Wine Ratings- what do they mean? How are they generated? Why are they inconsistent across ratings. Every wine rating has something behind the scenes determining who gets what rating. Effectively they all have their own system. The interesting thing about the ratings is that they can serve different purposes and they can also mislead if you don’t know where they’re coming from. In a series of a articles Vivi’s will explain the rating system for different publications and try to provide some guidance on when it is and isn’t good to use that particular system.
There is some controversy behind the scenes saying that some of the more commercial publications use their circulation and readership to help wines that pay for advertising. We tend to find consistency in the ratings so its very hard for us to be on the side of “pay for placement” arguments. Anyway, we hope this series of articles helps to shed some light on the confusing and occasionally frustrating business of wine ratings.
Lets start the first with the big cahuna – Wine Spectator
Wine Spectator is the most well known wine publication certainly in this country. Its one of the magazines that has rumors around it that advertising with the magazine helps the score a wine receives. We can be certain if this is true or not but a consultancy called WineAngels.com did extensive research on the wines reviewed by Wine Spectator for the last 10 years and basically did find correlation between score and price (naturally because a high score in WS means people will seek it out – supply and demand here) but not as much correlation between advertsing and score. You can see a summary of the report on their site. The report is designed for wineries hoping to get an edge in marketing so it costs money for the full report.
Anyway, Wine Spectator says their tastings are conducted at their offices around the country. According to their website:
* Each editor generally covers the same wine regions from year to year. These “beats” remain constant, allowing each lead taster to develop expertise in the region’s wines.
* Other tasters may sit in on blind tastings in order to help confirm impressions. However, the lead taster always has the final say on the wine’s rating and description.
* A taster’s initials at the end of the tasting note indicate that the rating and review were created by that taster in one of our blind tastings.
* Wines that do not include initials at the end of the tasting note are wines that were reviewed by two or more tasters. These tastings are conducted in the same blind setting and are monitored and guided by the lead taster for that region.
So what does this mean for us average wine enthusiasts? Basically, since they’re tasters are focused on a single category you will get ratings that are relative to that category. For example, a California Zinfandel from the Central Coast (say Rosenblum) recently received a 92 rating. That means the taster from the California region tasted it and compared it to his expertise and experience – other wines from California.
Now, you walk into a wine store and see that another taster from France gives a Red Bordeaux a rating of 94. Does this mean that this Bordeaux is better than the Rosenblum Zin? Not necessarily. Because they were not tasted competitively you have to decide what style you like better – California or French. Relatively to other French wine that Bordeaux is going to be great. But if you like California wine and buy that Bordeaux because it was rated 94 you could be in for a disappointment – two completely different styles of wine.
So, with the style of having “beat” tasters in certain regions, in order to use the Wine Spectator ratings effectively to make purchases you will want to get an idea of the type of wine you like best. Once you know you’re a big fan of California “big and bold” Cabernets then find a Wine Spectator rating on Cali-Cabs that is high and you’ll probably be finding yourself what equates to “what a CA Cabernet SHOULD taste like”.
If you do get into a specific wine type then Wine Spectator is great. Then you can splurge on a very high rated bottle, taste it, and get the idea of what a great wine of that type really is. This makes it a pretty great tool to learn about wine.
Enjoy the Wine Life!
Up Next: Robert Parket’s The Wine Advocate