This little meme-type-thingy that I generated several days ago got a bit of traction on The Book of Face, and so I thought that I’d elaborate a bit on the position behind it (friends of mine will enjoy the RDJ inclusion, since they are constantly telling me “dude, you are so RDJ as Tony Stark, except you are Tony Snark!!!”):
Seriously, people, can we just stop shoving wine scores into the faces of media types?
Here’s the deal:
I know that you’re justifiably proud of the scores that your wine received from [ insert major wine publication here ]. By all means, use them to help you sell wine: advertise them, put them on shelf talkers, teach your tasting room staff to wax philosophically in fake humility about them to your winery’s visitors.
I don’t want to know about them, for two (to me) very important reasons:
1) Putting my critic-type-guy hat on for a moment, I’d rather not know what other critic-type-people have said about your wine. I don’t want it to influence me, even if subconsciously, so I strongly feel it’s best to just not go there until I’ve had a chance to taste it (usually using a very different process than what’s employed at those publications) and have at least formulated the genesis of an opinion on my own. What you’re implying by continually mentioning the score is that if I disagree with it, then you will think that one of us is wrong (and I am pretty sure that I know which of us that will be).
2) As a knowledgeable wine consumer, I might find a score helpful, and I might not. It’s not that simple; it depends on who is giving the score, their history of such scores, etc., etc., etc. I know what I like, from a purely subjective point of view, and so I’ll just formulate my own opinion on how good your wine is for me (thankyouverymuch). By the way, I strongly suspect, given the fact that it’s easier than every before for wine consumers to become knowledgeable, that I am not the only person buying wine for personal consumption who feels this way.
So… can we be done here, please?
14 thoughts on “Wine Scores: Please, Wine Producers, Stop Shoving Them In My Face”
Yeah, I hear you–but don’t the wineries/PR folks have a vested interest and therefore would not mind influencing your review? Is it annoying? Yes. Manipulative? Perhaps. Understandable? Yeah.
DC – all of the above. And still annoying as hell. :)
A professional critic or writer who sits down with a winery or wine samples should expect the meeting or tasting to be sterile. What I mean by that is information provided is strictly related to the technical background, price, production, technique, etc. The focus should be on that place and time. Different expectations would occur if it was a general trade event/sit down seminar, or junket where the marketing dollars are force-feeding in a one-size fits all approach. This is the main reason I no longer attend trade events.
As a critic in private tastings, I have not experienced what you describe. I request a tasting sheet in advance listing only the information I am interested in. Outside of questions about what is in front of me, neither party says much. Fancy press kits rarely get opened. For samples sent to me, I purposely remove any paper work and place it in a tray until I am ready to compile my reviews. By then I have already arrived at my evaluation and that is all that matters to me, and hopefully my subscribers. Having said that anyone who feels their review is out of synch or does not measure up probably shouldn’t be writing about wine. To be credible in this field one needs to have ironclad confidence in their own palate and evaluative technique (regardless how acquired) to call it the way they see it. Lastly, purely from a reputation viewpoint I think it is more important to seek out emerging wines to be the first review, than be on the bottom of a pile with the majors.Conduct your own research, ditch all except your most trusted PR, contact wineries directly enunciating your expectations and pay your own ticket is the surest way to a sterile experience.
Doug – dude, are you inside of my head???
You have a typo at the bottom of point #2..
“By the way, I strongly suspect, given the fact that it’s easier than everY before…”
ON THE ROAD IN NAPA WITH ROBERT PARKER.
CAPITALIZATION USED FOR EMPHASIS . . . ~~ Bob
Excerpt from the Los Angeles Times “Main News” Section
(February 23, 1999, Page A1ff):
“He Sips and Spits — and the World Listens;
Wine writer Robert Parker may be the planet’s most powerful critic.
His controversial views influence the industry and its sales globally,
and have helped increase consumers’ knowledge.”
(Series: First of Two Articles)
By David Shaw
Times Staff Writer
. . .
Today, nearing the end of a marathon, two-week [California] tasting tour, Parker will visit four wineries and evaluate about 50 wines. That sounds like a lot of sipping and spitting, but it’s actually a bit lighter than his normal regimen. Perhaps 40 or 50 times a year, he will taste more than 120 different wines a day; in a typical year, he will taste 10,000 to 15,000, ranging from the cheapest plonk to bottles whose prices exceed the annual per capita income in many Third World countries.
. . .
[Subsection Headline:] ‘Tasting Is a Matter of . . . Mental Discipline’
Parker pulls out of the Meadowood parking lot, headed for the Arrowood Winery in the Sonoma Valley, eager to talk about how he approaches his job.
“I figure I can always learn something by talking with the people who make the best wines,” he says, “so I sent faxes to most of them — California’s reference point wineries — a few weeks ago, arranging a schedule and telling them what I want to taste.” He pauses.
“That’s what I do. I’m a taster — and tasting is a matter of focus, of mental discipline. When a wine is in my mouth, I can taste it and smell it in all its dimensions — the full range of flower, plant, vegetable and earth, of red and black fruits. I DON’T LET ANYTHING INTERFERE. I love coffee and garlic, but they’re very strong flavors, so when I’m on a tasting trip, I don’t have any of either.”
He reaches into the compartment next to his seat and pulls out a small can of saline spray. “I use this to keep the membranes in my nasal passages moist and clear. Probably 80% of anyone’s appreciation of a wine is really olfactory, you know – smell — even though we perceive it as taste. Taste is actually a very crude instrument. Sure, you have to be able to taste the texture and the weight and harmony in a wine, the purity of the fruit and the equilibrium, but every wine I’ve ever given 100 points to, I could sense it was worth that the second I smelled it. And with a lot of the bargain wines I try, one sniff tells me they’re so pathetic I don’t even taste them; they never touch my lips.”
As soon as he reaches the sign for Arrowood Winery — several minutes before he has driven up the narrow, winding road and parked — Parker unfastens his seat belt and hunches forward, fidgeting, straining, like a racehorse in the starting gate. It’s this enthusiasm that enables him to spend four months a year on the road, often tasting from early morning until past nightfall; it also helps explain both his overwrought prose and the extremes of his scoring. (Compared to his major competitors, his high scores tend to be higher and his low scores tend to be lower, even when they agree on the general quality of a given wine.)
When Parker steps out of the car, Dick Arrowood, the winemaker and proprietor, greets him warmly and escorts him into his tasting room. Empty glasses are lined up on white cardboard place mats atop a long wooden table. PARKER BEGINS TASTING IMMEDIATELY.
“The wines are a little too cold,” he says. “When they give me wines like that in France, it sometimes means they’re trying to hide the flaws in the wines–usually too much acid.”
Arrowood starts to protest but Parker waves him away.
“I know you wouldn’t do that,” he says.
PARKER IS KNOWN AS A FAST TASTER. . . .
Parker looks at each wine, sniffs, swirls, sips, sucks air into his mouth and gurgles. (The swirling and gurgling help aerate the wine and give a sense of how it’s likely to develop in the glass.) Then he spits it out. EACH WINE IS IN HIS MOUTH FOR MAYBE FOUR OR FIVE SECONDS.
If his first taste suggests that a wine is not worth at least 80 points, he won’t taste it again. “Why bother?” he asks. “You might just as well take your clothes off and say, ‘Beat me, beat me.’ ”
But any wine that initially seems to merit 80 points or more is tasted twice, maybe three times in succession before Parker determines its final score. He doesn’t linger or ponder. It’s as if he has a small, carefully calibrated computer embedded in his palate: Wine in, judgment out. As soon as he spits, he scribbles several lines of descriptive material in his notebook, adds a precise score for a bottled wine or a narrow range of scores (say, 88-91) for a “barrel sample” — wine too young to have been bottled yet — and moves on to the next.
Parker tastes 21 Arrowood wines in little more than an hour — whites and reds from 1995, ’96 and ’97. . . .
Between wines, Parker sips sparkling water — “the bubbles seem to get between your taste buds and cleanse the palate better than plain water” — and chats with Arrowood, complimenting him on his wines, but never divulging the scores.
. . .
Bob, the point here is… what? No one here is denying that scores help sell wine, are they?
First: Parker doesn’t let the marketing materials (e.g., others’ scores) interfere with his “take” on the wine.
Second: Is 5 seconds sufficient time to “take the measure” of a wine?
Does Parker give the winemaker’s efforts short shrift?
It can take more than 5 seconds just for the sulfur compounds to blow off before the true aroma and/or bouquet is revealed.
Excerpt from the Los Angeles Times “Food” Section
(May 6, 2009, Page E1ff):
“Call It Aroma Therapy for Wine”
By W. Blake Gray
Special to The Times
. . . Andrew Waterhouse, chairman of the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis . . . says the implication that a “closed” wine is missing something is a misdiagnosis. In fact, rather than withholding scents, the wine is actually giving you something extra: sulfur compounds that are potent enough even in tiny amounts to cover up the fresh fruit aromas you want to smell.
Sulfur occurs naturally in both grapes and the yeasts that turn grapes into wine. Sulfur forms more than 100 compounds called mercaptans. These sulfuric compounds form differently and unpredictably in every bottle of wine.
When exposed to air, they eventually re-form into something less annoying, but THEY NEED A FEW MINUTES to do so. We call it “breathing,” but it’s really a seething sea of recombining elements.
“I think of wine as a tier of about 100 different compounds that are either taking on oxygen or passing it on to something else,” says Kenneth Fugelsang, associate professor of enology at Cal State Fresno. “When that process is finished, the wine is ready to drink.”
Even if you don’t smell rotting cabbage, asparagus or burnt rubber — some of mercaptan’s more noxious calling cards — sulfur compounds are still what keep you from fully enjoying wine right away.
“These reductive compounds are excellent masking agents,” Fugelsang says. “They can hide the positive characteristics of any wine.”
So what should you do to make your wine smell and taste better?
“I believe that every wine should be decanted,” says Maximilian Riedel. . . .
. . .
Riedel goes even further; the Austrian company would like you to buy different glassware for each varietal. Maximilian Riedel claims that specific designs enhance the aromas of each.
Waterhouse says glass design does have an effect, but mainly because of the size of the opening. A larger opening allows more aroma-laden air to accumulate above the wine.
“You have to let it sit for A FEW MINUTES to let the aroma in the liquid evaporate into the head space,” Waterhouse says.
. . .
The demerit of a rapid wine taster’s technique is missing out on the full aromatic development of the wine. As UC Davis enology professor Waterhouse states, that takes minutes.
Perhaps wine reviewers should be compelled to be more transparent on elaborating under what circumstances they sampled a wine:
1) as a de facto cocktail in a glass?
2) accompanied by food or a meal?
3) how long did they savored the wine? (Over the arc of seconds? Minutes? Fractions of an hour?)
These are my points.
Bob – I certainly agree that giving a wine that little time for a review is kind of ridiculous. It is the primary reason why I cannot guarantee that every wine sample sent to me can be reviewed; I cannot do a wine justice that quickly.
Wine ratings clearly aren’t going anywhere, but it’s important to recognize they represent one person’s opinion, which could be completely different from yours. I talked about this on my blog today, check it out at https://wineesquire.wordpress.com/2015/03/16/a-spanish-mencia-and-thoughts-on-wine-ratings/.
Thanks, WE. I actually didn’t write what you interpreted. I’ve no issue with wineries using scores to help sell their wines. I’ve issue with them using scores to try to influence the opinion of their wines in other critical sources. That’s called manipulation. They also need to realize that critical sources extend beyond what they might consider such sources from tradition/history (glossy mags, etc.). Cheers!
I couldn’t agree more with what you are saying, Joe.
But let’s be honest any winery will try their best to influence a reviewers score.
If it’s not the score it will be something else maybe the quality of the packaging, communication, the tasting notes, the on time delivery of samples etc.
We are all subject to subliminal stimulus that can make us feel either positive or negative towards a product before we’ve even used or this case tasted it.
So sure (good) scores are the most obvious but if a wine producer deliberately withholds the other scores because he/she doesn’t want you to be influenced by them that would probably impress and therefore may well influence the score positively (unless of course the reviewer is a total sceptic when it may have the obvious effect).
Thanks, Nick, and understood. We should be careful about labeling too much action or inaction as manipulative, however. In my experience, that’s a slippery slope into jaded resentment. We can always do our homework later, after tasting; trust but verify, as they say. Cheers.
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