Wine Review Philosophy

For years I’ve struggled with wine reviews, though in the early days, I did what most do, I read the shelf talker, or the specialized magazines…and purchased accordingly.

My philosophy has changed, mostly, it’s because I feel we’ve dumbed things to down to nothing more than a score, a pair of digits that we’ve been conditioned to think is in our best interest, something that is good for us. Something real. But, upon closer inspection (and this takes a long time to come around to for most) it’s not too difficult to see scores as the useless set of digits they really are. I mean, they are meant to do two things (at the ‘pro’ level): express the reviewer’s satisfaction with the wine, and two, use that score to market. Not necessarily in that order, mind you.

What happens when people market things? In my experience, I pay more, ostensibly for the added convenience of being told some piece of ‘illuminating’, ‘got to have’ information. But there’s been a disconnect, forever, between what I”m told (i.e. what  want to hear, and what my actual experience/satisfaction is. At the end of the day, with respect to wine reviews/scores, the reviewer/scorer has absolutely NO accountability. The higher their scores, the more they’re published. The more they’re published, the more they’re recognized as an authority.  I’ve found very little to link authority and competency/reliability. In my experience, this/these authority is/are linked to self-interest: promoting books, paid seminars, the selling of their brands, subscriptions.

Maybe I should just throw the towel in and rate wines with scores. All I need to do to become very successful is rate everything 91 or higher. Oh, wait, someone’s already beat me to the punch.

Look, we live in the age of convenience. We pay for convenience in just about everything we consume/purchase. Who has time to research everything they consume, who has the desire? So, we (i.e. most consumers) simply go with a number (a number held out to be real, to be accurate, at least) in a magazine and/or on store shelf, that helps us rationalize putting exactly NO skin in the game. What’s worse is that when we purchase that wine for its score (or really its score as compared to its price and the price of its competition), and we find out we were duped (read: it wasn’t really as great as the score suggested/inferred), we have absolutely no recourse to make that reviewer accountable. But we’re too busy to hold them accountable, anyway. So this is a never-ending circle-jerk, a bunch of baloney that’s been sold to us as gospel. As real.  And so the next time we pick up the magazine or look at the ‘talker’ on the shelf, we just repeat our previous mistake, because it’s convenient, and because we don’t like to lose face by reminding ourselves of the last let down we had with ‘scores’.

The majority of wine-consuming people, I suppose, could very well read every single thing I’ve written in the above paragraph, and still choose/use, pretty much exclusively, scores in order to guide their purchase decisions. I am outgunned, out-flanked, and outnumbered. But I will try anyway, right here on my tiny little blog.

However, if you’ve read this far, you might very well be looking for something else. You might just have gotten burned by scores and score-inflation one too many times, and you’re looking for something else. That said, I’ll do my best to give you something valuable in return for your investment of time: a truly helpful tasting note, and in many cases, some history and context behind it.

As you may have already guessed, I don’t use scores; I used to, and for that, please accept my apologies. Wines don’t deserve scores, they’re kind of the ultimate insult to wine, and the people that work hard to grow them. Now, if someone wants to use a score to express their happiness (or otherwise) with an insulting wine, well, I suppose I can accept that in the spirit of compromise.

What I will do, is stick to the system I’ve been using for years (explanation further down the page):

  • No recommendation/no comment (NR)
  • recommended R (+/-)
  • highly recommended HR (+/-)
  • very highly recommended VHR (+/-)
  • The + or – sign many be attached to the rating. The + (plus sign) says its an excellent value within its peer group; the – (minus sign) says it’s a poor value relative to its peers

At the end of the day, all any of us are going to do is what’s comfortable for us. For most people, using scores will be the most comfortable, even if in the end it hurts them more than if they’d invested (just a little) time to more fully research the wine. Points drive up prices. Period. So any good that someone might want tell me that points do in the marketplace, I’m convinced the bad far outweighs any notion of good.  Most wines these days are between 87 and 100 any way, with the bulk of them around 89, so really, it’s just a 13 point world.

I find some irony here; I hope I’m not the only one that does. You see, I’m trying help people understand that scores/points are bad for them, and yet to most, I’d be considered the bad guy, or the least credible guy, because I’m suggesting using something that makes buying decisions less easy. As I’ve said, people like convenience, and a simple number is, well, convenient. If I tried to tell someone sitting inside a McDonald’s, or any fast-food restaurant, that what they were doing to themselves was bad, they’d tell me to piss off, straightaway – even if internally they agreed with me. Just like the fast-food burger, scores/points are bad for you. But we have developed ways, thanks to the marketing machines of the world, to rationalize this, we have developed a lot of cognitive dissonance in our lives.  I know I’ve really got my work cut out for me here, to gain your trust, but to me, there is no other choice: persevere.

Consider this, the people/writers (I honestly can’t call them critics, save for a very few) only get noticed, published, repeated, marketed whatever, if their score is the highest. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself when the last time you saw the lowest of the reviewers’ scores being pushed in an email offering, or on a store shelf. Grade inflation, flowery prose, it’s what people want, it’s what comforts them. Well, most people. If you want something different, I will attempt to give it to you.

My way of ‘scoring’ wines, elaborated:

Not recommended (NR): something I would not purchase again nor would I recommend. Wines below this threshold, will be identified, though typically noted as ‘flawed’ in one way or another, or simply as ‘unremarkable’.

Recommended (R): something I would recommend to a friend; at a fair price; purchase again for myself if the situation presented itself; would gladly drink again.

Highly recommended (HR): something I would enthusiastically recommend to a friend, and something I would look to purchase (more of) for my own cellar.

Very highly recommended (VHR):  something I won’t forget, for many years. Something to text a friend about and say “find some now!”. This is a truly special wine, a best in class type of drink that’s going to exceed expectations no matter how great those expectations are. Rare, emotional encounter.