88 points in Wine Spectator? Who cares?

100th monkey.jpg
I'm sorry, Ben Parsons, but...

I don't really care that you and Infinite Monkey Theorem landed an 88 from Wine Spectator.

In no way do I mean to negate the accomplishments of Infinite Monkey Theorem, the urban winery on Santa Fe Drive. The place makes good local wine. It has a nice patio. Parsons has a charming accent. For all of these reasons and more, I want it to stick around.

But in general, wine ratings suck, and I'd like nothing more than for the whole system to be abolished so that I never have to see a shelf tag touting a particular wine's score -- from Wine Spectator or Robert Parker or some other (and much more fringe) publication -- ever again.

I didn't always disdain such scores. In fact, I did and still do faithfully subscribe to Wine Spectator, and I used to spend many an evening paging through the print and online score guide, making a wish list of bottles to purchase, based solely on the wine landing a 90 or higher and costing $40 or lower. And when, inevitably, I couldn't find a single selection on my carefully honed list at local liquor stores, I'd check for anything that displayed those shelf tags, choosing the 90+ product on the spot. I was a real d-bag about it, too. "This got a 92 in the Spectator," I'd say with a terrible wink as I poured splashes for college-aged guests who were just there to get hammered.

But one night a couple of years ago, I hosted a dinner party at which my twelve guests started the night clinking glasses of sparkling over foie gras and ended the evening pulling straight from the last bottle of a half case of Chianti. One of my favorite buyers in the city had helped me choose that particular wine, finding, on my request, a food wine that promised to be different from what I normally drank. And in what I'm sure was an entirely fair and balanced assessment, that group of friends and I came to the drunken conclusion that the Chianti was the best wine any of us had ever had.

So the next day, I pulled up the Wine Spectator score, confident that I was about to be personally validated for my excellent taste. Nope. The wine got a 77. As in "This wine sucks, you idiot."

I was crushed. I have no palate, I thought. I'm no different than my friends who are completely content drinking wine out of the box.

Except here's the thing: That Chianti was a good wine. I can't remember what it tasted like, smelled like, whether there was the telling sign of cherry on the nose or the proper tannen on the palate. But we had one hell of a good time drinking a half case of it, thinking it was the best wine ever, and that's pretty much all that matters.

That's what the scores miss. Wine is about context: food, friends, occasion and our own palates. It doesn't matter how high a classic California Cabernet scores; I'm almost never going to choose it over something medium-bodied from Italy or France. I like high-acid, old-world wines that match with food. That's my palate. And I don't need a score to tell me what I like.

Which brings me to another point: I love Lacrima di Morro d'Alba, a pretty, delicate, floral red that's only made by a few Italian producers. But most bottlings of the wine probably wouldn't have been rated by Wine Spectator to begin with. Did you notice how Parsons got his Palisades-sourced Rhone-ish blend considered in the first place? He had to submit his own samples, and then the publication arbitrarily chose from submissions to review. Which means big wines from big regions get the most play, so much so that a lot of small producers don't even bother submitting. When you buy by scores, you're cheating yourself out of the truly unique little vintners that make kick-ass juice.

What's the alternative? Descriptions work better (that's why I still subscribe at all), a good merchant or sommelier even better than that. The best wines I've ever had came from someone who knew what I liked and pushed me to try something. That's how I found that Lacrima. That's how I first tasted the Infinite Monkey Theorem's wine.

Wine's a conversation. And that score? Just a charged, sucked-in breath between sentences.

Follow @CafeWestword on Twitter


Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help
17 comments
abrokentenor
abrokentenor

a year late to the party. sorry.

many suppliers will tell you the process for submitting wines for review are different than what you outline.

when you call in asking to submit a sample, they will often ask if you advertise with them. when you say no, they transfer you to the advertising sales department.

Justdorkin
Justdorkin

can you really give someone credit for an award and poo poo the rating system at the same time? dont you automaticly negate the accomplishment by default? without the rating system there is no award

Kevin Patrick Burke
Kevin Patrick Burke

I sell wine, beer, and cocktails, quite a few of them in fact. It's my day and night job to do so and I spend a fair ampunt of time thinking about how they are going to interact with the food we serve. What scores lack is context, how a wine, or a beer TASTE is completely different than how it DRINKS over the course of an evening. Often these are scored based on one or two sips in a lineup of 50 or more wines. In a personal and professional opinion get your advice from someonethat at least sat down with a glass if not the bottle and really got to know it.

CWP
CWP

Laura - You are correct that the wine rating system is flawed and misleading. For this reason, and size, most CO wineries do not submit wines to WS. Nevertheless, the positives about Ben's score are that it raises the profile of ALL of Colorado's wines and it leads to discussions about Colorado wine. The drawback to the score is it is below 90 points and we all know that consumers (and many retailers) don't care about wines that get less than 90.

fogtron
fogtron

I like this article. I'm not a foodie, a wine dilettante, a beer maven, etc. I'm actually a designer in an industry completely removed from food science, and I happened to stumble upon this article (as it appears that no one else in the comments section has done-- you're a boorish crew by the way). When I walk into a wine retailer, I'm immediately drowned by the options available to me. It's a full-on sensory attack of red/black labels and words I'm sure I'll pronounce incorrectly. I do have a tendency to pick a wine based 1st on price and 2nd on some sort of rating or award it has received, because otherwise I might as well cover my eyes and point. So I would argue that perhaps the ratings serve a purpose in that context... but then to me it really doesn't matter whether it's Wine Spectator or Laura Shunk's Bonified Wine List (never met Laura, but surely her sassy demeanor would point me in the right direction). However it is nice to know that even some writers and veritable experts believe that the ratings can be flawed/lacking and in some way I think that's empowering as a self-proclaimed novice. To think it is one thing, but to hear that it is okay is another. Especially with wine, where barriers for becoming interested are intimidating, I sometimes forget that my tastes are what matters-- not an expert's.

Sirwestonlee
Sirwestonlee

This isnt about scores, accents or heritage. This is about supporting something local and accepting it for what it is. Denver is obviously not Napa where wine making is an art...This is about a person taking what he knows and applying it to a locality. It's no different from a chef adapting to what is available to the seasonality of a specific location.

laurashunk
laurashunk

Thanks for all the comments, everyone. I do want to make one thing crystal clear -- This wasn't written to take IMT wines to task. In fact, I mentioned twice that I like the wines: once concretely at the beginning, and once implicitly at the end. That was merely the news hook to talk about why there's a problem with boiling this whole conversation down to just a score. And yeah, Mo, great quote. Terry Theise pretty much nailed it. Not that I'd expect anything less.

Mo Smith
Mo Smith

My favorite quote on wine scores is from wine importer Terry Theise in a Grape Radio podcast interview: "People who are obsessed about, you know, wine in terms of the scores are the people who fast-forward their porn DVDs to get to the pop shot. Don’t you fuckin’ want to see what happens on the way?" :-)

Josh
Josh

Once again off base and out of touch but as long as the readers keep reading right???

As a restaurant owner in the Western Slope, I think Ben's recognition is fantastic and very well needed (and deserved) for the struggling economy in (especially western) Colorado. Most of my business is from tourism. Tourism fed by wine ratings and reviews of the ever improving colorado wines sourced out of Palisade and Cortez CO. I have seen Ben progress as a wine maker as well as many others in this area. Just recently I had a blind tasting of the Arizona Stronghold/ Merkin Vineyard (Tool's Manard Keenan's winerey) wine titled "Chupacabra" next to an unknown CO wine titled Colterris. The AZ wine has a huge following and its own feature movie. The Co wine kicked the crap out of the cult favorite. Thanks to articles like this, all the positive work done to shine a little light on a large accomplishment for both the State of CO tourism board and the CO wine board has been halted so we can hear about your bad Chianti experience, rather than congratulate one of the hardest working individuals in the industry. Keep up the good Work Ben, learn about why wines are rated the way they are before bashing them and the people they support Laura.

Laura Shunk makes a good point
Laura Shunk makes a good point

Over Laura Shunk: You just made Laura Shunk's point. That you shouldn't just blindly rely on other people's scores. You should use your brain and figure it out yourself.

CulinaryColorado
CulinaryColorado

My confidence in any numerical wine ratings evaporated 2 1/2 years ago when 'Wine Spectator' bestowed an Award of Excellence on Osteria L’Intrepido,which turned out to be a fictitious restaurant in Italy. Things might have changed since that wine industry kerfuffle, but at the time, the publication gave this level of honor to any restaurant that submitted their wine list and $250. See http://j.mp/hVJMg.

Dish Publicity
Dish Publicity

laura,

decrying the basis of a well-honed wine rating system while you-a writer-pull adjectives like "good and nice" from your shallow vernacular, is embarrassing.

james molesworth reviewed this wine-he is the senior editor of wine spectator and has been with the magazine for 14 years...or since you were, 10. while you may not think he has credentials that match your dinner party set (hmm...and i have it on authority that you don't even cook) many would disagree. and since you bring up context, here's some: while you were in middle school, he was the sommelier at 21 club.

when a wine is submitted to wine spectator, it is reviewed, in order. if your beloved, small italian winemaker wants in, they can submit and wait their turn. reviews are not arbitrary, they are sequential. this is why imt had to wait a very long time for the review to come out. finally, wine ratings are based on when the wine will reach its peak, and do not exist to validate your tastes in chianti.

wine rankings matter because they help the consumer sort through a vast amount of information. we entrust this job to those who have dedicated their life to understanding wine. the term is "an expert" and we have them in every channel of the marketplace.

kate lacroixdish publicity

p.s. robert parker largely retired over a week ago. i'm beginning to think you should take his lead.

Over Laura Shunk
Over Laura Shunk

B2-I completely concur. Ah Laura Shunk... She just doesn't know when to quit. People, if your going to listen to reviews to tell you what to do, how to eat, how to drink, how to dress, etc, then I feel sorry for you. It's almost like reading one of Laura's food review(s) and deciding not to go to a restaurant because she doesn't like the food. Use the brain you were born with and think for yourself.

B2
B2

I agree with you about scores being nothing more then subjective figures to guide consumers to preferred producers. This is not specific to wine, its the basis of consumerism. Hello, consumer reports.Why you chose to pick Ben and his recent score as your time to shine, I dont agree with. Someone does something that is evaluated by one as good; gets a high score and you use this time to share your dismay with the system as a whole? Again, its your timing or your timing of sharing your opinion. It makes it seem like you just came up with this opinion, trying to be the cool kid on the block.

bgreen
bgreen

This should go well...

CulinaryColorado
CulinaryColorado

IM(very)HO, the often-flawed point rating system of wines is one issue. Promotion and recognition of wines from "new" regions -- whether Colorado, Arizona or elsewhere (a winery in Pahrump, NV was just featured on natl TV) -- is a different issue entirely. Let's not confuse the two.

flaco
flaco

responsible journalism is the point, why use Ben's accomplishment to front a story about the wine rating system, it makes, Ben, the growers and their efforts look bad...

Now Trending

From the Vault

 

Loading...