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Category Archives: Reviews

How to Rate Wine

parker-note-100-points

I’ve written about wine ratings before, in one of my early blog posts. My conclusion is that wine ratings are, by their nature, subjective. They represent how one taster felt about a wine at a given time in a given situation. Collectively, a large number of ratings for a wine can be averaged, giving what is arguably a more accurate picture of the wine’s quality, and certainly its mass appeal. Websites and Smartphone Apps like Cellar Tracker, Vivino, and Delectable provide this sort of ratings averaging.

There are different types of rating scales. Probably the most well known is the 100-point scale, popularized by wine critic Robert Parker, and adopted by the powerhouse publication, Wine Spectator. 100 Point ScaleThe 100-point scale is easily adaptable to a 1-10 scale, with increments of 0.1 (e.g. 9.1 points.)  However, many user-based reviews rely on a 1-5 scale, be it stars, hearts, or some other emoji. Most wine retailers embrace the 100-point scale for their shelf-tags, because it is so familiar and easy to understand. The higher the rating, the better the wine. In theory, a 91 point wine is far better than an 85 point wine, right? Using the 1-5 scale, how much better is a 4.0 than a 3.5?

So how does one decide what rating to give a wine? I’m sure there are different schools of thought. Here’s how I do it:

I rate wines primarily for myself; to remember which wines I loved, and which I would not buy again. On public sites and apps, there is a secondary purpose which is to contribute to the larger average, in the hopes that somewhere, someone will find my input useful in their wine buying decisions. My ratings are based on how much I liked the wine in general, and how it compares to other wines of the same varietal, region (Rioja, Bordeaux, Piedmont, etc.), or genre (California Bordeaux-style blends, etc.) Early in my wine drinking journey, I followed the Wine Spectator 100-point scale, so all my ratings were done in that format. As social media and Smartphone Apps became more popular, I’ve had to convert to the 1-5 scale, and adapt my ratings accordingly. vivino-ratings-explained-1_ratingsI know of some people who refuse to give a wine 5-points regardless of quality. Their line of thought is that 5-points represents perfection, which can’t exist. I take a different approach, using a range for each half-point in the 1-5 scale. Over the years, I’ve refined this conversion and have settled on this:

  • 95-100 = 5.0 Stars/Hearts
  • 92-94 = 4.5 Stars/Hearts
  • 88-91 = 4.0 Stars/Hearts
  • 85-87 = 3.5 Stars/Hearts
  • 82-84 = 3.0 Stars/Hearts
  • 80-81 = 2.5 Stars/Hearts
  • 77-79 = 2.0 Stars/Hearts
  • 74-76 = 1.5 Stars/Hearts
  • 71-73 = 1.0 Stars/Hearts
  • < 70 = 0.5 Stars/Hearts

For me, anything rated 84 or lower (3.0 stars/hearts) falls into my “would not buy again” category. Frankly, I don’t encounter these wines very often. I like to think that I have a discriminating palate, but maybe I’m just easy to please. On the other hand, since the vast majority of the wine I taste is paid for out of my own pocket, I tend to buy only what I’m pretty sure I’ll like. (I’m open to samples, if anyone would like to send me some!) Oh, sure, I have had a couple of wines that I’ve rated in the mid-70’s, but thankfully, those are very rare!

In today’s world, with modern production methods, I think truly bad wines are uncommon. Somebody in the distribution chain must like them in order for them to make it to store shelves. If a wine is faulty, don’t rate it. Return it and get a new bottle to rate. I scratch my head in wonder when I see, on Vivino or similar sites, people rating wines at 0.5 or 1.0 stars. soapiconAre those people only willing to drink “blow your socks off” wines? I think social media and the “reality” TV culture have made people too eager to criticize, slam, and malign. Trolls are everywhere, and seem to forget (or don’t care, which is even more disturbing) that there are real people behind the labels of these bottles. Even the big, conglomerate wine companies, churning out case after case of mass produced wine, employ people who are doing their best.

In conclusion, now that I’ve stepped off my soapbox, wine ratings are subjective. However, they are useful in helping consumers select wines they may like. As I’ve said before, find a few reviewers with whom you have similar tastes, follow them, and buy what they like. Then, contribute to the global collective, and with whatever scale you choose, rate those wines!

 

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Review: Intertwine Napa Valley Merlot 2014

Another NakedWines.com exclusive, Intertwine is made by winemaker Bridget Raymond. Growing up in the Napa Valley, Bridget knows all the best vineyards, and produces some spectacular wines. The Merlot grapes for the Intertwine Napa Valley Merlot are from the renowned Oakville AVA. A bit of Rutherford Cab and Petit Verdot are added to make it even better.

imageI’ve been looking forward to the 2014 Intertwine for many months. My patience has been rewarded. This wine is big, and young. Bridget herself advises waiting several months before tasting to let it mature. Well, I am both impatient, and also one of her NakedWines.com Archangels*, so I felt it was my duty to dive in and give it a try.

I decanted for about two hours. Of course, I had a sip before decanting, because, science. Besides, beneath the foil, I found these instructions: image

imageThis is a delicious wine! The color is ruby in the glass. Aromas of cherry, raspberry, and soft oak greet the nose. These flavors are present on the tongue as well, along with some dark berry, black currant, and spice. The finish is long, with berry and mocha. The wine has a rich, full body. At this point, the tannins are tight but not overbearing. It is quite enjoyable now. I’ll check in again in a couple hours.

imageI’m back! Oh, my! What a difference some air makes. The tannins are now soft and smooth. The chocolate/mocha flavors are more pronounced, and this wine is full, round, and stunning! Imagine how this will taste in six months. Bridget, you’ve done it again! 4.5 out of 5 Hearts.

You’d expect to pay $40 or more for an Oakville Merlot of this quality. However, this wine is available exclusively to NakedWines.com customers for just $13.99! Click here to learn more, and to get a voucher worth $100 off a first-time order of $160 or more.

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* NakedWines.com members are known as Angels, because they provide the funding that allows winemakers to make their wines. The most active Angels are given the title of Archangel, and help support winemakers they follow.

Are Wine Writers Bad Writers?

bordxHow often have you read a wine review and wondered what, exactly, quince tastes like? I’ve never had a quince. Will I enjoy a wine that tastes of quince? I have no idea. By the same token, I’d bet you’ve tasted a wine whose label proudly proclaims rich mocha on the finish, but all you can taste is grapes. What gives? Are the people who review and describe wines bad writers? Wine_Snob_300x285The wine world has often been criticized as being snobby and pretentious. While the industry has made great strides in recent years, making wine more affordable and approachable, there are wine writers out there who aren’t doing wine any favors with their tongue-twisting, nose-in-the-air reviews. wine-snob-logo1NPR’s Sacramento affiliate, Capital Public Radio, recently shared an interview with Rick Kushman on this topic. Kushman is the wine commentator for Capital Public Radio, and also co-hosts, with Paul Wagner, a radio show called Bottle Talk with Rick & Paul. Kushman and Wagner have been collecting examples of bad wine writing from listeners. Listen to the 11 minute Capital Public Radio broadcast here, for some dizzying examples. If you’ve got more time, check out the full 49 minute Bottle Talk episode here.

For a little added fun, check out this Random Wine Review Generator. Here’s one I got: “The 2005 Zinfandel from Chateau Cousteau fuses nihilistic rosemary undertones with a melancholy parsnip aftertaste.” Mmm, delicious. enhanced-buzz-11670-1304238593-20

Yes, reviews and descriptions are helpful. But no matter how flowery and poetic the review, or how descriptively detailed the label…Drink what you like!

How to Avoid Subjectivity in Wine Reviews

How do you avoid subjectivity in wine reviews?

You can’t.

But wait, there’s more!

We’ve all read wine reviews in magazines and wine-industry websites. These are written by trained, often certified, wine professionals. In addition, social media has enabled us all to become wine reviewers. Sites like Cellar Tracker, Vivino, and Delectable allow consumers to rate and review wines on the go, using Smart Phone apps.

Cellar Tracker

Cellar Tracker

Vivino

Vivino

Delectable

Delectable

This can be a great help in the wine aisle, overwhelmed by the vast selection and not knowing what’s good. Simply pull out your phone and check the reviews!

There are also a number of online retailers that encourage consumers to rate and review the wines they buy.

With all those reviews out there, professional and amateur, how can you know which wines you’ll like?

Subjectivity is about individual experiences and perceptions. Its how you feel, what you enjoy; your personal preferences. Whereas you may really like a particular wine, the next person may disdain it.

Objectivity, on the other hand, refers to fact-based findings. When you go to the doctor, you describe your symptoms: pain and swelling in your ankle, for example. Perhaps you assume you sprained your ankle, but your symptoms are your subjective perception of what is wrong. Doctor Reading X RayThe doctor orders x-rays. The objective fact established by the x-ray shows that you actually broke your ankle. With objectivity, your doctor can properly treat your injury.

Wine is a subjective experience. Everybody has different preferences, tastes, likes, and dislikes. Some people only like white wine. Some people only like sweet wine. There are “ABC’ers” – Anything But Chardonnay. Paul Giamatt Drinking Spit BucketOthers, influenced by popular culture, and won’t drink Merlot. Price and value play a part, too. I know people who simply won’t spend more than $7 or $8 on a bottle of wine.

So are wine reviews of any value? Yes, but…

Wine reviews express the subjective opinion of another person. Professional reviewers, with years of training and tasting experience, can guide you to a wine you may enjoy. But…only if you share a similar taste profile and preferences. I have found that the best way to use reviews is to find reviewer with similar subjective preferences to mine. This requires a lot of reading, but pretty quickly you can identify who likes what you like.

Another thing to remember about professional reviews is that most (if not all) of the wines they review are samples submitted by the producer. That is, the reviewer is not paying for these wines. Professional reviewers rarely consider price in their ratings. It is easy to rave about a $200 wine when you’re not paying for it. One refreshing exception is Jon Thorsen, “The Reverse Wine Snob“, whose tagline is “Thumbing Your Nose at Bottles Over $20”. He has devised a rating scale that considers price as well as taste and quality.[1]

But what about amateurs?

In today’s social media culture, anybody can post a wine review. While this can make it more challenging to sift through the chaff to find a good match with your profile, it can be done. But…you have to be careful. The quality of the reviews runs the gamut, from one-or-two words (e.g. “loved it”), to troll-like wine bashing, to well-written and thoughtful. Again, finding and following a few users with whom you find unity will go a long way to helping you find that new favorite wine.

When I rate wines, my ratings (five-star scale) are based on how much I liked or enjoyed a wine at a given time in a given setting. I’ve found that the same wine can taste different in different situations. In my reviews, I try to be as descriptive as possible, so readers can decide if a given wine might taste like what they like.

Notable among online retailers encouraging ratings is Naked Wines, where members communicate directly with the winemakers through reviews and comments. Naked Wines actually uses member feedback to determine which wines to produce in future years. (Get your $100 voucher here!)

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Isn’t the 100 point scale objective?

The 100 point wine rating scale, popularized by Robert Parker in the 1970’s [2], is helpful, but has come under increased scrutiny recently [3]. Critics argue that it is one-dimentional – it does not consider situational nuances; it favors higher-end, more expensive wines; and…wait for it…it is largely subjective, based on the preferences and biases of the reviewer. Robert Parker’s 92 might be an 85 for me, and vice-versa.

Nevertheless, over the years, a number of wines have earned a perfect 100 points from professional reviewers. These wines are the gold-standard for a particular varietal or region. Let’s assume for a moment that all the experts agree that these are all 100 point wines. That would be pretty objective! However, for the average consumer, pure objectivity would require tasting every 100 point wine of every varietal and region to get a baseline for quality. As much as I’d love to do this, it simply isn’t possible. Furthermore, since wine is subjective, not everyone will love every 100 point wine.

100 Pt Wines

So what to do?

Embrace the subjectivity in wine. Part of the marvel and enjoyment is the fact that we are all different. There is enough variety that everyone can find something they like. Read reviews, both of professionals, published in magazines and on wine websites, and amateurs on social media, apps, and blogs. Follow those who share your preference, but don’t be afraid to venture out and try something new, too.

Finally, try not to get distracted by reviews. They are just opinions. The most important thing to remember is…

Drink what you like!

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[1] http://www.reversewinesnob.com/p/rating-system.html

[2] https://www.erobertparker.com/info/legend.asp

[3] http://wineeconomist.com/2008/05/27/tyranny-of-the-100-point-wine-scale/

https://grapecollective.com/articles/death-of-the-100-point-system

http://firstwefeast.com/drink/the-future-of-the-100-point-wine-system/