Wine Talk

Snooth User: mloco2

Wine Ratings

Original post by mloco2, Jul 2, 2011.

Hi All,   I have a few thoughts/questions that I would appreciate comments on. I have been some-what seriously drinking wine for about eight years now. I am 61 years old and before the "wine enlightenment", drank mostly micro-brewery and other not so chic types of beer. Every year now for the past four, I have held a blind tasting of different red wines for family members and close friends. Usually 12-16 people sampling 8-10 wines. Some of these people are fairly serious wine drinkers and some are quite casual about wine and probably red wine in particular. Every year I will have a couple of cabs and bordeaux blends in the $125 to $175 a bottle range, along with any number of different varietals and price range wines. ( down to $4 a bottle once) They problably average around $60- $65 a bottle. The average pro rating for wines this year was around 95 points. (depending on whose scores you use). My issue is this . A high scoring / more expensive wine has never won our tasting. For the second year in a row a $20- 91 point wine has won the event. ( same varietal-different wineries). My main question is this. Are our palates that far out of tune with the general population of wine drinkers or perhaps is there only a select few that can detect all of the different nuances that I hear described in the wine tasting notes, and which apparently are giving these wines their high scores? When I research wines that I like on Wine Spectator, they generally score quite low. They do quite a bit better with the folks on Cellar Tacker however and so I am wondering if perhaps most people do not sense or appreciate the myriad of different qualities that make wine special. Or perhaps it is just me and my group. At any rate, I have no intention of giving up on wine. I find it infinitely enjoyable, both in the sudy and the consumption. I also will not give up on trying to find a high quality wine to win our tasting event. ( just bought a $250 bottle of Araujo for our next event) We'll see how it goes and thanks for listening

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Reply by dmcker, Jul 7, 2011.

Think volume-wise there's more 2nd or 3rd or 4th tier Bordeaux than Burgundy. You're just not consciously or unconsciously guided to the better ones there because Burgundy is a) broken up into much smaller domaines with all that entails in marketing, too, b) not geographically or historically close to England and the English wine importing industry and its information-era descendants and products through most recently Broadbent, Johnson, Coates and Robinson to, yes, RP et al. over in the States who have always been guided/focused by the info they teethed on in their own language, and c) nowhere outside Burgundy has ever done as well with their grapes (esp. the red) as they have, though earlier success was achieved in California, for example, with Bordeaux blends.

If you haven't had good pinot noir you might wonder what the fuss is about. If you have, you won't. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to drink a lot of DRC at the beginning of the '80s when prices were relatively much lower. Plenty of other good Burgundy beyond their's, though. Just pointing out how comparitively easy it was back then to get to guaranteed epiphanies....

Reply by lingprof, Jul 7, 2011.

Great thread.  This is what I love about Snooth.  To mloco: keep enjoying!  your friends are lucky to have you.  (and if you have any leftovers from those $125 bottles you didn't care for.... just give me a call any time!!  ;-) )

Reply by GregT, Jul 7, 2011.

I think Fox nailed it as far as Burgundy goes.  I talked to a few winemakers (from elsewhere, not Burgundy) and they feel that they're successful if they can sell the wine in a vintage w/out points or with poor points.  That means that they have a market or fans or people who trust them. If they're smart, they do what they can to keep those fans and add others.  But at that point, they don't need to rely on critics so much.

The thing to remember overall is that literally, anyone can be a critic.  Today more people are obtaining "certifications" than ever, but even more people are blogging and writing about wine. 

I have mixed feelings about certifications.  Say you want to be a
"Master" of Wine or a lawyer.  If you want to be a lawyer, do you go to Yale, Chicago, Cornell, Harvard, Stanford, Penn, UCLA, U-M, Columbia, NYU, Stanford, Northwestern, Fordham, Virginia, Oxford, Cambridge, the Sorbonne, or somewhere else?  Those are all good schools but there are many more and frankly, none of them have anything to do with whether a given individual knows more or less or is a better or worse lawyer than someone else. 

You hear people talk about how few MWs there are and how hard it is and all that.  Well, if you want to be an MW where do you go? 

Oh.  There's only one single place. 

Imagine if there were one single medical school in the entire world, one single law school, one engineering school, etc.

And then, what exactly are you a master of?  You're someone who's tasted at least a minimum number of wines and who knows the "canon" as it were. Means pretty much nothing to someone who's looking for a rec on a wine.

Maybe a regular Joe who knows very little and who's tasted maybe a few dozen or even a few hundred wines in his entire life - maybe that guy is a better guy to get ratings from than someone who's bought into some of the BS that's so prevalent in the wine world.

For someone else, well I know a few MWs and a few people who've taught and who teach those courses that allow someone to obtain this or that diploma or certification.  Some of those folks are knowledgeable, but the most knowledgeable people I know have no certifications. They're just gifted, careful, and they've tasted so much wine and have such a memory bank to draw from that they know that the wine you're drinking isn't going to get better because they recognize it as so and so's from such and such and those wines are always that way at that stage.

I don't know if any of this makes any sense, but oh well!

Reply by sparks1093, Jul 8, 2011.

Greg, it does make sense to this newbie. It does help to keep things in perspective.

Reply by Jimmy Cocktail, Jul 8, 2011.

GregT, I happen to agree with you about MWs and other certifications being offered in the wine world. I would like to point out though that we live in a cert driven business culture these days so assembling a little collection of letters after one's name is part of the duty of anyone aspiring to a career in the wine business (or many other fields for that matter).

What separates the good from the bad IMO is those that can take the structure learned during the cert process and apply it in such a way as to synthesize new information or simplify things for those around us rather than to just mimic the "party line". What we tend to get though is a very formulaic response to things such as the point scores that we are all now burdened with.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 8, 2011.

Okay, time to start a new thread on the MW.  Not right now, but this weekend, if no one else does it first.  Maybe I don't understand it as well as I should, but I think it does at least guarantee that you know the diff--tasting blind--between varietals and don't say something is oaked unless it actually has been in oak (or treated with oak chips or staves or whatever).

Kind of like the bar exam:  You know a tort remedy from a contract remedy, how to parse a community property settlement.  Maybe they need to have an instructor-training system so that more people can sign up.

But please don't get me on a rant about legal education--it's the worst form of education known to man.  I oughta know:  I'm a product of it. I think it may actually be the case that the "better" the law school, the less useful its teaching.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 8, 2011.

Varieties, not varietals.  I am trying, GregT--I think you are right about that.

Reply by JonDerry, Jul 8, 2011.
"nowhere outside Burgundy has ever done as well with their grapes (esp. the red) as they have"

That's definitely a big point, but even from the land of Burgundy very few Burgundy reds seem to approach perfection in the eyes of critics.  It's very unusual, hope to try some examples one day.

Reply by GregT, Jul 8, 2011.

Fox - pleaded or pled?  Big discussion about that today.  It was split about 50/50 but the people who I go to for grammar questions were all on the side of pled, as was I. 

Anyhow, no knock on the MW.  In fact, I've asked if I could take the test.  My offer was that I'd pay double to go thru the various levels if I failed.  But no go.  It's about making money and it's not really anything like a certification you'd get as any professional in another field, it's owned by the organization that markets it. So you can be a master electrician, plumber or whatever, or you can get a Master's degree in some field, and everyone knows what that is.  The MW is a proprietary title conferred by an English organization. The "master" only means that you've paid for the courses.

The weird thing is that I've helped people study for their diplomas.  They're now certified. I'm not. 

Also, even tho it's a Master of WINE, there's a whole section on spirits that you're supposed to know.  What does Scotch have to do with wine, you might ask?  Um, uh, well, uh, never mind.  You can't get certified as knowing about WINE unless you know something about spirits.

Bullshit is the term that comes to mind.  I don't drink and don't like spirits. They have nothing to do with wine. It's fermentation vs distillation. 

And as far as distinguishing varieties . . .

Right now I'm drinking a wine that's just great.  I was told to drink it fast, but this is a 2006 and it's really magnificent.  Anyone who is a fan of wines from the Loire would love it.  It's really nice still even tho it's a few vintages past.  Grass, citrus, even a slight nutty quality. Midpalate has retronasal  dried flowers. Long citrus finish with a hint of bitterness reminiscent of grapefruit pith. Even chalky on the palate.  Extremely dry, which is unusual for Hungary.  I don't know what the RS level is on this, but I'm getting very little RS whatever it is. People who use such terms would talk about "minerality".  I've walked these vineyards and I just saw dirt.  Very nice job. Anyone who is a fan of the Loire would love it.  I give it 90 points. 

It's a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Olaszrizling and Hárslevelű.  I can tell you how many MWs have ever had it.


I can also tell you how many would be able to teach me about the varietal characteristics of Olaszrizling and Hárslevelű.  

Maybe I can't.  What's less than zero?

I've poured these wines for a few people in the business and they're polite and indulgent but of course then they want to talk about their Burgundy because that's what they're supposed to do. 

The MW cert is about what the London wine market loved in the 1950s. You need to know about Bordeaux and Burgundy and something from Italy and fortified wines like Port and Sherry and Madeira.  

While Bordeaux is cashing in on its brand names, Burgundy for me is in the pantheon of brilliance that includes Coca-Cola, MacDonalds, Louis Vuitton, Apple, Riedel, Kim Khardashian, and pet rocks. Sometimes crap and even unpleasant products but brilliant marketing.

BTW - do you have any idea how many lawyers are or would toy with the idea of getting an MW certification?  That is a whole separate thread.  Most of them think they could do it and frankly, so do I.  Law school is about a way of thinking, not knowledge.  The bar may be about knowledge, but then again, the bar wasn't all that hard. Again, it's marketing that makes it seem so.


Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 9, 2011.

"The bar wasn't all that hard."  Cal and NY are purported to have the hardest bar exams.  I used to grade ours.  (For those who haven't figured it out, GregT is a NY lawyer, and I am a Cal lawyer.) I thought it was too easy and we were letting people become lawyers who shouldn't have the lives, or even the most important interests, of other people in their hands.  This is, of course, a thread for a whole different place.  But I take your comments about the MW to heart.  On the other hand, there should be a way that somms and others prove that they aren't just blowing smoke.  The tastes of England in the immediate post-WW!! era aren't a great benchmark, agreed. Hey, they had a lot of people who had been busy running an empire who had nothing to do.  What's a Sandhurst graduate to do in peacetime with no colonies to administer, and a big, drafty manor to run on no income?

I had those ideas about designing perceptual tests for preference vs. quality and the relationship to price.  You know what Olaszrizling (Welschriesling, right?) is and how it tastes.  Let's draft some NDAs and put together a business plan. Worst case, we get someone to spend venture capital filling up our cellars.

Reply by dmcker, Jul 9, 2011.

"The MW cert is about what the London wine market loved in the 1950s"

I believe that's what I was saying in my earlier post about how Burgundy is well less understood than Bordeaux. Forget Italy. Claret, maybe some chard, and the occasional bottle of hock or aged champers....
Reply by JonDerry, Jul 9, 2011.

Thanks for the background Fox, wouldn't have pegged you as a lawyer but then I wouldn't have known what to guess anyway.  Since we're disclosing occupation's, mine is skin care distributor.  Graduated college with a degree in finance, but soured on Wall Street and all that entailed so just by chance I got in to the cosmetics world and so far so good.

Definitely dig the MW perspective Greg. Wine cert's pretty much seem like free real estate like much of industry. The program has it's niche and they've done well to exploit it. 

In life, people tend to work towards accomplishments, however big or small, to where something "clicks".  Graduate from school, "click", buy a car, "click", get married, "click", have children, "click".  So what's the "click of all clicks" in the wine world?  That's what people are searching for, and for many, for better or for worse, it's becoming a master of wine. What would be your alternative, to avoid the flawed schooling programs and write your own story?


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