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