In the May 5-6, 2018 OFF DUTY supplement to THE WALL STREET JOURNAL the headline article was Do The Right Wines Win? by Lettie Teague. The author and a group of her wine friends decided to buy some relatively low priced wines with big numbers scores. Basically the article talked about the 100 point wine scoring system, how it influences wine prices and purchases, and the difference in scores at the high end of the range and their impact. The opinions of many wine retailers were presented and the article concluded that “The distance between points at the top of the scale may be greater today than ever before”. That is, to incentivize purchase, it takes a number at the high end of the 100 point scale (95 or above) and lower point scores are having less impact. The author talked to a lot of retailers about the impact of big numbers and visited a half dozen stores searching for wines rated 95 points or more and costing less than $50 a bottle (this price range was chosen since this was the price range the author felt that most wine drinkers would encounter). The finding was that most wines with big numbers also have big prices and that most of them were red. Very few high scoring wines were white, and no rosés or Champagnes were found. The numbers were taken from 6 different 100 point wine publications. The tasters also said that they pay more attention to the number than who is awarding the number. The group wound up with 14 wines (11 red and 3 white) costing $15-$49 per bottle with scores of 95 to 98 points. After tasting the 14 wines, the author and her group of friends found 5 high scoring under $50 wines “genuinely excellent”. With a couple of exceptions all the selected wines were found to be good, but many wines were felt to not be worth their high scores. Most of the tasters said that a high score would prompt them to buy a wine that was under $50. But, they also said that it was the quality of the wine after they tasted it that would compel them to buy it again.
Should this come as a surprise? I think not. After all people’s tastes differ. So one group matched against a different group resulted in different results. And to buy the wine again, this group said they would have to like the wine and agree on the quality. That is the number was a screen, but that the numbers often did not match the group’s tastes.
As for the scores used to determine which wines were purchased, five were publications where the tastings were done by teams with 16,000 – 28,000 different wines tasted each year. Isn’t that interesting? Just to put these numbers in perspective, based on 365 days in a year, the number of wines tasted each day would range between 44 and 77! And if the tastings were done 5 days a week, the number of wines tasted each day would range between 61 and 108!! This raises a lot of questions:
- How are the tastings done?
- How are the scores determined?
- Are the scores averaged?
- Is there some sort of selection process?
- If so, what is the selection process?
- And, perhaps even more interesting, is how are the tasting notes prepared and by whom?
- Do the people who taste the wines write the descriptions? If so, how are the final descriptions determined?
Hmm! These are all questions for which I do not have answers. And, I do not think anyone reading the wine notes and numbers can answer the questions either. Does anyone, in fact, really care? Perhaps not. But, if you do not care about the process of tasting and evaluating a wine, how can you know if what is written is credible? After all look at some of the ridiculous wine descriptions that are attached to big numbers (to read articles on this subject click here) . Maybe all people are looking for is a number? If so, how sad it that? What can a number tell you about how a wine looks, smells, and tastes? Nothing!
At the end of the day, the answer to the question “Do The Right Wines Win?” is simply no! The reason is that tasting and drinking wine is a matter of personal taste. It is no different than tasting other beverages or other foods. Once you taste something you know if you like it or do not like it. Nothing else matters. Not a number and not an opinion. You may be able to be helped by certain opinions or descriptions if they match your taste, but even then the final answer lies squarely with one person. That person is you! Think about it.
In Vino Veritas,