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Category Archives: Wine advice

Chateau Bonnet Blanc and why scores are useless

winerant

Chateau Bonnet BlancChateau Bonnet is the $10 French wine that is one of the world’s great values and has been in the Hall of Fame since the first ranking in 2007. As such, it has always been varietally correct, impeccably made, an outstanding value, and cheap and delicious. The 2012 Bonnet blanc, which I had with dinner the other night, made me shake my head in amazement. How could a cheap white wine that old still be so enjoyable?

What more could a wine drinker want?

A lot, apparently, if a couple of the scores for the 2012 on CellarTracker (the blog’s unofficial wine inventory app) are to be believed. The Chateau Bonnet blanc scored 80 points from someone who said the label was ugly and 83 points from a Norwegian, and that a Norwegian was using points shows how insidious scores have become.

The irony is that the tasting notes for the low scores were quite complimentary. The 80-point mentioned “crisp dry tones and pleasant blend of melon flavours” while the 83 described herbs, minerals, and citrus, and neither noted any off flavors or flaws. Yet, given those scores, the Bonnet blanc was barely an average wine, hardly better than the grocery store plonk I regularly complain about on the blog.

Which it’s not. Those two wine drinkers are allowed to score the wine as low as they like, and they’re allowed to dislike it. That’s not the problem. The problem is consistency; someone else gave the Bonnet blanc a 90, citing minerality and lime zest — mostly the same description as the low scores. Yet a 90 signifies an outstanding wine. How can a wine that three people describe the same way get such different scores?

Because scores are inherently flawed, depending as they do on the subjective judgment of the people giving the scores. If I believed scores and I saw the 80 or the 83, I’d never try the Chateau Bonnet blanc, even if I liked melon flavors or minerals and citrus. Which is the opposite of what scores are supposed to do. And that they now do the opposite of what they’re supposed to do means it’s time — past time, in fact — to find a better way.

For more on wine scores:
Wine scores, and why they don’t work (still)
Wine competitions and wine scores
Great quotes in wine history: Humphrey Bogart

Four things college students taught me about wine

jeff unt1

wine educationFour things college students, including my El Centro viticulture and enology class and two University of North Texas classes, taught me about wine this semester. Call it Wine Education for Curmudgeons 101:

• Regional wine matters to people who didn’t help start a regional wine group. I don’t know why this always surprises me, but it does. Maybe because when I mention it to too many adults, they look at me as if I want them to drink castor oil? But when I talk about regional and Texas wine to students, they understand the idea of local wine and its relationship to local food, and they’re more than happy to try it. Enjoy it and buy it, even.

• The emperor isn’t wearing any clothes, and he doesn’t look too good naked. We did a Napa and Sonoma tasting in my El Centro class, five wines that cost at least $40 (that I brought from samples in the wine closet). The students were not impressed, noting how commercial they tasted, how overpriced they were, and how they expected a lot more for what the wines cost. Even more surprising: They came to these conclusions on their own, without any help from me. All I do in a tasting is pour the wines, talk about who made them, and ask the students what the wines taste like. We don’t even discuss price until the end.

• The world does not revolve around cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and merlot. As someone who never met a grape, no matter how odd, that he didn’t want to try, this always makes me feel better about the future of wine in the U.S. People my age, faced with a grape they don’t recognize, tend to glaze over. The North Texas students, on the other hand, were fascinated with a dry riesling.

• People like wine I don’t like. I know this is true, but it always helps to see it in action. We did a Washington state grocery store merlot, full of fake oak, gobs of sweet fruit, and winemaking sleight of hand at North Texas. When I asked who liked it, as I always do, almost everyone did. Which reinforces the most important (and only) rule about wine: If you like it, it’s a good wine, and it doesn’t matter what wine writers, even the one teaching the class, think. Just be willing to try different kinds of wine to see if there is something else you might like.

Slider photo courtesy of Leta Durrett

How to buy wine at the grocery store

wineadvice

grocery store wine tips

The supermarket Great Wall of Wine is the Rubik’s Cube of wine buying, with hundreds and hundreds of bottles to choose from, confusing pricing, and no one to ask for help. But it is possible to buy quality wine at the grocery store, and you don’t even need to know much about varietal or region. Just keep these grocery store wine tips in mind:

• The cuter the label, the more simple the wine. This means there is little balance or interest. Instead, they’re what producers call easy to drink — red wine with lots of sweet fruit and almost no tannins, and white wine with almost honeyed fruit and the minimal amount of acidity necessary to make it palatable. Whether these wines are good or bad isn’t the point; rather, is this the kind of wine you want to buy (or avoid)? If it is, then these labels are a clue.

• Who makes the wine? This is almost impossible to tell, since most of the wine in the grocery store usually  comes from a dozen or so producers — our friends at Big Wine — and they would prefer you don’t know. So look for something like “Produced and bottled. …”, “Vinted and bottled. …”, or “Imported and bottled. …” The location that follows usually identifies the parent company, so that many Gallo-owned brands say Modesto, Calif. The “imported” line may have a company name similar to the name of the multi-national that owns the brand, so that CWUS is part of Constellation Brands. A more complete list is in this post.

• Decipher the back label. Pay attention to the choice of words, and not what they mean. Simple, less interesting wines rarely describe themselves as fresh, clean, or earthy. Rather, they use terms like rich, plush, luscious, and even roasted. Also, chocolate and caramel show up more often than not, especially in very ordinary red wine, along with badly written homages to oak — vanilla bean is one of my favorites.

• Beware older vintages with steep discounts, especially if the wine wasn’t made in the U.S. This is often a sign the wine has been sitting in a warehouse, sometimes for years, and is more likely to have gone off. The supermarket, which may have bought the wine for pennies on the dollar, doesn’t care if it’s spoiled; who returns bad wine to the grocery store? One rule of thumb: Be wary of white wine older than two years and red wine older than three.

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