Everything You Wanted to Know About Wine Ratings But Were Afraid to Ask – Wine Spectator

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

French Winers say France in crisis

Just-Drinks.com is reporting that a survey conducted by BVA and published by French press claims that up to 90% of French wine growers are pssimistic about the future of the wine industry in France. Half of the respondents believes the sector is already in real crisis.

Admitting you have a problem is the first step to dealing with it. We here at Vivi’s have present our opinion as to the problem with the French wine industry. We just surprised it too this long to catch up to them.

Enjoy the Wine Life!

Source: Just-Drinks.com

FRANCE: Half of winemakers say France in crisis
29 Oct 2004
Source: just-drinks.com editorial team

A survey published in the French press claims that up to 90% of French wine growers are pessimistic about the French industry’s future.

The opinion poll, conducted by BVA, said that nine of every 10 wine growers believes the national wine growing sector is in a crisis or in difficulties.

The results, published in French magazine Gastronomie, showed that nearly half the respondents believed the sector in real crisis. The main threats were seen as foreign competition, the fall in the domestic market and over zealous legislation.

In Bordeaux 69% of the wine growers said the sector was in crisis. Meanwhile, 60% in Languedoc and 56% of the respondents in the south-western part of France shared this opinion.

The survey was carried out in the eight wine growing and producing regions in France and 405 wine growers were interviewed.

SF Restuarant Round-up

A Full Belly.com, a site we enjoy reading from time to time, provides this good round up of recent reviews of restaurants in San Francisco. Certainly we’ve been anticipating our chance to hit Tartare and if you’re up for a really grand feast (by “up” we mean “have a wad of money you’re itching to blow on a spectacular dinner”) the Ritz Carlton Dining Room is the place to be.

Vivi’s is a big advocate of cutting through the hype of wine to find true gems among reasonably priced wines. When it comes to restaurants, sometimes a splurge is worth it. One tip to keeping your bill down, check to see if the restaurant has a corkage fee. Then you can bring your own bottle. But, you should know, as a courtesy, you may want to ask the Sommelier if he/she would like to share a glass with you. Its just a polite gesture.

Anyway, on to the review round-up.

Browse A Full Belly.com if you get a chance. Its worth the visit.

SF: Review Roundup
Today’s review roundup includes: Tartare, Ritz-Carlton Dining Room, Olema Inn.

SF Weekly Meredith Brody reviews Tartare (550 Washington; 415-434-3100):

. . . We were led to a table for two along the banquette and began perusing the deceptively short menu. I say “deceptively” because, although there were only 18 dishes with brief descriptions, the imaginary tastings they set off in my brain — the part that decides what I’ll be eating — were complex. The menu has four categories: “raw and rare,” comprising five tartares; “naked and natural,” including two carpaccios, oysters, and a salad; “simply soup,” with four offerings; and “old and new,” five entrees. Classic hand-cut beef tartare — well, the mind thinks it knows what that will be, but even if you’ve had numerous tartares, and I have, I’ve never had one with habanero-infused sesame oil, plums, and mint before. King salmon tartare with house-ground banana curry? Carpaccio of opakapaka with orange oil and toasted cumin? And the “simply soups” weren’t simple at all: How about a garlic parsley bisque with black mussel flan?
Olema Inn makes diners feel that that they’ve enjoyed a reprieve from the rigors of urban life, without sacrificing the quality of food that a city has to offer.
. . . The soup was an ethereal yet deep-flavored cream of corn, with a dusting of smoky paprika and a knot of boned pork sparerib meat, infused with ginger, in its center. The cream of corn was genius on its own, and didn’t quite seem to need the chewy meat, even as an interesting textural contrast.
The tuna tartare was a fresh take on a dish that has become a cliché — heated with peppers, cooled with mint, and sweetened with diced plums. Chester adored it, as he did the ostrich tartare, wittily served in what I thought was an exceptionally thick-walled oval soup bowl, which turned out to be an actual ostrich egg shell. The beefy meat was well served by its chunky Roquefort vinaigrette and cracked pink peppercorns: a crunchy and creamy dish.

SF Examiner Patricia Unterman reviews Ritz-Carlton Dining Room (600 Stockton St.; 415-296-7465):

Traditionally, hotel dining rooms have suffered a bad rap for overpriced, fancy but soulless institutional cooking. The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, however, is one of the best high-end restaurants in The City. Run almost like an independent — except that it’s subsidized by the hotel — the Dining Room offers a $68 three-course menu with lots of choices, augmented by little surprises sent out by the kitchen.
Recently, after seven successful years, Sylvain Portay left the Dining Room and Ron Siegel moved over from Masa’s to succeed him. Siegel became an international celebrity a few years ago by defeating the “Iron Chef” on Japanese, and then American, television. Now he offers Japanese-inspired dishes on the Dining Room menu and weaves Japanese ingredients into non-Asian dishes as well. Though you’ll find plenty of western luxury items like caviar and foie gras, Siegel does some fairly austere presentations featuring Japanese luxury ingredients like coveted matsutake mushrooms and toro, the rich foie gras-like belly meat of the highest-grade yellowfin tuna.

SF Chronicle Michael Bauer revisits the Olema Inn (10000 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Olema; 415-663-9559):

Vigil’s food is the star. The chef takes one of West Marin’s most important products — oysters — and spotlights them with eight different toppings ($14 for eight), four raw and four cooked. They’re simply some of the best around, whether you choose the Flying Fish Roe version, with a Sauvignon Blanc mignonette, fresh scallions and tobiko; a la Russe, with caviar and a cool lemon cream fraiche; Royale, with lemon bearnaise and crisp shallots; or Dizzy, with warm bacon, garlic, fennel and the crunch of warm bread crumbs.
His seasonal menu consists of four salads, five appetizers and seven large plates, including a nightly fish special such as Kajiki ($23), a line- caught marlin from Hawaii. The rich meaty medallion sits atop a blend of fresh runner beans and strings of onions, thickened with flakes of crab and surrounded by a ring of pepper sauce with the smoky nuances of a well-made romesco.
. . . Olema Inn makes diners feel that that they’ve enjoyed a reprieve from the rigors of urban life, without sacrificing the quality of food that a city has to offer.

Rosenblum 2002 Richard Sauret Vineyard Zinfandel

Its becoming very predictable which is all the more reason we have to point out the newest release from the Rosenblum Richard Sauret vineyard in Paso Robles. It is really a prime example of a good Zinfandel, which Rosenblum tends to do. More importantly, its a really good example of a California style wine. The aroma is great. You can catch a wiff of the chocolate and cherry smells. The first sip hits you Cali-style with bold plum and black cherry tastes which lingers with a chocolate finish.

A great wine if you want to know what a Zin should taste like. We did notice it is a little over tannic but if you open it and give it a little time to breath the exposure to oxygen chills that out very nicely. Not to mention that this also means it will age well. Wine Spectator rates it 92 and San Francisco Chronical Wine Competition awarded it a silver metal. At about $17 a bottle, we have to recommend it as a great value and an excellent way to introduce you to how Zinfandel should taste without breaking the bank.

Enjoy the Wine Life!

I’ll take the Red Wine Inhalor…

Certainly sounds odd but researchers at Imperial College London, England, have confirmed broad anti-inflammatory action of resveratrol, the polyphenolic compound found in red wine. They found that potentially resveratrol could be used to fight chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and possible even arthritis. The research paper published by lead researcher Louise Donnelly et al. in the American Journal of Physiology-Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology, notes: “Our study is novel as it examines the anti-inflammatory mechanism(s) of resveratrol in cells relevant to human disease and explores all of the proposed mechanisms in a single study.”

Donnelly warned that the study looked at over-the-counter resveratrol and found that “its not very pure and probably not worth taking” for the asthma or COPD. It dissolves only in certain liquids, including alcohol, and is “cleared very rapidly in the liver”, which would make the store bought resveratrol ineffective as a treatment for asthma or COPD. Developing an aerosol version “probably would be a better option,” added Donnelly.

Inhaling Red Wine anyone? A whole new take on Enjoying the Wine Life perhaps?

Mixed Results on Wine and Lung Cancer

News Brief

Spanish researchers at University of Santiago de Compostela have found that drinking red wine could protect against lung cancer, but drinking white wine may increase the risk. What they found was that the tannins and resveratrol in red wine have anti-cancer properties. White wine increases risk because while lacking the tannins and resvertrol it does contain alcohol.

This does jive with what we previously reported about resveratrol and its anti-cancer affects. The interesting thing is what we’re learning about micronutrient dense foods (including grapes) and how they can affect the body chemistry. Alcohol is a poison no matter how you slice it but the fact that wine does use a more natural, less processed method to create helps to increase the health benefits and mitigate the damage. The crossing point between when Alcohol in red wine does more damage than micronutrients doing good is very low (usually defined by your specific metabolic traits) so drinking to excess never helps anyone.

Here is a release from Thorax detailing the study.

Two Buck Bob? The Final Nail in the Coffin of a Wine Tradition

There you have it. An all-cash offer to buy Robert Mondavi Corporation. The offer was confirmed today by a company press from Constellation Brands, Inc. The total value of the deal is approximately $1.3 billion, including approximately $970 million of equity on a fully-diluted basis plus the assumption of approximately $333 million of Mondavi net debt.

The final nail, should this offer be accepted (and from a business standpoint, an all-cash offer for more than your current stock price is tough to pass up). Why the final nail? Well, as we reported earlier, Robert Mondavi Corporation was moving away from what Robert Mondavi the man spent the better part of the last 40 years building – world class wine from California. In the downturn of the market it was interesting to observe that the Mondavi story demonstrated that fine wine is so specialized and intricate that it may be impossible to make it a huge, publicly traded business. The demand of Wall Street to have constant increases in earning made it impossible to make “world class wine” a business cash cow – its simply too affected by uncontrollable events (weather, bugs, etc.). So Mondavi had to make the decision to move toward “2 Buck Chuck” competitors and away from its premium brands a la Opus One.

This is the final nail because Constellation Brands, while a good acquiring company from the standpoint of Wall Street and shareholders, will be able to squeeze more from the Mondavi brands but it is not known for creating ultra-premium brands. In fact, it mostly markets beer with brands like Corona, St Pauli Girl, etc… Operational efficiency and earnings will become the mission for Mondavi.

A stark contrast to creating World Class Wine from California.

Its a happy day for investors, and we know plenty of them. But its really a sad day for those who appreciate the CA wine industry that Robert Mondavi, the man, had such a large part in creating.

Thanks, Mr. Mondavi, for creating the Wine Life. We’re sorry the dream had to end this way.

Constellation Brands Confirms Offer to Acquire The Robert Mondavi Corporation

Chardonnay News Round-up by the JuiceCowboy

A few interesting stories were published today on Chardonnay so we thought we’d summarize the best ones for our readers…

A Chardonnay cluster worth picking

SF Chronicle staff writer W. Blake Gray gives a nice overview of how to know what you’re going to get when you pick a Chardonnay. This includes general ideas based on region that give you a good rule-of-thumb what to think about when you see Chardonnays on the menu or in a store. This is the great thing about New World wines and their definition by Grape – you can have some idea of what to expect (with some nice surprises usually) without knowing the specific vineyard on the label.

With popcorn, think Chardonnay

Writing for The Arizona Republic, Mark Tarbell proposes an interesting pairing for Chardonnays – Popcorn! A nice, warm weather Chardonnay, like a CA Chardonnay, will produce butter flavors. Mark decided to try one with some popcorn and found a nice match.

Chardonnay is so passe — sip a sampling of viognier

Janice Fuhrman of the Contra Costa times takes a swipe at Chardonnay in order to make some valid points about Viogner white wine. This article discusses several important points about Viogner that are worth the read (including the correct pronounciation!), but articles that tend to put down our favorites or make us feel like we’re part of a “herd” if we like what we’ve heard of have a big snobbish bias to them. Fortunately, this article is worth reading if you want to understand a little more about a lessor known white that is worth tasting. Since Voigners are generally sweeter and brighter than buttery CA Chardonnays, its worth a try for those new to white wines.

California Wine Glut Draining

Wine Spectator is reporting that a wine grape glut is contributing to price erosions in most wines. However the growth of Chardonnay on an already large base points to price firmness in the short term and price increases as soon as 2006 based on supply constraints. Chardonnay is as popular as ever so if you can find a good vintage in the next couple years you should give it a try.

Screw tops? Screw that!

In a previous article posted to Vivi’s, we talked about the age-old debate of screw-tops versus corks. The idea being that screw caps can actually help create a little more predictability in wines in the way that they have more control over the oxygen let into the bottle. This helps wine producers reduce loss and many are considering the change. The problem is a common marketing phenomenon that seems to baffle many in the wine world – perception is reality. And when you’re dealing in a luxury product world like high-end wines there is certain “snobbery” that prevents screw caps from gaining too much prominence (even in wine under $20). This is because the perception is that the screw cap is for 40oz OE Malt Liquor, not wine.

Well a recent study conducted by Oregon State University demonstrated this “perception is reality” marketing phenomenon first hand. In a blind taste test conducted by researchers at Oregon State University’s Food Innovation Center in Portland, wine drinkers couldn’t tell the difference in the taste of the same wine, whether bottled with natural cork, synthetic cork or screw-top stoppers. Yet a second study, by the same researcher, found that wine consumers who are confronted with a choice of stoppers are much less likely to purchase “screw-top” wine, considering it of inferior quality.

“Consumers simply couldn’t tell the difference between identical wines with each of the three different closures,” said Emily M. Jorgensen, an OSU graduate student working with the university’s Food Innovation Center in Portland.

There you have it. Concrete evidence.

This is even more interesting if you consider the following thought – what about price? This is the principle that Vivi’s operates under – there are world class wines at prices that are not considered “world class”. The wine industry early on had a supply/demand situation that caused prices to go higher and higher (alot of demand, not much supply). So the best wines in short supply were highly sought after. Particularly some CA wines experienced this type price inflation. High price started to become an indicator of quality. But at some point in the last few years it seems that many wines from CA started to take advantage of that and charge alot for mediocre wines creating the illusion of “high quality”. This creates the opportunity for the devoted “wine hunters” to find some real “values”, i.e. find wines that are price right not just priced high.

That should be every wine enthusiasts’ ultimate goal is to find these wines. Hopefully we can help Vivi’s wine community use this “perception is reality” rule to find the wines that many people write off because the price is simply too low. This is really the ultimate way to Enjoy the Wine Life.

Read the OSU release

Is Buying Online Wine Divine or Asinine?

Everything is being bought online these days. From mega-stores like Amazon.com to small businesses with very specialized products, almost anything can be bought online. So of course, wine is available from many many outlets on the Internet. Wine retailers, wineries, grey marketeers, etc… all hock their wines online to you and I in hopes of capturing their part of the global market. Interesting thing is most of these sites are supplemental to some sort of physical retail store. Only a couple are focused solely on Internet sales (Wine.com for instance).

With all this variety and competitiveness the market is certainly divine for wine lovers but there are a few simple things you should do to keep yourself from feeling asinine about the transaction. Here are some tips to make your online experience smooth and easy:

1. Do some research first. Go by ratings you know and trust. If you read Wine Spectator (which has an odd following of haters akin to Microsoft haters – simply hated because of their sheer dominance, but when looked at objectively there are some very useful elements) then you should go by that. Since the wine is site unseen you probably want to go with a recommendation from a source you trust. Vivi’s will certainly pass on the best info we have but a friend, a magazine, or even writing down what you tasted in a restuarant one night is the important first step.

2. Find it online at a competitive price. Since there are so many sources, a competitive price is easy to find. Easily the best tool for finding wine online is Wine-Searcher.com. Here is a fast interface to thousands of online wine retailers across the globe and almost no wine is out of reach. There is a search box on the Vivi’s sidebar to your right that is directly linked to that site. You can pick and choose which site you’d like to buy it from there. Check the security policies of your site of choice and make sure you’re comfortable with them.

3. Once you find the wine and the retailer to buy it from, protect yourself. Use a one-time use credit card number. Many credit cards offer this service so that you can create a random number, instead of inputing your card, and use that number to make a single purchase. After that purchase the number is no good so you’re protected. This is the best way to protect yourself since its about the only technology in the transaction under your control.

4. Ship the wine to your place of business. If you have the ability, this is a great help. It has two advantages – the wine doesn’t have to sit in front of your house (some lazy shipment drivers just drop it on the door step even though thats illegal) or get continually re-sent if you’re not home and there is always someone there to sign for it. This minimized the chance of damage during shipment. Most of the better wine retail places will also hold back you shipment as a service to make sure your wine doesn’t get ruined by weather (Summer shipments could be rough on a wine).

5. Store the wine for 24-48 hours before you enjoy. All the shake, rattle, and roll of the shipment will agitate the sediment in the wine and it actually affects the taste if you don’t let it settle for a while.

6. Crack open a bottle at your leisure and Enjoy the Wine Life!