Posts Tagged ‘wine ratings’

Wine Reviewers Part Two

October 15, 2008

Yesterday I shared part one of an article published by Peter Klann from Little Raven Vineyards in Denver.

Part two is below. Peter’s contact details are at the end.

I think you will enjoy Peter’s thoughtful comments.

The problem with wine rating systems is that the score of the wine depends on the person doing the rating. While Mr. Parker is indeed consistent in his ratings, others may not be. Then add in the fact that so many people are giving scores; it is often difficult to know who gave the rating.

Michael De Loach, Vice President of Hook and Ladder Winery in Sonoma County, wonders if scoring mania is healthy for the industry. He says, “If Parker or Spectator don’t give you a high enough score, you can make up your own.” So what really does the “Number” mean?

The “Number” limits the spectrum of wines that sell well. There are grumblings in the industry that some wine makers care about their scores too much. Some will say that winemakers are fashioning their wines to please the palate of Mr. Parker and other high-profile critics. Some fear this worldwide influence of Mr. Parker who has been described as the planet’s most powerful critic will eventually lead to the homogenization of wine. (For more on the homogenization of wine, check out the 2004 documentary called Mondovino directed by Jonathan Nossiter.)

What if wine was judged by its human and geographical context? Can a “Number” capture the relationship between a place and the people who live and grow the grapes?

What if wine were rated by how it tasted when it is swallowed rather than spit into a bucket? What if wine was evaluated by how it paired with food? Can a “Number” account for the intersection of aroma, memory and pleasure that gives wine its enduring appeal? What if ratings were given to small, artisan producers and not just large “corporate” producers?

You won’t find a lot of numbers and scores at Little Raven Vineyards. Scores are fine for some things, but we don’t think you can “count” taste. We choose our wines the time-honored way – we taste them ourselves.

We understand the best wines express a place, a person and a point in the historical continuum. We know that individuals have a wide variety of preferences when it comes to style and stock our store accordingly. We seek out small producers and unusual grapes. And most importantly, we look for wines that are made with honesty and passion, so that we can offer our customers the same wines that we’d be pleased to put on our tables.

By Email:

By Phone:

Visit us:
We are conveniently located in LoDo near the corner of 15th and Little Raven Street, right at the Millennium Bridge . If you need help finding us, try mapquest or give
us a call.

1590 Little Raven, # 175
Denver, CO 80202

Wine Reviewers

October 14, 2008


Peter Klann at Little Raven Vineyards in Denver recently published some history and comments on the role of wine ratings. The paragraphs below are his. Part two will be republished tomorrow. His contact details are at the end of the commentary.

In 1978, Robert Parker Jr., lawyer turned self-employed wine critic, introduced the 100 point scoring system to the wine world. Consumers intuitively understood this system with 96 to 100 being an extraordinary wine, 90 to 95 an excellent wine, and 80 to 89 is above average to good. Mr. Parker fashioned himself as a crusading consumer advocate on a mission to enlighten the discriminating wine buyer.

The method for determining “The Number” is to taste batches to wine together with each bottle covered in individual paper bags. Each wine is swirled, sniffed, and spat into a bucket, and notes are taken on the aromas and flavors. After tasting several wines against each other, a score is attached to each wine according to the taster’s judgment.

As Mr. Parker’s influence grew, retailers started quoting Parker points in advertisements and other promotional materials. “The Number” became an excellent way for marketers to promote wine. And soon its effects were felt throughout the industry. “The Number” helped elevate the overall quality of wine, contributed to the growth of the wine market in the U.S., and perhaps even influenced the popularity of certain grapes. But its most direct impact may be in the way wine is sold.

For better or for worse, “The Number” is proving an effective stand-in for the knowledgeable, wine shop sommelier sales person. Instead of relying on your wine shop sommelier to know your specific likes and dislikes and to assist you in selecting good matches for your palate, retailers simply fall back on “The Number.”

So whenever a good number is available (and a good number is anything 90 or above), the wine is heavily promoted through distributors, retailers, magazines, on web sites, and in “shelf talkers.” The wine flies off the shelf based on the taste of one individual determining a rating.

Does this person have the same tastes as you? A rating system that draws a distinction between a Cabernet scoring 90 and one receiving an 89 implies a precision of the senses that even many wine critics agree that human beings do not possess. Ratings are quick judgments that a single individual renders early in the life of a bottle of wine that, once expressed numerically, magically transform the nebulous and subjective into the authoritative and objective.

Mr. Parker tends to favor the very big, alcoholic and fruit-forward wines; he rates this style in the 90 to 100 point range. The wines he dismisses in the 80-point range tend to be the kind of more subtle and often elegant wines. If you like big and fruit-forward style of wine, you will most likely agree with most of Mr. Parker’s ratings (He is very consistent.) Others have jumped on the numbers game and there are many others rating wines too such as The Wine Spectator, The Wine Enthusiast, and Wine & Spirits Magazine. These publications also use a 100-point scale.

But is a review from Robert Parker more or less valid than a Wine Spectator score? Some wine shops require distributors to submit scores when they offer wines for placement, but how valid are these scores? Does any number or piece of press constitute a valid measure? Is the wine critic for Sacramento Bee a solid source, or the Albuquerque Journal? Do they know what you appreciate about the wines you drink?

The bottom line is wine preference is highly individualistic; so unless your tastes are the same as the reviewer, disappointment is sure to follow. If you are interested in buying wine based on numbers, it’s always a good idea to go back and read the notes to see who produced the score. The important point is to find someone whose taste in wines runs parallel to your own and see what they thought about that wine you’d like to try or buy. Stay tuned . . . more to come next week.

By Email:

By Phone:

Visit us:
We are conveniently located in LoDo near the corner of 15th and Little Raven Street, right at the Millennium Bridge . If you need help finding us, try mapquest or give
us a call.

1590 Little Raven, # 175
Denver, CO 80202

Critically Acclaimed

September 2, 2008

There was a junk mail flyer in the recent Sunday paper for a national chain store with the headline “Critically Acclaimed” wines from $6.99 to $15.99

Time magazine had an article some time ago about Top Trends – one was a return to “Authenticity”. There is even a book titled Authenticity and it is surprising to see how many products have evolved and now need to make a claim to be either “authentic or real”.

What is going on?

It seems we need others to tell or reassure us what is real, authentic or critically acclaimed. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of wine. Other people’s comments, scores and reviews have reduced our ability to say one or the other:

  • – “yes, I like this”
  • – “no, I do not like this”

 Is it we have given up the joy of discovery and learning?

Yet we seem capable of going to the movies before the Academy Awards are announced and deciding if we like the movie. Same for music, Grammy Awards certainly spike sales but we know before the awards if we enjoyed the tune.

Awards and recognition have been with us forever and are everywhere. From ancient times to everyday county fairs, it is only natural they exist as a source of entertainment. For some reason the fear of choosing wine baffles me.

Why is this?

Can someone shed some light why we need experts to tell us what to buy?

Is the language of wine out of balance and in need of something else?