The 100 point system redux

March 31st, 2014

jeff-smby Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)

It’s a lovely Sunday afternoon here in Napa, and my main concern in life at the moment is trying to catch up on all my recorded basketball games from the NCAA basketball tournament. I still haven’t gotten around to doing my Monday blog so I need something quick, easy, and hopefully a little sexy.

Ergo, the hundred point system. Added to my need to get back to the TV set is the fact that I don’t think I’ve talked about the hundred point system in at least three weeks.

What brought this all to mind was my reading of Tom Wark’s blog on this very subject, which can be found at:

100 Point Wines and My Worry I Might Have Gone Round the Bend

Fermentation

http://fermentationwineblog.com/2014/03/100-point-wines-worry-might-gone-round-bend/

Suffice it to say that I largely disagree with Wark, who thinks the 100 point system has a lot of value. But that’s not what I’m going to talk about today. I’m not to talk about whether the 100 point system is good, bad, irrelevant or anything like that. I’m instead going to talk about why we argue so much about it.

And I think the reason is that for so many major issues in the wine world, the hundred point system is at the epicenter of the debate.

I think if you read Wark’s article, his point of view seems to be that you should not think of the hundred point system as being any sort of objective assessment of the quality of the wine. If you do, then you are way off base. You should view it simply as the one critic’s personal and very subjective view of the wine he is tasting. Does it have anything to do with your personal, subjective view? Maybe, maybe not.

And I think even granting Wark the benefit of the doubt, you end up walking away thinking that if the hundred point system is good for anything at all, then it’s not good for very much.

To me, I don’t think giving a 97 to a wine has any more validity than giving a 97 to a van Gogh or a Renoir. It says more about the tastes of the critic than anything else (a point that I think Wark would concede).

So given that pretty much everybody would agree that the hundred point system occupies a spot someplace between mostly and totally irrelevant, why is it here?

The reason is simple. If there is an epicenter that the hundred point system occupies, I think it is in the crosshairs of where marketing meets winemaking. And let’s face it, if something moves cases then it is going to be embraced irrelevant or not. And the hundred point system moves cases. I don’t know the winemaker whose criticism of the hundred point system won’t suddenly abate the moment that he gets a 97 for one of his wines. What does it matter that some other critic gave the same wine an 87? Or a 77? Well, it doesn’t matter at all, since that 97 is gold when it comes to moving cases.

So, as Joel Grey said in “Cabaret” (or was that “Cabernet”?), “money makes the world go around.”

But the 100 point system sits not just at the epicenter of marketing versus winemaking, but also at the center of the dispute about objective versus subjective when it comes to wine quality. We would all like to think that wine quality is an objective thing. But the evidence seems to be largely to the contrary. Well, not all the evidence. We would all agree that a corked wine is, objectively, a bad one. Most of us would agree that a badly oxidized wine is also a bad wine, again in an objective sense.

But do we all agree that a oaky wine is a bad wine? Or a very tannic one? What about one high in acid, or one low in acid? Of course not. I don’t think raisins have any place in the taste profile for a wine, but obviously lovers of late harvest Zinfandel cherish that flavor.

But we hold on to the belief that wines are subject to objective evaluation as we do to other beliefs that are cherished, beautiful, and patently false. To abandon the hundred point system is to abandon our most closely held beliefs about wine and, for that reason, it will never happen.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print this article!
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Blogosphere News
  • E-mail this story to a friend!
  • LinkedIn
  • MSN Reporter
  • Twitter
  • Yahoo! Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
To try our wines, click here

Good Reads Wednesday

March 26th, 2014

jeff-smby Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)

Every Wednesday I post my recommendations of the best of last week’s postings concerning wine, whether blogs or news. I list them in the order I read them, so you shouldn’t infer anything about the order in which I list these posts.

What Percent of Tasting Room Visitors Buy Nothing?

SVB on Wine

http://svbwine.blogspot.com/2014/03/eliminating-melon-squeezers.html

This is a pretty interesting post on the subject of tasting rooms and customers who aren’t really customers because they come in, taste your wine, waste your time, and buy nothing. How to avoid these “customers” is a large part of the post.

Praising California Chardonnay, and a remark about my new job

Steve Heimoff

http://www.steveheimoff.com/index.php/2014/03/17/praising-california-chardonnay-and-a-remark-about-my-new-job/

What is a good Chardonnay supposed to taste like? That’s really the subject of this post. Personally, while I recognize that Chardonnay can be made in any number of different styles, I really don’t like the buttery oaky style that is its signature style here in California. I don’t like that style even when it is not overdone, which it generally is. I guess Heimoff feels differently.

Which wines go with what desserts?

Wine Blog

http://www.wine-blog.org/index.php/2014/03/18/wines-go-desserts/

A pretty interesting chart trying to match up desserts with wines. I think it very much adheres to the tried and true wisdom that you should try to match up foods with similar wines in terms of things like sweetness and acidity.

The $300 Coravin question

the Wine curmudgeon

http://winecurmudgeon.com/the-300-coravin-question/

I would be really curious to try out one of these things, but no way I’m plunking down $300 for one. Especially when for $.50 you can get a 375 ML bottle which is a perfectly good way to save half of a bottle of wine (usually the amount that’s left over if one person is drinking a couple of glasses with dinner – if it’s two people, then there’s nothing left over and you don’t need anything).

For keeping up to date with what’s going on the in wine world, the best all around source is http://winebusiness.com.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print this article!
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Blogosphere News
  • E-mail this story to a friend!
  • LinkedIn
  • MSN Reporter
  • Twitter
  • Yahoo! Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
To try our wines, click here

What You’re Tasting in Wine ~ 10 Rules

March 23rd, 2014
Brettanomyces.
Image via Wikipedia

jeff-smby Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)

Since I couldn’t really think of a whole lot to write about this week, and was more interested in watching the NCAA basketball tournament, I decided to republish a post from several years ago. Here it is:

Because there’s so much misinformation out there about flavors in wine, I thought some “quick and dirty” rules for red wine would be helpful. These rules should be taken for what they are, generalities that admit of exceptions.

Rule 1.  If you taste something in a wine that you would describe as a fruit flavor (e.g., strawberry, cherry), it probably comes from the grapes. If you taste something that you would describe as a spice (cloves, cinnamon, dill), it most likely comes from oak (though sometimes from something else, but not the grapes).

Rule 2.  If the wine tastes of green peppers or green olives, that comes from underripeness in the fruit. (In some wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, some, but not too much, of those flavors are normal, and are not a defect.)

Rule 3.   If you detect something that you would describe as wet socks, wet dog, barnyard, or Band-Aid, it comes from a yeast, Brettanomyces (often referred to as “Brett”). While many consider this a defect, to others these flavors add interest and complexity. However you feel about Brett, it is common in many Old World wines, particularly Burgundy. Brettanomyces can also result in a clove flavor, similar to what can result from oak.

Rule 4.  The rotten egg smell in some wines comes from the development of hydrogen sulfide. Left untreated, hydrogen sulfide can develop into other sulfidic compounds giving various off-flavors, including garlic, onion, rubber, asparagus, and canned corn.

Rule 5.  Flavors of cedar come from oak, usually French oak. American oak is more likely to contribute dill, honeyed, or coconut aromas. The scents resulting from oak also vary as a result of toast level. The lower toast levels contribute vanilla and spice notes; slightly higher toast levels contribute lead pencil and cedar, while the highest toast levels produce the smoky aromas, such as bacon and char. Since different types of barrels (or oak alternatives) made from different oaks and toasted to different levels can be blended into one wine, a wine can possess a number of these oak flavors.

Rule 6.   Different fruit flavors correspond with different ripeness levels in the fruit. Bright fruit (e.g., strawberry) is the earliest, then the dark fruits (progressing through cherry to blackberry), followed by prune, then raisin (overripe).

Rule 7.  If the wine smells like sherry, then it is “oxidized”, which, as its name implies, results when oxygen gets into the wine. Normally, the preservative sulfur dioxide in the wine binds to any oxygen, thus protecting against oxidation. Once the sulfur dioxide is exhausted, oxygen will interact with the wine to produce a chemical, acetaldehyde, which is what causes the oxidized aroma. Older wines, since more time allows more oxygen to seep into the wine through the cork, are more likely to be oxidized than young wines. Any wine left open too long after uncorking will become oxidized.

Rule 8.  If the wine smells like wet cardboard, it’s “corked”. “Corkiness” results from the presence of a chemical, TCA, which comes mostly, though not always, from bad corks.

Rule 9.  If a wine smells like nail polish remover (or less often vinegar), it is due to volatile acidity, which results from a microbial infection of the wine.

Rule 10.  A puckery, astringent sensation results from the tannins in wine. Technically, it’s not a flavor at all, but a tactile sensation. People vary greatly in how much they like or dislike tannins. A soft wine is one with less tannin, a structured wine with more.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print this article!
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Blogosphere News
  • E-mail this story to a friend!
  • LinkedIn
  • MSN Reporter
  • Twitter
  • Yahoo! Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
To try our wines, click here

Good Reads Wednesday

March 19th, 2014

jeff-smby Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)

Every Wednesday I post my recommendations of the best of last week’s postings concerning wine, whether blogs or news. I list them in the order I read them, so you shouldn’t infer anything about the order in which I list these posts.

I’m not sure what’s going on here. The week before last, I had nothing to recommend. Then last week, there was a ton of stuff. This week is a goose egg again.

For keeping up to date with what’s going on the in wine world, the best all around source is http://winebusiness.com.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print this article!
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Blogosphere News
  • E-mail this story to a friend!
  • LinkedIn
  • MSN Reporter
  • Twitter
  • Yahoo! Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
To try our wines, click here

Consolidation in the wine business

March 17th, 2014

jeff-smby Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)

An article appeared last week in the Wine Curmudgeon which highlighted the degree of consolidation in the wine business. I’m not going to repeat what appeared there, except to say that well over half the wine sales in America are made by just a few behemoth companies. The post is certainly worth reading and can be found at http://winecurmudgeon.com/big-wine-tightened-its-grip-on-the-u-s-market-in-2013/.

It’s not like there have never been big wine companies until recently. Going back as far as I can remember, there have always been big players. After all, Gallo didn’t appear yesterday. But there is no question that this trend has accelerated. But why?

There is no single cause, but the common factor in all the causes is that it has become more and more difficult for the smaller winery to compete effectively. And I think that although it is something that has been in the works for a long time, the Great Recession certainly pressed the pedal to the metal.

Marketing and distribution comes first to mind. The Great Recession was a disaster for the small distributor. As credit became more and more difficult to come by, the smaller distributors either went out of business or were gobbled up by larger rivals. The fact that consumers gravitated towards cheaper wines, at price points that the small winery (and distributor) could not meet, didn’t help matters either.

Larger distributors just don’t have the same level of interest in smaller wine brands. Distributors that need to move millions of cases of wine just don’t have the time, interest, or profit motive to handhold wineries whose sales are in the tens or hundreds of cases instead of in the thousands and tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of cases.

The same problems with credit that the small distributor experienced the small winery experienced as well. It’s a simple fact of life that it takes money to make money. If you already have money, then that may not be too much of a problem. But if you don’t, then you need to borrow it or find investors. The recession made either very, very difficult.

And finally, we are seeing in the wine business what we’re seeing in many other consumer industries as well. The ability to market trumps everything else. More and more, selling wine is akin to selling mouthwash. But marketing is very expensive. There is no way a small winery can make that kind of investment.

That’s not to say that there are not other ways that the small winery can compete. Social media and marketing by hitting the pavement are still available. But these alternatives mean that at best the small winery will be a niche player. They will not disappear, but market share will continue to decline.

Another factor which, I admit, is less important than the ones I’ve already discussed is that I think big wineries are making better wine than they used to. There was a point in my life where I thought few large wineries were making decent product. I think that’s still the case for many of them, but many others are doing a remarkably good job. The only reason that I don’t rank this factor higher is that I no longer think that the quality of what is in the bottle is the preeminent issue.

I don’t think that this trend is reversible. There will always be small wineries, but their market share will continue to decline. I would not be surprised to see even more consolidation of the larger brands. I hope we don’t one day end up with one Megawinery. Inc., as our source for most of what we drink.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print this article!
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Blogosphere News
  • E-mail this story to a friend!
  • LinkedIn
  • MSN Reporter
  • Twitter
  • Yahoo! Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
To try our wines, click here