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Buying wine -- the usefulness of medals, critics, retailers . . .

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Buying wine -- the usefulness of medals, critics, retailers . . .

zin1953 | Nov 14, 2011 08:02 AM

Over on the "General Chowhounding Topics" board, there is a wide-ranging discussion that began on the topic of "How important is wine to food?" http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/815240 While some of the "regulars" of the wine board were participating, it's veered far enough afield that I thought I'd take one aspect of that discussion and re-post here -- on the wine board -- in the hopes of stimulating more discussion and getting more feedback.

The following is a post of mine that I wrote in response to someone saying to me that "(I) have basically convinced (the writer) to devalue any awards that a wine may have been given."

Here is my reply, in its entirety, but I would specifically draw your attention to the final section.

I am curious to know what others may think.

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In all honesty, IMO it's six of one and half-a-dozen of the other . . .

Keep in mind that every Fair/Competition has its own methodology, its own way of tasting and processing the results. For example, one event might categorize the wines by price point, while another does it by appellation; one might separate all of the entries of a specific variety by vintage, another may lump all them all together. Also, some may have *only* winemakers as judges, some may *exclude* any and all professional winemakers, while some may opt for a more "mixed" panel, with one winemaker, one retailer, one restaurateur, and one "other" wine professional. Some may use three judges per panel, some four, and some five. Some may limit the number of wines any one judge tastes in any one day to 75; some may have a judge taste as many as 200 wines the first day (when it's the far easier "Eliminate/Retain" rounds), and then fewer and fewer on each successive day when medals are rewarded. Some may taste only in the mornings, over the course of five days; others are a 3-day event, 8:30 until 4:00-5:00; others are over in a single day. Some may make all of the prospective judges pass a test/series of tests before qualifying them as a judge; others may not. And on and on and on . . .

With a panel of tasters, you (tend to) eliminate palate biases. With a single reviewer in a publication, the consumer has to figure out what that individual taster's biases are. With a single reviewer, you may have some esoteric wines receiving high scores which the consumer may love *or* hate. With a panel of tasters, you (tend to) -- at times -- play to the lowest common denominator (i.e.: a wine that is varietally correct and "solid" may end up with a higher score than one that is esoteric but delicious; some judge may love it, while another hates it).

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Speaking strictly for MYSELF, the value in awards, competitions, and fairs is NOT in any one single medal. That is, one Gold Medal is meaningless. But if a wine gets, say, six Silver Medals in six different competitions, that is far more meaningful to me -- a broad consensus of (hopefully) professionals think that this wine is special. To my knowledge, only one competition publishes all the wines that were entered (most only publish the names of those which received some sort of medal/recognition). Ergo, you don't know if "Wine A" -- the one which received a single Gold Medal -- entered only one competition, or entered 10. But at least you know that six different panels of judges found something worthwhile in "Wine B."

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Speaking strictly for MYSELF, the value in a single reviewer exists ONLY if that reviewer is CONSISTENT in their tastings, in their own likes and dislikes, AND then, only if the consumer can understand and interpret that individual's likes and dislikes to his or her own palate.

Some tasters/reviewers/critics I find completely useless, as their preferences are (seem to be) all over the board. Parker IS (well, can be) useful to me *despite* our palates being so different precisely because he is consistent, and over the years I've come to understand when he speaks of "hedonistic fruit," I run the other way regardless of his 98-point rating, but when he speaks of high acidity and minerality and "82 points," I know I'll probably really love it! His former associate, Pierre-Antoine Rovani was far less consistent, and thus, far less useful for me as a consumer.

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For me, the BOTTOM LINE boils down to this:

1) Every piece of information is useful, but that *no* single piece of information is indispensable.

2) The individual consumer needs to develop trust in his or her *own* palate, rather than kneeling at the alter of the self-appointed Wine Gurus and praying, "For God's sake, tell us what to drink."

3) The "serious" consumer needs to develop a relationship with 2-3 equally "serious" retailers -- ask questions, get recommendations, and provide feedback *regardless* of whether or not the early recommendations are successful. Good retailers taste dozens and dozens of wines every week, and probably 10 for every one that shows up in their store -- the more they get to know the consumer's tastes, the more better their recommendations and the more helpful they can be.

Cheers,
Jason

P.S. This last point presumes, of course, there are some "serious" retailers where one lives, as opposed to only state (or provincial) -owned stores.

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