Titillating Tasting

Matt Smith, Director of Sales at Allied Beverage Group |
Beer, Wine, and Spirits

Wine ratings are extremely popular these days. They can literally dictate the success of a wine, a winery–even an entire vintage. Ratings have gained such prominence that some wineries are rumored to alter their winemaking practices in order to cater to the biases of the popular writers. Others claim that a good score may only come with a “marketing contribution.” Unable to confirm either, I challenge you to form your own opinion.


Step 1: Know Your Scale

The most popular system for rating wine is the 100-point scale.  A “good” rating starts at 80 points; more flattering adjectives follow as the numbers ascend. Although 80 is where the favorable marks begin, many score hunters feel that a wine needs to break the 90-point threshold in order to be worth buying. As bottle prices rise to $50-plus range, so do the rating expectations.    

In general, these scoring systems provide retailers with easy methods for selling wine. Sometimes they assist consumers with making educated buying decisions; a perennial string of auspicious scores, for example, can mean a winery is producing high-quality wines. However, no one should put complete faith in a subjective set of numbers. Personally, I haven't liked every expensive 97-point wine I have tasted. On the flip side, I have enjoyed countless wines with sub-90 ratings or with no ratings at all. A common scenario is this: Two writers rate the same wine. One scores it 93 and the other scores it 86. Who is right?


Step 2: Identify Your Preferences

In order to truly respect a wine rating, you must first understand your personal style and preferences. Are you partial to certain varietals? Do you prefer having wine with a meal? What characteristics or qualities do you appreciate in wine? Next, you need to educate yourself. Find a book or a website which caters to your needs. Be sure to pick one which discusses how to taste. Perhaps most importantly, don’t skip your free opportunities to ask questions when you are with your local wine professionals.


Step 3:  Participate in or Host a Tasting

One great way to learn is by attending wine tastings sponsored by wine shops and restaurants. Some can benefit charities, while others are in-store programs that allow you to “try before you buy.” Multiply your resources and host your own tasting. Establish a budget and pick a theme. Ask your guests to bring one or two appropriate wines, along with tasting notes from the winery’s website. Select some wines with ratings and others without. Make personal notes as you go along. Three general things to evaluate are: what you smell, what you taste, and your overall opinion of the wine. Compare your notes and choose favorites based upon your evaluations. 

Here is a fun example for a tasting theme: California red wines from Napa or Sonoma. Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast is an appropriate wine for such a tasting. A proven crowd-pleaser, this Cab is the value-priced sibling of Napa County’s Joseph Carr Cabernet Sauvignon. What makes it so favorable is its luscious black fruit, subtle oak nuances, and long, luscious finish. Another fitting choice is Smith and Hook Cabernet Sauvignon from Central Coast. Most enjoy it for its rich texture, black cherry cola and blackberry flavors, and supple tannins. Smith and Hook is one of the premier wines from Hahn Family Wines, which is known for providing high-quality wines at hard-to-beat prices.


Step 4: Learn About the Critics

Become acquainted with the critics. Read their passages and taste some of the wines they have reviewed. Make your own notes and compare. Share your conclusions with your local professionals and solicit their opinions. This evaluation may help you determine whose advice to follow.  

Regardless of how you currently choose wine, educating yourself will make a huge difference in the final outcome. Reading, asking questions, tasting, and making educated guesses when purchasing wine are all factors in making better decisions. As for your new opinion of wine ratings–well, let your palate be your guide.