California Winemakers May Routinely Use Formulas To Achieve Certain Scores

Vinted on September 24, 2013 binned in best of, commentary

During one of my many recent Left Coast jaunts, I had a rather disturbing conversation with a California winemaker over dinner. It’s a conversation that haunted me for weeks afterward, until I could catch up with that particular winemaker (who needs to remain anonymous for reasons that should become obvious very quickly) and get more detailed information on the topic that we’d discussed.

The short version of the story is that the winemaker with whom I spoke referenced a matrix he’d developed that set qualitative and quantitative targets – for color, extraction, sugar levels, tannin, taste profiles, etc. – for achieving specific scores from specific U.S. wine critics.

Not a wide ranges of scores, but in some cases, targeted score ranges that were quite narrow (between three or four points).

While the matrices began innocuously enough – as reference points for achieving certain styles or quality levels of wines more quantitatively – in some cases they morphed into tools meant to target specific scores from certain critics for marketing purposes. And this winemaker hinted that such matrices / formulas were and are fairly common tools in terms of fine winemaking in California.

Apparently, certain characteristics are almost guaranteed to get you a better chance at a particular score from particular critics. There are companies that will do similar analysis and – for a fee that is apparently not unsubstantial – will tell you when (harvest timing, etc.) and how (extraction, manipulations, etc.) to make your wine, based on that analysis, complete with target score ranges in major wine publications…

Here’s what my source told me specifically:

“Think of the original analysis matrix of the consultant winemaker, like a Paul Hobbs… you hire them to make your wine, they have all this experience in their head, they’ve done it over and over again so they know what to do in the winery and in the vineyard in order to get the results that they want. You can use that to try to get better every year, or use it to try and get a score. The trouble with trying to get a score is that it’s not just analysis and taste with scores, it’s also politics. It’s relationships. And that’s another factor. So as a winemaker I’ve always said, let’s get three or four wines as our benchmark set, our competitive set, taste those wines and score them blind, and then analyze them so that we have both qualitative and quantitative reference points. And then when I make a wine for you, as long as it falls into those parameters then we know we’re going in the right direction. Otherwise there’s no [internal] way to measure it.”

So how did this winemaker’s matrix work out? Pretty well, from a score perspective:

“What I did is a mini version of that matrix, with twelve Cabernet wines. We went through every wine, we did all the chemistry on the wines, we did oak aroma analysis. You can measure the oak aroma compounds in each barrel that you use. Basically, after about a year doing that matrix, we found commonalities, trying to be in-between 93 and 98 points. We found that there’s a certain color that seemed to be favored by the critics; there’s a certain level of tannin that seemed to be favored by the critics; there’s actually a certain level of sugar that seemed to be favored by the critics. And I actually got a 92 and a 95 [from a major U.S. wine critic]!

Think about that for a minute or two.

What it means is that you can allegedly aim for scientifically-testable and chemically measurable levels of color, sugar, extraction, oak, etc., that will (statistically, presumably) increase your chances of getting a rating – within a few points margin of error – from the wine critic / publication of your choice.

The matrices have been tailored over time, apparently, for specific critics:

“One of the things we tried to do is isolate wines above 90 points from both Spectator and The Wine Advocate. Some people prefer Wine Enthusiast, some prefer wine blogs like yours. It depends on your audience. You have to figure out who’s your consumer and who you want to be scored by. And making sure you’re keeping up with the Joneses in your competitive set.”

There are several interesting (read: scary) implications here:

One is that the subjective preferences of certain critics (myself included) / publications are probably fairly consistent in what they’re looking for in wines, and those preferences might have a not insignificant impact on the rating that they give to a wine.

Another is that those subjective preferences can be measured quantitatively – and likely manipulated – from a winemaking perspective, if you have the patience and resources to exploit them.

Finally, it lends credence to the oft-cited but never fully proven notion that the world’s high-end, high-scoring wines have converged onto a predictable aroma, taste and texture profile.

I’ve seen fields, vast fields, Neo, where high-scoring wines are not born… they are **made**… [ Insert your own wine-related The Matrix joke here. ]

Personally, I’d love to turn the tables on this by getting involved in an experiment in which wines are systematically manipulated to get particular scores from particular critics, and then publish the results. That’s the kind of report that would really get the wine-critic-bashing media whipped up into a yeasty fermentation-like frenzy. But then, I suppose we don’t need the bad publicity at this point…

Anyway… The driver in almost all uses of the matrices is (unsurprisingly) sales, according to my source:

“If you’re two thousand cases and you sell out right away, then you probably don’t need to worry about it. You can make the wine you want to drink. But if you’re above two thousand cases, then you have to find a way to measure what you’re doing. It’s all sales. How do you sell 100,000 cases when competing with wines from all over the world? Unfortunately it’s become a global market driven by scores. Some places won’t let you sell your wine there unless you have a score above 90 points.”

It’s like wine-to-order for a score-to-order! I feel like the wine world just told me to go f—k myself!

But if you find the concept disgusting as a wine lover (I know that I do), then go look in the mirror; we should be blaming retailers, importers, and primarily ourselves as consumers for this sad result. It’s simply a matter of good business, and fine wine is, after all, a business. Back to my source:

“It all comes down to wine education. The wine industry is super young, by hundreds of years, when compared to Europe. We’ve come a long way, but a lot of people are still seeing wine as a special occasion thing. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what publication you’re using, but the score has become the way that a consumer thinks they are differentiating a good wine from a bad wine. I’ve seen these matrices used in different ways; I think they’re important, because otherwise you become stagnant in your own style. But trying to use them only to get scores, you don’t properly factor in the other things that might also be important.”

I realize that there are counter arguments to all of this. Wines just get high scores because they are of higher quality, for example. Or this one: scores aren’t just the convenient-but-flawed shorthand, consumers actually really want them. The trouble is, I don’t fully buy it. The situation isn’t black and white; anyone who’s spent any time whatsoever tasting fine wines knows that high quality wines can get high critical scores but sometimes do taste the same; or that some styles/grapes/regions always seem to be perennial also-rans when it comes to the high scoring department, despite those wines being high quality and beguiling to us geeks. Those underdog wines just seem to not ‘fit the mold’ of ‘deserving’ a higher score – and that might be simply because they don’t fit into the matrix profile.

Enter an eerie robotic voice: “We value wine diversity… wait… you are different… the matrix rejects you!

The most disconcerting potential implication of all is that we place so much importance on something – ratings and coverage – that can be so easily manipulated.

Don’t like it? Neither do I (obviously). Keep wondering why only certain styles of wines get the big points from critics while other styles are perennially underrated?

Then maybe you should stop buying high-scoring “matrix” wines based strictly on points or any other single judgment taken out of its context. Maybe you should learn to continually develop and trust your own tastes, and act on that wine-buying confidence, voting for what you consider to be the unique gems of the wine world with your wallet. And the geekier among you, who have already hit that point of independence in your vinous buying habits, should as much as reasonably possible encourage others to develop the same level of independence

Cheers!

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    Comments

  • Thomas Pellechia


    Quelle surprise!

    Many years ago in an interview with one of the major critics I asked about the idea that wines might have been produced for that critic's palate/scores. The response I got was, "No self-respecting winemaker would do that."

    Notice the evasive nature of that response?

    Con artists know one particular and powerful fact of life that leads to success of the con: the mark wants to believe.

    • 1WineDude


      Thomas – indeed. While I agree that a self-respecting winemaker wouldn't use a matrix like that *only* for scores, it would be stupid of them not to factor those things in, particularly *if they would be making that style of wine anyway*…

  • @martindredmond


    This is straight up scary science! As a consumer, I resent this type of stuff. Having said that I think that consumers often give up their power depending on how important a purchase is to them. There's almost always a trade-off, and I think the majority of consumers are willing to trade their power as consumers for the convenience of the wine purchasing decision being easier. Just look at the scores and whip out your wallet. I do it for something that I don't want to invest a lot of time in research wise, and/or is more utilitarian in nature to me(i.e.,not passionate about).

    • 1WineDude


      @martindredmond – yeah, I get that, and I appreciate its utility. So long as the purchases are not “blind” in that the consumer knows what they like, and happen to like the styles that are geared towards the scores, then fine. I mean, hell, I don't really want to learn any more about inkjet printers than I have to, so for me the combo of low price, features and Amazon user recommendations/reviews will suffice. Because I'm a wine geek, though, I want people to be passionate and educated and confident about the wine purchase, using these tools as part of a larger collection of inputs on which they base their buying decisions. We can dream… :)

  • 1WineDude


    Just got this from a reader via email:

    "Very interesting! (use Arte Johnson voice)"

    :-)

  • Richard


    1) this is surprising to you? There is too much financial gain – of course winemakers have figured it out.
    2) you are not included in this group. It is really just the Speculator and Advocate. Wines are tailored for them because they move wine.

    Like it or not, if there is a competition, someone is trying to rig it.

    Your conclusion is right – people should explore more on their own. But that runs counter to what a lot of major retailers are using to sell wine (scores). I really think the best way to reduce the influence of the two publications named above is to get retailers to use a broader set of reviewers.

    • 1WineDude


      Richard:1) No, I am not surprised. I am disappointed, which is different (but equally as sad). 2) That's not what I've been told by some of the people who use these matrices (but there's no doubt in my mind whatsoever that I am a super-minority figure in this when compared to WS and WA). My mention of it was not an ego play on my part, I just felt it important to mention that blogs are not ignored or immune in this scenario; their authors' palates are potentially just as exploitable as the critics in the major magazines and have also been targeted, according to my source (the percent in terms of volume is likely very much statistical noise when compared to the big print players, which I think is your point – if so, I agree! :).On your final points, I agree wholeheartedly.

    • 1WineDude


      Oh, and further to Richard's final point: retailers are actually crazy not to use a wider array of critical sources, such as Cellar Tracker aggregate reviews, mentions by the more established blogs, etc. This is because there are data out there that suggests that *any* shelf-talker promotion from nearly *any* source will help to increase bottle sales for that wine on the shelf. I.e., it's not name recognition that consumers are going for in those scenarios, it's the fact that someone, somewhere, who presumably knows what they're doing has given a +1 to that wine.

      • Thomas Pellechia


        Or retailers could be interested enough in the products they sell to engage their customers in conversation, determine what individual customers seek, and then suggest, taste even.

        I know, I know–that requires work.

        • 1WineDude


          Thomas – You mean build tastes and a market? Aw, man, don't make 'em do stuff! ;-)

  • Victoria Calkins


    Bravo! So nice to see this being seriously discussed. As importers of small-production Italian wines made from grapes few people even recognize the name of, it is heartening to think that the wine-buying public might start to reconsider non-scoring wines as adventurous, refreshing, unique alternatives to what some of us refer to as "alcoholic big gulps." Thanks for the post.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Victoria. Just for the record (because I am getting some flak for this in email and elsewhere today): I'm not saying that all high-scoring wines are copy-cats, and I'm not saying that all CA wines are like that, or that all CA winemakers are following formulas. Hopefully the folks that read this site regularly know that I'm a fan of really well-made and unique CA wines, of which there are many!

      • Victoria Calkins


        Oh! I get that. When I use the term "alcoholic big gulps," I am referring to a few well-known styles, not by any means to all CA wines. Even as an Italophile, there are CA wines I truly enjoy & regularly buy. But my point remains: wines that fall outside of the taste parameters you mention are typically marginalized by retailers, leaving the small-production guys with the challenge of putting something on the POS tag that will entice a potential buyer.

        Too bad about the flak – & why? You're just bringing up another facet of this intricate industry.

        • 1WineDude


          Victoria – thanks. Sorry, didn't mean you were giving me the flack or were saying all California wines were like that. I was just using my reply to your comment to address the flack from other people. Cheers!

  • Kiley


    Nicely done, Joe. There are many winemakers that use essentially "recipes" to produce a certain style…and many of those winemakers jet around the globe "making" wine that has no sense of place, only a (n all-encompassing) sense of style…Shelf talkers work no matter who the reviewer is because people don't see the name of the critic, only a number and your point at the last is the THM. Be brave, people, take notes, put some effort into your beverage selection so you can enjoy wine as it was meant to be, not as your nightly tipple to help you sleep. It can be so much more than that!

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Kiley.

  • Kurt Burris


    I'm not saying I could recognize all "matrix" wines, especially since I can't afford to drink a lot of high scoring wines, but quite a few of the high scorers I have tasted are what I like to call "boob job" wines. I can tell some killer fruit is in there, somewhere, beneath the $1000 barrels and post fermentation manipulation. Perhaps a matrix was used? And, no I am not "natural" wine proponent.

    • 1WineDude


      Kurt – and sometimes those wines can be really good. Whether or not they can be great wines for decades is another story (some probably, but not all).

      • Kurt Burris


        I'm not saying I poured them out….I prefer a little less "enhancement" but if someone is kind enough to pour me a glass of something that a fair amount of money was spent on to fit a flavor profile it probably is going to be quite tasty. I do agree with your ageability point however. Cheers!

  • Jason Whiteside


    I'm not sure that this is breaking news exactly. Wasn't this one of the key points in the movie "Mondevino," where they interviewed someone from ETS or Vinquiriy (or some other lab in Cali) and the owner guaranteed he could help engineer a wine that would get a particular score? That movie was out like 7 years ago…

    Anyway, wines aren't just engineered to get scores. I know of one new chardonnay project that reverse engineered itself to taste just like the top selling on-premise chardonnay in America. That top-selling restaurant chardonnay isn't a big seller because it gets big scores (87-91 the last five years), but it hits a flavor profile that many consumers want, even if they barely realize it. And I'm ok with that. Wine production and the sales thereof is business, and it is OK to play to win.

    I submit that consumers who buy on scores still care about what they are drinking and where it is from, and all of that is a good thing for the fine wine business. What is much scarier to me are the new market forces pushing wine grapes as a commodity. There are those out there who don't believe it matters where the grapes come from or even what grapes they are, as long as the wine is good. Take Barefoot Impressions for example: no grape name on the bottle, no place of origin, and no vintage year. And who cares, right?! It tastes good (Joe Roberts has praised Barefoot's Bubbly in the past- ZING), it gets you drunk, it is affordable, and it is easy to find – everything else is just snobbery, right?? And I know for a fact that many more projects like this are in production right now. Scary market forces are heading to a store near YOU!

    • 1WineDude


      Jason – I don't think it's new news for those who follow the wine biz closely, but it's probably not something that most consumers consider. I do agree that it's okay to play to win, I'm just lamenting that the game has gone a far as it has. As for Impression – I mentioned that in my keynote address in South Africa earlier this month; I think it scared the hell out of a lot of those producers!

    • Thomas Pellechia


      Jason,

      Just a point of order: wine grapes have been a commodity since ancient times, and unless you want to limit the size of the worldwide wine business, wine grapes will always be a commodity.

      The difference is that smaller wineries generally don't operate that way, until they succeed, sell to a larger wine company, and then wind up under a conglomerate.

      The intricate detail in this story is that it's not the wineries that treat grapes as a commodity, it's generally the smaller or mid-size wineries that shoot for the points.

  • MTGA Wines


    Great write up and kudos for getting this into the airwaves (or digital waves); to your point Joe, this isn't new news for those in the biz or those that follow it closely. No doubt this is a bummer but in the young wine-world that is the US I don't think we could have or should have expected much more.

    People trying to game the system, in any industry, is not uncommon. Does anyone else remember the kind-of-quick craze of unfined/unfiltered wines? If you were wanting to play the ratings game in the wine world, because it does sell a ton of wine, why wouldn't you try and get a leg up? It would be like playing any sport and taking PEDs knowing that no testing was ever going to be done.

    A quick question since the use of Cellar Tracker and the use of a wider range of sources was brought up. Do you think that CT, or other consumer-driven system, has the same perceived authority that WS, WA, WE etc may have to the general consumer? My hunch is not even close… not yet anyway.

    • 1WineDude


      MTGA – thanks. The issue I have is that it is a bit like doping. The criticisms that we should get over it, or “grow up”and deal with it, miss point, I think. Should we expect authenticity in approach and in product at lie price levels? No, that would be naive. But at premium levels of products? People are expecting authenticity, in an unspoken way, at those prices levels, and likely will look at these approaches here as a bit of cheating/gaming/etc. Regarding CT's influence, I've no data to support it other than anecdotal, but in my experience the younger one trends the nor influence its amalgamated Google search results have on a wine purchase. Cheers!

      • MTGA Wines


        Totally agree that we should expect authenticity, especially at in the ultra-mega-premium category… BUT consumer businesses, if they have their act together, should be keeping tabs on consumer trends. If the trend is that consumers want a particular style OR higher-scoring wines then *some* producers are going to do what it takes to make that style or push for higher scores so they have an edge on the competition.

        As a result it seems consumers have been further trained to expect high scores from expensive wines or "better wines" in general to help justify their purchase. A vicious cycle indeed… but for the reasons you have listed frequently (this just happens to be a new one) I don't buy into or ever plan on playing the ratings game.

        In essence I agree with John below. I don't necessarily like it but it is the nature of any industry until the majority of consumers say otherwise.

        • 1WineDude


          MTGA – which is why I suppose I try to do a (very) small part here to change those perceptions.

  • John Kelly


    Jason, the lab you were thinking of is Enologix (not Vinquiry or ETS) and it was featured in the NY Times in 2005 and Forbes as far back as 2004. Why is anybody surprised about this? If the critics didn't love these wines, and the public was unwilling to shell out the big bucks for wines the most influential critics love, there would be no market for Leo McCloskey's serrvice at Enologix. And I can tell you they have analyzed something like 20,000 wines and correlated not just cellar practice but vineyard protocols as well with scores from different critics. I don't believe Leo will discuss his client list, and I certainly won't disclose the names of the wineries I personally know are paying the big bucks for this service (and not just in California), considering the negative reaction you polyannas have to it. Get over it. This is a business with billions of dollars involved.

    • 1WineDude


      John – see my reply to mtga. I disagree that consumers should expect gaming/exploitation as a given. Call me an idealist. They ought to know not just about Enologix, but also about those matrices, and about how theoretically easy it may be to manipulate forces that help drive the market professional reviews). It might all be inevitable, but they're not required to like it.

      • Kim


        I agree – I think the key issue is transparency – if it's "no big deal" that winemakers are painting by number to a sketch drawn for them by a few megavalidators, then why all the reluctance to publish those Enologix client lists? The fact that folks are too embarrassed to put their name on what they are doing shows that there is something off about this state of affairs. The hard part is trying to identify what exactly is "off" and whether or not we can do anything meaningful about it.

        • 1WineDude


          Kim – exactly. People want transparency and authenticity especially when they’re shelling out $30 and up…

    • 1WineDude


      I should add here that I don’t see the use of matrices, consultants, or Enologix as right or wrong. They’re tools. If they’re being used to make better wines, then great; there’s nothing untoward about that. But using them with the intention of manipulating for specific scores/reviews, to the point where that goal supersedes all others? I don’t see that as an authentic use of those tools, and I’m not surprised that others don’t, either.

      • John Kelly


        Thanks for recognizing the fact that Enologix is providing a tool/service. Personally, I find this approach heartless and mercenary, but then that is true of most of capitalism. I'm not making my wines to apepal to anyone but myself, and my marketing goal is to personally reach out to find the people who appreciate what I am doing for what it is. But you have to recognize that there are large slices of a couple of population cohorts who think great wines are SUPPOSED to taste the way these matrices dictate, and are willing to open their wallets over and over again to get them. As for "transparency" – no, you do not have any right to know. These techniques fall under the law regarding trade secrets. You don't get to know the formula for Coca-Cola or for Kentucky Fried Chicken, either. Here's the deal – if an influential critic raves about a wine, what does it matter if the stars just randomly aligned for that wine, or if it was deliberately made to cause that particular critic to rave? Hmmmm? You want to be sure the wine you are buying was not "manipulated" (loaded, judgmental term) to attract a particular critic's attention? Then don't ever buy a wine that critic raves over.

        • 1WineDude


          John – personally, I applaud your approach. I think many people recognize that sins producers are using those tools because they want to make those wines. I'm fine with that. It's the deliberate seeking out of scores to the point of formula that people (including me) feel “icky” about (if that makes sense).

  • gabe


    (2 things)

    (1) i'm really glad I'm not that guy.

    (2) he probably gets paid waaaay more than i do

    • 1WineDude


      Gabe – my source is a very good CA winemaker and a good person. They person used the matrices to improve wine quality and found that they also could back into certain scores from certain critics. But there are others, according to my source, who do it the other way around, and that's what has people getting their hackles up. I don't know what my source gets paid but I think it's liveable :-) . Anyway, I don't want anyone thinking that my source is the problem, because I don't see it that way. My source wanted more fine wine consumers to know that the practice has gone from internal quality check to having the system, which I think is quite a bold and noble thing to do.

      • gabe


        Joe,

        I'm sure your source is a good guy, and I admire his honesty. I just meant that I am glad to work at a winery with a different set of priorities.

        – gabe

        • 1WineDude


          Gabe – ah, yeah, understood. I'm not sure my source's priorities are scores, either, but I take your point. being outside of the game entirely has its own excellent freedoms I suppose!

          • gabe


            Joe,

            We're not completely detached from the world of wine scores. We usually submit to the Advocate, Enthusiast, and Spectator, and they usually score us somewhere between 88 and 92. I've submitted wines to you before. We take those reviews seriously.

            But we don't make wine to fit any certain flavor profile or palate, not even our own. Our philosophy is to make the wine we've got, not the wine we want. We do look at numbers like pH or residual sugar, but we would never try to extract more tannin or color from a wine. It's just not how we do it. I do know winemakers that work that way, and to each their own. But to make a wine to achieve a certain score…well…I'll just repeat that I'm glad that's not me

            • 1WineDude


              Gabe, sorry, that's kind of what I'd meant, that of you didn't get those good reviews, you wouldn't be substantially changing what you did unless you suspected a quality problem or other serious issue. You'd be making the wine that you wanted made, and aren't adjusting it to push those scores higher even if it means no longer making the wine that you envisioned.

  • Winowill


    Not once was the word 'additive' used in the article. The closest is the word 'manipulate' which may or may not include artificial means of moderating wine characteristics – not entirely clear if this was the article's intention tho'. Assuming only natural means were intended then I have no problem with a winemaker using his skills/experience to bring out a style of wine more appealing to a critics preference and consequently a consumer spectrum. When winemaking becomes a 'Pepsi challenge' then I have a problem… but we'll never know unless all non-grape ingredients are declared by the winery… That's not likely to happen.

  • Thomas Pellechia


    "…we'll never know unless all non-grape ingredients are declared by the winery… That's not likely to happen."

    It will–someday.

    • 1WineDude


      …by the time my grandchildren are buying wine… ;-)

    • Winowill


      I appreciate your optimism… or perhaps you have the inside scoop or are a lot younger than I am and can wait!! I'll drink to the day!! Salut, Will

      • Thomas Pellechia


        I doubt that I am a lot younger than you or even younger at all, and I haven't an inside scoop. Just watching the trends and also understand that every vacuum seeks to be filled.

  • Lenny Pepperidge


    This really isn't news. Enologix has been in the business for a decade now I believe. Even before that, I heard cynical Napa Valley winemakers refer to the "rolland formula" or the "rolland cookbook" to chase the Parker scores.

    The only thing that will end that is the end of Parker, and I believe that is taking place with increasing momentum.

  • Robert


    I really don't see why you are all suprised. Gallo has been doing things like this for years. But they are just cheap wines right? They do stuf the artisianal wineries don't do. WRONG. And why wouldn't a winemaker, who knows how the points game is played and who he is playing for, target specific characteristics of the wines that the know-it-alls and writers want? This is what you marketers, bloggers, and wine writers expect. If you give a 90+ score to a wine one year, they had better follow it up with a 90+ point wine the next vintage. It has to be the same score or better or they will suffer with a bad review and won't get the $100+ for their wine. They are making the wines you are asking for and now you are shocked at the way they do it. How about you all just write about how you like/dislike a wine and not worry about the rest.

    • 1WineDude


      Robert – I think you've restated in a way what I said in the conclusion of the article, though a lot more emphatically :-)

  • Dan


    Were you also shocked to find out that there was gambling Rick's Cafe Americain? I love the idea that they are shooting for a score "between 93-98." I guess they would have been unhappy with a 99? Of course people make wine to try to get a big WA or WS score… bigger, riper, darker, sweeter (for WS)… I don't see why you'd need "matrices" to figure that out.

    • 1WineDude


      Dan – if it's for quality improvement, you'd need it to adjust/reproduce the things you felt improved quality. But if it's for score-chasing, you'd need it to instead prioritize the matching of chemistry and viticulture to those aspects that the critics most wanted. Sugar levels for one critic, maybe color and abv for another, etc.

  • Bob Henry


    Joe,

    "Repurposing" a comment I left on W. Blake Gray's wine blog, here's a bibliography on the subject of a "matrix" or "formula":

    "The Grapes of Math" – Wired

    [http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.11/wine_pr.html]

    "The Chemistry of a 90+ Wine" – The New York Times

    [http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/07/magazine/07ENOLOGI.html?_r=0&pagewanted=print]

    "Enologix's Leo McCloskey on Fixing U.S. Wine" – The Gray Report

    [http://blog.wblakegray.com/2011/02/enologixs-leo-mccloskey-on-fixing-us.html]

    ~~ Bob

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Bob.

  • 1WineDude


    One more related tidbit, as food for further thought:

    From http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts

    "Our reluctance to spend more than an absolute minimum on wine and our tendency to sneer at those who do is one of the reasons why supermarkets are able to keep screwing their suppliers and why many producers can no longer be bothered with a market that won't give them a fair return on their outlay. Don't blame the critics. The choice is yours."

    Amen!

  • Winowill


    Sounds like the free enterprise system working the way it should… everyone is free to choose – some complain about their choice more than others.

    • 1WineDude


      Winowill, yes, but some might choose differently when they have more information.

  • 1WineDude


    Thanks, Billy. I'm not saying that I disagree with what you're saying or that I'd be surprised if any of it were proven, but you've only offered up evidence in support of the estate wine / higher price equating to a positive score difference. You're making a lot of other claims there that aren't backed up with any evidence, so I'd encourage you to offer some up if you have any, or change your statements to rephrase them as alleged behavior rather than apparent fact (just putting on the law hat for a moment there)…

  • Billyloveswine


    Here is the deal. The critics do not confirm any wines submitted are actually what ends up in the bottle and it is my understanding that sometimes scores are given and are not the actual wine that ends up getting bottled. I have heard that Wineries and winemakers will cherry pick their best barrels and samples and submit them.
    Second, it is my understanding that wineries and vineyard owners are favored against negociants and garagistas and this is a 2-4 point advantage that the critics will never tell you. They do not want someone getting 95 points that owns only the brand and no real estate.
    Third, I have always wanted to "calibrate" the critics by having them taste and rate "BLIND" 10 wines they have tasted and rated in the past year. No notes, no knowledge of producer and see how close they are to the scores.
    Laube tastes wines 10 years later and is always within a point or 2 …yeh right what a fraud. I have heard The Spectator does not taste blind they review the wines and discuss them the day before then "taste blind". For example I know of an old Napa Family that had an old label and they made their cabernet from the same vineyard with the same barrel program and flavor profile for years. They changed the label and gave it an estate name raised the price. The first year the "new" wine rated 8 points higher in the WS. Total joke. How do I know this ..my brother made it.
    My family has been in the wine business in Napa for 45 years. We have seen it all . The sad thing is a lot of people are making wine for all the wrong reasons (ratings) and this has led to homogeneity and sterility in the wine market. Sad . The consumer truly suffers and so do the winemakers that want to make something different and not the status quo. These wine critics are a huge problem and people are being duped by their "knowledge". This article is a good start. Challenge these critics . We need to make sure they are what they say they are and more importantly that the wines they review are being reviewed as wine not something else.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks for the modified comment, Billy. I’m not sure how a critic would verify that a wine sent to them is the same on hitting store shelves unless they purchased every bottle independently (not fiscally possible in my case). In terms of the bias, I suppose that’s why most people taste wines blind (though I don’t, but all I can say to that is that I’ve no incentive to give an estate wine a higher grade than any other wine, since I don’t make any money selling lifestyle subscriptions here), so that would theoretically offset that one. I **love** the idea of your calibration tasting, though – not sure what we’d learn from it, other than that fine wines change in the glass and over time and so the way we snapshot-rate them is all wrong, but we already know that, don’t we? ;-) I do agree that subsequent sterility in the market is a bad thing for the consumer, but I think we’re seeing that ground give way… albeit very slowly!

      • Billyloveswine


        1) It is very easy through basic lab analysis to determine a wine submitted and one pulled off the shelf or purchased directly is the same wine.
        2)If we did calibrate critics we would learn quite quickly that they are full of it. I recall Parker at the CIA in St.Helena during a Pinot Noir class being asked if he would taste the wines being offered blind he said "no way". Obviously way too little to gain and way too much to lose. My feeling is that if you are going to present your knowledge and capabilities as a critic they should be challenged to confirm such. Laube is a pure example. The guy is a joke. So full of himself and I know after years and years that his nose is quite good but his palate stinks.

        • 1WineDude


          Billy – You know, I am always fascinated by blind tasting and what it teaches me about myself. But then, I'm not afraid of looking like an idiot in public… :)

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