Wine Ratings

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Wine reviews, wine ratings, wine scores – how do all of these affect the marketplace? What is gained or lost when a winery is reviewed in the media? Is scoring just another marketing scheme, or is there some tangible value to ratings? How do you give objective scores to something as subjective as wine?

Arguably, nothing has affected the modern wine marketplace more than the birth of the 100-Point Scale. Wine ratings have proliferated to the point where it is often the only reason for purchasing a wine. The GrapeRadio guys have some lively conversation about the effects of qualitative scores given to wines by the media, and the direct result on the wine’s availability and pricing.

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Show #163
(34:55 min 20 MB)

23 Responses to “Wine Ratings”


  1. 1 Michael Aug 13th, 2007 at 2:55 pm

    Love the discussion. The in-studio discussions are always the best. I know its hard to get guests in person but there is something about a french accent on the phone that induces napping. Maybe its the audio or the droning (you fellows certainly don’t get excited/excitable when on phone) but the live studio shows are always so much more animated. It was good to have mark on again.

  2. 2 Mary Kay Hinkle Aug 13th, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    I have listened for probably a couple years now, but have never written. I love the podcast–what a find when I first got an Ipod and discovered podcasts. I listen while I do housework and gardening, so audio is my favorite, although I have enjoyed the videos you’ve done. My favorite videos so far are the wine caves. However, I’m also behind on my listening and viewing this summer, so you have probably done some others that I will enjoy just as much.

    I don’t keep as much wine as you all seem too, but as I have followed the show, I see “wine geek” in myself. I love to know the why’s and how’s of all things. Your show has gotten me really interested in the depth of wine–it’s so much more than the sips I take!

    I love the seminars. It’s something I may never get to do and I love to get all that information from the actual winemakers. They’re so passionate about their work. It’s fun to listen to them expressing that to the consumers.

    I’m thrilled for you that you have been nominated for the PodCast Awards. I tried to vote every day. I can’t tell you how much your show has increased my appreciation of wine. Thanks for the great work, and keep it up!

    Mary Kay Hinkle

  3. 3 Clay H. Aug 13th, 2007 at 7:46 pm

    I love the shows where there’s vigorous debate, like my all-time favorite shows: the Pinot Showdown. I would appreciate more episodes like this, and fewer where it’s just a winemaker going on and on about himself.

  4. 4 Ken from Boston Aug 14th, 2007 at 2:56 am

    Brian gets it.

    Ken

  5. 5 Jay Yarnell Aug 14th, 2007 at 6:57 pm

    Great show. I think a lot of people buy based on scores. And, I agree the retail industry needs them to sell wine. However, I am reminded of a cartoon:

    Customer: This wine tastes terrible!
    Shopkeeper: The experts rated it 96 pts.
    Customer: I’ll take a case!

    I have bought on the bases of scores in the past; I bought the 99 pt MollyDooker this past year for 1 reason: It was the first 99 pt wine I saw at a price I could afford. I wanted to see what a 99 pt wine tasted like. While I like fruit forward wines, I was disappointed. There are many cheaper, lower rated wines I like a lot better.

    Generally, I buy on the basis of having tasted the wine. If the wine is new to me, I will look at where it is made, who makes it, and is there a tasting note available. But as I commented to my wine shop guy: after looking up reviews, I sure do like a lot of 83 to 88 pt wines.

    One thing I thing the scoring system has done to me is that when I do taste a 94+ pt wine, I expect it to knock my socks off. So often they do not. So, perhaps my expectations are artifically raised by a high score, and if I hadn’t seen the score, I might have liked the wine better.

  6. 6 John T Aug 14th, 2007 at 7:21 pm

    Brian gets it? Gets what?
    I think he made his argument articulately, and with great passion. I also think he was 100% wrong.
    He is taking what he does, and projecting it on to the rest of the wine buying public. Sorry, not everyone thinks as he does.
    Points are important, TO SOME PEOPLE. Points drive the buying decisions, OF SOME PEOPLE. Not all, some.

    There is an entire subset of geeks for whom high points = don’t buy. Their dollars count, too.

  7. 7 Jeff Aug 15th, 2007 at 12:02 pm

    In response to Jay’s comments regarding who he would like to sell wine to if he owned a winery; I manage a new coffee shop that isn’t quite meeting its budget. In an effort to overcome that, I would sell my product to ANYONE!!! Some people appreciate coffee and get the difference between coffee grown in Africa and coffee grown in Latin America. Some people like Latin American coffee in the morning and coffee from the Asia/Pacific region after dinner. But when I need to make money, I’ll sell 7 shots of espresso to the 13-year old looking to impress his girlfriend – CAUSE I NEED TO MAKE MONEY!!! Jay, I think if you had borrowed money and invested your own money in a winery, you’d do almost anything to sell it once it was in the bottle! Wouldn’t you???

    All that said; I loved the show. I definately agree that “in-studio shows” are the best. Thanks you guys (even Jay) ;) for all you do!

  8. 8 Mike Holland Aug 15th, 2007 at 2:28 pm

    My issue with the point system is that it treats wine as an exclusive commodity instead of an inclusive part of a daily meal. If given the choice, I suspect that most vinters – winemakers and retailers alike – would prefer to move wine in the same way that milk, bottled water or soda end up on the dinner table.
    A 96 point Cabernet is special whereas a unrated bottle of somebody’s red is fine for Tuesday Night pasta. There are a lot more Tuesdays than occasions special enough for that 96 rated Cabernet.

    Playing devil’s advocate for a second: While your knowledge suggests wine distribution and retailing in your background, are any of you winemakers in any capacity?

  9. 9 Jason Gargala Aug 15th, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    I won’t jump into the debate other than to agree with aspects of all of the hosts of the show on this one. But, as a business owner, I am definitely more in Brians camp than anyone elses. He gets it (to repeat from above) but I can see others points here too.

    I mostly wanted to say that this is the first time I have written and mostly because I wanted to say that the lively debate is great and everyone was respected…kudos!

  10. 10 GrapeRadio Bunch Aug 16th, 2007 at 7:46 am

    Mike, no, none of us are winemakers in any capacity I know of. I’ve participated in lots of blending trials, and worked a few bottling lines, but that’s about it.

    Personally, I’ve never been bitten by the bug — oh, I’ve come close, but it’s kind of like that old story about a sax player hearing Charlie Parker, and deciding he didn’t want to play any more if he couldn’t play that good. Well, I don’t think I could play that good. Besides, I’d frankly rather be drinking the stuff than making it.

    The point system is a double-edged sword. As a tool for directing people to undiscovered gems, it’s very valuable. Unfortunately, we’ve come to rely too much on the tool (IMHO), and are now using it for everything…kind of like using that plier as a hammer.

    Eric

  11. 11 Domenico Bettinelli Aug 16th, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    This was one of the best shows in a while, only because I felt like a top spinning from one point of view to the other. At one time or another during the show, I was agreeing with Brian or Jay or Eric (sorry, Mark, but you didn’t take a strong stance) in contrast to the other hosts.

    I think I settled somewhat on Brian’s point that good scores help more than bad scores hurt relatively unknown wineries. But near the end, even Brian admitted, in an offhand remark, that low scores do hurt a wine.

    I’m a wine newbie and while I’m gaining a lot of head knowledge by listening to the podcast and reading books, my palate is still undeveloped. I like wine and I know enough to pick out certain varietals and regions, but I couldn’t write a tasting note to save my life. That’s where points sometimes make a difference.

    When I’m in the wine retailer’s store, staring at row upon row of wine–all in pretty bottles that tell me nothing about the quality of the juice within–I begin to grasp at anything that will help.

    I will admit, sometimes I’ve bought what’s on the endcap because it was on the endcap. Sometimes I’ve bought a wine based on the shelftalker with the point-score on it. Too rarely have I purchased based on the personal recommendation of the retailer; I need to be better about approaching them.

    Yet even I recognize the failings of the 100-point system. I’m with Mark and Jay: I’d prefer a 4- or 5-star system. Mainly I’d just like better point-of-sale advice.

  12. 12 Steve Aug 17th, 2007 at 11:48 am

    Look at us go. Everyone hates scores but loves talking about them!

    I do. Please do a Part Deux.

  13. 13 Dorothy Aug 20th, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    I’ve been listening to Grape Radio since its beginning and this is the first time I’ve really felt compelled to write a response. I’ve been drinking wine for quite a few years but I’m still not an expert by any means. I felt that Jay was looking at the issue of points from a pretty one-sided view–the view of the winemaker. What about us consumers??

    I live in an area of the country that does not get most of the good wines. When I go into a wine shop I see row upon row of bottles and I need some help determining which one to buy. I use the shelf talkers quite often to help me make my decision. I ignore it if it’s written by the winery. I’m so glad that someone is reviewing wines and helping me out. I often ask for help but my experience is that I get recommendations that I suspect are based on a desire to sell certain wines over others. I’ve gotten some good recommendations from merchants but I’ve also just as often gotten bad ones. I haven’t gotten enough good ones to make me think this is the solution.

    I don’t read wine publications for the most part as I’ve found it just frustrates me. I once took the Wine Spectator top 100 list to my local merchant only to find that only one of the wines on the list was actually available in my area. I do order some of my wine but that really makes it expensive with shipping costs. Bottom line is I rely on shelf talkers and wine scores on those talkers. We’re not all lucky enough to live in California where wines are so readily available. Stars work just as well for me as scores–I know this isn’t an exact science. But I do appreciate having a method to have some kind of idea whether a wine has a chance of being good or not. I have a theory that when you live at the end of a wine distribution channel you actually have a higher percentage of bad wines on your shelves.

    Thanks for the show guys–I really like my Grape Radio podcasts!

  14. 14 Bill Curtis Aug 22nd, 2007 at 2:42 am

    I agree with Brian that points are good in the sense that it can help an upcoming maker of quality wines make a statement in the market and become better known faster potentially than without points. It can also drive up the price, which sucks for the consumer and is great for the winemaker. But it cuts both ways – if you rely on the review and make crappy wine later it will come back and bite you.

    I agree with Jay that the degree of precision implied in the point rating is very subjective – a margin of error of points needs to be factored in even if your palate even is in line with the reviewer. If it doesn’t, that margin of error can be even higher.

    When I refer to points, I look more to a trend of a specific producer than a specific wine. For it is more to me as a general reference to the overall level of quality of a producer – if many offerings are favorably rated I am more inclined to try one of his/her products (if available) to see what the fuss is about.

    I just discontinued a magazine subscription (my first wine magazine) because it seemed to be entirely focused on points with little else in the way on content. There did also seem to be a correllation between what was advertised and what was reviewed. It did help me start out and learn about different regions and good examples that are mass merchandised and were available at my local shop, so in that regard it was helpful. But Grape Radio is much more helpful so I cancelled that subscription and picked up some new one’s based on Grape Radio’s content.

    In a previous interview Steven Tanzer made the comment that he would rather not have points, but the market (or certain segement thereof) seems to demand it so he can stay viable, so he uses them.

    I paid little attention and knew even less about wine before a trip to Italy two years ago – a few dinners in Tuscany and the magic of good food and good wine together turned a light on. I did not know what the points were, but brought back some bottles and I am still slowly opening them and continue to enjoy them. I still have no idea what any of the points were, but 1999 Brunello’s are very tasty with lamb or steak. I spoke to a local wine merchant over there and asked what his favorite bottle of wine in the shop was – he showed me a $70 bottle of 1990 Barolo (there were many bottles $200 and $300 there), so I have that at home unopened waiting for the occasion to enjoy that one.

    Points are good for the industry in helping you get started understanding wine, at least somewhat, in my case – and help you narrow down a selection from an ocean of choices. There is a lot of wine out there. I guess it is up to the individual if they only want to rely on points, or do some more in depth study on their own. Neither way is “right” as I imagine some are busy with other things and are happy to base all purchases off of someone’s rating. And some are happy to rattle off the ratings to dinner guests – it may add to thier enjoyment of the wine as well.

    I find that a good local wine shop is the best way to experiment and learn. We have three good quality shops on Maui – I have met and speak to the Owner / Manager at each shop. I tell them what I like. I ask what they like, what is new, what a good value, etc. and at no time is there a discussion of points. 2 of the 3 three shops offer suggestions more to my taste, so frequent them more, but the third shop has different offerings, so I still browse there as well. At no time do we ever discuss points.

    The biggest problem about living in Hawaii is the shipping costs from the mainland – so I tend to select my mainland clubs on shipping costs as well as qualtity of wine. Some places charge $3 per bottle shipping for a case, others can be over $10 – but I also think it is important to by from some sources direct (if your state allows it) to try things that don’t hit your normal retail shelf.

    As a novice the point system made aware that there was a wide divergence in quality of wine out there and has peaked my interest in learning more.

  15. 15 GrapeRadio Bunch Aug 23rd, 2007 at 4:21 am

    Dorothy, I have been thinking about your comment, about the 1-sided view. I think you are right.

    I do feel there is a difference between wine scores and wine reviews. IMHO wine scores do more harm than good for the winery and the consumer. Without rehashing the discussion in the show, wine scores imply a level of preciseness that does not exist, so how could I possibly support a system, that the vast majority would agree has no basis in fact? Why would the consumer depend on such a system? I also find hard to accept that wines can be compared to each other, as scores imply.

    Wine reviews, are a good thing for all parties. As a consumer, I ask you the following question. If scores were banished today, but the comments allowed, could you as a consumer be just as informed as you were previously?

    Jay

  16. 16 GrapeRadio Bunch Aug 23rd, 2007 at 4:44 am

    Bill, both you and Dorothy, suggest that scores help you select which wines to try and which ones to ignore. I understand the concept, but disagree that scores are needed to accomplish that goal. It may be all you have, but that does not mean it’s the best way to accomplish the task.

    Assume you have 2 wines on a shelf. Both are priced exactly the same. One wine is scored 95 points, the other is 92 points. Which wine would you buy? The 92 point wine, a very good wine (based on score), will most likely not sell as well. In Parker’s case scores represent the future potential for the wine. Since the vast majority of consumers drink a wine way before the predicted future date, then the score they used to make a buying decision may be useless.

    Give me the reviews without the scores and I think we would all do just as well, even better.
    Jay

  17. 17 Tim Meranda Aug 23rd, 2007 at 10:26 am

    Jay,

    Two bottles of wine on the shelf at the same price. One a Parker 95 and the other a Parker 92. Unless I had some personal knowledge or experience with one or both of the wineyards, this is a no brainer. Lacking preknowledge who would pick the 92. Parkers rating scale is more exponential then linear and there is a big difference between a 92 and a 95. It 4 times harder to earn a 95 then it is to earn a 92.

  18. 18 GrapeRadio Bunch Aug 24th, 2007 at 10:03 am

    Tim, I just might pick the 92 pointer. I have not heard the “It 4 times harder to earn a 95 then it is to earn a 92″ before. I might pick the 92 pointer because I had not heard of it before.

    I am no saying you are wrong for doing otherwise, it just that I take the score in different (not better) perspective.

    Jay

  19. 19 Dorothy Aug 27th, 2007 at 1:02 pm

    Jay,

    Thanks for the response. I think I would be fine with giving up the scores if I got nice short reviews that gave me the same kind of information. I agree that there is nothing really precise about the scores and I’m sure the same wine could (and probably does) score differently on different days by the same taster. Which is not to say that the scores are meaningless–more often than not I do understand why the score was given after I’ve tried the wine. I have learned to understand what the particular scores mean (there are some reviewers I ignore because I’m not in agreement with them often enough)–I could learn the same thing from reviews I’ll bet–and probably more but at the expense of my time. The scores are a shortcut to me for what a particular reviewer thought of a wine. I like to read the short reviews (I don’t have time for long ones) as well to get more detail.

    As for the 92 vs 95 point wine at the same price–if the price was right I would probably buy them both and if the price wasn’t right I would probably not buy either. If this was for a very special occasion and I could just afford one I would read up on the wines and also try to find out what other reviewers thought about both before making my decision. I would not assume that I would prefer the 95 point wine but my first instinct would be to think of it as the most likely front runner. I actually use the scores more to find good value wines for everyday drinking. I’ve been very happy over the past few months drinking a 90 point WS wine which I get for 8.99. This is my favorite weekday drinking wine and I know I wouldn’t have found it without the points.

  20. 20 Bill Curtis Aug 27th, 2007 at 10:32 pm

    For the most part I am unaware of points for the wine I purchase – unless there is a shelf talker (maybe one out 200/300 bottles displayed in retail here) I am usually unaware for the most part the points of the wine I am buying – I use my local merchant’s advice, research and previous experience for the most of my wine purchases.

    I don’t thinks points are bad to give you a reference if you are looking for guidance, but I agree they are imprecise.

    Good points do not hurt a producer from my understanding, and can serve to drive up the price that producers product.

    Scores for the most part do not help me select my purchases, but I understand how it can be helpful for some – I do not frown on those who use scores to help them learn.

    Personally I enjoy wine for the sake of wine and am not interested in chasing points, just expanding my palate. I left southern california by choice almost 20 years ago specifically because there is a culture there of finding the fast track on things and I can understand how points might be one of those current fads and cause frustration to Jay.

    At this time points don’t really mean much in wine retail in Hawaii because they are not very prominent – things may be different in California because there are so many options.

    From what I understand wine is becoming more popular in the US, the choices and overall quality is rising worldwide and that is a good thing for all of us.

  21. 21 Tim Meranda Aug 28th, 2007 at 6:19 am

    Jay,

    I did a statistical study of Parker’s scores. I picked Parker because his database is so easy to use. He scores 99 wines per 1000 as 92 points. He scores 29 wines per 1000 as 95. Ok not 4 to 1 but 3.4 to 1. By the way, his mean (average) score is 89 points!

  22. 22 Paul R Aug 31st, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    i rate this show 93 points…

    i rate the comments on this show 89 points…

  23. 23 M Messner Nov 5th, 2010 at 12:58 am

    I think it depends on two things.
    1) If you have already had the wine and know it is good the score is not a big deal.
    2) If not I only buy wines that I have not tasted if I like the reviewer. For instance, My palate aligns best with Stephen Tanzer, so if he gives it a 90 or better I will buy it. If it is someone else probably not unless it is a 95 and a good price.

    Thanks,
    M Messner
    President/CEO
    MLM Enterprises, Inc.
    California

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GrapeRadio is a wine talk show. Show topics cover issues such as the enjoyment of wine, wine news and industry trends - the hallmark of the show is interviews with world class guest (winemakers, vineyards owners, wine retail / wholesale leaders, restaurateurs and sommeliers). The scope of the show is international so expect to hear many guests from around the world.

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