Tag Archives: wine scores

Winebits 403: Big Wine, wine scores, wine regions


big wineThe big get bigger? An industry analyst says Diageo, one of the biggest wine producers in the U.S., should merge with beer giant SABMiller to increase profits as the global drinks business slows down. Talk about Big Wine: the combined company would total $8 billion in sales, and its products would include Miller beer, Johnnie Walker scotch, and Rosenblum and Sterling wines. How do we know the speculation is more than gossip? The news story included the word synergies, as in the combined company would save money because it had them. As regular visitors here know, synergies — which, like unicorns and wood nymphs — exist only in the minds of those who believe in them, and are always given as an excuse for a multi-national merger. Because, otherwise, what’s the point?

A wine snob temper tantrum: The Italian Wine Guy, who knows more about Italian wine than almost anyone else in the world, recounts his experience with a wine drinker, and it’s not pretty. The customer wanted a 100-point Robert Parker Brunello, and he wasn’t going to suffer anything as foolish as advice from one of the most knowledgeable Italian wine people in the world. What’s worse is that the customer was rude about it, treating the Italian Wine Guy as if he was some idiot foisted on the customer by an inept store owner. This is the harm in scores, regardless of anything else: If all we do is buy wine by scores, we cheat ourselves of all wine has to offer. It’s snobbishness of the worst degree, as bad as the snobs who make fun of people who drink sweet wine.

Calling wine by its regional name: The U.S. and the European Union have been arguing for some 20 years about strengthening the international agreement that prohibits U.S. producers from calling their sparkling wine Champagne and stops French companies from calling their potatoes Idaho. Now, though, the two sides may be close to an agreement, thanks to a U.S. compromise. The article, from the Conversation.com website, is long and little legalish, but it does a good job of explaining why these trade laws exist, why the U.S. traditionally didn’t care for them, and what might happen next. Who knew Feta cheese was a deal-breaker?

Has the wine establishment turned its back on wine scores?


wine scoresThe Wine Curmudgeon writes stuff like this all the time: “Why the 100-point system of rating wine is irrelevant.” In fact, I write about the foolishness of wine scores so often that you’re probably tired of reading about it. But what happens when a member of the wine establishment, someone who uses the word “somm” in everyday conversation, says “the future of wine ratings and recommendations will rely largely on friend recommendations and approval.”

It means wine scores are one step closer to going to where they deserve to go.

Jonathan Cristaldi, who wrote all of that, is about as wine establishment as you can get — an instructor at the Napa Valley Wine Academy and deputy editor for The SOMM Journal and The Tasting Panel Magazine. In other words, he does not espouse the wonders of $5 wine at Aldi or complain about the Winestream Media.

So when Cristaldi says the 100-point scale and wine scores are increasingly irrelevant, it means something. How many of the old white guys who keep defending points were once called a new “Wine Prophet” by Time Out New York magazine? Writes Cristaldi:

More and more people will learn of wine’s complexities through social engagement. Friends and confidants (trade and non-trade) will replace the lone critic and his bully pulpit. Wine drinkers will realize the power and worth of a discerning palate because of the value their friends place on such expectations.

The key here is that Cristaldi isn’t writing for consumers, the 95 percent of us who will never spend more than $20 for a bottle of wine and don’t care one way or the other about scores when we buy Little Black Dress or Cupcake. He is writing for the elite, including the five percent who buy high-end wine; everyone who has helped to make scores part of selling wine over the past four decades and has helped it become the shell game that it is today.

There won’t be a need for wine scores as we know them, says Cristaldi, because of that social engagement. This is more than the social media that the old white guys like to make fun of because they just know that Facebook and Twitter are stupid, but a fundamental change in the way the wine supply chain works. Today, when a retailer or restaurateur buys wine, the distributor’s sell sheets — a handout they give customers — include Parker and Wine Spectator ratings and other wine scores. Because, as one top Dallas chef-owner told me, if the wine gets 95 points in the Spectator, he has to have it, whether he wants it or not.

But in Cristaldi’s future, retailers and restaurateurs will buy wine because someone they know and respect recommends it, and the score will be just one part of that. And, given social media, they can check those recommendation in seconds, whether with a text, a tweet, an Instagram picture, or in apps like Vivino, Delectable, or CellarTracker. He calls this new breed “social sommeliers,” because they participate in “the social conversation about wine.”

These people, who are younger and include women and people of color, aren’t waiting for the distributor’s sell sheets with wine scores; they’re already talking about the wine with their colleagues around the world long before the distributor arrives. This is something that has never happened before in the history of wine, and it’s something the old white guys can’t even begin to understand. They think sell sheets are still the cutting edge.

And, finally, if you still think this is all silliness, know about a conversation I had with a 20-something wine drinker during a cheap wine book appearance. Why should I buy your book, he asked me? Who needs it? I can do this — and he twiddled his phone with his thumb — to find a good wine to drink.

Image courtesy of Jacksonville Wine Guide, using a Creative Commons license

Wine Spectator: If you can’t buy it, we won’t review it

Wine writing, and what's wrong with it

wine spectatorThe Wine Spectator, in a stunning reversal of policy, announced today that it will only review wines that people can buy, ending a decades-long practice where it preferred to critique wine made in such small quantities that there were never any for sale.

“Frankly, when we started to think about it, it seemed kind of silly to review wines that weren’t in stores,” said a magazine spokeswoman. “Yes, there was a certain cachet to do wines in the Spectator where the producer only made three cases, because it showed how much better we were than everyone else. Because we are much better than everyone else. But, in the end, we are a wine review magazine, and if our readers can’t buy the wines we review, there isn’t much reason for us to exist, is there?”

The new availability policy, said the spokeswoman, was based on the one used by legendary Internet blogger Jeff Siegel, the Wine Curmudgeon. Siegel, who declined to be interviewed for this story, uses what he calls general availability: He only reviews wines that consumers can find in a quality wine shop in a medium-sized city. Said the spokeswoman: “Considering how much fun he makes of us, and that he is has no credibility because he is an Internet blogger, Siegel’s policy seems quite practical. Just don’t tell him we stole it.”

Reaction from the wine world was immediate:

• A host of cult wines in the Napa Valley, whose production rarely exceeds 100 cases each, announced plans to increase the amount of wine they make so they can be reviewed. “If we’re not in the Spectator, what’s the point of making wine?” asked one winery owner, a Silicon Valley zillionaire. “It’s not like I care about the wine. I just want my friends to be jealous when they see my wine, which they can’t buy, got a 99.”

• Several other wine magazines said they would follow suit, although the Wine Advocate said it would use availability in China as its threshold. “Listen, when you pay as much money for the Advocate as we did,” said a co-owner, “you really don’t care if anyone can buy the wine in Omaha.”

• The country’s largest retailers, including Costco and Walmart, made plans for special Wine Spectator sections in their wine departments, now that the Spectator would review most of the wine that they carry. “They’re already selling some wine for us with their scores and shelf talkers,” said one retailer. “So why not just get rid of the pretense and let them do all the work?”

More April 1 wine news:
Supreme Court: Regulate wine writing through three-tier system
Gov. Perry to California: Bring your wineries to Texas
California secedes from U.S. — becomes its own wine country


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