Sunday, August 26, 2018

What is a great wine? And don't let anyone or anything like wine critics scores, ratings, tasting notes, medals and quotes influence your own taste, decision, and judgment !!!

What is a great wine?

And don't let anyone or anything like wine critics scores, ratings, tasting notes, medals and quotes influence your own taste, decision, and judgment !!!

What is a great wine?

We can argue on the subject for hours, but first and foremost, a great wine is a wine YOU love.

A wine pleasing you by its aromas, aspect, robe, color, intensity, reflection into the glass, freshness, ripeness, depth, complexity, structure, texture, taste, aftertaste, and whatever else you can think of that is pleasing you in it. 

A wine so exciting and delicious to your palate that it makes you shiver, or pause, or reflect, or smile right after the first sip. A wine from which the first glass immediately calls for another one. A wine you will always remember for that blissful moment. A wine triggering only one reaction from you: "Wow! What a great wine!"

Wine tasting is so subjective and can be influenced by so many factors that you can only count on yourself to really define what a great wine is for you. You might be the only one in the room who loves it, yet who cares, as long as you are satisfied with it. And don't let anyone or anything influence your own taste and judgment!!!

Label design, wine critics scores, ratings, medals, quotes, tasting notes, wine descriptions are all fine to read and pay attention to and might to a certain extent help you to refine your decision, but do not let them dictate or take control of your mind and more especially your palate. As none of them should determine whether you will love the wine or not, more especially prior to tasting it.

NB: Note that I'm saying "love" and not "like", as wines you "like" can probably be counted by the thousands, while wines you "love" might only be reduced from a few hundred to less than a few dozens.

And don't let anyone or anything like wine critics scores, ratings, tasting notes, medals and quotes influence your own taste, decision, and judgment !!!

And, please, please do not define the quality of a wine by just reading the scores, or ratings or critics reviews and quotes either. Do not say: "..oh, look, this wine got a 100 points, it must be really good...", as you do not know. 

That's true, isn't it? You have no clue if this high-scoring wine will be good for you, for your palate, for your taste buds and overall personal taste, just by reading a few numbers and a few words specifically chosen and thrown in your face to impair your faculty to think straight and make a decision for yourself on your own judgment. 

Think about it. Unless you have already pre-defined that you have similar wine taste and tasting appreciation as a specific wine critic that you've followed with assiduity for years, and consequently established that you both have similar palates and that you generally like the same wines he/she likes (and gives good scores to), then you don't know. And to be able to know if that 100 points wine will suit your palate (or not), there is only one way: You have to taste it! There is no other way.

Nowadays, there are many ways to taste wines in order to be informed and aware and make your own judgment on critic's scored wines, while refining your palate at the same time.  
  • By visiting your "Caviste" (or boutique-wine store) to ask for opinions and comments, and if the caviste is a good caviste, (like I used to be and like I used to do during my New York years), he/she might open a bottle in the store for you to taste the wine and judge it for yourself. He/she knows that the bottle is not lost as other customers in the store are always looking for an opportunity to get a free taste of wine, and also knows that he/she might end up potentially selling more bottles of that specific wine that day this way...  (personally, when I was a boutique-wine store manager and wine buyer in NYC, I had no problem opening bottles in the store for some of my customers, which made for a more-than-welcome impromptu tasting session enjoyed by most of the other wine shoppers... it was fun). 
NB: Psst.... between you and me, arguing or using criticism about a producer or a specific wine are good tricks for a caviste, facing a skeptical like you, to open a bottle.. it usually work quite well (😊)
  • By subscribing to the newsletters of your local wine merchants and/or wine stores, to be informed of their up-and-coming tastings and other wine events  
  • By going to wine dinners, wine fare, as well as forums and expositions and any other events promoting wines. 
  • By being invited as often as possible by friends who have a substantial private wine cellar at home (😊)
  • By traveling and visiting wine regions and wineries 

Note that this list is non-exhaustive and other ways of tasting wines could be added.

And also note that I did not suggest to go to your local supermarket, as most supermarkets store their wines in far-from-ideal conditions (not to use the word "bad"). It is especially true when going to "over-the-top" supermarkets offering aisles after aisles of nondescript bottles of wine, taking dust while all standing up for months under damaging bright neon lights. Yes, these wines may have looked good on pictures on that supermarket wine flyer, pamphlet or brochure, with all of these flashy scores, ratings, quotes, stars, medals and god knows whatever else they tried to squeeze in on that picture to make you buy the wine, but the reality is often scary...     

Obviously, they just do it to draw your attention and influence your mind, your taste, your own judgment and your overall buying decision and experience. Deceiving you into buying wines based on scores, ratings, quotes, and medals rather than taste and intrinsic qualities. And the result is often annoying (as you feel that you've wasted your money) and disappointing (as even if you try to convince yourself that there is something good about it because this or that wine critic said it was good and scored it highly, you don't even like the wine after all).   

Marketing savvies have perfected many ways to lure you into their trap to make you buy wines that are not good taste-wise and/or not worth it money-wise, or even fake and/or counterfeit wines without you noticing it, who knows.... (my previous post is a perfect example of it, read it here). 

In fact, many of unaware and uninformed wine drinkers surely buy some of them with blinded eyes and without asking questions, sometimes, simply because the "mise-en-scene" is too good not to be true. 

Either the label looks completely genuine, or the scores, ratings, quotes, and/or descriptions on the flyer, pamphlet or brochure sound so attractive not to be true that one or the others ultimately catch your interest and you can't resist to the temptation of buying at least a bottle.

And those are the influencing factors I will talk about in today's post: why you should never decide that a wine is great (or could be great) based solely on
  • the look and overall design of a label, or
  • the wine critics scores and other rewards on a flyer, pamphlet or brochure, or on websites or in specialized wine buying guides, or
  • the wine critics' tasting notes and/or description of the wine (found in the same sources as above)  
You'll be surprised by how many people do that on a weekly basis. They check the scores, read the descriptions and buy the wines without further research or even tasting it, and, 7 out of 10 times, end up disappointed as the wine is not to their liking after all. Yet, still, the week after, they do it again... Sounds familiar?

So, let's start with an example of the look and overall design of a wine label. 

For the purpose of this post, I created the following fake wine label (and the wine flyer to promote it, see a little further down below on this post) and posted them on social media (Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn) prior to finish this post to see the reactions and comments they will trigger from the public eye. 

And surprisingly, a lot of people viewed and liked it, which is great. Yet, I'm sure that many of them fell into the trap and probably did not even realized that it was a fake wine label (more especially those who do not understand French or are not acquainted with French slang).  

Did you fall for it? Yes? No? Let's have a closer look at it.  

Chateau Picrate Label by © LeDomduVin 2018

At first glance, it "almost" looks like a genuine wine label (some of the more modern style wine labels on bottles I can see on the market look even faker than this one, if I may say...😊). Yet, looking at it closely, some of you will realize the obvious superchery. 

1. The wine name, "Chateau Picrate", is a joke, but you may have fallen for it as being a true Chateau name.. (or not). You may not know it, but "Picrate" is an old French slang word designating a low, generic and tasteless wine in French (thus it is normal if you fell for it as you have to be French or master the French slang to know that). (*) 

2. The producer's names, "Cedella Vinasse et Vincent Goût", the two fake protagonists of some of my wine stories, are made-up names for which you may have also fallen for (and there again it is normal for the same reasons as the wine name above), as these are French slang play-of-words. 
  • "Cedella Vinasse" is a French made-up play-of-words for "C'est de la vinasse", which could literally be translated in English by "This wine is crap" (*)
  • "Vincent Goût" is also a French made-up play-of-words for "Vin sans goût", which could literally be translated in English by "Wine without a taste" 

3. The appellation, "Appellation Ajeterdanslevier Recommandée" (AAR), is also a made-up word instead of the usual "Appellation d'Origine Controlée" (AOC) or nowadays "Appellation d'Origine Protegée" (AOP). 
  • "Ajeterdanslevier" is a French made-up play-of-words for "A jeter dans l'évier", which could literally be translated in English by "to throw in the sink"

4. The village name, "jenveuxplus" same thing, completely made-up play-of-words for "j'en veux plus", literally meaning in English "I don't want any more"

5. The zip code (or "Code Postal" in French) 33333 does not even exist in Gironde, France. 

6. "Bordeleau" instead of "Bordeaux" (that was obvious..)

7. And the logo or drawing in the middle?... Now that is an interesting looking design, which is related with the Appellation "Ajeterdanslevier" Recommandée...  Remember "l'évier"(in French) is a sink... Can you see what I'm getting at? Yes? No?  Look at it again... what does it remind you of? Any idea? Look again... you've got it? Yes, of course, it is a kitchen sink hole... get it? Clever, isn't it? 

And even as obvious all these details may have been (for a person speaking or having a good understanding of French or a French person), you may still have fallen for it and believed it was a genuine label, did you? 

So, now you see how easy it is to be deceived by a label when you have no clue it is fake, so never judge the quality of a wine by its label. I'm sure that from now on, you will have a closer look at labels at your local wine stores... (😊)

Let's take an example for the wine flyer now. 

As I said above, after creating the fake wine label and still for the purpose of this post, I created the wine flyer to promote it and also posted it on social media (FacebookInstagram, and LinkedIn) to , again, see the reactions and comments it will trigger from the public eye.  

Surprisingly, it was even more successful than the fake wine label, probably because I used English words this time (instead of French) to capture the attention of a wider audience. And it worked well, as even if I stated (on my post with these 2 illustrations posted on the social media) that it was a joke, at least one person made a comment saying: "Where is the joke?" (and if one person wrote it as a comment, either he did not get it or thought it was genuine at first, then you can be sure many others at least thought the same way too 😂😂😂)

Let's have a closer look at it and please tell me that you did not fell for it...
I mean, it is way too obvious, isn't it?..... 

Chateau Picrate Critic's ratings/scores by © LeDomduVin 2018

Pretty good and quite funny in my opinion, isn't it? I like it a lot and was even laughing at my own jokes while doing it (and afterward when revisiting it...) and if nobody did, then at least I'm glad I had a good laugh at it for my own pleasure (nothing better than self-satisfaction from time to time).    

At first glance, I'm sure that some of you, who are not attached to details and never read between the lines or read to hastily without paying close attention, probably thought it was a genuine wine flyer (badly hand-made... I admit... but genuine maybe...) and only looked at the scores and the 5 stars quotes... Am I right?   

Unfortunately, when it comes to buying wines they do not know, most people, in general, are way too often falling into the trap of marketing geniuses exhibiting enticing wine critics scores, ratings, quotes and medals on over-the-top wine retailer's websites and/or on supermarket's flyers, pamphlets, and brochures. They should learn how to pay more attention to details in order to save both money and time.  

However, let's dissect it, like we did for the fake label above, to discover the hidden gems of humor contained in this fake wine flyer (and to provide answers to those who might still wonder where are the jokes.. and did not get them 😊 ... I admit that it might be a little difficult if you don't know anything about wine or are not part of the wine industry or not a wine magazine reader). 

1. The scores and distorted names above them are all inspired and based on the scoring systems and  names of some of the most well-known and respected wine critics in the world (some of whom I know quite well, therefore my apologies in advance to all of you for ridiculing your fist and/or last names)

2. The "Triple Gold" Medal at Jakarta International Wine Challenge... I don't think there has ever been an International Wine Challenge at Jakarta... (but I thought it was a good idea 😊)

3. "The Daily Booze" instead of "The Daily News" (why not...)

4. "Carafe" instead of... (you surely guessed this one)... "Decanter" of course (pretty funny, no? )

5. "Red Prawn" instead of "Gambero Rosso" (the famous Italian food and wine magazine with its "Tre Bicchieri")... (this one may not have been obvious for everybody... but funny still in my opinion)

6. "Painin Guide" instead of "Peñín Guide" or "Guía Peñín" in Spanish (the famous guide to Spanish Wines)

If after revealing all these details, you are still falling for it, I'm not so sure what to do for you.... as you are a hopeless, desperate case... (😊)

Don't let yourself be influenced by the wine critic's scores or ratings

Wine critics scoring a wine by © LeDomduVin 2018 

Don't let yourself be influenced by the critic's scores or ratings as they can be "meaningfully meaningless" (as I like to say) and greatly vary in between wine critics. As said previously, get to know the various wine critics palates and scoring patterns, and only follow with assiduity the one (or the few) that have a similar palate and tasting appreciation as you, and score wines with scores similar to the ones you could have given to the wines yourself.

Over my 27 years career in the wine business, my palate and taste have changed and evolved as I was  (and still) getting older and to a certain extent wiser. And it is the same for the wine critics. Therefore you should always keep track of these changes, the wine critic ones as well as yours too, prior finalizing your decision, more especially if you haven't tasted the wine yourself previously and only base your decision on scores. 

If out of 10 wine critics scores for a wine (let's say between the range of 89 to 96), 6-7 are similar and the other ones are not far behind, then it means that fairly unanimously, most critics liked the wine and that there is a good chance for the wine to be good for your palate and even more chance for the wine to please a wide range of diverse palates. It might, or not, be to your liking, but it does not mean that it is bad either. It just means that your palate is different and the wine not suitable for your taste, even if it will please others.

In general, the more homogeneous the scores from various critics are the more mass appeal the wine will have due to its intrinsic quality and not only because a handful of the most famous critics give it a high or top scores. This is what happens to the top 250 best wines in the world. At this level, they are rarely "not good" and even less often "bad", they are just "not as good as" due to an off vintage, yet their scores usually still remain high. 

If, on the opposite, there are too many variations in between the wine critics scores, for example, respectively 89, 92 and 96 (like in the illustration above), then you will have to go with the wine critics you follow the most to be sure that the wine corresponds to your taste. But you may have a comprehensible hesitation and ask yourself why the wine critic you follow rate it lower or higher than the other critics. The tasting notes might give you a hint of why he/she scored it that way. But in the end, the choice is yours, and there again it does not necessarily mean that the wine is bad, just that it did not correspond to the taste and palate of this or that wine critic, that's it. In that case, you know what to do, find a way to try it and judge it for yourself.

On top of that, depending on the wine critic you follow, some being more consistent than others, scores can be quite tricky to understand and may not even reflect the tasting notes, supposedly written to give you an incentive on the reason why the wine received such a score.

I remember, once back in NYC a few weeks after attending the En Primeur 2003 vintage in Bordeaux, reading the tasting notes of a few wine critics, for the Chateaux of the Appellation Margaux for example, to compare them and define what I will buy for the store back then. I was startled and doubtful by what I was reading. They all looked nearly the same. It was absolutely bewildering. 

Imagine, you read 15 or 20 tasting notes from the same wine critic on the various wines from one appellation and in the same vintage. And you realize that not only all the tasting notes are approximately the same (despite some rare changes of a few words and sentence styles) and thus "astonishingly indistinguishable" from one another without looking at the names of the Chateaux, but, surprisingly enough and for some unexplained reasons their scores (or ratings) greatly varied. Go figure!

For example, it was like reading, about 2 different Chateaux from the same appellation and same vintage, something like:
  • Chateau Y 2003 Margaux
"Black fruit, good acidity, polished texture, good structure and balance, long persistent finish" 89pts

  • Chateau Z 2003 Margaux
"Black fruit, refreshing, smooth texture, combining structure and balance, long-lasting finish" 96pts

The blind tasting wine critic's paradox by ©LeDomduVin 2018 

Well... what?!? What really differentiates these two tasting notes? They are roughly the same and say the same thing for both wines... So, why are the scores so different? What makes the first one only worth an acceptable 89pts and the second one a staggering 96pts? How meaningful is that? I wonder... what is the word I'm looking for? Ah, yes... "meaningfully meaningless" that is... 😊 these tasting notes are in no way indicative of the superior quality of the second wine compared to the first. This kind of tasting notes are incredibly confusing and meaningless at best. 

If someone has the answer, please let me know, as I'm very interested to know why there is such a big difference in between these 2 scores while the descriptions are nearly identical.

These are just examples that I created for this post. But seriously it is not even exaggerated, as for the tasting notes I read from these few wine critics for the Bordeaux En Primeur 2003 back in the days, they were to that extreme, meaningless, as nearly literally identical but showing huge differences in scores. It was mind-boggling.        

Now, if we go back to the situation at the wine critics' table in the illustration above, the huge gap in between critics scores  (the lowest being 89pts and the highest being 96pts) proves once again that tasting is very subjective and that you should really know the taste and palate of the critic(s) you follow and the pattern he/she/they follow to rate the wines he/she/they have tasted (I'm repeating it as it is an extremely important point). 

Let's take again an example from the Bordeaux 2003 Vintage. 2003 was such a controversial vintage in Bordeaux as it was a very hot vintage, which scared and startled and took aback many producers (to say the least) as the heat wave was not planned, anticipated and/or expected to be that hot and that sudden. It was an unprecedented type of vintage, which produced some really weird wines, yet most wine critics first raved about it during the "En Primeur" campaign.  Let me explain.

Unprecedented hot vintage, yes, as neither the winemakers and their team of vignerons, neither the vines were prepared for such hot weather. As a result, facing an unprecedented situation, some  got scared and harvested too early to try to keep some acidity and prevent over-ripeness (surely fearing their grapes will cook and/or the rain might come at some point diluting the early ripening grapes). While others, probably over-confident, harvested much later trying to take advantage of the sun to have riper grapes and tannins, to obtain fuller and stronger wines. And some hesitated, they harvested part of their crop too early, then stopped and waited, then harvested the rest of their crop later (way too late for quite a few of them), and ended up blending both harvests together, spawning unbalanced wines with weird characteristics.

In fact, some of the resulting wines from the early harvest were totally unripe, acidic, astringent, green and tannic. While some of the later harvest were strongly overripe, or obviously cooked, showing everything upfront with no structure and no harmony and a finish unpleasantly high in alcohol. And the rest of the wines were a strange combination of both characteristics (early and later harvest blended together).

In my true and honest opinion, the resulting wines across the whole region of Bordeaux in general, for this hot 2003 vintage, to say the least, were frankly inhomogeneous and unbalanced.

In the position of Wine Buyer and Wine Director for one of the most successful wine and spirits retail stores in Manhattan (NYC) at the time (PJ Wine), I remember when we traveled to Bordeaux for the En Primeur 2003 and being there, in my home region, with our team, tasting hundreds of Chateaux, some 2 or 3 times as they were presented in various tastings and events.

After tasting so many wines every day for about 8 days straight (at the wineries, at wine tasting events, with the négociants, and even during wine dinners), my mind was set on buying as little as possible, as I was irrevocably skeptical about the quality altogether of this rather strange "millésime" (vintage in English), resulting in "Bordeaux 2003 En Primeur tasting" being one of the worst and less homogeneous vintages I have ever tasted (En Primeur) in my 27 years career as a Sommelier and Wine Buyer for restaurant and boutique wine stores.

My boss and some of the rest of the team, at the time, (like the press and most wine critics) were also quite ecstatic, raving about this 2003 vintage. They said it was great, fruity, strong, lot of structure, etc, etc.... Yet, I thought utterly differently.
  • Whenever they tasted concentration and ripe jammy fruit, I tasted over-ripeness and cooked fruit. 
  • Whenever they tasted some sort of freshness or crispiness, I tasted weird, sour and unpleasant acidity for some and total lack of acidity for others. 
  • Whenever they tasted solid grip of tannins that added texture and structure, I tasted unpleasant, unintegrated, astringent and green tannins contributing to the bitterness of the wine, or, on the other end, "overripe" tannins adding almost like a burnt sensation. 
  • Whenever they tasted concentration and strength, I tasted over-extraction and the high alcohol level. 
We were definitely not on the same page, as I really disliked the 2003 vintage. I urged my boss not to follow the critics (or follow them with extreme caution) and more especially not to buy too many cases of too many wines in that vintage, as they will surely be difficult to sell and time might prove they will not evolve well... But he did not listen and swallowed the words of the wine critics who released their scores right after the tasting week, surfing the wave of enthusiasm for this unprecedented hot vintage blinded by his lack of better judgment.

In fact, and time proved me right, rare were the Chateaux which succeeded in making a good wine in this particularly unprecedented hot 2003 vintage. Moreover, none of them improved with age in the bottle. Of course, there are some rare exceptions to that rule. Pontet Canet in Pauillac and Montrose and Calon Segur in Saint-Estephe come to mind (there were definitely 3 of my favorites when we tasted them at the Chateaux, and the critics raved about them as being the best of this particular vintage, for that I had to agree with them, for the rest no).

Pauillac and more especially Saint-Estephe on the left bank were mostly preserved due to their proximity with the Gironde estuary creating a micro-climate preserving the vines from the heat by colling down the air, and the presence of sand, and patches of clay in the soils, which tend to stay cooler and also retain water, an essential key factor to produce good wines during a hot year like 2003.

NB: note that I did not mention gravel, which is one of the main component of the Haut-Médoc soils, as gravels absorb the heat during the day to restitute it at night to the vines, which usually helps the ripeness of the grapes in regular years, but in very hot year it increases it too rapidly and does not help to cool down the vines, therefore no point to mention it.

The wines crafted from vineyards of the right bank planted on calcareous and clay soils also did well for the most part, as both if these soil's components retain humidity and release it, allowing the vines to cool down, get the water and nutrients they need, and be more resistant when facing strong heat like in 2003.

But overall, it is just the harvesting time decision and the quality of the grapes at harvest time that define the quality of the resulting wines for the 2003 vintage (and most wines were not good for all the reasons cited above, but more particularly due to wrong vineyard's management decisions and harvest timing).   
However, to my despair and despite my advice not to, my boss ended up buying loads of 2003 Bordeaux. At first, the "Bordeaux En Primeur 2003 vintage" sales were promising, as the wine critics notes and their incomprehensible enthusiasm for this peculiar vintage paid off. But then, about 6 months to a year later, while the wines were still in barrel, not even bottled and therefore not even shipped to us, some critics started to downgrade the wines and lower their scores.

My first intuition was right and my fear of having difficulty selling that vintage became a reality.

The wines were still in barrel, not even bottled, but clients were already calling to cancel their orders and get their money back. My boss was both upset and desperate, not sure of what he could do anymore to turn the situation around.

Moreover, after the vintage 2000 when Bordeaux wine prices started to go haywire, 2003 came at a high price too and speculation that was quite high right after the En Primeur 2003 tasting week came rapidly to a low point as revised scores started to appear.

2003 came at a high price, as 2001 and 2002 were just average to bad vintages (not great, not good, but just OK... mediocre if you want my opinion - yet, some wines from these two vintages surprisingly ended up being quite good with a bit of age in the bottle; that is what we call "Classique Bordeaux" in Bordeaux, as an excuse of being austere and mediocre in their youth, but somewhat better a few years down the road).

Then again, some lower their scores after tasting the 2003 wines again after bottling, 2 years later, realizing that they had been partially or completely wrong in the first place. Then, once again, lower their scores again a few years later as the wine did not even improve and, in some case, even got worst. That said, I cannot generalize, as not all critics downgraded the wines. Some critics (a few, but still...) slightly  elevated their score after bottling.... yet, it did not reassured our clients and did not help for the sale....

My boss had gambled on the success of this Bordeaux 2003 vintage, not on his own taste, but on critics scores, and the critics were changing their mind rapidly. At that time in the US, Bordeaux wines were products of huge speculations on both the regular and the grey markets. Lower ratings meant lower investment returns over time for most of our clients. About 3/4 of the stocks we bought went canceled or unsold, and he took us more than 2 years after receiving the stocks in our warehouse to liquidate them, most of them with a huge discount, just to get rid of them. It was a sad experience that had been driven by scores rather than taste and reason.

I'm sorry, once again and as usual, I'm slightly deviating from the subject to tell you my stories from the past. So, let's go back to the huge gap in between critics scores.

Let's take, for example, the scores of Chateau Palmer 2003, which was one of the Chateaux that made a decent yet not extraordinary wine in this peculiar vintage (yet much better than some for sure... and because I like Palmer for many reasons, one day I will tell you why.... in another post).

As unbelievable as it may seem, in the table below, the gap between the Wine Critic's scores received by Palmer 2003, varies from a low 87pts to an astonishing 96pts on 100 point scale, and from 15.5 to 18 on 20 points scale. As for the critic's overall view, 4 are between 85-89 and 5 between 90-94. Personally, my score will be somewhere between the middle and the lower camp. (looks like the same situation as my illustration above at the wine critic's table 😊)

In any case, as already stated earlier above, (and it makes even more sense when looking at the table below), the huge gap in between critics scores proves once again that tasting is very subjective and that you should really know the taste and palate of the critic(s) you follow and the pattern they follow to rate the wine they have tasted.

That is the reason why you cannot let yourself be influenced by the scores (or ratings) without knowing the palate, taste and rating pattern not only of the critic(s) you follow, but the others too.

Chateau Palmer 2003 Wine Critic's Scores © LeDomduVin 2018

I did a colorful graph as visual graphs usually speak louder than words. 😊

Chateau Palmer 2003 Wine Critic's Scores Graph by © LeDomduVin 2018

For the ratings on the 20 points scale, it is important to understand that they cannot be converted into the 100 points scale via mathematical % conversion (right column in table below - as some of you might logically think so and do so), as the results do not equal or match the corresponding 20 points rating scale used by the wine critics and wine press.

To better explain what I'm trying to say,  here is another table I created, which should help you understand (I hope it helps). 

Wine Critics 100pts scores vs 20pts scores scale by © LeDomduVin 2018

As you can see, wine critic's scores and descriptions can be biased and greatly vary due to various factors and therefore could influence you wrongly if you do not know or have at least an idea of the palate, taste and rating pattern of the critic(s) you want to follow. So unless you have similar palate and taste, do not let yourself be influenced by scores that are at both extremes of the scale's spectrum. 

If you are a kind of new to wine and want to know which wine critic to follow (that is if you think that you should follow critics to better buy your wines, then follow these steps:

1. Buy some wines from one region and one vintage (if possible) scored by at least 3-4 wine critics without reading their tasting notes (ask your local store and/or caviste and/or Sommelier to advise you on which ones you should taste if you do not know)

2. Taste, assess, evaluate and score the wines yourself with your own palate  and own rating system (if you can that is....) at home, at a restaurant, alone or with friends and/or family

3. Now, read the various critic's tasting notes and scores, and compare them to yours to determinate, which critic(s) is (are) the closest to your descriptions and scores (the ones you have given to these wines yourself).

4. Repeat the process with various wines from different countries, regions, appellations, and vintage in order to confirm which critic(s) you want to follow.

You will see, it will definitely ease the pain when buying wines that you don't know and never really got the chance to taste before.    

Don't let yourself be influenced by the critic's tasting notes,

Don't let yourself be influenced by the critic's tasting notes, and don't take them for granted either unless you have similar taste or palate. Learn about the palate and taste of the critics you follow to get better guidance on the wine you want to taste and buy (as said and repeated many times in this post...I will never say it enough...).

For example, it used to be a time when Robert Parker Jr. was King, and whatever he said went. For most people with a similar palate, he was right-on, and defined what was good or bad for decades. I have much respect for the man (that I have met a few times long ago) and his palate. I have also a lot of respect for what he has done for many regions and wines and producers all around the world over the last 4 decades, and more especially Bordeaux (where I'm from).

However, for people (like me) who are more inclined to lighter, fresher, more balanced, less extracted, less woody and less alcoholic wines, Robert Parker Jr. taste was probably too bold, too strong, too jammy, too woody, basically too much for their palate.

NB: Note that I said "was" and not "is" as, and although he and WA remain strong references in terms of scores and tasting notes, I believe he (and/or WA altogether) is not making the weather in the wine world anymore.. (for quite a few years now I believe, but you probably knew that already...).

As a Sommelier and Wine Buyer for restaurants and boutique wine stores, I had no other choice but to pay close attention to RP tasting notes, and more especially his ratings (in order to satisfy some of the clients I sold the wines to in both places).

Yet, I have always preferred and expressed more enthusiasm to read and follow the tasting notes from more classic and less "new world" critic's palates such as Michael Broadbent, Jancis Robinson, Hugh Johnson, Stephen Tanzer, Clive Coates and Allan Meadows and buyer/importer such as Kermit Lynch and Neal Rosenthal (just to name a few) for my personal cellar and consumption, but also for some of my clients.

Nowadays, I also follow newer critics like Neal Martin, Jeannie Cho Lee (with whom I've worked for a little while) and a few others, as their palate and taste seem to better correspond to mine (... it is not always true though), yet my taste has evolved and changed over the last 30 years, as well as the wines have changed. 

Yet, in the end, I usually prefer my tasting notes as they are more detailed and express more emotions and sensations towards the tasted wines (nothing wrong with unabashed self-promotion here, hey?... Read some examples on my last post here and let me know what you think).

On that note, I found that some critic's tasting notes are really "meaningfully meaningless" (these 2 words together again 😊... I love saying them...) to the point of being bad sometimes.

I remember reading the tasting notes of a famous critic (no name here, as with time I learned how to respect him somewhat, even if I still don't like his writing style) for the 2003 vintage Bordeaux En Primeur, and frankly, for Margaux (same example as above again and I want to insist on that), they all had similar tasting notes resumed in 2-3 short sentences maximum for each wine and were "astonishingly indistinguishable" from one another without looking at the names of the Chateaux.

And yet, some received scores way below 90 points, while others were well above 90 points, but by reading the tasting notes it was impossible to define or comprehend what was the reason behind the scores. Doesn't it sound ridiculous and confusing to you? It was meaningless to me, to say the least. (as said previously, but there again, it is important to repeat it as it happens more often than you think)

In my opinion, the problems with wine critic's tasting notes is that either

1. some are too short, too vague and/or not detailed enough to really describe the wine and reflect or justify the score, or

2. some are way too long with metaphors and made-up words supposed to trigger an image of something peculiar, often unknown to most common people.

It is true, I'm telling you. Some wine critics and other wannabes think that throwing around "meaningful" words such as "rocky mineral", "old saddle leather", "tingling salty tide", and so on, makes tasting notes sound more important, more imposing, more interesting... or something.

Of course, big words and metaphors can be fine when used correctly. They can even be built into a very good writing style, but I'm referring to tasting notes that use bad metaphors, rather odd terminology and so many supposedly "meaningful" words that it reduces them to be unintelligible in the context or even hard to imagine, and therefore become "meaningless".

For example, it is like if I was writing this as a tasting note:

Chateau Picrate Label by © LeDomduVin 2018

Chateau Picrate 2018 Appellation Ajeterdanslevier Recommandée 

"Exuberant nose of ripe Durian fruit with notes of mildew, underbrush forest floor, just unearthed mushrooms, long vacated birds nest, undertones of flooded tarmac, moldy saddle leather, buried Alpine Ibex horns, crushed pencil shavings in coriander, cloud of attic dust, over moisturized cigars box, waterfall's rocky minerals, wet pebble stones, and overtones of wet animal fur, old mope, mothball, sponged chalkboard, dried Uhu stick and just opened black indelible marker pen. A slipper of the vintage. Highly recommended"  62pts
- LeDomduVin 26/08/2018

OK, this is an extreme and slightly exaggerated example... yet, I have read similar laughable tasting notes and at that point, in my perplexed opinion, it's bad, over-killed and at best meaningless.

Unfortunately, some wine writing people just did not get it yet. And when this type of writing leaves the minds of melodramatic wine critics, wine bloggers, and other wine-writer wannabes and enters mainstream wine TV shows, wine press, wine guides and books on the subject, we all suffer from lack of understanding and for good reasons.

On that note, and now that I have wasted 2 hours of your precious time with a very lengthy post (once again.... 😊), I wish you the best, thanks for reading this post and stay tuned for more posts like this one (I mean shorter than this one I hope.....) 

Cheers! Santé!

LeDomduVin a.k.a. Dominique Noël

(*) Forget about the definitions of "Picrate" and "Vinasse" in English, as they have nothing to do with the English words, which both respectively correspond to something totally different.


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