gregt, Jul 3, 2011.
Edited Jul 3, 2011

Fox you did a good job of explaining it. 

mloco - I love CT and I'm not knocking it.  But think about how it works.  Someone reads WS or WA.  The person sees wine such and such has rec'd 93 points. He goes out an buys it.  Based on the score!  He tries it.  What's the likelihood that he's going to say something like "wow, this wine is great!" Then, trying to act very professional, he'll assign it 92 or 94 points, just to show he's not in complete agreement, but agrees with the general assessment.

Some people like to develop reputations as contrarians.  So they'll complain about the wine - especially if Parker scored it highly, since in some circles, its fashionable to disparage him, even though he's had thousands of times more wine than any of those people ever will. But those people are in the minority.  So popularity polls, like CT or here on Snooth, are of limited use if you're trying to figure out what you might like.  Nice if you're trying to figure out what to sell though.

Second, most people are crappy tasters.  Period.  Even people who are in the business and who should know better, frequently have no clue at all.  I've tasted with many people who can't even detect a corked wine. They can't tell if it's oxidized, cooked, bretty, bacteria-ridden or full of VA. However, if they see the label, they convince themselves they're tasting certain things.  Some of those people write about wine.  Useless.

Then you have people who really do know and who can make an educated guess about a wine's likihood of aging, etc. Some wines just aren't good at various points in their evolution - maybe too tannic or oaky when young for example, but you've had enough to know that in 10 years it's just going to be magnificent as the tannins will soften and the oak will integrate.  The guy next to you doesn't know that, so he gives the wine 82 points where you give it 94 points. If you put that in a blind tasting with some simpler wines, it's not going to show well, even tho it may be much more money.

Then you have Burgundy.  That's its own world.  People who love it rhapsodize about it and think it's the greatest wine on earth.  I have a friend who believes that the drinking window for Burgundy is about five minutes.  Most people seem to miss that window so they're always explaining that it's just not ready yet but you can tell there's so much "stuffing" there, or they're sorry that it's just past its window and maybe a couple years ago would have been just perfect but boy it's still just great isn't it?  I think they're pretty much full of crap. Some of my very best friends fall into that category BTW - it doesn't mean they're bad people. We all have our blind spots. But you're supposed to think expensive and even inexpensive Burgundy is great so you always talk about it like it is, even if its not good at all, (which you're not supposed to say).

And then, as I mentioned, you have producers who price based on what they can get, not based on cost.  In fact, you're kind of screwed if you price on cost because if the market won't support you, close shop.  The Bordelais price on what they can get, at least the top names do.  So they can sell 10% of their production, cover their costs and make a bit of profit, and keep the rest off the market if it's not moving.  If you spent $15 to produce a bottle and sold it for $250, you could do that too.  It's why after you hit somewhere around $50 or so, price is decreasingly correlated to quality. 

So you combine all of the above in various proportions and it's not surprising that when tasting blind, you don't score the "correct" wines as better than others.  That's why Parker doesn't taste blind - he doesn't want to make a "mistake" and say that a first growth Bordeaux isn't wonderful. 

WS is a bit more honest in that respect - they taste blind.  But with them, you're at the mercy of the individual - the different critics have very different palates.  Some are more aligned with mine, some much less so, and of course, they also have differing abilities.  I happen to like Molesworth for example, and think he's an honest guy.  Suckling I never understood and I don't think he's anywhere near as good a taster either.  

Finally, in your tastings, if you're mixing different grapes, producers, regions, and vintages, you'll end up with really inconclusive results.  If it's a cool evening and you're in a good mood, you might like that friendly Australian Grenache a lot more than a more austere wine from Touraine that shouldn't have been in the same tasting.  OTOH, some days, you just don't want that jammy, sweet, friendly Grenache and you want that lean Cab Franc. Doesn't mean one is "better" in an absolute sense, but with a given mood and context, one might be preferable to the other. 

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Reply by mloco2, Jul 3, 2011.

I have to be honest here. You guys have really helped me a great deal and I don't feel nearly as inadequate in my wine tasting experiences as I did a few days ago. I certainly need a lot more practice, but you folks have given me some really great points that I need to keep in perspective at the same time. thanks so much for your time and efforts

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Reply by JonDerry, Jul 3, 2011.

Many good points already made here.  I find CT very useful, especially for wines that haven't been rated by one of the larger critics, or any critics. It's also important to realize our own ratings, or anyone's are subject to change based on time (what stage of wine appreciation), someone's current mood/attitude, the other wines or food being served along with the wine, and the condition of the bottle.

I would agree with the general idea that 90-93 point wines are generally very enjoyable and also easy to understand.  These wines are great for large groups and wont cost you very much.  Over the last year or so i've had the opportunity to drink more of the more expensive/ highly rated wines, and much like you (mloco2) have had a hard time giving any of them 95 points. The secondary, or exotic flavors and overall balance/brilliance, and especially the length (finish) of the wine is very important for critics, but as you say these characterisitics can be often lost on non-distinguishing palates.

The only wine i've had that was undoubtedly above 95 points was a 2002 Shafer Hillside Select.  Granted, that bottle goes for around $400. 

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Reply by sparks1093, Jul 5, 2011.

Okay, totally new to the world of wine and have a very general understanding of ratings. Are there reliable sources that list ratings on-line?

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Reply by gregt, Jul 5, 2011.

Sparks - any of the publications mentioned in this thread do, but for Wine Spectator (WS) and Wine Advocate (WA), you need to subscribe if you want to read notes.  WA will let you see the ratings w/out notes.  Wine Enthusiast will let you see their ratings.  Wine and Spirits used to, don't know if they still do, and you can't see Tanzer's w/out a subscription. 

But many many retailers list the scores for whatever wine they sell, so you don't need to subscribe to anything.  And just use Google w the name of the wine.  Some retailer somewhere will list the rating of it. Just be warned - whenever you Google something, Snooth is the first thing that comes up so you need to use the advanced function to eliminate the Snooth result.  Otherwise it will come up even tho it has nothing to offer on the wine, and it will ask you to rate it.

Anyhow, it's not a great way to buy wine by ratings because guaranteed someone somewhere will have rated a wine 90 points or four stars or whatever they use.  It's like movies - you don't go see a movie based on the review in some newspaper - they get anyone they can who had something positive to say.  And if they can't find that, they edit.  So if someone in the Ozarks said "This movie is the greatest piece of crap ever," that becomes "This movie is the greatest . . . ever!"  Same with wine.  Everyone else might gag on the stuff but then you find someone in the Ozarks and he or she says it was nice wine and bingo, you go home with something that makes your eyes bug out. 

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Reply by dmcker, Jul 5, 2011.

OK, Greg, whattya got against the Ozarks? One of my better friends is from that part of Arkansas, and aside from the fact that he names his kids after characters in the Dukes of Hazzard, he's extremely smart and successful (after railing against the subprime excesses for years he eventually decided since no one was listening to make some money from the ensuing debacle and sold short, etc. and made a pile) and more than a little interesting at any time...

I also got him in a winetasting group I led when he was living in Tokyo, and he showed above-average sensibilities in that context, too...

;-)

 

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Reply by sparks1093, Jul 5, 2011.

Thanks for the info, Greg!

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 5, 2011.

dmcker:  Well, really no surprise someone from the Ozarks had a good head for wine.  They had the first AVA. (August, MO--on the border of the Ozarks if not in them.) Now, their taste in movies is something else, and I side with GregT on that.

mloco: You definitely get the point.  Nothing wrong with you or your friends.  The rating business--and it's become exactly that--is perplexing.  If it's not objective, then why the numerical precision and near-universal 100 point scale? (Okay, it's not that universal--pros use the 20 pt scale a la Jancis R.) I think most of us here "use" the ratings in some ways--there's some reason to think that a wine with a higher rating from a writer whose taste we often agree with for a certain kind of wine will be better than one with a lower rating.  Also, it can be reflective of the style:  My suspicion (on too little data) is that a higher RP score on a southern Rhone is going to reflect the touchstones of an  "international" style better than a lower rating--so I can get some idea that if I want a particular style of wine, it might deliver. If I want higher acid, for instance, I'm going to see what Asimov at the NY Times liked (well, up to a point--some of his preferences go too far for me).  The only ones I just disregard are the ones a certain west coast chain uses from their employee. But I don't think there's a "90 pt" wine, or a "92 pt" wine.  It's a wine RP or Suckling or whoever liked, and reflects those prejudices in that kind of wine.

GregT is right about getting the numbers--the retailers make it easy.  (Wine.com puts them right on the front, in convenient boxes.)

JonDerry: Here's what I like about CT: I can easily list my wines, put in notes that remind me what I liked, which I can find by date if I forget the wine... But the community notes? GregT has it right that some folks want to sniff at RP or whoever--the ratings are consistently a point or two below the major critics. 

It's also scary (and true) that many so-called professionals don't know from brett, use "mineral" and other words with no precision, and don't have a sense of whether a wine is made for the long or short term.  (Thanks, Spain, where the maker ages the wine for you before selling it!) That's the value, if any, of the MW and other certifications.  They are hard to get because getting the basic stuff is not that easy, but necessary to actually providing useful guidance to others.

Drinking blind is the only truth. Whatever you think after that is right for you and your friends. If a $3 shiner beats a $75 wine, then go buy a case right away. 

GregT: Do you travel Burgundy under an alias?  You might have to start.  I know I like pinot, but I have to admit that my limited experience (not really expensive, not a ton of it) with Burg either means I don't like Burgundy as much as I am supposed to or I am going to have to get a guide... who doesn't just keep missing by a minute or five years or whatever.  It's definitely the wine that people make the most excuses for. I dunno, maybe I just like the dreck that passes for pinot from the west coast...

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Reply by VegasOenophile, Jul 6, 2011.

Spectator and about any other publication, blog, journal, or whatever are scored by one taster, on palate and one set of personal tastes, biases, etc.  Just like we all have our own, though trying to remain objective.  I am all over the place, sometimes agreeing to an extent with a rating or review, other times disagreeing utterly.  I will even find different smells and flavors and score a wine very differently from one tasting to the next at times.  With all the tiny changes wine experiences every day as it ages in the bottle, so too, do we change every day.  Our senses might be sharper, more dull, leaning more to pick up certain things on some days, etc.  I usually try and notee when and where I tasted something, to remind myself there were a very specific set of circumstances involved, not just the wine.  I think perhaps even our mood and predisposition have a lot to do with it as well.  There are just multitudes of factors influencing how we perceive what we get from a wine.  So in the end, keep drinking and enjoy!

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Reply by gregt, Jul 6, 2011.

Re: the Ozarks - nothing against them. In fact, they're quite beautiful.  And thanks for the info about the AVA Fox - didn't know that. I was just thinking of the last place you'd look for fine wine and that popped into my head and son of a gun, I was wrong.  Still, with stewed 'possum?

 

 

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 6, 2011.

GregT: "Cynthiana" was the first grape that was extensively cultivated for wine in the Americas, I have read.  It's not vinifera, but Aestivalis, and it's also called Norton.  Might be an exaggeration to call it the "cabernet of the Ozarks." http://www.vinebydesign.com/Cynthiana.htm But they call a rusty '74 Ford F150 the Mercedes of the Ozarks, too.  (No! I'm kidding! Please, dmcker, I have no hostility toward folks from the Ozarks. They are beautiful.) Still doesn't fully explain how they got the first AVA... not like the brand was well known or in need of protection.

Even if they use one reviewer for a wine, WS has multiple reviewers and the shelf talkers never say who was the taster for that wine.  It's the "WS" imprimatur. And then there's an annual top 100--has every writer got an equal vote?  Have they all tasted every wine that would be considered?  Now WA is not only not just RP, but mostly NOT RP.  And Wine Enthusiast?  I think it's for people too cheap to buy the others.  Like a positive movie review from Rex Reed used to be--your fall-back position. All over the map.  Their spirits reviewing is, imo, just atrocious.

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Reply by gregt, Jul 6, 2011.

Whatever happened to Rex?

Anyhow - the WA is going thru big changes these days.  The quality of the tasters is all over the place too.  Parker is still Parker but I'm increasingly wondering about his palate - had a 95 point CA Cab last night that I poured down the drain.  Sweet, jammy, alcoholic, medicinal.  Just crap.  No idea what the points were - I looked it up today and couldn't believe it.  And same with most of those 2007 Philippe Cambie wines from the S. Rhone.  WTF? I like fruit.  I love it in fact.  But still.

The others?  David S is fairly trustworthy although his preference profile is quite different from Parker's. Squires is actually OK and under-rated as a taster, over-hated as a person.  I actually like him.  Galloni is a friend of the other Greg so nothing to be said there, although I don't think he knows a damned thing about CA or anyplace other than Piedmont.  Lisa nobody knows or ever heard of.  Jay is committed to learning a little bit about Spain every year.  None of them taste blind, so they're sure to get the correct wines scored high.

WS went thru a few changes when Suckling left, IMO for the better.  Molesworth doesn't have a name but he's a pretty solid taster.  Laube is Laube - I don't actually understand him any more since he went thru the midlife crisis in the early 2000s.  Bruce is decent.  Harvey I don't necessarily trust - he's wildly enthusiastic about weird stuff that makes you scratch your head.  Schild?  Kramer is everyone's darling for God only knows why.  Matthews is a decent guy and increasingly a decent critic - it's been a work in progress but with a very positive outcome.

Wine Enthusiast is again a bunch of different tasters but Michael Schachner who covers Spain actually knows about Spain.  Joe Cz who covers the Rhone and a few other areas is a pretty solid taster too.

Some of those guys are friends, so take it for what it's worth, but I don't hold their place of employment against any of them.  Wine and Spirits tastes by committee, so it depends on who's on the committee.  Eric Asimov in the NYT may be the single most important critic of all in terms of broad influence, but his influence is transient.  And our good friend Greg DP right here at Snooth is reputed to have a decent palate. Of course, who knows where those rumors start, but that's what I've heard!

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 7, 2011.

According to "Dead or Alive?" (I think the former DPS: Dead People Server), Rex Reed is alive.  According to imdb.com, he lives at the Dakota. 

GregT has an amazing capacity for sorting out the critics.  Sort of a meta-critic. My own area is meta-theory, Paul Feyerabend and all that.  (Warning: In a previous life, I was an epistemologist.  You'd be amazed at the groupies we had.) I am agnostic on... well, pretty much everything.  But he illustrated by induction the problem: How do you correct for all the biases, misalignments with your tastes, etc.? Nate Silver can point out how a polling org is consistently conservative or liberal, but RP may like CdP in a way useful to you (even if not aligned with your tastes) and be utterly useless to you when it comes to Cali Cab.  I like fruit, too, but some of those CdPs left me wondering. (And, yeah, the Cambie thing is EXACTLY what I was talking about in another thread about 2007 Rhone.  Good, but nothing that made me learn a deep truth about myself, the Rhone or the universe.  Maybe I expect too much.  Maybe it's because Cambie consults with everyone so there's a certain regression to the mean?) And then, maybe RP just doesn't get Burg at all, or has some expectation that Burg was never meant to meet?  Not to mention that he wants to leave a legacy, but tasting is really personal.

I'll say it again: Only profoundly blind tasting can really be trusted.  No idea what's in the tasting except variety/region.  No foreknowledge of price, the labels involved, if the bottles are all in a price range. Not "90 points considering the price." And then you have to know what they liked before that you liked, and what you didn't like that they liked.  Lot of work.  You would do just as well to ask a friend, or a fellow Snoother whose reco you followed on some other occasion.   

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Reply by JonDerry, Jul 7, 2011.

Always enjoy the GregT rundown of critics and take it as an overall truth more or less.  I usually like to have at least three different critics rate a wine highly in order to have confidence in it.  No way can Parker alone be trusted anymore.  Tanzier I tend to give a little more weight. 

Here's a question.  Why is red or white Burgundy almost always scored lower than Bordeaux or Rhone wines?  It seems incredibly diffiuclt for Pinot Noir or Chardonnay to reach 95 points, while top Cabernet's and Syrah's regularly flirt with 100 points.  Any ideas here?  Is it the subtlety of Chards and Pinot's, and their lack of density that do them in while tipping the scales?

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Jul 7, 2011.

JD - could be many potential reasons but 4 possibles which come to mind quickly

  1. Many people find the complexity of Red Burg more difficult to define than the power of Bordeaux 1st's and Rhone superstars
  2. Rightly or wrongly whites are not rated as highly as reds
  3. I suspect that due to costs and scarcity many of the Red Burg superstars are easy to get hold of eg DRC, Le Tache etc etc
  4. Burgundy in general is more vintage fickle due to weather and due to pinot being a tougher grape to master than cabernet and/or shiraz
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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 7, 2011.

SH, I think you meant to say red Burg superstars are NOT easy to get hold of.  Correct me if I misunderstand. 

Burgundy thinks RP doesn't like the product.  So they probably don't send him the wines.  The top echelon domaines of burg have nothing to gain by risking a bad result, since their production is so much smaller and they are already so heavily subscribed.  Given the riskier prospects of aging Burg, they don't stand to benefit at all levels from hyping collectors.  DRC and a few others dominate the collector market.  Without high scores from RP, some of the reviewers in the Ozarks probably don't review as many burgs, either, or don't surreptitiously use his numbers as guidance.  Also, the domaines are more split up, so keeping track of producers is harder.  How many folks are bottling under some variant of Echezeaux?

And maybe a lot of burgundy isn't that good, after all. 

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