Deconstructed Wine Reviews

So,  a certain percentage of those little advertisements we see on shelves of retailer outlets that we call "Shelf Talkers" are speaking with a forked tongue, according to the Washington Post.

This is not the first time this issue has come up. I recall a similar news story making the rounds a couple years ago.

In this case, the Washington post looked at 100 different shelf talkers and found that:

"Accuracy varied from shop to shop, but overall, 6 percent of the
signs either advertised a score that was higher than the one the wine
actually had received or invented a score for an unrated wine.Nineteen
percent referred to a different vintage from that of the wine for sale.
A vintage mismatch could be chalked up to sloppiness rather than
deliberate misrepresentation, but it can be just as misleading. In our
checks, the vintage available was usually unrated or had received a
lower score, though there were occasions when the actual wine displayed
had received a higher rating."

Before anyone extend this little bit of nastiness into a general discussion of the problem with the 100 point rating system it should be noted that just as much fraud could occur were there no such rating system.

That said, a 25% inaccuracy rate on in-store shelf talkers really has to be called a failure by any measure.

I’ve designed and had printed shelf talkers…more than I care to own up to. But I’ve never once put a score on them that the wine did not earn. That said, I have built shelf talkers that make use of the dreaded ELLIPSE (…)

Let me show you how that’s done:

"Appealing…yellow apple, tropical fruit…Drink Now"

This is an "ellipsed" version of this review:

"85 Points—Simple yet appealing with yellow apple, tropical fruit and a touch of fruit cocktail. Drink now. Tasted twice with consistent notes"

Is this accurate? Yes. But barely. And this is not even the worst example of the use of an ellipse on a shelf talker or an advertisement. I’m proud to say I’ve not ever been convinced to go over the line.

However, this would be over the line…way over the line:

"The vineyard is a good one…Flavors of Blackberries and Cherries"

Unfortunately it could come from this review:

"82 Points—A troubling wine. The vineyard is a good one, but this Cab is hot and overly ripe, with stewed flavors of blackberries and cherries. There’s a heaviness that doesn’t work, especially at this price"

This is not a specific example of something I’ve seen before, but I have seen stuff just as bad.

The point of course is that an old review on a new wine might be bad, but it might not be the worst kind offense.

12 Responses

  1. Thomas Pellechia - January 23, 2008

    My feeling…talkers…what to expect.

  2. 411domains - January 23, 2008

    Every wine connoisseur should have his/her own domain.
    I just wanted to let everyone know that I am auctioning off a wine domain.
    Open to all bidders, just follow this link to the auction.

  3. razmaspaz - January 23, 2008

    My favorite in this area is the made up wine score. The local shops will have their own “taster” who rates the wine a 95. First off I’m not sure I care that Parker rated it whatever he did, but who are you to rate a wine? Why should I trust you? Your only goal is to sell me this bottle. Sometimes I wonder if the rating is actually the number of days the bottle has been in inventory. its unfortunate, because the average consumer just sees the rating, not the rater. They don’t know Parker from Tanzer from Billy Bob.

  4. Thomas Pellechia - January 23, 2008

    The best made up was the East Coast retailer whose initials were W.S.
    He made up scores, put them on shelf talkers and signed them W.S., and everyone thought it meant Wine Spectator.

  5. Marco - January 23, 2008

    Truth in advertising is one vino fiction.

  6. Terry Hughes - January 23, 2008

    I never shop at places where they post scores. Period. There’s enough mendacity around. Who needs this particularly cheesy version of it?

  7. greg - January 23, 2008

    Or stickers on the bottle like what Gallo does with their $3.99 Barefoot brand that they bought a few years ago. 98 point rating on the Chardonnay that is probably from years ago when Davis Bynum was making the wine. Hell, I have never even seen a 98 point rating for a Grand Cru Burgundy.It’s a completly different wine review from what in the bottle. This should be illegal. This is completly wrong but I guess legal because Gallo and their high powered lawyers would not allow this. I also picked up a Barefoot Sauvignon Blanc because of a great review and it was the worst SB I have ever had. I poured it down the drain. Something should be done about this.

  8. Thomas Pellechia - January 24, 2008

    “I also picked up a Barefoot Sauvignon Blanc because of a great review and it was the worst SB I have ever had. I poured it down the drain. Something should be done about this.”
    The obvious answers are:
    Don’t buy wine because of a review or a set of points.
    Shop where you can trust your retailer for recommendations.
    Go to a lot of wine tastings.

  9. MJ - January 24, 2008

    Regarding use of the ellipse, as a frequent designer of shelf talkers too, I have often used it, but sometimes for much diferent reasons on a review, that was overall outstanding. Why would I do such a thing? Because at a certain price level, consumers don’t want a wine that is descibed as saddle, or leather, or cigar box, or tobbaco, or earth, or dirt, or bloody, or raw meat…etc… Obviously the wine writer/critic meant good things by these descriptors, but the average American somehow gives such terms a negative feedback, wondering why they would want to taste a wine that has elements of dirt (or barnyard!). I remember once relaying the newest Tanzer reviews to one of my producers over the phone and laughingly told him that the opening line on his review of one of the wines was “Chicken Sh*t” referrring to the aromatic qualities of the new release…not manurial, not barnyard, not earthy or funky, but yes, “Chicken Sh*t”. To which my producer asked, ‘Yeah, but chicken sh*t “good” or chicken sh*t “bad’? I answered, “Well, he gave it an overall score of 88 points, so I guess, chickensh*t “good” It still makes me chuckle to this day.

  10. Oenophilus - January 24, 2008

    These ellipses have been used to mislead for years. The movie industry has relied on them for years. Check the giant, bold comments that seem to excite us about a movie shown in a newspaper ad. Compare the quotes to the actual reviews and you’ll notice that many of the reviewers actually pan the movie. That being said, many shelf talkers actually give more accurate reviews than the old guard’s tired palates in the big format print media.

  11. Mark Finley - January 24, 2008

    My favorite was a retailer north of Santa Rosa who seemed to use only the high number in a Parker barrel sampling range. One time they were promoting a Parker 95 wine that he had barrel sampled (92-95) a year and a half previously. A year later he gave it a 90-92. When I pointed out that they were using a stale review, they replied, as they were dropping me from their email list, “…most of our customers do indeed want the highest rating offered…”

  12. Anthony - January 29, 2008

    Really? Is that how you rate it mate?

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