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

The Wine Advocate – Robert Parker

Ahhh, wine ratings. They seem as obscure as they are clear. Some retail shelves show you ratings right on the shelves. 88 from Wine Spectator, 91 from Robert Parker and still it doesn’t seem to meet your own personal standard. I don’t think we can fix that but I think we can help. Thats why we’re trying to put these ratings into perspective with this series of articles.

This week, Robert Parker’s ratings from his “The Wine Advocate” publication. Last week we talked about the wine 800 lbs. gorilla Wine Spectator which basically has specialists for every appellation. In contrast, Robert Parker (The Wine Advocate) essentially does all of his ratings himself. This has distinct differences that really require a different thought process when considering them versus a Wine Spectator or other rating.

Robert Parker has been tasting wines since 1967 and began The Wine Advocate as a newsletter in 1978. That is 26 years of tasting, rating, and writing about wine – over which time his newsletter and ratings became world reknown and has been known to influence the market price of a wine.

Thats all great and we’re certainly not one to knock that amazing track record. He’s done alot for the industry, but there is an important thing to note about his ratings – they are literally HIS ratings. He conducts his tastings as peer-group, single-blind tastings, (meaning that the same types of wines are tasted against each other and the producers’ names are not known). So while he doesn’t taste different reds the results are inevitably tailored to his own personal tastes. As such, it is very very important that you read his tasting notes when you see his rating. He even notes this on his site:

…Scores, however, do not reveal the important facts about a wine. The written commentary that accompanies the ratings is a better source of information regarding the wine’s style and personality, its relative quality vis-à-vis its peers, and its value and aging potential than any score could ever indicate….

…However, it is also vital to consider the description of the wine’s style, personality, and potential. No scoring system is perfect, but a system that provides for flexibility in scores, if applied by the same taster without prejudice, can quantify different levels of wine quality and provide the reader with one professional’s judgment. However, there can never be any substitute for your own palate nor any better education than tasting the wine yourself…

So the keys are 1) don’t just read a Wine Advocate rating without his notes and 2) consider that his tastes may not fall in line with yours; every palate is different.

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate publication and ratings are very meaningful but in practical terms, if you’re going to look at a single number on a shelf in a store, Robert Parker should only influence you if you know you like wines that he likes. If your style is not in line with his and there are not tasting notes for you to understand his point of view you might want to either go by instinct or look for something else that you feel a little more comfortable making a judgement on. You’ll be happier and you’ll Enjoy the Wine Life that much more…

Last Week – Wine Spectator
Up Next – Wine & Spirits Magazine

Prohibition redux?

There’s an good article summarizing why we can’t buy wine over the Internet over state lines (in many many places). Oddly enough, it comes to us from CNET.com – the technology review site.

Enjoy the Wine Life!

Prohibition redux?
November 8, 2004, 4:00 AM PT
By Declan McCullagh

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments next month in a lawsuit that will, if successful, permit American adults to freely buy beer and wine over the Internet.

It’s slightly bizarre to think that it takes the nation’s highest court to guarantee online shoppers the right to order a case of fine Merlot or Pinot Noir from California. You can thank a crowd of pusillanimous state legislators for that.

Dozens of state legislatures, including those of New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Maryland, and Michigan, have slapped severe restrictions on out-of-state shipments of alcohol. The culprits behind these rules: Lobbyists for beer and wine distributors, which currently enjoy profitable markups in the 25 percent range that they stand to lose if direct Internet shipping becomes legal and popular.

While this unfortunate situation may pad the bank accounts of distributors represented by the influential Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America, it amounts to a tax on Internet shoppers.

Read more…

Wine Advice for Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving right around the corner there is one question on everyone’s mind: What wine to have at Thanksgiving (of course)?

Here is a round-up of helpful articles for the you. Enjoy the Wine Life!

iVillage.com’s Advice

Choosing the Perfect Wine for Thanksgiving

Choosing wines to enjoy with Thanksgiving dinner is easy. Why? Because it’s hard to make a bad choice. Simply picking your favorite wines to share with your guests on this special day will make them thankful. Or, let us give you some ideas. Because your guest list is as diverse as the dishes you plan on serving, we have supplied you with advice for red wines, white wines, rosés and sparkling wines to serve. You may prefer to serve all whites or all reds, or a few selections of each. You may want to start the evening with a sparkling wine and carry it all the way through the meal. And, don’t forget how delicious rosés can be. Also, this is the time to serve your wines “family style,” the way you serve your meal — just open your selections and let your guests help themselves to the tastes they like. Whatever you choose, we wish you the best Thanksgiving ever.

Because there are so many good wine and food pairings for Thanksgiving dinner, just select the type of wine you favor — and let us offer options to please every palate….

Read more…

eHow.com gives tips on wine and serving them with dinner

How to Pick a Wine for Thanksgiving

Choose more than one wine for your Thanksgiving meal. That way your guests will have a choice of what to drink, and you can impress them as a connoisseur. Joe Bastianich, restauranteur and authority on Italian wines, presents his tips for Thanksgiving libations.

1. Know your guests. Ask them about their wine preferences if you are unfamiliar with their tastes.

2. Organize the meal around two white wines and one red.

3. Start the first course with a blended white (a wine that uses more than one type of grape). Stick to a fresh, light wine for the beginning of the meal, such as La Grain, a light red by Hofstatter, from Alto Adige.

4. Move through heavier wines as the meal progresses.

5. Avoid structured wines, like Amarone or Barolo. Avoid wines that are too chewy, over the top, or have too much tannin.

6. Choose a wine that goes well with fowl ‘ either red or white ‘ and is earthy, barnyardy and food-friendly.

7. Serve the wine in the appropriate glasses; it will heighten the enjoyment and taste of the wine.

8. Wow your guests with sparkling wines before the meal and dessert wines afterward, instead of the usual red and white. They’re not as expensive as you think.

* Supply one-quarter to one-half bottle of wine per guest.

* For the Thanksgiving meal, you want a wine with a palate sensation of a longer length on the finish.

* Tunina is an excellent northern Italian white, as are any of the crisp, clean wines from Friuli.

* Great chiantis were produced in 1997. A few in the $12 to $18 range include Castella di Ama and Querciabella.

Don’t let your guests drive home drunk.

Professor Stephen Bainbridge, corporate law professor at UCLA, donates his $.02

Wine for Thanksgiving: Principles and Recommendations
What wine shall we have for Thanksgiving? Assuming a gathering of friends but not of wine snobs, you want good wines that will complement the food but not be the star attraction. Anyway, star attraction wines – well aged clarets, cabernets, or burgundies – don’t mesh well with Thanksgiving Day. Granted, roast turkey would go well with most wines. Turkey is not as much of a blank canvas as roast chicken, as it has stronger flavors and firmer texture, but it still will work well with most wines. Instead, the problem children are all the other stuff we eat at Thanksgiving. A lot of strong flavors (both sweet and savory) – herbed stuffing, yams with those little marshmallows, cranberry in some form, and (lord help us) jello molds. No fine claret or burgundy should have to compete with little marshmallows.

Read more…

If you’re not into the Professor’s page, WineSnoop serves up this set of recommendations (its a couple years old but the only thing that changes are the vintages of wine, not the advice)


It’s difficult to select the perfect wine for Thanksgiving dinner since complex flavors and textures, e.g., white and dark turkey, stuffing (of who knows what ingredients), rich gravy, candied yams, tart cranberries, rich sweet desserts, and many other side dishes all scream for different wines. It’s even more complex if you add a ham or prime rib to your Thanksgiving table…

Some General Recommendations:

1. There’s no perfect wine to match every element of the meal, so don’t over-study.

2. Thanksgiving is typically about quantity, not elegance; so don’t use the best, oldest, or most expensive wines in your cellar. Subtleties will be lost in the festivities.

3. Many “experts” say “serve American wines on this American holiday”. In theory, that’s nice, but the WineSnoop suggests that you also invite some complementary foreigners for some amazing palate sensations!

4. It’s nice to serve several different wines so people can mix and match them with the myriad of food flavors and textures for a wonderful cornucopia.

5. Lighter, lively, uncomplicated wines work best with this heavy meal, so everyone’s not asleep by 3 o’clock….


Turkey goes amazingly well with both white and red wines. The best whites include refreshing, tangy, fruity whites with at least medium weight and nice aromatics, such as Viognier and Chenin Blanc. These are typically low in tannin and see little or no oak in their making. Some Sauvignon Blancs work, especially if they are low in oak and blended with other fruitier grape varietals to tone down the tartness. Stay away from overly oaked, “flabby” (low acidity) Chardonnays which might match nicely with turkey and buttery mashed potatoes, but not much else. If Chardonnay is a must, choose a “fresh” one, with higher acidity…

…The best reds to match with turkey include Syrahs (soft, succulent, spicy), and Zinfandels (luscious raspberry aromas, jammy flavors, rich, spicy). Young, medium-bodied reds like Beaujolais (tangy, ripe, spicy with a bit of mineral notes) and Pinot Noirs (with good fruit, suppleness, complexity, fragrance, and bright, clean finish) can complement turkey (and often ham). Beaujolais should be chilled slightly. Cabernets are usually too big, tannic and tart to match with turkey. The sugars in the food can make the tannins in cabs taste bitter…


Ham is salty, and side dishes (e.g., yams) are contra-salty. So you need fresh white wines (i.e., good acidity), with a hint of sweetness, yet dry in the finish. Best choices include California Dry Rieslings, Dry Gewurztraminer, and light/fruity German Rieslings with slate, spice, mineral and honey notes, mild sweetness, and snappy finish. Also good would be fruity Rosés (as well as Beaujolais mentioned above) with nice aromatics and dry finish, to counter the saltiness. But don’t serve Cabernets which compound saltiness!…


Beef dishes typically match up best with big cabernets with lotsa, lotsa, lotsa fruit, oak, and chewy tannins. But if you’re serving beef with your Thanksgiving meal, the “smorgasbord ” of accompanying side dish flavors dictates a cab with softer tannins, nice ripe fruit flavors, and some smoky and/or chocolate notes…


It’s difficult to find U.S. wines that work well with all those tarts and pies and puddings, but two standouts are listed below. Also, try some of the incredible Aussie imports or a Port….

Read more recommendations…

Finally, StarChefs.com gives both recipes AND wine recommendations to go with them on Thanksgiving…

Taking Sides: Wines for Thanksgiving
By Kylene Keith and Merrill Maiano

If ever there were a food lover’s holiday, Thanksgiving would be it. Turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie-we get hungry just thinking about it. Of course, a Thanksgiving meal wouldn’t be complete without a little something to wash it all down. With so many dishes, it might seem daunting to pair just one wine with everything. Luckily, you don’t have to. Instead of trying to match the multitude of flavors present in a Thanksgiving meal with one type of wine, we suggest having a variety of wines at the table. Think about the dominant flavors in each side dish and what wine would complement them. We’ve provided a few of our favorite recipes to help inspire you.

Ris Lacoste’s 1789 Sausage Stuffing
The pork sausage, bacon, and ham in this dish need a wine that will accentuate those meaty, smoky flavors. However, you don’t want a wine that is too powerful and overwhelming for the rest of the dinner. A red Spanish Rioja would be a great match because the spicy, smoky nuances are supported by ripe fruit flavors. The long period of oak maturation that Riojas endure make them complex and inviting wines for a Thanksgiving meal that incorporates exotic spices and stronger flavors.

More recipes and recommendations here…

JuiceCowboy’s Wine Review Round-up

JuiceCowboy’s round-up of wine reviews for this Week:

SF Chronicle’s Bargain Wines, Mercury News’ Aussie Icons, Australian Wine Review from Vinography, Robert Parker’s Wine Of The Day, A port and a Red Blend from Wine-Lover’s Page…

SF Chronicle’s Bargain Wines:  A mixed bag of values for fall

by Leslie Sbrocco, Special to the Chronicle

Drinking wine is all about enjoyment and this week’s picks pack loads of pleasure into every bottle.

For wine as fresh as it comes, kick off with two new Southern Hemisphere releases. A shining example is the 2004 Veramonte Casablanca Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($10). Chile’s Casablanca Valley is located a mere 22 miles from the cooling breezes of the Pacific Ocean.  This location produces a white that is crisp and tangy with balanced notes of herbal aromas. Year in and year out, Veramonte is one of the best Sauvignon Blanc values on the market…

…If you’re looking for a unique wine to drink with dinner, seek out the 2004 Hope Estate Hunter Valley Verdelho ($9) from Australia. Hunter Valley is north of Sydney and is known for whites like Semillon, but Verdelho is one to watch. Don’t recall seeing many Verdelhos on store shelves? You’re right. It’s known primarily as the white grape responsible for producing fortified wine named Madeira in Portugal. Varietal bottlings are few and far between, which makes this one even more special. It is aromatic with spice and floral notes and a creamy texture, but still manages to remain zesty and bright.

Maturity has its virtues, too. The 2001 Barton & Guestier Pouilly-Fuisse ($10) is toasty and nutty with a smoothness that comes from a few years in the bottle. Pouilly-Fuisse is a highly regarded appellation in southern Burgundy in France planted exclusively to Chardonnay, and this Chardonnay has character. Try it alongside salmon and couscous topped with mango chutney.

Read the full article…

Mercury News Aussie Icons: 140-year-old vines produce Aussie icon

Special to the Mercury News

The shiraz vines at the famed Hill of Grace vineyard are gnarled and stooped from 140-plus years of cold winters, the occasional drought and their yearly task of producing purple clusters of fabulously concentrated fruit. The oldest block, known as the Grandfathers, survived when shiraz went out of fashion and a resulting government action in the 1980s prompted many of their ancient brethren to be ripped from the ground. All the while, the small Lutheran church from which the vineyard takes its name has stood watch over these dry-farmed centenarians.

It’s hard not to feel at least a little awed by their tenacity. And by the fact that these venerable vines produce a wine that’s an Australian icon, probably the country’s second most sought-after wine, after Penfolds Grange. But while Grange is a blend from throughout South Australia, Hill of Grace shiraz is very much a reflection of this quiet place in the Eden Valley and these twisted old vines…

…My tasting centered on the Eden Valley wines, several of which are named for various Henschke ancestors. (Although the rest of these wines aren’t as rare as Hill of Grace, you may have to hunt for them.)

The 2003 Tilly’s Vineyard ($20), a white blend based on semillon and chardonnay, is crisp and minerally, with nice richness and some herbaceous notes. Semillon stands alone in the 2002 Louis Semillon ($27), which is smoky and rich, with firm acidity and some minerality. The 2003 Julius Riesling ($30) is much tighter than most Aussie rieslings, with bright lime and mineral flavors. It will reward several years of cellaring.

The 2002 Henry’s Seven ($32), a blend of shiraz, grenache and viognier, is fragrant and bright, with flavors of raspberry and strawberry, a hint of white pepper and medium tannins. Grenache is the leading player in the 2002 Johann’s Garden ($38), a ripe, easy-to-drink wine that’s dense and peppery, with lots of blackberry fruit and supple tannins. The 2001 Keyneton Estate ($45) is a cab-shiraz blend that’s vivid and concentrated, with juicy cherry and raspberry and firm structure.

As for the top wines, the 2000 Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon ($100) displays lots of dark-toned cherry and berry flavors with a note of olive. The tannins are firm but approachable, but this is one for the cellar. The 2001 Mount Edelstone Shiraz ($80) is also very tight, with blackberry, spice, hints of eucalyptus and olive and a supple texture.

Read the full article…

Australian Wine Review from Vinography2003 Alice White Shiraz, South Eastern Australia

[JuiceCowboy:  This review doesn’t have many wines reviewed but does give good advice to follow for reading wine labels.  Worth the time!]

…However, I was unable to get my (lazy) hands on a bottle of Yellow Tail Shiraz which is what I wanted to review. I know, I know! The stuff is everywhere, but today it wasn’t at my local grocery store. I wanted to review it and talk about how their massive marketing and advertising campaigns related to the quality of the wine. Instead, however, I ended up with this bottle of Alice White Shiraz, and instead of a lesson about marketing, this entry is going to be about how to be an intelligent wine consumer, even if you’re buying wines under ten bucks.

Don’t just pick your wine by the label. I did.

Listen, I do this sometimes, like everyone else. We tend to think that most wines under ten bucks at the grocery store are sort of all alike, and therefore we just pick something that looks interesting, which means basically the one whose label catches our eye. This wine of mine has an appealing label with a nice blocky red pattern, and look it’s got little kangaroos, too!  While it’s fine to reach out and reward an innovative firm by placing a nicely designed bottle in your basket, there’s something you MUST do first.

I want you to read the label. Yes really read it, front and back. I didn’t, and suffered the consequences.

Let’s take a look at Alice’s label shall we? We’ve already established that it looks nice. And here it says on the front Shiraz, South Eastern Australia.

This is your first critical judgment. Do you know where South Eastern Australia is? Have you heard of it before, sort of in the same way that you have heard of Napa or other regions like that?…

…In this case, the answer is definitely NO….

Imported by Alice White. Gonzales,CA. Bottled By Alice White. Woodbridge, CA.

This is not real Australian Shiraz. Sure, sure, it is made, per U.S. Law, from no less than 75% Shiraz, and those grapes have come from somewhere in the half a million square miles that make up South Eastern Australia, but think about what actually happened to them in order for them to end up in the bottle that I’m holding here….

Read the full article

Robert Parker’s Wine Of The Day: 2003 Bonny Doon Clos de Gilroy

Rating: 87 points, Varietal: Grenache (a dry red table wine)

A wonderful value, the 1,200 case 2003 Clos de Gilroy exhibits a medium ruby color along with copious quantities of strawberries and cherries in a seductive, sensual style. Medium-bodied and soft, it is undeniably a vin de plaisir.

Est cost: $12

A port and a Red Blend from Wine-Lover’s Page

Pietra Santa “Sacred Stone” Master’s Red Blend Old World Style Red Wine ($9.99)

Dark ruby in color, with warm, plummy aromas, a hint of raisins and a dash of spice; floral and peppery notes on the nose carry over to the palate with a burst of fragrant pepper and bright red fruit. Full bodied, tart and somewhat tannic, with an intriguing minerality lurking behind the forward fruit and peppery spice. Powerful alcohol (14.8%) leaves a distinct warmth in the finish. Made by a California producer and bearing no regional appellation or vintage, it’s described as a “Rhone-style blend,” with Syrah, Carignan, Grenache and the less characteristically Rhonish Sangiovese and Zinfandel. US Importer: (Oct 29, 2004)

FOOD MATCH: Good with hearty seasonal fare, it made a fine match with a shepherd’s pie variation, ground lamb and earthy Swiss cheese on a bed of mashed potatoes and cauliflower.

WEB LINK: http://www.pietrasantawinery.com

Graham’s “Six Grapes” Porto ($22.39)

This non-vintage Ruby Port is made in the style sometimes called “Vintage Character” because its full and tannic structure emulates that of the more pricey, ageworthy vintage wine. Very dark purple in color, almost black, its aroma focuses on black fruit, plums and prunes. Sweet fruit, tart acidity, alcoholic warmth (this fortified wine contains 19.5% alcohol) and smooth but substantial tannins come together on the palate in a dessert wine that’s bold but not as fierce or unapproachable as a youthful Vintage Port; there’s not a lot of complexity here, but good balance and assertive Port character make it a pleasant, warming glass on a mild autumn evening. Made from six Port-grape varieties, hence the name: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Amarela and Tintao Cão. US Importer: Premium Port Wines Inc., San Francisco. (Oct 31, 2004)

FOOD MATCH: Testing Port’s affinity with cheeses, I served it with both a cave-aged Swiss Emmentaler and a Vernières Roquefort. It worked well with both, bringing up the creaminess and an attractive appley-nutty quality in the Swiss and an almost “meaty” salty character in the blue-veined French cheese.

WEB LINK: http://www.premiumport.com/grahams.cfm

Mondavi Seals the Deal

Link: Constellation closes Mondavi

Reuters is reporting that Constellation has closed the Mondavi deal adding the Mondavi brands and reputation into its porfolio of beverage. Good news for stock holders, wait-and-see for wine lovers, big loss for Napa wine tradition – one of the pioneers of premium Napa wines with global reputations doesn’t own the rights to his own name any longer.

Compare and Contrast for Best Experience – Chardonnay

One of the most interesting ways to understand wines and their complexities is to taste the same grape grown in different regions. Reading the San Francisco Chronicle I came across a summary of Washington State Chardonnays and thought I’d forward it on.

If you want to experience how region or “appellation” affects wine then here is one good suggestion – get some California (Napa or Sonoma) Chardonnay and try them side-by-side with some of these Washington selections that the SF Chronicle suggests.

What will this tell you? I gaurantee you that while Chardonnay is the grape you’ll notice a difference. The difference is not that one is bad and one is good but that the growing conditions in Washington (generally cooler climate, shorter seasons) will affect the grapes differently then California climates (warmer, longer seasons).

While generically Chardonnay commonly is attached to various descriptors include green apple, pear, lemon, fig, pineapple, melon and honey, you should notice some differences. The Washington Chardonnays should be “brighter” because the colder regions keep the sweet fruity-ness down. So the Washington ones will taste more like apple and citrus or tropical fruit. California Chardonnays are generally grown in warmer weather creating a riper fruit with more sugar content. With them you’ll find honey, melon, and “creamy” as common descriptions.

Kind of fun. You should give it a try. Since New World wines are labeled by grape, you can do this for any region. Once you start to tell the differences then you’re on your way to being able to select a different region with different dishes, either at home or in a restaurant.

Enjoy the Wine Life!

Washington State Chardonnay:


2003 Avery Lane Columbia Valley Chardonnay
Price: $8

Body: Medium

Dryness: Dry

Comments: Round and ripe; bright apple, lemon and pineapple aromas with hint of earth; similar flavors with anise, apricot, some oak and breadfruit; long finish.

2001 Chateau Ste Michelle Cold Creek Vnyd Columbia Valley Chardonnay
Price: $22

Body: Medium-full

Dryness: Dry-semidry

Comments: Very good and a panel favorite. Golden Delicious apple, buttery toast, earth and petrol aromas; kiwi, pineapple, apple and banana flavors; cedar notes on the long finish.

2001 Chateau Ste Michelle Indian Wells Columbia Vly Chardonnay
Price: $18

Body: Medium

Dryness: Dry-semidry

Comments: Very good and a panel favorite. Subtle apple and banana nose; zesty entry with flavors of apple, pear, pineapple, lemon, mint and citrus accents; long, soft finish.

2002 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Columbia Valley Chardonnay
Price: $11

Body: Medium

Dryness: Dry

Comments: Nose of lemon meringue, pear, apple, vanilla, toast, caramel and oak; soft pear, apple, peach and spice flavors; a touch harsh but generally crowd-pleasing.

2003 Forgeron Cellars Columbia Valley Chardonnay
Price: $19

Body: Medium-full

Dryness: Dry

Comments: Juicy grapefruit and coffee aromas with balanced apple, pear, citrus, stone fruit and caramel flavors; creamy and floral on entry; bright acidity. Limited production.

Read the complete list

Total Domestic Wine Sales Gain 6.3%

US wine industry keeps rockin’ and rollin’ along. Wine Business Online is reporting that domestic wine retail sales increased 6.3% from a year ago. The total growth of wine retails sales in the US grew just under 8.6% because import bolstered by an 11.3% increase in total value (price and volume).

Looks like many people are Enjoying the Wine Life!

Read Article