Saturday, December 12, 2020

LeDomduVin: My Wine Scoring Way - The Wine Scoring Dilemma

The Wine Scoring Dilemma  by ©LeDomduVin 2020
The Wine Scoring Dilemma
by ©LeDomduVin 2020

My Wine Scoring Way

The Wine Scoring Dilemma

Who still believes in wine scores? You do? 

Personally, I'm sitting on the fence. I'm not necessarily against it, but I'm not necessarily for it either.  

And, this post comes "très à propos" (very appropriately, if you prefer), as all the Wine Critics and Wine Magazines are releasing their BEST OF and/or TOP 100 Wines of the Year 2020 (1).  

I'm on the fence because, first of all, tasting wine is very subjective

And, secondly: Wine is alive! This means that wine continuously changes and evolves while ageing in the bottle and even reacts to its immediate surroundings and storage conditions. 

Like any living being, amongst other things, a wine goes through phases and can rapidly change in terms of aspect, aromas/flavours and taste, depending on:

  • The intrinsic quality of the wine itself (if it is a bad wine to start with, it usually won't get better),
  • The age and the intrinsic potential of ageing (some wines are not meant or not able to age well), 
  • The quality of the vintage, of course (not all vintages are good or able to age well), 
  • The vineyard management and the vinification process (it all starts in the vineyards, then in the cellar, if wrong decisions are made, they will always affect the quality of the wine, one way or another),
  • The quality of the winemaker too (sorry to say, but some winemakers are quite bad, and they don't even seem to be aware of it, or simply have bad taste or maybe they never try the wine they make?), ( is a bit harsh, I know, but it is true, some winemakers/producers never fail to make bad wines, year in, year out... to the point that you've lowered your expectation so much, that the day you taste a good wine from them, it is like a miracle... and the worst part is that some them are quite expensive and therefore disappointing for the price... but, I won't name any..), 
  • The storage temperature and overall conditions (too hot, too cold, too humid, not well-ventilated enough, mouldy, etc..), 
  • The service temperature (too hot or too cold) and conditions (dirty decanter, wrong glasses, etc...), 
  • But also the outside temperature (too cold or too hot?),
  • And the overall climate conditions in general (rain, storms, etc..),
  • And last but not least, the tasting conditions and the potentially influential factors coming to play during the tasting 
    • Will the wine get the same score if tasted at a public tasting, an office or at the winery/chateau itself? 
    • How about if the owner, producer or winemaker is a friend? Etc... 
  • Etc...

And, if you want to go even further, as everything on this earth is, one way or another, influenced by, affected by, and/or even related to various forces and energies here on earth (but also by/with those influenced or directly emanating from the moon, the sun, the other planets of our solar system and even, to a certain extent, the cosmos), we could even say that, as per the lunar calendar (organic/biodynamic), better consider tasting and drinking wine on "Flower" and "Fruit" days, rather than on "Root" or "Leaf" days.   

That's already a lot of reasons and factors that may alter and/or influence the subjectivity and objectivity of the taster (i.e. the Wine Critic, Press, Oenologists, etc...) and the "genuity" of the given score, isn't it?   

Therefore, it is essential to put things back into context and understand that "scores" only represent the olfaction and tasting bud's primary reaction of a particular individual (i.e. the taster: Wine Critic, Press, etc..) to a particular wine, tasted within particular conditions, on a very particular day, and with all the possible potentially influential factors imaginable.     

That is a bit reductive, but it sums up the situation quite well. 

Fortunately, the Wine Critic or Journalist's experience and palate's skills and accuracy come to play a major role in this equation. To a certain extent, they moderate these influences and "usually" ensure that the score/rating given to a tasted wine is genuine and representative, not attributed due to these potentially influential factors.    

Yet, always remember that the dependability of a wine scoring system rests on those who set, moderate, and give the scores to the wines (i.e., Wine Critic, Press, etc..). 

And, even the most accurate and skilful Wine Critic (or any experienced wine professional tasting and scoring wine, for that matter, including me) is vulnerable when faced with, affected by or influenced by any of these factors. It is a very human condition. Our mind is not as rigid, impermeable and impartial as the CPU of a computer, a robot or artificial intelligence.   

It is true. You have to admit it. It is always more difficult to taste and give low or bad scores to the wine of a property or a winemaker you've loved or even known and "tested" for years. Or worst, the wine of a friend, colleague, old acquaintance, family, or anyone else you've shared memorable moments with. More especially if the wine reveals great features. 

On the contrary, if/when the wine is not as good as it could have been or should have been (depending on the vintage, the history of the wine or even the brand) and many other reasons, then hesitation and indecision will come to knock on the wall of your brain, interrogating and questioning your mind and senses. And no matter how genuine and well-intentioned you wanted to be, and despite all your self-discipline and rigorous methodology, you might still give that half a point or even a point more to that wine...      

Because, in certain conditions and circumstances, it is difficult to separate things, measure the euphoria, control the joy, and prevent or attenuate the infatuation while trying to maintain the needed and necessary detachment and neutrality to remain impartial and keep your integrity. 

More especially when you taste a wine that shines with all the energy and passion a winemaker has placed in it. Even more, especially if you are acquainted with or know that specific producer/winemaker and/or have loved his/her wine(s) for years.    

It is difficult to badly score or write about wine made by your friend or a winemaker (you know and like his/her wines), especially when the wine is good, great or even brilliant, or worst, if, on the contrary, the wine is not that good, without arousing suspicion of collusion with others. Hence the reason for being as impartial as you can be and keeping your integrity as much as possible, remain neutral and distant to erase the assumptions and interpretations of others. 

But God only knows how difficult it is, as not only taste, relationship, acquaintance or friendship, come to play in this equation, price too.  This means that wines of high pedigree and price always influence or even command high scores (in most press and wine critics' minds). 

Although the price of a wine is usually/normally/supposedly directly related to the quality (the greater the quality, the higher the price) and/or the quantity (the lower the production, the higher the price), always remember that great wine doesn't have to be necessarily expensive. High price does not always make the wine either. I will not give any examples or names, but I know a lot of expensive wines that are not as great as they should be to command such a high price. 

And that said, even if Wine Critics or Press know all of the above "All too well", it seems their ratings cannot help but be influenced by the price somehow (I guess it is part of the game). Meaning that it is rare to see an expensive wine get a bad or low rating. While in my opinion, it should get a low or bad rating if it is bad or not up to the quality or reflects the price it commands. And the same goes for renowned high-end Châteaux/producers/brands. 

Consequently, I will say, "Choose the Wine Critic or Journalist that you want to follow" well and preferably select the one (or the few) who you feel are "genuine" (as per your point of view) and that you can trust, and maybe have a comparable or similar palate and taste as yours. 

For example, when I was working in NYC in the early 2000s, my boss was a Robert Parker Jr "groupie" (he was a man, but still...), while my director was more a James Suckling follower, and personally, I had already figured out that my palate and way of scoring was closer and more similar to Stephen Tanzer with its International Wine Cellar's wine rating system on a 70-100 point quality scale. 

That said, I never understood and still don't understand the point of rating below 88pts? - or at the most below 85 pts - as it does not serve anyone to rate a wine that low. If below 85pts, it might be better not to score the wine and let people make their own opinion.       

As I always say: 

"When a wine is bad, the wine is bad! No matter the pedigree, history, classification, rank or price! Better not to score it than tarnish its reputation. It does not serve anyone." - LeDomduVin    

No matter what you think about all the things I've said above, directly or indirectly, ALL of these intricate factors are unarguably and undeniably related and greatly impact a Wine Critic's final score on a particular wine. Everyone knows it.

How about the "En Primeur" tasting? 

The worst, in my opinion, is the "En Primeur" tasting in Bordeaux, where Critics and Journalists, as well as professionals, connoisseurs and amateurs, come to taste and evaluate unfinished wines, some that have been blended specifically for the occasions and may not even reflect the final products in the bottle. 

Sorry to describe this way, as it is a very graphic metaphor, but in my opinion (and I'm not the only one to think that way), tasting "En Primeur" is like taking the baby out of his mother's womb at 3 months old, when it is only a fetus, to check and determine in which conditions it is, evaluate it and rate it, then put it back into the womb to finish the remaining 6  months it needs to fully develop. It is like rating a kid and predicting his/her future while he/she is not even born yet.      

Some critics and journalists are cautious and clever enough not to give an "En Primeur" wine a definitive score but rather a score range, for example, "90-92", "94-96", or even "95-100", which makes more sense in my opinion, as an "En Primeur" wine may change between the time of the "En primeur" tasting and bottling, due to various factors: oak treatment, final blend, etc...  

Difficult to compare a wine that has spent only a few months in barrels compared to a finished wine that may have spent between 12 and 18 months (or more) in barrels.  More especially if the final blend ends up not being the same for diverse reasons. 

Which makes me think: how can we trust a definitive score given at en "En Primeur" tasting? More especially, if that same critic or journalist changes his/her score 2 years later when the wine is bottled? I will let you ponder on that.    

I know that as a Bordeaux native, grandson of a winemaker, Sommelier and Wine Buyer, I should not speak like this of such an institution.  And frankly, I have nothing against the "En Primeur" tasting.  On the contrary, I think it is a good way of having somewhat of an idea of the quality of the vintage (even if it is a bit early in the wine's life, in my opinion).  As you probably understand, it is the "definitive score" I have a problem with when rating "En Primeur" wines.

However, I'm just a Sommelier, not a critic or a journalist, so I should be more tolerant and accepting, yet it has driven me crazy for years, and I had to vent out and say it once again.   

LeDomduVin's 5-Star Wine Rating Scale by ©LeDomduVin 2020
LeDomduVin's 5-Star Wine Rating Scale
by ©LeDomduVin 2020

My own wine-scoring way

And that is the reason why I'm on the fence with scoring wine, wine scoring and wine scores in general, and also why, long ago, as a young Sommelier and Wine Buyer, I had to develop and use my own wine scoring way: a personal wine rating scale more adapted and suited to my wine buyer's needs, and to be used for big tastings and events mainly. 

Therefore, please understand "my way of scoring" is a "Wine Buyer Scoring Scale" rather than a "Wine Critic or Journalist's Scoring Scale". I use it to quickly assess a wine's intrinsic qualities without spending too much time tasting it or dissecting every detail of it. It allows me to make quick buying decisions during a tasting.    

It is a 5-star rating scale that I can easily understand and that is solely based on my taste bud's immediate reaction. I had to develop it, especially for big tastings and events, to be able to focus only on the good wines, go fast and differentiate my ratings from the other rating systems to prevent their influence on my buying decisions (which was critical when I was a wine buyer for restaurants and retails back in the days, and even till these days).       

Meaning that I usually approach all wine tastings the same way: with essential knowledge and information about the region(s) and vintage(s) to be tasted. And, eventually, about the featured wines to be tasted too (if I saw the list prior to going to the tasting or if the list was provided at the beginning of the tasting), but not necessarily, as I usually prefer to go to a tasting with a clear head, uncluttered of unnecessary thoughts or ratings/scores that I could possibly have seen or known about some of the wines.     

So, I created my own custom "5-Star Wine Rating Scale" scoring method and adopted this tasting approach to assessing the wines as they are and for what they are. Assess their respective intrinsic qualities, as well as their quality/price ratio, the most simply and efficiently I could possibly put it, with a "Wine Buyer" minded attitude and mannerism (meaning not like a "Wine Critic" or a journalist): 

0 - NO (I dislike it, won't buy it, next !!!)

1 - OK (I don't dislike it, but I'm not a fan either, probably won't buy it unless the price is low)

2 - MAYBE (It is interesting but may present flaws or angularities, I may buy it if the price is good)

3 - LIKE IT (I will buy it, especially if the price is good)

4 - LIKE IT A LOT (I definitely need to buy it, especially if I can get a discount for 10 cases or more)

5 - LOVE IT (A must-have! How many cases can I buy? When can I have the wine? )    

As you can notice, on any five-star scale, regardless of the bottom rating, 3 stars are often the lowest positive rating, and it is the same on my scale too. Though judging on a purely mathematical basis, 2.5 stars should be the dividing line between good and bad on a 0-5 scale, but I skipped the 1/2 (half star) to make it easier and went straight to the upper point. After all, I created that 5-Star Wine Rating scale to prevent having to bother with too many details and make fast wine-buying decisions, so no half-star!   

Prior to going into more detail about my "own way of scoring", complemented with my "LeDomduVin's Tasting 5-Star Wine Rating Scale" Table explanation in the paragraphs further below, I would like to come back and extend my thoughts a little more, on the "Wine Scoring" and "Wine Scores" Dilemma.    


The Wine Critic Tasting Notes Paradox  by © LeDomduVin 2018
The Wine Critic Tasting Notes Paradox
by © LeDomduVin 2018 

The Wine Scoring and Wine Scores Dilemma

Like most wine buyers, over my nearly 30 years career in wine, I was forced to adapt and adopt many different ways of scoring wines and rating scales depending on the critics, journalists, magazines and websites I was reading or following (e.g. 3 stars, 5 stars, 10 points, 20 and/or 100 points scales). 

I had to do it to compare my personal tasting notes and descriptions with those from the "professionals" but also in order to comprehend and read through their scores and the lines of their tasting notes, which can be pretty confusing sometimes.   

By "reading through the lines and the scores" (of the Wine Critics and Journalists), I mean trying to understand what differentiates an "88" from a "90", or even a "92, or a "94" from a "98" in THEIR language and way of scoring. And trust me on this, it is not always an easy task

More especially if, like me, you prefer descriptive and detailed wine-tasting notes/descriptions that have a meaning and clearly indicate that difference, which is far from always being the case, depending on the wine critic. 

Some of them only give short and undescriptive tasting notes/descriptions that are fairly similar or sometimes nearly identical, yet with different scores, making it really difficult to understand why there is such a difference in scores. 

Let's take, for example, a very confusing situation where the respective descriptions of two different wines (from the same appellation, same grape varieties and same vintage) are almost the same, or sometimes even identical, but somehow generate two drastically different scores. 

The following is a great example. I wrote it and put it into an illustration for a previous post (2) (see also my illustration above), but I'm re-using it as it is perfect to illustrate that kind of situation: 

In the illustration above, there are two wines, "Y" and "Z", with a fairly similar descriptions, yet scores that are strangely quite distant for no apparent reason: 


"Black fruit, good acidity, polished texture, good structure and balance, long persistent finish" - 89


"Black fruit, refreshing, smooth texture, combining structure and balance, long-lasting finish" - 96  

Do you see what I mean? It is definitely not easy to understand why one commands an "89" and the other a "96" while the descriptions are so very similar, isn't it? I think you get my point.  

Consequently, that is why, in my opinion, "wine scoring" and "wine scores" have always been a huge dilemma (for me and most people I know in the industry). 

Moreover, what to choose? Which scale? 100 or 20-point scale? (or even a 10-point scale back a long time ago...). And beside points, what else? 3- or 5-Star scale? Or even a 3- or 5-Wine-Glasses scale? 

Depending on which side of the globe you're on, rating scales are different and their understanding and meaning too. Sometimes what could or should seem to be logical isn't! And it is very frustrating! 

That is why I came up, long ago, with a "Wine Scoring Scales Comparison Table" that has always helped me better comprehend and read through the different scales (see the Table in the paragraph further below). 

That is also one of the main reasons why more Wine Critics, Wine Magazines and other Wine Media have, in recent years, adapted and changed to the 100-point scale in order to "globalize" the scoring/rating scale for a better understanding of the scores and their significance.  

I even recently realized that various well-known wine-scoring websites use the 100-point scale and the common 5-Star scale together (for each wine on their site) to adapt and appeal to a broader range of readers and attract larger and younger audiences. 

However, as if it wasn't complicated enough already with the various scales to choose from, the other question is: Who to follow? 

Just to name a few, and there are so many more... It is a dilemma, isn't it? (At least, it is to me...)

This is a dilemma, even more so, as, nowadays, thousands of professionals and non-professionals (who could eventually be added to the above list) are now surfing the growing wave of wine vloggers and wine influencers on social media, posting thousands of wine descriptions, pictures and even streaming media and live videos everywhere on Social Media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tik-Tok and even LinkedIn now, and surely on all the other social media and networks I do not know, or I'm not registered with). 

Thus, it is more fun and interactive now, isn't it?... Sure! 

Yet, it makes it even more difficult to choose who to follow and who to listen to now. 

Yet again, surprisingly, and it is an excellent surprise (like most wine bloggers, like me, at the beginning of "blogging" back 10-15 years ago), nowadays, Wine Influencers speak with their guts and passion for what they like and love. They do NOT use any rating or scoring scale. 

They just use their own words to translate and transcribe what they have in their minds to convey a passionate and animated message to the world, free of "too-short-to-mean-anything" descriptions and "often-incomprehensible-and-weirdly-attributed" scores. And I looooooooooove it!!! I find it soooo refreshing!   

Just to name a few among some of my favourites that I have been following on Instagram (some more recently than others) (mostly French Wine-Influencers, sorry) 

You can also browse the Feedspot Top 200 Wine Instagram Influencers most followed in 2020 to see if some of the people you follow made a list.  

So, although I just wrote all the above and could still talk about this fascinating subject for hours, I have already long debated and detailed the subjects of "Scoring Wines" and "Wine Scores" in two of my previous posts, here and here. Therefore, I did not want necessarily to write another post about it. So, why did I? 

What prompted me to write today's post?

So, what prompted me to write today's post (about "wine scoring", "wine scores" and "wine critics"), was the reaction of a friend who, a few days after the tasting of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB) Bordeaux 2017 Vintage, in Hong Kong (November 25th), asked me to send him a list of the wines from this tasting with "scores".  

As I was trying to finish my previous post on that specific UGCB Bordeaux 2017 Vintage tasting (read it here), I told him that as soon as I finish the post, I will send him the link, so he can see and read about the wines I liked/loved from the tasting, based on the various pictures and tasting notes included in the post. 

But, he replied (to me): 

"I thought you would give me (or even put) your scores out of 100pts on your post, on your blog, but it is probably too divisive, although I don't know, maybe you can still express yourself and put up the scores without the Chateaux having griefs against you". 

To which I replied (answer edited for this post): 

"I usually never rate on a 100-point scale. More especially during big wine tastings or events. I just use my own rating scale and put stars when I taste: 3 Stars (I like), 4 Stars (I like it a lot) and 5 Stars (I love it), based on the quality of the wine first, and I also try to take into consideration the  "quality/price" ratio when I award stars while tasting. Other than that, I'm only writing tasting notes (which I find more interesting and more descriptive than rating the wines anyway). However, I'll try to convert my stars to try to rate the wines on a 100-point scale, for you, based on what I wrote during the tasting, then send it to you. Yet, I probably won't put those ratings out of 100pts on my blog, so as to not receive any criticisms or comments from the properties." (FYI: I do not put my stars on my posts on my blog either, for the record). 

To which, I immediately added: 

"I developed this method while working in the US, in New York, when I was a buyer for wine & spirits retail stores. So, it's a wine buyer's method, not a wine critic rating scale system. During tastings, there is usually no time to assess the lesser wines (not to say "mediocre" or "bad"), so, if not good enough, no star and I move on to the next one. As for the ones I gave 1 and/or 2 stars, I usually revisit them at the end of the tasting to be sure (and if I have time too). After re-tasting them, unless I made a mistake, the 1-star wines end up being discarded from my selection. And the 2-stars wines are kept only if the quality/price ratio is interesting, but still only remain considered as "Ok" (instead of "Maybe"), and probably won't be bought. They often end up being discarded too."

So, there it is! This is my "Wine Scoring Way". Everyone seems to have one. This one is mine: my customized Wine Buyer's "5-Star scale" wine rating system. 

My Scoring Way (suite): the conversion from my 5-star to 100-point and 20-point scales

Yet, you see, now that I had told my friend (the one who wanted me to send him the list of the 2017 Bordeaux with 100-point scale scores) that I would try to convert my stars system into 100pts scale, I had to come up with a plan, a conversion strategy or methodology that made sense, not only for me, but also for him, and eventually, if/when needed, for my colleagues, partners, clients and customers. 

Fortunately, it was an easy task as I have a "comparison table" (or "equivalence table" if you prefer) I made long ago that I have been using to convert/compare my 5-star scale into/with 100-point and 20-point scores/rating scales, which came pretty handy on numerous occasions in these past 2 decades.   

So, (as I said in the conversation above), I probably won't post the list of my favourite Bordeaux 2017 vintage from that UGCB Tasting in this post, or maybe? Hmm... It could be interesting, but I will have to face the reaction of the wineries and winemakers and maybe, other Bordeaux Grands Crus wines-related people like some of the Brokers and Negociants. Tough decision to make...    

Anyway, you can just read the post on that subject here (UGCB 2017 Vintage) to see and read about all the wines I liked/loved, including pictures and tasting notes. 

But there are NO scores, as I only write about wines I like or love in my posts. No point in showing disappointing scores and/or writing about the wines I disliked (or even found really "awful" for some). It would not serve me nor the Châteaux/wineries. 

NB: And, at the end of the day, there is enough misery in this world, so, better to write only about good wines and positive things, keeping the mood light and on a high note, with a smile and positive attitude. 😁     

Therefore, what I wanted to share with you (today, in this post) is my Wine Rating Scales "conversion" table comparing my 5-Star rating scale with the 100-Point and 20-Point scales, as well as the common 5-Star/Point scale (which is different than my customized 5-Star scale). 

And between you and me, I have never really understood why we need a 100-point scale as most published scores and ratings (by the critics and other wine media) never (or so rarely) go below 85pts, and the same for the 20-point scale, it never really goes below 12.5pts...  So, what's the point?.... 
Go figure!!!

I guess it was to "uniformize" or even, as we say in France "mondialise" ("mondialisation"), meaning globalize (globalization) the wine rating scale system for everyone to have a better understanding and be able to compare. 

The 100-point scale is widely used on the planet to rate exam results at schools or other products than wine, it makes sense, and it was probably the best thing to do anyway.  

And don't get me wrong, I also occasionally use the 100-point rating scale scores (I'll explain a little more on that further down this post).    

Without further ado, and because a visual is worth a thousand words, here is my Wine Rating Scales comparison table. 

LeDomduVin's Wine Rating Scales Comparison Table 

Wine Rating Scales Comparison Table by ©LeDomduVin 2020
Wine Rating Scales Comparison Table
by ©LeDomduVin 2020

So, as you can see, there is nothing complicated about this comparison table. It is just pure logic and common sense, after all. 100pts (in the 100-point scale) = 20pts (in the 20pts scale) = 5 stars/points (in the 5-star/point scale). Only my 5-star rating scale is a bit tricky, as it was not created for the common understanding but rather for mine only. 

But, once you'll understand the fact that my customized 5-star scale is a "Wine Buyer" rating scale, not a "Wine Critic" nor a Wine Magazine" rating scale, then the comparison will start to make more sense to you and become easier to digest and accept. 😄  

As quite a lot of people in the world still use the 20-point scale and even the common 5-star scale (which is different from mine), I believe that, after all, the first 3 columns of this table (that I created long ago and been using for the past 2 decades) might prove quite useful to many of you.   

As you can notice (in this table above), any wine I estimate the potential score to be below 88 points (on the 100-point scale) or 14 (on the 20-point scale) or 2 (on the common 5-star scale), gets a "0" star from me. That means that the wine is immediately rejected or discarded or immediately put aside, and, obviously, considered as "unworthy" (either because of its taste or because of its quality/price ratio, yet, most of the time, both).   

And, I can hear you say, isn't it a bit harsh? No? 

Well, as stated previously, I developed this "customized 5-star scale" rating system for myself long ago (as a Wine Buyer), to be mainly used during big tastings/wine events while working in New York, as Wine Buyer for "niche" boutique wine and spirits retail stores, in order to 
  • spend less time on the bad wines and focus on the best wines
  • make a quick and accurate first selection of the best-tasted wines based on my first impression and immediate reaction to the wine's intrinsic taste, characteristics, character and style  
  • not be influenced by and effortlessly differentiate my scores from the others (tasters, including wine critics/wine magazines and media in general)
  • and, thus, make my final selection and buying decision quickly and efficiently based 
    • on the intrinsic quality of the wine according to its place and terroir of origin (appellation, region, geography, topography, local climate, etc..), its rank, grape variety(ies), the quality of the vintage, etc..., first, 
    • then, based on its quality/price ratio (if or when I know the cost price and/or the estimated average market retail price). 

Therefore, and I never repeat it enough, it is a "Wine Buyer scoring scale", not a Wine Critic or a Winepress "100-Point or 20-Point scoring scale".   

What does that mean concretely? 

It means that when you are a Wine Buyer and need to quickly assess lots of wine during big tastings and wine events, it is essential not to waste your time on wines that are lesser in quality and lesser in quality/price ratio to really focus on the good ones. 

A Wine Buyer thinks pleasure (quality/taste) and business (quality/price ratio) at the same time, with a selling-point-oriented manner and mindset that will benefit both the seller (retail, restaurant, supermarket, etc...) and the buyers/consumers.   

This is the opposite of a Wine Critic, who usually must take the time to taste to carefully assess and describe the wines in order to rate them and give them a score. A Wine Critic also thinks about pleasure (quality/taste) and also take into consideration the quality/price ratio at the same time, but not necessarily in the same mindset or business-oriented manner, but rather in a buyer-consumer-oriented manner.      

The main purpose of a wine buyer is to buy "good to great" wines at "good to great" prices in order to increase sales, have a rapid turn-over of the products on the shelves and make decent-enough profits to be able to buy more wines, grow the business, pay the bills and the other employees and please the boss. 

Personally, when I was a Wine Buyer for niche boutique Wine & Spirits retail stores in New York while attending big tastings and other events in the city, I had neither the time nor the luxury to "fuss about" with the complete intrinsic characteristics and other details of the wines I was tasting. I had to be focused, accurate, fast and precise (and get back to work). So, any wines that were not good enough were immediately disregarded/discarded. And the 5-Star scale (I created and used, and still do) help me a lot to succeed in that task back then. 

LeDomduVin's 5-Star Wine Rating Scale for Tastings and Events

A visual may work better for you to grab and understand the concept, so here is my personal and customised 5-Star Wine Rating Scale with explanations (to make it clearer): 

LeDomduVin Tasting 5-Star Wine Rating Scale  by ©LeDomduVin 2020
LeDomduVin Tasting 5-Star Wine Rating Scale 
by ©LeDomduVin 2020

You have to understand that, in the US, when you work in a wine retail store (or any business for that matter), time is money and "good-to-great" business is solely based on the quality of the goods and the rapid turn-over of what you put on the shelves. Therefore, you can't really afford to put bad wines on the shelves, you only want to buy wines that you (and your team) feel confident to sell, and that will please your customers (as well as you and your team too). 

It is obviously harder to sell wines you or your team don't like, so it is important to always involve some or all, of your team when you taste and make decisions to buy wines.   

Consequently, when we had 3 or 4 sales representatives and/or distributors coming to the store to do a tasting presentation of 5-10 wines each, we (the team and me) had the time (and we were taking the time) to "fuss about" the interesting features and the intrinsic qualities of the wines we were tasting. 

We could discuss and hear each other's opinions, laugh and have a good time, and even buy wines that were not necessarily pleasing the majority but that one of us was sure that he/she could sell to our customers. And that was fine. It was a team job, taken and dealt with as such when tasting at the store.       

However, when we were attending big tastings or wine events in the city, or worst when we were going to Bordeaux to attend the various tastings organized by the Negociants, the Chateaux or the Appellations during the "En Primeur" campaign (late March/early April), each year, and that we had to taste, for example, 300 Crus Bourgeois at 9 am in the morning, I can tell you that my customized "5-star wine scoring scale" came very handy, to go through the 300 wines in the most efficient and expedited manner.  😊  

We were assessing 300 wines in a few hours, while a Wine Critic might take the whole day to taste 300 wines. The job is not the same, that's all.   

In the End 

In the end, I have a profound respect for Wine Critics and their job too. Even if I don't always agree with their scores/ratings. And, even if I know that they (we) are not machines and are all influenced, one way or another, directly or indirectly, by external factors, sometimes out of their (our) control. 

And also, the fact that to always remain genuine and impartial by keeping the needed and necessary consistency, integrity, distance, neutrality and perspective, to not be influenced by any of these factors cited above, at some point or another, must be really difficult. 

I admit that I'm influenced or let myself be influenced sometimes, occasionally, by some thoughts, preconceived ideas, misconceptions, misinterpretations, "A Priori", wrong information, lack of information, or, on the contrary, too much information and knowledge too. 

A good example was the Hong Kong UGCB Bordeaux 2017 Vintage tasting I attended in late November. I went to the tasting with no real excitement or expectation as I knew already that 2017 is a difficult vintage in Bordeaux (in general) and that the wine will not taste great and probably not show its full potential either. 

Maybe I was wrong to go to a tasting with that mindset. But that is the main problem we face every time. Whether you're a Wine Buyer (like me) or a Wine Critic (or any other type of wine professional, amateur or connoisseur going to a tasting), the more knowledge you possess about a region, an appellation, the places/vineyards/parcels that are more auspicious to produce better wines and which properties are on them, the various styles of the wines for each property, and the style of the winemaker, and, moreover, if you have followed the evolution of or read abundantly about the vintage and already have a fairly precise idea of what the wines will be and taste like (prior to tasting them), then, you cannot prevent going to a tasting like this one with preconceived ideas and mindset. 

And, unfortunately, the tasting proved me right. To put things in context, what else could one expect from such a difficult vintage? The wines were hard, dry, and astringent on the tannins, showing little to no structure or even little to no texture for some. They were light and lacking in complexity and depth for most of them.  

And to be honest, I'm shocked to see that some of these Bordeaux 2017 wines (that I tasted and did not find good or pleasant) made it to most of the TOP 100 Wines of 2020 (1)  ... very surprising... and that's why I sometimes question if the intention behind the such choice is genuine or interested? (3)

The 2017 Bordeaux, as I mentioned above, are mostly tight, hard, and tannic, with poor structure or texture, with hollow mid-palate and short finish (at least for those I tasted at the UGCB Bordeaux 2017 vintage tasting and on other occasions), rare were the few good ones.  And not only that, but 2017 Bordeaux are expensive too. 

Not that I want to do some Bordeaux bashing, as I'm from Bordeaux and I have been promoting Bordeaux wines for 30 years, but the combination of "lesser in quality", "low in production", "little quantity", and "high price" does not seem very attractive to me. Don't say you did not know, as you had been warned.    

That said, not all the Bordeaux 2017 vintage that I tasted were bad. Some of them were actually really good. The proof is my previous where you will see and be able to read about all the ones I liked and even loved during that tasting. (here)

Therefore, understand that 2017 for Bordeaux is a vintage where you have to look for good quality/price ratios. Otherwise, it's not worth it. Why? Because the wines are expensive and not really that good, so might get very disappointed paying a high price for a wine that does not worth that much.  Which explains some of my ratings and notes. (3)

So, understand my surprise to see that so many of them have made it to some of the "TOP 100 of 2020". Are the wines really that good? Or, is it a commercial stunt to help Bordeaux sell their wines, as the 2017 and 2018 sales were down for various reasons?  (e.g. Trump administration Tariff in the US, COVID-19 everywhere, direct sales and export to China have slumped since early 2019, Chinese cellars are still full with 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 Vintages that are not selling, etc...).  

I let you be the only judge of that. However, in my true and honest opinion, and as a business-minded Wine Buyer and wine lover too, Bordeaux vintage 2019 is much more attractive for both its taste and price and much cheaper than 2018 and 2017 too, if you compare the quality/price ratio. There is definitely some good business to be done with 2019. And although 2018 is a bit more expensive, it is not bad either. 2017 is a pick-and-choose vintage that requires both knowledge and tasting skills.  

That is also one of the reasons why I hesitate to put this list (3) on my blog because these 2017 Bordeaux wines were tested here, in Hong Kong. Therefore, the bottles travelled, one or two were corked, and some did not present themselves well. 

That said, the bottles tasted the way they did because it is also the particularity of this vintage, with little homogeneity and a lot of inconsistency due to the errors made (date of the harvest, lack of maturity and ripeness of the grapes, etc ...) and the climatic characteristics of the vintage that were disastrous too. Not an easy vintage to make wine either.  

So, please take my opinions, notes and ratings with a grain of salt because they correspond to my impressions of these particular bottles of wine tasted on that particular day. It is very possible that some of these wines will reveal themselves a little more in a few years. Who knows? However, in any case, the price/quality ratio is not there (IMO), so proceed with caution and make your selection carefully not to end up with stocks you'll have difficulty selling.  

And, as a last reminder, these are Wine Buyer scores and notes, not Wine Critic scores and reviews.  I'm a Wine Buyer, not a Wine Critic.  

Thank you for reading my post, and until next time, be strong, be safe and take good care of yourselves and your loved ones. 
Cheers! Santé!

LeDomduVin (a.k.a. Dominique Noël)

Sources and Links

(1) BEST OF and/or TOP 100 Wines of the Year 2020 


(2)  - Read my previous article (2018) on Wine Scoring and Wine Critics at 

(3) If interested, you can check my tasting results for the HK UGCB Bordeaux 2017 Vintage, with both the ratings of my 5-star scale and the conversion into the 100-point scale equivalent, here, and make the decision for yourself.

(4)  Find more wine-related personalities, websites and blogs on FeedSpot's Top 100 Wine Blogs, Websites & Influencers in 2020   

NB: I'm number 101 😁 on Feedspot's Top 100 Wine Blogs, Websites and Influencers of 2020 (as of December 28th, 2020). I was number 85 at the beginning of the year, in January 2020, so I better write more on more subjects to go back up.  Please spread a good word for me. It might help too. 🙏🙏🙏

Unless specified or notified otherwise,  ALL the above, including, but not limited to, illustrations, drawings, pictures, photos, tables, graphs and texts, etc... property of ©LeDomduVin 2020

FYI: Thank you for crediting me on any materials or texts you might use in this post.  

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