There’s no doubt that wine scores do sell wines. Just ask those wineries that have received praise from Robert Parker, the WineSpectator and other well known score keepers. I have seen this first hand working in retail where more and more customers walk through the door with a typed list in hand – one that reflects the latest “Top 100″ scored wines.
Of course, no one retailer will likely have all of these wines, particularly those that were in short supply to begin with.
However, I have also witnessed a similar, but seamingly illogical trend when it comes to buying wines based on their labels. You know. Those labels that catch ones eye based on color, or design, or whimsical words. You walk done the aisles where there are countless options, bottle shapes, and possibilities, and then it catches your eye – the word “Bitch” in glowing pink! I can’t tell you how many women in particular grab this label to take to a friend.
Haven’t seen that one? How about “Vivacious Vicky“, “Menage a Trois”, “Fat Bastard”, “Smoking Loon” – the list goes on and on. Now I am not suggesting that an outlandish label likely means the wine inside is poorly made or undrinkable, but by the same token it doesn’t speak to the quality or drinkability either.
The label and the capsule really have no function when it comes to the quality of the wine inside. The bottle obviously holds the wine and the cork protects it from oxidation. The label is there often as a legal requirement to inform the purchaser of what the wine is, when and where it was made, perhaps the style or a suggested pairing, and the capsule is there simply as decoration (although at one time it was used to hide the fact that when champagne or sparkling wine was disgorged it naturally lost some of the wine – the capsule hide that fact from the buyer:-).
So why would one buy one wine over the other based on label alone? Well … why does a buyer choose any product over the other? Brand, reputation, price, recommendation amongst others all come into play. The label is just one more marketing ploy to get the attention of a particular buyer… some times it works, and some times it doesn’t.
I have bought certain wines that had crazy labels and some of these have turned out to be interesting wines. However, in general I am a bit leery of crazy labels as they suggest to me that the winemaker is having difficulty differentiating his/her wine based on its own merits and needs to turn to slick packaging to do the job.
So as with the scoring on wines … caveat emptor. Neither scores nor crazy labels mean you will enjoy the wine. For this you will need to explore on your own and decide what you like.
With so many wines stuck in distributi0n looking for buyers many are at discount, so now maybe a good time to experiment.
Have a wonderful and safe Holiday! Enjoy the wine but don’t drink and drive.
Over the last couple of weeks I have seen numerous articles and blogs regarding wine tasting and wine scores. Most have not been very flattering. In one article, “Expert wine sippers take us all for suckers” the authors refer to several recent stories, one from the Wall Street Journal entitled “A Hint of Hype, a Taste of Illusion”, which talks about huge discrepancies in wine competitions – consistency doesn’t seem to be there.
So what’s all the fuss? Did anyone really think that wine was so objective and predictable that upon tasting everyone would decipher the same nuance, scents, and tastes? Dah, do you also believe in the Easter Bunny (ah, need to be careful here or I ma y not receive my eggs this Spring .
Common sense would suggest that we are not all the same. Some have a very keen sense of smell and others do not. Further, we detect chemicals (scents) at different rates – where one smells a particular scent it may go totally unnoticed or unidentified by another. So it would make sense that even if all wine tastings were consistent and objective, you still may not “experience” the same tastes and aroma(s) as suggested by the taster.
So why have competitions and ratings at all? Simply put, it provides another point of reference. Considering there are approximately 7,000 wineries in the US alone offering about 70,000 different labels, any additional information or insight is helpful. On all of my wine reviews I include a description of the wine (usually back label), which sometimes contain little if any information at all. I normally consult the label after tasting the wine as I always find it interesting to see if my notes agree or contrast with those on the label. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.
So should you buy solely based on scores, medals or reviews? Really not a great idea.
However you can use these scores and ratings to help in the buying decision. I always check to see who is reviewing the wine, i.e., I follow the reviewer rather than the score itself. Here’s how it works:
Assume you see a score by a reviewer (let’s make it easy or contraversial depending upon your perspective – Robert Parker). You read a review or score and then try the wine and make your own judgement – was it what you expected based on the rating? If yes, try another rated by Parker and again look for characteristics that you value in the wine. You can do this in reverse as well. If you see a high score by Robert Parker and you don’t like the wines that he has given high scores to, you can avoid those wines assuming they likely would not be to your taste.
Now there are some standardization methods in place such as the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Systematic Approach to Tasting, which is broken down into four categories:
- Appearance – deals with the clarity, intensity, color and other observations
- Nose – Deals with the condition, intensity, development, and aroma characteristics
- Palate – Deals with the sweetness, acidity, tannin level, alcohol level, body, flavor intensity, length
- Conclusions – Deals with the judgement in terms of quality, price, and readiness for drinking
This kind of tasting standardization helps, but there is still a great deal of interpretation and subjective judgement, and the more you know about wine, the more you may be influenced into smelling or tasting something that may or may not be there based upon what you were expecting to taste.
My advice: simply use the scores as additional insight, but not as a main buying criteria. Try as many wines and varietals as you can (In Italy alone there are 1,000 different Vitis Vinifera grape varietals … so you have your work cut out for you!). Exploring wine is fun .. and now you have a great excuse to explore.