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Tag Archives: wine scores

Chateau Bonnet Blanc and why scores are useless

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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

Can we use wine back labels to figure out wine quality?

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wine back labels

Mark Thornton: “The words — and not what they mean — on wine back labels are a clue to wine quality.”

Because, finally, someone has discovered a way to measure the relationship between what’s written on wine back labels and the quality of the wine.

The breakthrough came from a Harvard Ph.D. student named Mark Thornton, who took data from 75,000 wines in the Wine.com inventory, and compared what was written on their back label — and not what the words meant — with ratings from the site’s users and from wine critics.

The findings? That certain words appear on the back labels of wines of lesser quality, while certain words appear on the back labels of wines with higher ratings. Thornton told me he knows this isn’t perfect, given how scores and wine ratings work, and he wants to improve that part of the study. In addition, he wants to refine the way his software decides which words to analyze, perhaps eliminating regions and better understanding phrases, like grilled meats instead of grilled and meats.

What does matter is that Thornton’s work is apparently the first time anyone has done this kind of research, making it as revolutionary as it is helpful in deciphering the grocery store wall of wine.

Thornton, whose parents teach in Cal State Fresno, says this study interested him because it’s about wine, which he likes, and because it ties into his PhD research, which deals with how we describe things. One of the concepts this study takes into account is called “naive realism,” in which we assume that what we sense has to be true for everyone, when it obviously isn’t. Which dovetails neatly with wine.

Thornton’s findings confirm many of my suspicions about wine back labels, as well as how critics use descriptors. The word clouds on his site summarize the results; I’ve set them up so you can see them more easily here for the consumer ratings and here for the critic ratings.

These are among the highlights of the study:

• Restaurant food pairings or terms like pasta appear on the labels of the lowest-rated wines. Thornton says this may well be because the wine doesn’t have any wine-like qualities to recommend it.

• Words used to describe sauvignon blanc — grapefruit, herb, clean — show up on the critics’ lowest-rated white wines. This is not surprising, given that sauvignon blanc has always garnered less respect from the Winestream Media than chardonnay.

• A location on the back label seems to indicate lower quality white wine; “handcrafted” is in the higher quality word cloud. For reds, “value” and “soft” are poor-quality words, while “powerful” and “black,” probably used to describe black fruit, infer higher quality. Handcrafted is especially interesting, since it doesn’t mean anything in terms of wine production.

Finally, a word about prices, which is also part of the study. Thornton divided the consumer ratings into five price ranges, and there was little difference in perceived quality between the first three ranges. In other words, you get more value buying the cheapest wine. Shocking news, yes?

The critic price-value rankings were even more bizarre. The worst value came from wines that got scores in the mid-90s, while wines in the high 90s (and even 100) were less expensive, and the best value wines were around 90 points. Thornton says he isn’t quite sure why this is true, though it may have something to do with critic bias. My explanation is simpler: Wine scores are inherently flawed.

Winebits 343: Dave McIntyre, wine scores, and wine in the movies

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Dave McIntyre

That’s Dave in the middle, and he should be smiling.

More than well deserved: Who knew the Wine Curmudgeon would know someone who had won the same award as a Mondavi? Or the legendary Konstantin Frank, without whom U.S. regional wine would not have been possible? But that’s my pal Dave McIntyre, who was given the Monteith Trophy over the weekend for his work as a wine writer. Dave has done much for the cause of wine, including co-founding Drink Local Wine with me when people thought we were crazy. So it’s more than time that the wine world recognized the effort Dave has made, not only for regional wine, but for wine drinkers everywhere. Dave will be in Dallas in a couple of weeks, and I have laid in some Texas wine that we will celebrate with. Congratulations, my friend. But couldn’t you have worn a tie for a big deal like this?

End the tyranny: Or so says Michael Woodsmall at the Grape Collective, calling for an end to the 100-point scoring system. “It should be duly noted that these scales don’t take actual wine’s nuanced characteristics into account; they merely assigned values to general traits. … Also, it is no longer the seventies and eighties.”  This sentiment is something the Wine Curmudgeon has long advocated, and Woodsmall makes an intelligent argument for the end of scores, even throwing in a little political theory to explain why the debate generates such controversy. This is a revolution, and the scoreists will defend the ancien regime until the bitter end.

Hollywood and wine: The Wine Curmudgeon, in discussing U.S. wine culture in the cheap wine book, talked about Hollywood’s complete indifference to wine for most of the 20th century, and how this indifference reflected American views of wine. So I was more than pleased to see an academic study of the subject, supporting my views. Raphael Schirmer of the University of Bordeaux, writing for the American Association of Wine Economists, has found that as wine has become more popular in the U.S., so has wine become more popular in film. This is not just about Francis Ford Coppola owning a major wine company or movies like “Sideways;” rather, it’s the idea that we drink wine as part of our everyday lives, and the movies that are made reflect this.

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