Kevin Costner and the Nature of Wine Ratings

Waterworld The practice of declaring which wines are better than others is a fool's errand that must be undertaken.

How do I know this? I know it because I believe that Keven Costner's "Waterworld" is fine art.

I also know this because the Wall Street Journal recently reminded us that the results and reliability of wine competitions and professional wine ratings are sketchy at best, particularly when subjected to statistical analysis. But what's significant about all this is not that the Capitalist's Bible has deemed it time to present this point of view, but rather that it is likely that within a decade the power of the professional reviewer will be diminished significantly in favor of consumer reviews.

The conjecture that meta reviews of wines driven by collected and collated consumer ratings will play a more and more important role in consumer purchasing patterns isn't new. In my mind, the only questions is whose collections of reviews and ratings will carry the most weight. In the end it doesn't matter if CellarTracker, Snooth or some other consumer review aggregation site comes out ahead, unless you are CellarTracker, Snooth or some other consumer review aggregation site. What matters is that the same unreliable assessment of wine that is currently delivered by single wine reviewers or wine rating panels will be replaced by equally unreliable assessments made by consumers.

All ratings and reviews, no matter who or what generates them, are unreliable if what you seek is definition and definitive assessment of quality. We know this is unreliable because I believe Kevin Costner's "Waterworld" is fine art.

Still, I recognize that there is a strong desire among the well-schooled wine professionals, the avid wine lover and the average wine drinker to get a little help in  navigating through the thousands of wine they are able to purchase. How does one use any rating or review vehicle, particularly one that depends on numbers when numbers like 94 or 86 are incredibly inaccurate, to help them assess the relative quality of wine? How do you do this when it's a well known fact that I think Kevin Costner's "Waterworld" is fine art?

My suggestion to those who want to use numbers to help guide them is to put the numbers in the broader context that most review and rating platforms themselves provide.

Take the Wine Spectator for example. If you read its own explanation of its numbered ratings you find that despite the fact that each wine is given a single numbered rating, that number falls into a category which is given its own general description:

95-100=Classic
90-94
=Outstanding
85-89
=Very good
80-84
=Good
75-79
=Mediocre
50-74
=Not recommended

So, if you see that the Wine Spectator rates a wine 89 points, your best bet at understanding what that means is to recognize that this 89 point wine is no better or worse than a wine the magazine rates 85 points. Both are "Very Good". 

Robert Parker, Jr. does the same thing at the Wine Advocate, where he explains what his numbers mean:

96-100=Extraordinary
90-95=Outstanding
80-89=Above Average to Very good
70-79=Average
60-69=Below Average
50-59=Unacceptable

You'll find that nearly every recognized wine rating vehicle gives similarly broad definitions for a range of scores, indicating that even these Exactness-mongers understand the validity of my assessment that Kevin Costner's "Waterworld" is fine art.


64 Responses

  1. Phil - December 21, 2009

    But Tom, how do we know the 89 wouldn’t be a 90 if tasted on a different day and suddenly outstanding? That’s only a one point difference as opposed to the four in your example. And since 90+ is heavily hyped, that border area is extremely important. An 89 may be the most unfortunate “good” score you can get…

  2. @nectarwine - December 21, 2009

    While I agree, Waterworld was definitely Costners finest pic apart from Dances With Wolves – you make two interresting points. Wine ratings are subjective and wine ratings do provide value.
    Although something is completely subjective it can still provide value. If I had never seen Waterworld, but you raved about the plot complexity and the potential pitfalls of global warming and how ahead of its time it was – I may put it on my Netflix list to see.
    We all love to proport our opinions. They must be amusing at best because blogging continues to grow and is mostly opinion based. I choose to come here because I like your opinions. There are other blogs that I call full of sh^t or are just uninterresting so I don’t visit.
    The scoring you reference above is like school grades. You know that a 81 is a B where my son goes to school, but I’d much rather see him come home with an 87 (which is the same B).
    Josh @nectarwine

  3. Steve Paulo - December 21, 2009

    This is one reason why I moved away from points for my blog’s wine reviews, to a more generalized “A-F” grading scale. Still gives the right idea (“I liked Wine A better than Wine B”) but doesn’t infer a level of precision that is utterly impossible to attain.

  4. TWG - December 21, 2009

    I’ve been toeing the same line that all wine ratings less reliable that we think, on the heels of the WSJ articles http://tallahasseewineguy.blogspot.com/2009/11/revisiting-reliability-of-wine-ratings.html
    But don’t tell Steve Heimhoff
    http://www.steveheimoff.com/index.php/2009/11/18/joe-roberts-is-right-about-bullsht-unreliable-wine-judge-studies/
    who continues continues to defend the credibility/authority of professional wine critic reviews. In fact, in his column in the current edition of WE he claims that ratings (and judgment more generally) is more credible than public ratings from CT, Snooth, etc. I pointed out that he rated the Cambria 2006 Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir, from the Santa Maria Valley 93 (#1 WE wine of 2009), which has an average rating of 86.9 (25 reviews). Here is his entry on the dominance of magazines over free, public sources such as CT & Snooth:
    http://www.steveheimoff.com/index.php/2009/12/08/wine-magazines-dead-i-dont-think-so/

  5. Thomas Pellechia - December 21, 2009

    I’m certainly no points whore, nor do I believe that most wine critics have what it really takes to identify quality objectively, but I also question the sanity of removing professionals from wine evaluation and opening it up to, to what, the world?
    The fastest way to kill the value of something is to make it cheap and plentiful.
    And Tom, Costner’s acting in previous movies is what prevented me from seeing Waterworld! And I didn’t need a critic to point me in the right direction, so maybe there’s something to this citizen journalism stuff…

  6. nedhoey - December 21, 2009

    Generally, the trend is apparent. But for some regions and their better wines, consumer reviews are too late to be useful. Consumers posting on cellartracker about their most recent Burgundy experience are likely to be writing about a wine that has largely been sold out. The critics still get the access to give the even more sketchy barrel reviews, which allow them the chance to say something in time for prearrival sales. Which brings us to marketing. Can we really expect to see prearrival
    Burgundy offers with cellartracker generated summaries?

  7. Benito - December 21, 2009

    When asked why I don’t do scores or ratings for the wines I review, I always use a hypothetical Riesling as an example. I can write that a Riesling is bone dry and has aromas of petrol and wet rocks. To me, that’s a positive review. To someone else, that sounds absolutely revolting and it’s a negative review steering him away from that wine.
    I always want to see more food and cheese pairing information with wine reviews, in hopes of wine becoming a more standard part of the dinner table. One local store has even organized a small section of wines grouped by beef, chicken, pork, etc.
    P.S. Just a random pet peeve, but at times I think movies have created a unrealistic pricing mindset among our population. Every movie, no matter how bad or how good, regardless of production expenses, costs around $10 to see in the theater and $20 to buy on DVD. Therefore, every wine should be between $10-20, regardless of any outside factors.

  8. Thomas Pellechia - December 21, 2009

    Benito,
    Your pricing policy idea is stellar. I’m in.
    Where can I find the wines???

  9. Benito - December 21, 2009

    Thomas,
    Well, it’s rare for a wine produced in Tennessee to cost more than $20, help yourself to our vineyard output. :) Usually if I find myself in an argument with someone about the price of wine, they’ll point out that you can get some wines at unit prices lower than gasoline, and spending more than $3/gallon for wine is stupid.
    I try to flip it around with whatever their hobby or passion is. If the person’s a football fan, I might say, “Why would anyone pay thousands to go to the Super Bowl when you can attend a local high school game for free?”
    Cheers,
    Benito

  10. Chicago Pinot - December 21, 2009

    You know, I never understood the acclaim “Magnolia” received. But maybe I just wasn’t drinking the right 89 point wine while watching it.

  11. twg - December 22, 2009

    Dear TWG, the correct spelling of my last name is Heimoff. Only one “h”. Thank you.

  12. Randy - December 22, 2009

    Wouldn’t you defend tooth and nail the place that cuts your check? Steve is forever connected to the old-fashioned way of marketing and promoting wine. Although he attempts to slowly back away from it (as so it appears) via bloggin, these people will be remembered as conduits of corporate, for-profit wine publications. Besides, why would one listen to wine critics who’s corporate office in New York? WTF? What do a bunch of New Yorkers know about wine world? If they were at all serious about their job/mag, stake ground in wine country.

  13. Randy - December 22, 2009

    whops that reply goes to TWG, not S. Paulo.

  14. Chef E - December 22, 2009

    Okay, now that I picked my jaw up from the floor… I was just thinking about how I have sifted through many wine blogs today on my quest to find my own voice for my site as a food and wine educator.
    Thanks for this piece and not speaking over my head as I have felt many sites do, or should I say are colder than the water in Kevin’s movie.
    I am searching for a voice to peak the interest of readers who want to learn more, but find it so intimidating.
    I also plan to have posts full of wine and food pairings! Something one of the other fellow comments has pointed out, and unique pairings, non traditional, and cooking with wine as well. Some may say that is a waste, but oh well…

  15. Chef E - December 22, 2009

    I was just reading your ‘I like aromas’ and realized I need some material for a piece I am writing for the week after New Years, Wine Myth’s and wondered if you would like to submit one, and a short blurb on your feelings, as in decanting…email me if you can elizabeth@cookappeal.com
    Thanks,
    E

  16. James McCann - December 22, 2009

    Randy:
    What exactly was the point of your childish attack upon Steve? That someone with his decades of experience in the wine industry should not be allowed to review wines because his company’s corporate offices are in New York? Do you know that the “wine world” does not exist only in the RRV?
    Let me guess… there is also a conspiracy among the large wholesalers to deny you distribution. Or is it anyone that is “for-profit” that offends you?
    BTW, those corporate reviews must have been pretty bad to have made you this angry.

  17. Charlie Olken - December 23, 2009

    The “aggregation” wine sites will get better and faster, but I am betting that they will ultimately find that they are not good enough or fast enough, that the averages will turn out to be average for too many wines and that wines with prestigious labels will get good scores even when they have problems.
    Tom P. may not think that any critic is worthy of the name, but he misses the essential nature of criticism. It is one person’s opinion. And, it is, in wine publications, an opinion of an experienced professional.
    Professional wine critics, whether one likes them or not, have generally worked at their craft for years, have delved deeply into the subject matter to understand the whys, the wherefores, the rights and the wrongs (there are things like lactobacillus and ethyl acetate and stuck sulfur and oxidation), the typical character of grapes and areas and the multiplicity of interplays that are possible with just those two factors alone.
    And it matters not whether my evaluation agrees with Heimoff or Laube or Parker or Tanzer or anybody else. Ultimately, the writing in Connoisseurs’ Guide, or anywhere else, reflects an understanding of the wine that has been derived from from a series of blind tastings and retastings in peer-to-peer trials.
    To the millions who read wine criticism, whether they pay for it directly, get it online or read it in their newspapers and magazines, the word of the critic has a ring of authenticity to it. That is why I much prefer the Guide Michelin for my travels to Trip Advisor.
    I will rethink my views about Waterworld, and will seek it out to see if Tom W. is right. I would not do that if some aggregate of movie goers said the same thing. In that regard, Tom undercuts his own argument. The single voice has more power than a bunch of nameless, faceless, averages.

  18. Charlie Olken - December 23, 2009

    You have hit the nail on the head.

  19. TWG - December 23, 2009

    Noted. My apologies. You should know that you are one of the handful of wine writes that I read when I can. And I enjoy most of what you say; I always enjoy that you’re one of the few writers who take a clear stand on the fundamental issues.

  20. Thomas Pellechia - December 23, 2009

    Charlie,
    Once again, you put words into my mouth. Tiresome.
    Never said, never believed that any critic isn’t worthy of the name. To the contrary–critics are worthy of that name–sometimes too worthy. As I’ve told you, I understand completely the “essential nature of criticism” which is why I have my suspicions.
    For the record, here’s what I posted above:
    “…nor do I believe that most wine critics have what it really takes to identify quality objectively…”
    Quite separate from your claim of what I posted. Hint: hinge on the word “objectively.”

  21. Thomas Pellechia - December 23, 2009

    Oh, and I do agree with James, especially about that “wine world” comment of Randy’s.
    Some of us writers may live in NY, but many of us have lived elsewhere and have even been so bold as to travel throughout the wine world both here and abroad–I’ve met a slew of CA wine people who haven’t done either and don’t want to know that wine is produced east of CA, WA, and OR.

  22. Thomas Pellechia - December 23, 2009

    …oh, Randy, wine is produced in NY, too.

  23. Jason - December 23, 2009

    Waterworld is going into my Netflix queue! Thanks for the review :p

  24. Arthur - December 23, 2009

    We’ve had this discussion a bazillion times.
    To turn your words around: You’ll find that nearly every recognized wine rating vehicle gives absolutely no criteria for how their critics arrive at the final scores. There is also no indication that they follow any systematic process of awarding points in the assessment process.

  25. Charlie Olken - December 23, 2009

    Arthur, I keep waiting for you and Tom to suggest what those objective criteria are.
    Until then, I am afraid that I will have to insist that experience and training produce, in me and in most professional critics, a sense of how to evaluate wine.
    I will repeat what I have said on numerous occasions. I judge on varietal character, depth, balance, structure, complexity, cleanliness, length, adherance to place and hedonistic pleasure. I could probably name another ten items and then discuss the interplays between those elements. It is the understanding of all those various points of measure and which ones come into play in particular wines tasted blind that makes a good critic.
    In short, it boils down to something very simple. The ability to recognize what one is smelling and tasting, the ability to analyze those characteristics for what they are and the knowledge to judge them and then to reach a reasonable conclusion about quality. The funny thing is that the writing is the hardest part because words are not entirely adequate as a means of expressing an impression.
    So, that is my story. Now, with respect, it is time to hear yours.
    What are the objective dimensions you want to measure? Are all parts of the criteria based on scientifically measurable items or do subjective considerations also play a role? How many dimensions are considered? What are they?
    Final note to Tom P. If it sounds like I am putting words in your mouth, it is because I am trying to express in my terms what I think you are trying to say. But, you never really say it, so I am guessing. If I guess wrong, it is not intentional.

  26. Thomas Pellechia - December 24, 2009

    Charlie,
    You posted:
    “…I judge on varietal character, depth, balance, structure, complexity, cleanliness, length, adherance to place and hedonistic pleasure.”
    We agree. Your list covers most of what I would list for a wine evaluation. But you do all the above without any codified standards. Your evaluations are based on your experience, your taste, your likes, and your desires.
    In other words, it’s all about you. Where’s the objectivity?
    How can you justify your impressions if there is no standard against which to measure your impressions? What controls do you use to evaluate your own evaluations, to see whether or not you are on or off? What is it about your evaluation process that is not subjective?
    When you get a chance–answer just one question asked of you instead of throwing out canards.
    Aesthetic criticism isn’t much good to someone else without the critic’s experience or taste, likes, and desires. But it’s fine for people who agree with the critic’s assessment–they can revel in their common subjectivity. But there’s nothing objective going on.
    To maintain objectivity in evaluations, they must be measured against a codified standard and they must be done under proper, agreed upon controls. Can you honestly say that this is being done in the general wine evaluation/critic community?
    If so, I stand corrected. If not, then address what you know I have already posted a zillion times.
    And I wish you’d stop asking me to engage online in a minute discussion of the intricate details of standards–unless you have some money you’d like to pay for the consultation…

  27. James McCann - December 24, 2009

    Thomas:
    I completely disagree with your call for “objectivity” in wine reviews. Robots are not going to rate wines. What objective standards are used by food, movie, art and literature critics?
    It SHOULD be all about the critic, who can either gain the public trust through their reviews or they won’t be a critic for long.
    Imagine if there was an objective standard… it would still have to be filtered through the taster’s senses of sight, taste and smell.
    Each critic would still come to different conclusions.

  28. Thomas Pellechia - December 24, 2009

    James,
    Believe it or not, I agree with you–to a point.
    It can remain all about the critics, if that’s what everyone wants, but that isn’t what many critics claim.
    And yes, it SHOULD all be about the critic–if it’s merely aesthetic, but then critics need to be willing to admit that they aren’t the arbiters of anything more than their own opinions (which they give lip service to, but they still throw around finite numbers that leave the impression they actually gave this some technical thought).
    This argument wouldn’t exist if there were technical standards by which wine quality was measured BEFORE the stuff is released to the critics and to the public. That way, we’d all know that a critic’s judgment is merely an opinion. Then we can judge whether we want to follow the informed opinions or the ill-informed ones.
    I refuse to argue–yet again–the silly notion that I am advocating robotics. I am advocating standards. Why are people afraid of that? When critics can show me their codified standards against which their palates can be measured, then maybe I’ll soften my position.

  29. Charlie Olken - December 24, 2009

    Tom P–
    You have just asked for a codified standard for complexity, to choose one element upon which we agree.
    I can describe complexity, but I would not know how to codify an “objective” standard for it. It is an experience, not a measure.
    And that is why we are butting heads on this. I need to know more about what an “objective standard” looks like to you in order to move the conversation forward. Otherwise, I simply cannot give you an answer. But, every time you take a gratuitous swing at critics, I will respond because most of us have years and years of experience, have studied the subject matter, have tasted with learned persons, keep expanding our knowledge base.
    OK, so let me suggest one answer which has nothing to do with objective, codified standards.
    What controls do I use to evaluate my own evaluations? In the first place, the question suggests that there are wide variations in tasting acumen and judgment from day to day. That is simply not the case on most days. It is the rare day when my lunch tastes different to me. A ham sandwich tastes the most days. A grilled cheese sandwich tastes the same. If my wife makes me a corned beef, that corned beef generally tastes the same when I slice it and warm it up for the next three or four days. So, the very premise of your question is value-loaded unless you can agree that taste does not vary very much day to day. And, yes, there will be days when one says, I cannot smell anything today so I will not taste.
    Secondly, the blind tastings for Connoisseurs’ Guide, typically two flights of eight wines per day, are done with panels of learned professionals. Even at times when we disagree about the hedonistic value of a wine, we tend to agree about the technical aspects like balance, tannin level, fruit tannin interplay, acid/pH/fruit interplay, varietal precision. Ultimately, it is up to the writer, the critic to listen to the learned opinions being expressed and to decide how to use that information to construct a description and a rating that reflects what readers will find when they pull a cork. I cannot speak for others, but we also routinely retaste, blind, all the wines that we are going to recommend highly, all the wines we are going to damn, all the wines upon which we have utter disagreement, all wines in which we detect flaws like TCA, oxidation, etc and all wines that are way out of line with past experience for that wine. It is a methodology designed to give us the greatest likelihood of producing an accurated description and a fair rating. Other critics will have to speak for themselves on this topic, but I will say that we do not find ourselves in wild disagreement from bottle one to bottle two except in the case of flawed wines. Rather, we simply get more information, especially for the highly recommended wines, which, after all, is the reason why most people subscribe to Connoisseurs’ Guide.
    Admittedly, single-palate critics do not have the luxury of other opinions against which to play off their own, but that does not mean that their judgments are random or unlearned or unreliable (my words, not yours).
    OK, I have answered one of your questions. Now, please, answer one of mine. Please suggest how one would codify complexity or balance or varietal precision or cleanliness. Even “cleanliness” is ultimately a judgment based on the absence of flaw. It is an obsevation. And that, Tom, is why I keep having such a hard time with your call for objective criteria. I want you to put down the rudiments of an objective system of measure that avoids subjective inputs for any one of the items upon which we agree are to be included in a system of evaluation.

  30. Thomas Pellechia - December 24, 2009

    Charlie,
    It’s pretty well established in scientific communities that taste is a technical function of the olfactory and palate which is also subject to the perceptions of the brain. So your premise that taste does not vary much from day to day is based on a belief system, not on the evidence. That’s one reason for needing standards.
    I have no problem with what you describe as the WC method, but if you are going to damn a wine for technical faults, don’t you think it would be a service to the producer and the consumer to confirm that those faults indeed exist–technical faults are measurable. And if you do send the wines to analysis for proof, what do you do if the analysis shows that the tasters were incorrect?
    To your final paragraph: the objective criteria are measurable. That’s mainly technical, and easily up for analysis. But people need to be trained to identify the technicals reasonably accurately.
    The other stuff that you speak of certainly is up for grabs, but it would be less up for grabs if everyone agreed on things like what constitutes the sense of each individual place (if some think Chablis is steely and others think it is merely thin, then who’s standard is the one to go by?), what constitutes the characteristics of a certain component make up (I hate the 75% rule for the very reason that it makes evaluating a varietal somewhat of a parlor game), what do we seek when we speak of balance (is your sense of balance the same as my sense of balance?).
    Define depth and complexity, Charlie. Maybe I’ll agree and maybe I won’t, and maybe it applies one way to one varietal wine and another way to another varietal wine. If we were on the same evaluating panel and I disagree with your definition of complexity, of what value is our collective judgment if there is no guide for that particular varietal wine, and who’s concept of depth and complexity winds up counting more?
    To get this ridiculous robotic thing out of the way once again, I don’t believe that all criteria need to be strictly objective–I reserve that mainly for the technicals. But I do believe that the evaluation should be attempted in as objective a method as possible, and that, to me, includes blind tastings but also with controls.
    Having said all that, if the aim of wine criticism is to remain a strictly aesthetic exercise, which is subjective, then nothing need change, because that’s what I believe it is right now. And it would shut me up if critics would simply say so and stop trying to pass off the illusion of objectivity. It would help if they abandon the illusion of numerical ratings.
    You sent me two copies of WC. One of the comments I sent you, which you never addressed, was that I liked the way the descriptions are handled but question why you feel the need to add number ratings. Is it that you want others to think that there is something technical going on, is it that you want others to think that WC evaluations are quantifiable, is it that you think so little of consumers that you feel they must be led by a false sense of certainty, is it that, well, is it just a habit?
    Quality can be gauged, but there needs to be a standard by which to gauge it.
    I do hope that all the above gives you a better understanding of my position. I also want you to know that I have no illusions concerning the monumental gale that goes against my position. That’s what keeps me alive. I learned a long, long time ago that prevailing wisdom often proves to prevail but not necessarily to be wisdom.

  31. Tish - December 25, 2009

    Methinks that 2009 may go down as the year (finally) that skepticism concerning the 100-pt scale and blind tasting exceed confidence in these two erstwhile pillars of wine media.
    We have seen a serious meltdown in the credibility of RP’s co-raters at the Advocate. We have seen Cellar Tracker top 1,000,000 consumer-driven tasting notes. We have seen the Wall Street Journal question the efficacy and accuracy of wine judges in general. We have seen bloggers chip-chip-chip away at the previously unquestioned leadership of print mags. We have seen Steve Heimoff portray his own blind tastings into fables of virtue even as his own magazine doles out “Star” accolades to advertisers and the mag’s corporate ownership uses its competitors scores (as well as its own made-up ones) to sell wines retail. We have seen Costco embarrassed by exposrue of an unwritten policy by which it ignores sub-90-pt wines. We have seen both Costco and wine.com chastised online for cherry-picking scores in order to help all their customers cherry-pick their wines.
    It has been a huge year for shifting tides, transparency, and the pure simple truth that the more you try to compartmentalize wine with ratings and awards, the less it works.
    I have a great deal of respect for Charlie Olken whose approach to the whole tasting/rating system is admirably focused and honorable, but the rest of the numbers out there are amounting to just so much mumbo jumbo. 2010 should bring more of the same laissez-faire…

  32. Charlie Olken - December 25, 2009

    Tish,
    Thanks for the kind words. I like it when the knife in my back is inserted slowly and softly, not twisted and does not have salt poured on the wound.
    But the sad, simple fact is that my methodology, however holy and pure (my words, not yours) is still part and parcel of the wine appreciation system that most critics and most wine drinkers follow.
    We taste, we judge, we conclude, we enjoy or not and we move on. Cellar Tracker is no different in that regard except that its scores are not derived through rigorous methodology. They are simply aggregate judgments of folks tasting wine, concluding, stating their opinions and moving on. No blind tasting requirement, no rigorous methodology requirements, no peer-to-peer requirements. CT scores are simply an average of scores and those scores are not different in type from what I do except for the rigor.
    The world is changing. The Internet has allowed new voices to develop and new techniques (CT, Snooth) for producing ratings. But, it is still wine appreciation and it is still journalism of one sort or another.
    And before we go too far down this road, no matter what Parker and his children did wrong, and they still bring a certain rigor to their judgments that a one-off tasting not done blind cannot do.
    I welcome the new world just as three decades ago, Connoisseurs’ Guide was welcomed as a new voice alongside folks like Robert Lawrence Balzer. But, the truth is that transparency (an absolute necessity as far as I am concerned) has little to do with the validity or non-validity of scores, medals, tasting notes. Those items stand on their own merit, and I see very little erosion in the numbers of folks who pay to read the judgments of the professional wine media.
    Tish, we are going to have to co-exist, not pick on each other as far as I am concerned.

  33. M. Smith - December 27, 2009

    M. Smith responds to Charlie Olken’s most recent (quoted) post:
    “We taste, we judge, we conclude, we enjoy or not and we move on. Cellar Tracker is no different in that regard except that its scores are not derived through rigorous methodology. They are simply aggregate judgments of folks tasting wine, concluding, stating their opinions and moving on. No blind tasting requirement, no rigorous methodology requirements, no peer-to-peer requirements. CT scores are simply an average of scores and those scores are not different in type from what I do except for the rigor.”
    Charlie, While you may genuinely consider your methodology (whatever it may be) to be “rigorous,” please allow others, such as myself if not Mr. Pellechia, to remain skeptical about this key consideration. A proponent of robotic tastings I AM NOT, but I wonder whether you have or would be willing to submit to other qualified subject matter experts to systematically evaluate the relative strengths and potential weaknesses of your adopted methodology? Absent such an evaluation by a neutral third-party, one can reasonably question if, and to what extent, your methodology has been validated BY A THIRD PARTY; as well as how reproducible it has proven to be. It’s facile to cast pejorative if not condescending rebuttals toward doubting Thomases (pun intended); so are you willing to walk the talk or at least ALLOW others to wonder if your methodology is largely s-u-b-j-e-c-t-i-v-e? Given, the widespread diversity in tasting impressions, how in heaven can it be otherwise? Again, no professional offense intended, but for some of us, the term “rigorous” tacitly implies systematically tested and proven to be reliable by others beside yourself. Any reviewer who is unwilling to take some heat ought to keep outta the kitchen. I’ve just donned my anti-tortured logic helmet, so fire away !

  34. Charlie Olken - December 28, 2009

    Not knowing who you are, and thus where you are coming from with this, makes a response harder.
    What authoritative body is able to make a judgment of the sort you suggest?
    I have laid out my tasting methodology fairly completely above. What parts demand elaboration?
    I have laid out my tasting methodology fairly completely above. What parts do not seem more rigorous than a bunch of opinions derived in single-bottle experiences with the label showing of a wine that the taster has already deemed enjoyable because the wine was purchased to drunk up, not to be evaluated?
    My good friend, Mr. Doubting Thomas Pellechia, has asked for “objective standards” and has asked me to define complexity, and then admits that complexity can vary by variety and by place. I have yet to figure out how to answer that question in a way that will describe a standard characteristic measure for every mix of place and variety in the world. Are you in his camp or some other camp?
    I would be happy to hear your definition of complexity as measured objectively as opposed to subjectively. This is where Mr. P. and I part ways. Complexity is not an objective measure. Go read the dictionary definition. Then, go read every reference to complexity in wine. There are no scientific measurements for complexity that I am aware of. If you are in the Tom P. camp, perhaps you would like to suggest a detailed, measurable as opposed to tasted definition of complexity.
    Finally, when I speak of rigor, I speak of blind tastings, limted amounts of wine per day, retasting of a high percentage of wine, peer-to-peer tastings done with a panel of learned tasters.
    One point. My top rated wines are tasted at least twice, which means I have ten inputs from a methodology described above. CT might have ten or even twenty inputs but the tasting methodology is not as rigorous as mine, if I do say so myself. I would be happy to have you suggest why an equal number of inputs at CT derived in the manner I have suggested for most CT inputs is more rigorous that what we do at Connoisseurs’ Guide.
    It is neither arrogant nor condescending to suggest that our tasting methodology is more rigorous that the CT tasting methodology. You would have to argue that CT inputs were all done blind, in peer-to-peer tastings with no knowledge of any of the wines in the tasting other than variety and that the inputs were subject to second and even third blind evaluations against a wide variety of peers before being submitted in order to meet the rigor of Connoisseurs’ Guide.
    Now, sir, it is your turn. You have asked a lot of questions-good and interesting questions. But you have phrased many of them as challenges or criticisms. It would advance the conversation if you would please begin to offer ideas for discussion that go beyond mere challenges.
    And, yes, I am happy to have a competent body of tasting scholars look in detail at the tasting methodology in use at Connoisseurs’ Guide. I would ask only one thing–that CG not be the only publication so measured and that the standards of measure be stated in advance.
    Here is where an objective standard can be applied because we are talking about the “process” by which judgments are made in the case of a tasting methodology. That is a lot more “measureable”, “codifiable” than notions like complexity and balance, that to me, remain smack in the area of subjectivity.

  35. Thomas Pellechia - December 28, 2009

    Charlie,
    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
    Upton Sinclair
    …apologies to M. Smith…

  36. James McCann - December 28, 2009

    Charlie:
    I’m afraid that you’re the windmill in this fight. I suppose all critics could go to “very fine indeed”, but then the bloggers would demand to know how you can tell that from “very fine.” (And Clive would be upset)
    Perhaps just a simple thumbs up or thumbs down… that seems to work for that movie guy.

  37. Charlie Olken - December 28, 2009

    My friend, please define, in some form of measureable, codifiable terms, any one of the “subjective” attributes I have mentioned and we can continue this conversation.
    I am not sure why you do not, but it is either possible, as you will show us, or not possible, as your silence also will show us.

  38. Thomas Pellechia - December 28, 2009

    Charlie,
    For months you have been misinterpreting my posts, asking for clarification and then making special effort to misinterpret, selectively, disregard the other important points, and then ask for more clarification.
    Either I don’t write well, you don’t read well, or one of us is being extremely disingenuous. In any case, I don’t think any purpose is served by going any further.

  39. Charlie Olken - December 28, 2009

    OK, Tom, I have twice reread your long missive above. So, in order to make you happy, I will say that wine appreciation is subjective. Regardless of what definition is applied to complexity, depth, balance, vareital precision, adherance to commonality of character for a given piece of dirt or an area, the evaluations that are performed are impressionistic. And the number that gets applied to that descriptive set of words is equally subjective. That is what wine appreciation is. If, after all this time, you do not know what 90 points means to me, then I cannot help you.
    One uses knowledge to make judgments. There is a rigor in tasting methodology that tries to avoid bias, but it does not change the fact that someone is tasting the wine and describing his or her impressions. A defintion of complexity can be found in the dictionary. When I use the term, I also describe the characteristics I have found that lead to the use of that word. If you want more than that, try supplying some idea of what it is you want.
    Numbers for technicals, by which I presume you mean TA, pH, RS, VA, tannin, brett, lactbacillus, TCA may be interesting to some people but who is to say what levels of them are okay, noticeable but not disqualifying, in balance or not, disqualifying. Ultmately, those findings are organoleptic for the most part. That is why schools for professional winemakers teach courses so that people will recognize the telltale characteristics of those technical elements and others. I have taken those coursea both at Davis and from winery consutants who offer them for fee.
    At some point, you either trust me to recognize stuck sulfur and to describe its effect on wine or you do not.
    That is my final response to you on this discussion until you enlighten us all by defining any element according to Tom.

  40. 4inkjets coupon code - December 29, 2009

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  41. Thomas Pellechia - December 29, 2009

    Charlie,
    Buy the 4inkjets coupon. Someone ought to get something out of this discussion…

  42. M. Smith - December 29, 2009

    Charlie,
    This stimulating thread prompted me to do a little data mining. The pertinent hits are too voluminous to post in their entirety here. As a teaser check out the following slide show:
    http://web52.netzwerteserver2.de/fileadmin/esb/inhalte/pdfs/ESN_2007_Kuti.pdf
    Chances are good that I’ll opt to post much more about this on Wine Berserkers. I am not attempting to answer each and every point raised above because some appear to be red herrings.
    Here are some of the highlights of that slideshow:
    Importance of guidelines and following
    good laboratory practice during sensory
    testing
    http://web52.netzwerteserver2.de/fileadmin/esb/inhalte/pdfs/ESN_2007_Kuti.pdf
    International Organization for Standardization (ISO) methods
    • Can be generally applied to all foodstuffs, they give
    guidelines for:
    • E.g.:
    • Application / running of sensory tests (ISO 6658)
    • Select right assessors (ISO 8586)
    • Design right test area (ISO 8589)
    • Sample preparation (ISO 5497)
    • These standards give general guide and they are not
    too detailed and not focused on different types of
    food.
    Background information
    • Quality control schemes can be adopted in sensory
    laboratory as well.
    • General requirements for the competence of testing
    and calibration laboratories
    • EN ISO/IEC 17025:2005
    • Detailed guidance for interpretation of the standard
    • EA-4/09 (Accreditation for Sensory Testing Laboratories)
    • It provides specific guidance on the accreditation
    (GLP) of sensory testing laboratories.
    Test facilities
    • Why do need controlled facility?
    • To minimize the subjects’ biases
    • To maximize their sensitivity
    • To eliminate variables that do not come from the
    products
    • Planning -We have to take into account diff. Factors
    • E.g.: Frequency of testing, enough space for
    samples, enough space for assessors, special
    storage conditions for samples before testing
    Rules
    • It is very important to develop written procedures that
    include all information for carrying out sensory tests.
    • These descriptions should be as comprehensive as
    possible to ensure that procedures will be done in the
    same way, which will improve the repeatability of
    results.
    Test setup
    • Should be randomized to avoid bias due to order of
    presentation.
    • According to the experimental design work out
    instructions to technicians.
    • It should contain the information on:
    • date
    • product description,
    • procedures,
    • preparation method,
    • order of presentation, codes.
    • Instructions must be very clear and beside this it is
    worth to make sure that technicians understood
    the tasks.
    Conclusion
    • For each testing situation is very important:
    • To identify right objective
    • To choose the right method.
    • Keep the all variables under control
    • To ensure that differences detected during
    sensory test, coming from the product. Or your results
    will not be
    meaningful!
    Why Good Laboratory Practice is important?
    Remember!
    • If you get it wrong, at the best you will waste your
    money and time; at the worst, your data will be
    poor and unreliable!
    • If you get it right your data and results will be good
    and the decision made on these results will be
    reliable!
    Benefits of accreditation
    • Operating Quality Standards -Benefits to the
    laboratory:
    • Improved systems for work
    • Promotes use of good laboratory practices
    • More control over testing protocols
    • Fewer repeat analyses
    • Greater confidence in reliability of results
    • Improved due diligence defence
    • Enhanced marketing options
    • Satisfy customer requirements
    Best,
    M. Smith

  43. Charlie Olken - December 29, 2009

    I was just sitting here thinking about other subjects for analysis like restaurants, live and film performance, automobiles, and I come to one conclusion.
    You are absolutely right if the testing is done for technical analysis. But, since most of the above subjects except wine are not done blind, I would submit that any critic or organization already does a better job of reaching the standards suggested than in most other fields.
    But, having said that, I would also point out that many wine publications do have methodologies that reasonably meet the standards suggested as they would apply to wine evaluation and critique.
    I would also suggest that a wine lab doing analysis of samples for technical reasons has to follow the procedures a lot more specifically than a wine critic.
    There could be written standards for Pinot Noir that identified each and every possible combination of acceptable character for each and every possible combination of grape, exposure, soil type, etc. However, no one is going to do all that work. Hells bells, Pinot Noir from one side of Westside Road to the other differs enough to be described. And when Gary Farrell makes wine from those grapes, it is going to turn out differently from what Tom Rochioli does from what Williams Selyem does and yet each is, to my taste at least, worthy of attention.
    Good labortory practice, or good tasting methodology is, I agree, important to put every wine on an equal footing and to eliminate bias. Not every critic practices such methodology. I have laid out mine, and as far as I am concerned, it is missing only one possibly useful element and that is random ordering.
    I can see the rigor in that technique, but I have looked back over our ratings from time to time and not found any bias as regards placement order. Perhaps that is because we limit each flight to eight wines and take over an hour of analysis and discussion for each flight–all done blind.
    If there is to be a next step in this conversation, I would welcome your comments on what parts of the IOS methodology are necessary and appropriate to wine criticsm and rating.

  44. M. Smith - December 29, 2009

    Charlie,
    Believe it or not, I suspect that your wine tasting methodology may perhaps be a little more rigorous than many other ‘pros’; but this is simply a gut reaction of mine, nothing more. If you truly want to ascertain where the potential weaknesses in your methodology may lie, consider ordering some of the ISO documents referred to above in order to identify a more objective (but still somewhat subjective!!) approach, e.g.,
    http://www.iso.org/iso/catalogue_detail?csnumber=37389
    http://www.iso.org/iso/iso_catalogue/catalogue_ics/catalogue_detail_ics.htm?csnumber=15875
    I dare say that you might be able to push the collective wine evaluation envelope a bit. And at the risk of sounding pedantic, what (IMO) wine evaluators ought to strive for is proven repeatability in their evaluations.
    Optimally, this is most readily achieved via – pardon the phrase – ‘interlaboratory collaborative trials’ among different analysts. However, given the wide spectrum of individual tastes/impressions about wine, I doubt whether this can actually be achieved in wine evaluations (though this is merely an inference of mine, nothing more).
    Absent interlaboratory (repeatability) studies, which the wine industry would probably support as much as a root canal, you Charlie can attempt to monitor your own performance to determine how consistent a given wine evaluation is during the same day and during several days. Of course, this will be somewhat of a moving target given variations in a particular wine (bottle) over time, etc., etc. Even so, with appropriate storage conditions (e.g., inert gas blankets) and various other controls, true subject matter experts should be able to help you estimate the relative degree of reliability of your wine assessment(s). Your customers would be eternally grateful for such information, vis-à-vis ‘monitoring performance.’
    I seem to recall that your wine evaluation system may bracket numerical scoring into much broader clusters, so expect some heat about this chosen methodology.
    When Robert Parker was offered an opportunity to be tested by a well-intended journalist in souther California, he allegedly replied (I paraphrase): I have nothing to gain and everything to lose. I find that reaction of his to be rather defensive.
    Thank you for carrying this discussion forward (as has our favorite doubting Toms ;-).

  45. Charlie Olken - December 29, 2009

    I think we agree absolutely or nearly so on the goals, but, for my business, I would state it differently. The goal of CGCW is to describe, and evaluate through ranking, in such a way that when a reader pulls a cork on any bottle we have reviewed, the will agree first with the description of the wine, and then, hopefully, agree with the qualitative (admittedly subjective) rating we have given.
    Ultimately, that it the acid test. We try to get to that point through what I hope are rigorous methodologies and training gained both academically and in situ (i.e., from tasting thousands of wines in the company of others whose palates we value). We hope we are educated and we hope we follow a procedure that leads us as close to the truth as is possible in a subject area that is not measurable scientifically.
    When Earl Singer and I started Connoisseurs’ Guide three decades and more ago, we designed our own tasting sheet as a guide for the tasters in forming their opinions and expressing them. We concluded that we would ask our tasters for their preference order but not for a point or rating score, and that we would take about each wine extensively (still blind) and that we, as the writers, were responsible for listening, learning and finally, for describing and assessing, as best we could, what we believed to be an accurate impression.
    I am happy to have anyone look at our methodology and to test our knowledge, but that is not to say that I will make CGCW a guinea pig for every critic of wine critics. Just is a load that I do not need to bear.
    Thanks for the conversation. I have a tasting coming up in a couple of minutes, and I am going to pay attention to two aspects of the taster’s responses–identification blind of place for those wines that would seem to have personalities that suggest place, and comments on balance (meaning that I will ask every time someone uses that term to explain what it means for the wine being tasted).
    And since I am now late, I will not edit this post and thus get in trouble with Tom W and Tom P. :-}

  46. M. Smith - December 30, 2009

    Charlie,
    I’m a happy wine-loving amateur but RE: your remark “I have a tasting coming up in a couple of minutes, and I am going to pay attention to two aspects of the taster’s responses–identification blind of place for those wines that would seem to have personalities that suggest place, and comments on balance (meaning that I will ask every time someone uses that term to explain what it means for the wine being tasted).”
    I’d be interested to learn if during your extensive tastings, whether or not Ed McCarty’s lament about the current state of wine affairs holds water (http://www.winereviewonline.com/EM_on_Globalization.cfm). I suspect that in well-designed and controlled double-blind settings it actually does.
    As Thomas Pellechia accurately quoted above,
    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Upton Sinclair
    Here’s hoping that your customers get their money’s worth !
    Best,
    M. Smith
    Quote:
    [Ed McCarthy is] dead set against the internationalization (or globalization, take your choice) of wines. This process began sometime in the 1980s, has picked up steam, and is now threatening to make most of the world’s wines taste the same. Globalization is affecting red wines more profoundly than whites at this point, and it is easy enough to identify the red profile at which many internationalizing producers are aiming:
    –The wine should have a very dark color-the darker, the better;
    –It should have very ripe, fruity flavors;
    –It should have a minimum of 14° alcohol; even more alcohol is okay;
    –The wine’s tannins should be very soft;
    –The wine’s acidity level should be low;
    –The wine should be voluptuous, or velvety, on the palate;
    –Most of the wine’s flavor should be on the front of the palate.
    Oh, and one more important point: it should be impossible for even experienced tasters to be able to deduce, when tasting blind, where in the world this wine was made. I will happily gather samples of current “in” red wines from Chile, Argentina, South Africa, the Napa Valley, Australia, the Right Bank of Bordeaux, Pommard in Burgundy, and Spain; Super-Tuscans, Chianti Classico Riservas, and yes, even some Barolos from Piedmont, serve them blind to my colleagues writing for Wine Review Online, and defy them to tell me where they were made. I’m guessing that everyone, including yours truly, will be correct less than 20 percent of the time, and most less than 10 percent.

    I don’t think that I’m just an old bull yearning for the greener pastures of the past. I’m someone who is fortunate enough to still be able to taste wines from all over the world, to be able to travel to many wine regions, and to encourage the producers who have stuck to their guns (and not succumbed to the modern, economic pressures of the marketplace to achieve a “high point score”) to continue making distinctive wines with a sense of “place.”

  47. M. Smith - December 30, 2009

    The link I just posted went squirrely so here it is again:
    http://www.winereviewonline.com/EM_on_Globalization.cfm

  48. Charlie Olken - December 30, 2009

    Am off to Napa in a bit so no long reply (please, no applause).
    Two quick points. Earlier this year, Tom Wark offered a challenge that I accepted but have not heard a whisper of since.
    Take ten Pinot Noirs from ten appellations in the West. Give them to a group of tasters blind and they could not identify the provenance of so much as three of them. I find that to be wrong-headed for experienced Pinot Noir tasters and so I accepted that challenge.
    So, last night, as is our practice, we tasted sixteen wines, divided into two groups of eight. Four of those wines were grown south of the Bay (S. F. Bay) and we nailed them. I don’t remember now how many were RRV wines but we nailed some of those as well.
    The overall quality was pretty low by typical Pinot Noir standards, but the three Williams Selyems stood out although no one pegged them as Williams Selyem because none of them had Westside Road character. The two that I picked as RRV were in fact Anderson Valley (Ferrington) and Yorkville Highlands (Weir). The third was Vista Verde from San Benito County. We pegged it as south but did not identify the individual county. Same for a Calera.
    So, we did pretty well with a random group of wines, many of which were very high in acidity and reflected the grapes rather than the place.
    As to Ed McCarthy’s views, he is right in many ways, as Ed often is. After all, the guys is older than me and that is pretty hard to find among wine writers these days.
    But, I would argue that wines forever have often not reflected place. Green, thin wines that have been chapitalized do not reflect place necessarily. Now, modern viticulture and possibly climate change have moved lots of wines out of that camp. I don’t see that as a negative.
    Still, I don’t care how you slice it, a Crianza from the Rioja made up of Tempranillo and Garnacha has very different fruit from Pommard, which is different from most Malbecs from Mendoza.
    I am going to end here because of time and the fact that this is a very different topic. My summary would be that Ed is right but not to the extent that he thinks he is.
    I don’t know all of Ed’s colleagues at WRO, but, for the ones I do know like Michael Apstein and Norm Roby, I would be on them to know the difference. Others there are less wine analysts and more wine generalists, and that is OK as well because not every wine article ought to look like every other article.

  49. John Artmann - December 31, 2009

    I also think it is a flaw that a wine that costs US$15 can have the same rating as a US$60 wine. It is obvious that the economic resources employed in the production of both wines are substantially different.
    The other day I found a new rating system called “Wine Economic Value Index” (www.wine-ev.com) that focuses exactly on “standard economic criteria to rank wines in different categories according to the “economic value added” throughout production”.
    The motivation presented in the website for the creation of this rating system is also interesting: “Every form of wine rating, to this day, employ what Emile Peynaud called “an organoleptic examination or sensory analysis”, which is the appreciation by “sight, taste, and smell of the sensory properties of a wine”. Needless to say that this form of evaluation has to be subjective, for it involves one individual senses; and therefore varies from person to person.”

  50. Charlie Olken - December 31, 2009

    Non-varying wine opinions are of no value for there can only be one opinion. Sorry, there are not “single opinions” for any other impressionistic products, and not even for things like cars, tvs, PDAs, let alone for hamburgers, movies, etc.
    And, since we somehow got past 1984 without someone telling us that there is only one answer to everything, I am hoping we can keep it up until 2084 or when some rocket scientist invents a machine that can smell the perfect Beaulieu Private Reserve and understand that it will smell differently from the perfect Spottswoode Cab which in turn will smell and taste differently from the perfect Staglin Cab, and that all of them, all West Bench Cabs, are indeed, lovely in their own right.

  51. John Artmann - January 2, 2010

    In fact, as long as wine ratings are subjective, and only reflect the critic’s opinion, they have no value for anyone else…
    What makes a wine outstanding, and different from the others, are precisely the objective factors that contribute to the production; which change very little from year to year, but do vary a lot from wine to wine.

  52. Charlie Olken - January 3, 2010

    Mr.Artmann–
    Can you expand on your comments?
    Specifically, (a) why do millions of people pay for critic’s opinions, (b) can you list those objective factors that make a wine outstanding (c) are those factors contributors to organoleptic appreciation and hedonistic enjoyment (d) do organoleptic and hedonistic appreciation have anything to do with a wine’s greatness?

  53. John Artmann - January 4, 2010

    Mr. Olken,
    Thank you for your reply.
    As you most certainly know, there are three fundamental factors in winemaking: 1) Viticulture: a) Terroir (location, soil, climate, and viticultural practices) b) Grape Yield c) Harvest (manual or mechanical) 2) Enology: a) Fermentation (traditional, carbonic maceration, roto-fermentation, malolactic, etc…) b) Container (oak barrels, oak casks, cement-epoxy, steel, roto-fermenters, open-top, closed, etc…) 3) Maturation Process: a) Material employed (new french barrels, new American barrels, used barrels, etc…) b) Length of time.
    These substantive and objective factors in the wine’s production, defined as the “economic value of the wine”, are essential, but not sufficient, to make good wine: winemaking is not a mechanical process; a cellar is a “complex system”, with an infinite number of variables involved; and things can go wrong. But yes; these factors are vital “contributors to organoleptic appreciation and hedonistic enjoyment”.
    In any case, I never heard of any outstanding wine made with grapes trucked from all over the country; harvested from vineyards yielding 7-8 tons per acre; vinified in roto-fermenters; and aged for a couple of months in stainless steel.
    The same applies for the “organoleptic and hedonistic appreciation” of wine. The term Aesthetics is derived from the Greek aisthetikos, “esthetic-sensitive-sentient”, from “to perceive-feel-sense”. Judgments of aesthetic value rely on our personal ability to discriminate at a sensory level. Thus “organoleptic examination or sensory analysis” examines our “individual affective domain response to an object or phenomenon”. Or as Emile Peynaud wrote, “tasting is submitting a wine to our (individual) senses to get to know it”.
    Therefore, the “organoleptic and hedonistic appreciation” of a wine is an essential contributor to wine (individual) enjoyment, not greatness.
    Wine tasting, as it is, is not compromised with the economic factors described above, which are the fundamental attributes of any outstanding wine, and is, simply put, the search and overuse of scarce and poorly correlated adjectives to express an individualistic sensorial experience.
    As to why most people pay for critic’s opinions… Perhaps wine drinkers like drinking wine; not knowing wine.

  54. Charlie Olken - January 4, 2010

    Dear Mr. Artmann–
    Thanks for your very thoughtful reply. You and I were together right until the end. And, while I do not know where you reside in the wine chain, I am guessing that the differences in our opinions have a lot to do with our differing perspectives.
    There is no question that the process and determinative factors you have enumerated above are what goes into making a great wine. But, with few exceptions, wine lovers do not want a short story about those factors and their interplay in their wine descrptions.
    Sure, they care from time to time, but most of the time, they do care about drinking wine, not making wine, especially in exquisite detail for wine after wine.
    In that point, we agree, and I hope in making that point, that you do not view it pejoratively. In the final analysis, what most of us want out of a bottle of wine is delight to the senses, not a treatise on how the wine got to that state in the first place.
    So, we probably do not agree about how wine should be described, and that is okay. I wish you luck in finding explanations about individual wines of the type you seek. Some wineries provide them on their websites, and they make good reading.
    Thanks again for the conversation.

  55. Randy - January 8, 2010

    Actualy James, I hit a few huge scores from Steve, however I felt quite lame in parroting the scores or medals i received. i felt I can better market my wines than people who’ve never worked a day in the vineyard or at the crushpad. Sounds like you actually James… Steve, along with the other major pub’s rate big high alc, huge oak wines like they came from the god’s themselves. These wines are bad for the wine industry… They won’t age (as we’ll soon see), they don’t pair well at all with nightly foods we eat and they’re a challenge to drink! That’s why I take exception to Steve.

  56. Randy - January 8, 2010

    Charlie, You are certianly part of the old way of marketing too. Have you ever in all of your keyboard days spent a single 10 hour day in the vineyard? Cellar topping wine? A day at the crushpad? Why I ask? It makes a difference on how you treat the grapes or wine. It might give YOU Charlie a bit of perspective you’ll never get behind your desk.
    Your English vocab and bantering skills may be far superior, but you lack the texture of what we’re actually doing in this industry… Growing grapes and making wine.

  57. Randy - January 8, 2010

    I’m referring to the PUBLICATIONS are located not the fact there are indeed vineyards and wineries there too.

  58. Charlie Olken - January 9, 2010

    Hey Randy–
    I am a journalist, not a marketer. Don’t confuse the two.
    I have never raised a cow, but I do know how to butcher one (once its off the hoof–not from start, thanks). I know how to cook a great steak, and I know what I think a great steak tastes like. I’ll bet that you do too, unless you are a non-meat eater.
    One does not have to know how to make a car to drive one or to evaluate one. I have never worked on an assembly line. I did build a railroad one summer–toughest damn job I ever had–but I did not build the engine so I guess I don’t have any way to understand how good rail travel is or is not–only how well-packed the roadbed is and how straight the rails are.
    You are way too arrogant for a young man, because, my young friend, I have worked crush. But, my tasting acumen comes not from crushing grapes or shovelling pomace. It comes from years of study, years of tasting. I disagree with many of your assertions about what is right or wrong with wine. They are not the only answer, but I do not insult your opinions. One of these days you will learn that you are not right. You are only opinionated–as we all are.
    And opinions are like noses, Randy, we all have one.

  59. Michael Siegler - January 10, 2010

    I believe there will always be a spot for the wine critic. Just the same, public review aggregators are here to stay and are not going anywhere. Look at the music and movie industries, for example, and you’ll find that consumer review websites are very popular. However, music and movie critics are not out of business, and people still find critical opinions very useful.
    But I disagree wholeheartedly that critical opinions should be entirely about the critic, as stated in the comments multiple times. Why are critics doing reviews in the first place? It’s not about the critic – it’s about the consumer. It’s about using your expert wine knowledge to convey to the consumer your impression of the wine in a way they can understand. That’s why, I believe, wine critics that are using the 100 point scale should move to a smaller ratings scale. I recently summarized this in full detail on my blog.
    I’m all for establishing controls, blind-tasting, and eliminating personal subjectivity where possible. But there’s no way you can boil the tasting experience down in a laboratory environment. It’s always going to be subjective. There’s never going to be a “perfect” wine just as there will never be a perfect movie or perfect sandwich.

  60. John Artmann - January 11, 2010

    Well put! Nonetheless, wine appreciation is a state of mind without an extensive (all-encompassing) property that could be objectively analyzed. As such, no common unit of value exists among persons, in which their mental states could be measured and, thus, compared. Hence, wine tasting will always be subjective.
    On the other hand, the critic’s knowledge can always be expressed through the analysis of the specific facts (grape-growing and winemaking techniques) of the wine’s production; its integrity and absence of flaws.

  61. ChrisD - January 11, 2010

    Better to rate them 1-5.
    Would be easier!

  62. Randy - January 31, 2010

    Charlie,
    Don’t confuse arrogance for part passion, part opinion. I agree I am a bit extreme in both my winegrowing and marketing; however I assure you, I won’t be proven wrong about wine’s future. The French worked at winemaking for hundreds of years before we started making wine in California and I do believe they had it right. Because of the “green” profiles coming out of Monterey some years back, we became scared of pyrazine (for example) and we lost our course, falling prey to guys who don’t really know shit about the winegrowing process and the respect that’s needed to make world-class wine.
    the fact is Charlie, lower sugars at crushpad makes for flavorful wine. Wines that contain proper amounts of natural acids and less glycerin taste better with dinner and will age a hell of a lot longer than their Cal. counterparts. These are all facts Charlie. As a professional Keyboard Connoisseur, I would hope you too would champion such a concept. Yes, Charlie I am a big mouth with an opinion but at least I’ve got my money where my mouth is and my heart and soul are there too. This isn’t just a job or even career, this is my life. While you may criticize me for my marketing method, I feel I am on the right track. I am very tired of hearing from sideliners on what we (with bank loans) are doing or not doing correct. Moreover Charlie, if you feel so strong about your wine knowledge and convictions, MAKE A BARREL and let US judge YOU. I think many of these old school wine dudes simply aren’t used to being challenged because prior to the internet, you could simply throw away the letters that disagreed with your findings or delete the VM in a private setting… Not any more.

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