Friday, October 29, 2004

More on Brett

Alan Goldfarb (of the St. Helena Star) interviewed His Holiness...uhmm, sorry - I mean Robert Parker...this last weekend at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in St. Helena.
Part of his interview has been in dispute by Parker himself, who objects to some of the reporters comments attributed to him. Goldfarb has removed the quotes in question pending verification by third parties, and provided that happens, has promised to publish them in a few weeks time.

Here is the article that has been 'sanitized':

We are happy that we still have a few nuggets to enjoy from this - apparently undisputed portion - of his interview...

On the use of chemicals in the vineyard he said, "The vines have become a junkie for this stuff."
It's rather obvious that this comment is nothing more than anthropomorphism...

But -

On Brettanomyces, a spoiled yeast found in a number of French cellars and a component favored by many, Parker admitted to being "a Francophile, and since I was raised on a dairy farm, I can tolerate it." (should read "spoilage" for "spoiled" /Huge)

What's THIS? "...I can tolerate it."!
Even though Parker routinely rates wines with Brett higher than those without, I really don't get the impression that he actively looks for wines with that character in them from the quote.
And for those of us who weren't "raised on a dairy farm" and can't stand Brett, it's somewhat saddening that people "tolerate" it at all!

"It's part of the cellar and part of the wine and I can't imagine a Lynch-Bages without a little Brettanomyces."

I think that's just poor imagination on his part. I can imagine an entire world without it quite clearly...

If this is something that even the most widely revered wine critic can "tolerate", but only after a childhood of desensitization by living "on a dairy farm", why doesn't he hold wineries responsible to eradicate it?
(And "Yes", it can be eradicated, controlled, and/or minimized. More on that topic later.)
So what I'm reading out of all this is that those people who are most able to effect change in viniculture & viticulture (the critics) aren't willing to raise the bar for the producers.

Instead they're just "tolerating" it rather than changing it. At least Parker is.
What a loss for consumers, and the wine industry as well...

QPR wines

Good review of by Jon Bonne':

QPR is a really nice system for objectively evaluating different wines with similar scores, but different prices as well as wines with different scores and prices. Where does it begin to make sense to buy an 85 point wine versus a 90? Only the individual consumer can decide that, but, if nothing else, this provides a nice starting point.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Cellar Tracker

Just a plug for While I've noted that I'm not much for tracking my wine holdings with my own reviews, ratings, price appreciation, etc. I do like being able to get notes and input from real people (as opposed to the commandments of the wine popes) on new vintages, varietals I haven't tried much, or areas I'm not familiar with.

That said, I really like the way Cellar Tracker groups reviews together, giving you quick input from a broad spectrum of wine collectors. Compared to, which receives a 10 out of 10 for cork dorkiness, Cellar Tracker doesn't come off nearly as pretentious or elitist.


Friday, October 22, 2004

Mondavi sued by shareholder & class action Law-firms

I bet the ink's still fresh on these!
This is almost like watching vultures vying for the best spot to feed on fresh road-kill...

The shareholder’s suit is on this link:

But wait! There's more...
And this one doesn’t even get the facts straight in the initial press release! To wit:

“The action charges that Constellation Brands, Inc. has a controlling interest in Mondavi and thus is able to control the Board, and to influence the possible acceptance of an inadequate cash and stock bid worth approximately $53.00 per share for the Class A Shareholders and $61.75 per share for the Class B Shareholders.”

When did Constellation get a controlling interest in MOND?...
These people must’ve been in an awful hurry to file that suit if they didn’t have time to check it for such basic facts first. Then later it’s corrected to read the following ~

Now the (morbid) fun begins…
Go pour yourself a nice glass of wine, sit back, and enjoy the fireworks!

Thursday, October 21, 2004

"Passion, without pretension"

Alton Brown, host of the Food Network's "Good Eats" series, used this phrase the other night when talking about how to choose a cheese shop & cheese monger. It was so succinctly put, and applies to wine shops/stewards so perfectly, that I felt the need to include it here.

So look for "passion , without pretension", in those people you wish to get wine recommendations from. It's one giant step closer to getting something that's aligned with your tastes & pocketbook.

Go Alton!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Mondavi - Constellation Offer

At first blush, the Constellation offer to buy 100% of Mondavi's stock seems like a great offer, a chance to keep to company together, and a chance for shareholders to get a very nice return. The offer is for 21.6 times the company's trailing operating income and 15.1 times its trailing EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization). By any reasonable wine industry standard, this is a great offer, possibly one that will be outbid, but still a great offer.

Rational management would jump at the chance to take a 37% premium on the current share price, but I believe that the board will turn the offer down. Why? Because Ted Hall, as the new Chairman of the Board, has displayed nothing but arrogance right from his $750,000 signing bonus up to his nonchalant attitude toward Constellation's offer. Hall and Greg Evans, the CEO, have said that they can get $800-900 million pre tax and at least $500 million post-tax for the luxury brands alone. If they believe that the luxury assets are worth at least $800 million, they must believe that the lifestyle assets are worth at least another $800 million for a total of at least (and probably much more than) $1.6 billion. This is $300 million of the Constellation bid and will be their justification for rejecting it.

Therefore, the board cannot accept the Constellation offer without admitting that they are completely wrong in their approach to and valuation of their luxury assets. They will then have to reject the offer (or have it voted down via the Mondavi family's voting control) and stay their course (there's the arrogance I mentioned above). Twelve to twenty-four months from now, however, they had better have company worth more than $1.3 billion or they are liable to be sued for not maximizing shareholder value.

Thompson Seedless: San Joaquin's unsung hero...

Got time for a quiz?

Name the top 6 grape varietals grown in California last year (by tonnage)…

Ready? Chardonnay, Thompson Seedless, Cab Suav., Zinfandel, French Colombard, Merlot…

???? "What? What's this 'Thompson Seedless', " you say, "I've never seen that on the shelf..."
Perhaps not. But perhaps you have seen it in the produce aisle.
Perhaps even, you've drank it before, though it's an unsung part of California's Central & San Joaquin valley...

As a produce grape Thompson Seedless (TS) is rather good. It has a high sugar content, good (although somewhat neutral) flavor, light acidity, and is seedless. It produces a neutral wine, with no real varietal aromas.
99.5% of all TS is grown in Madera, Fresno, Tulare, Kings, and Kern counties for an average price of $96/ton (2003 data). It’s primarily grown for raisins, table grapes, white grape concentrate, juice, vinegar and brandy.

Gallo, which has both large concentrate and brandy interests, angered many San Joaquin growers by offering the unheard of price of $65/ton in August 2002 prompting many to tear out the vines & replant with more lucrative crops (almost anything at that point would’ve been better than selling at such a loss to Gallo – growers protested the fact that it cost from $90 to $180/ton to produce the crop to no avail).
(Eileen Fredrikson, of Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates [wine industry analysts], said of the conflict at the time "The problem in the Valley is not Gallo. The problem is that there are too few wineries that make the kind of wine for which the San Joaquin Valley traditionally has been known"….meaning cheap innocuous bulk wine. /huge)

So…how might it find it’s way into wine? Say you have a bottle of really cheap (as opposed to just inexpensive) Chardonnay. To get the price into a range that is really-really low, a producer could blend in 25% TS. Using the most inexpensive Chard they could find (San Joaquin Chard went for just $253/ton average in 2003), the total price per ton would be weighted to $213. Assuming an average yield of 175 gallons per ton, a 3% loss during manufacturing, and 5 bottles to the gallon, we arrive at a cost (before utilities, labor, equipment, packaging, etc.) of a mere 25¢/bottle! Using only the cheapest Chardonnay possible the price per bottle would be ~30¢ per bottle. However, 5¢/bottle savings is $600,000 if you’re moving a million cases. A penny saved is a penny earned, eh?

I’m not going to point fingers at anyone (for lack of anything more than just hearsay evidence)…but that’s quite an economic incentive to include some TS in your really low quality Chard blend.
What effect would that have on the finished wine? Dilute an already anemic aroma & flavor profile even further…but if you’re looking just for profits, and not worried about reputation or ever moving into the high-end market…
Oh well…

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Following up on wine scoring

I’ve mentioned recently that I really don’t get into the scoring of wines, and don’t catalog my own cellar (or personal tasting notes) with numeric values.
Generally, I have 3 categories when I taste: ones I like (this is based on flavor, value & quality) and would/will buy; wines I find acceptable, but either are over priced or don’t have the bang-for-the-buck that I’d like to see; and lastly, those wines which I find simply fail either the flavor, value or quality tests. It's all subjective, and I feel it loses (at least some) meaning when exported to another person with a different palate & different experience.

Having said that, I do look to Dan Berger for reviews because I’ve found that his tastes jibe somewhat with my own, and also to a little book called California Wine Winners.

California Wine Winners is a yearly publication of the results for 9 major West Coast competitions, broken down by appellation, producer, and varietal (as well as Bordeaux & Rhone type blends). Lists are tabulated by number of medals awarded, and are weighted by what those medals were (double gold + special medals = 7 pts, gold = 5, silver = 3, bronze = 1). It’s quite handy, and has contact information for wineries in the back of the book, as well as a section for inexpensive golds (wines winning at least 1 gold medal and priced at $11/btl or less). It’s worth a look if you haven’t found it on your own yet.

Why do I find it useful? I think it’s superior to a single critic in that these results are gathered from 9 different competitions where the wines were judged against each other. Therefore, they should more closely represent what the general public would think since these wines have several different results evaluated simultaneously.

California Wine Winners 2005, 22nd annual edition ($10.75 @ Barnes& Noble), published by Varietal Fair, P.O. Box 73431, Richmond, VA 23235-8041



I'll comment further later, but had to post this great quote from Richard Sands, CEO of Constellation Brands:

"You have to crush grapes to make good wine, but you don't have to crush a wine company to make shareholder value," Sands said in a conference call with analsyts. "We wanted to make sure that the board of directors of Mondavi and the shareholders had a full and attractive offer to compare to basically crushing the Mondavi company."

Classic, and well said. Hopefully the board of Mondavi realizes the error of their ways before they finish carving this thing up.....

Monday, October 18, 2004

Cleese again (

Here's a link for CNN's article on John Cleese's show.


John Cleese & wine…

The Food Network gets a big kudos for its program with John Cleese about demystifying wine. Sound levels seemed somewhat variable through the show, and the production didn't appear to be top-shelf, but a good effort to get the word out to the masses. (John Cleese's Wine for the Confused will re-air October 23, 2004 5:00 PM ET/PT, & October 24, 2004 4:00 PM ET/PT)

The program was suitably geared toward people with entry-level experience, and didn’t have a shred of pretension. Knowing the show was only 1 hour in length, it was difficult to anticipate exactly what information he’d present. Obviously there’s enough information on each topic within the category “wine” (growing grapes, fermentation, blending, bottling, etc) for many hours on each one, and the treatment (though just scratching the surface) was perfect for generating interest without fear.

The greatest points were made I think in the scenes which chronicled the tasting with wine-novice “everyday people” (meaning non-wine professionals or wine geeks), like:

  • many people couldn’t tell the difference between a white & a red wine when they couldn’t see the wine while drinking it
  • different descriptors were used for the same wine, each set somewhat unique to the person tasting the wine
  • only 2 people in ~18 could pick out the $200 bottle of wine in the flight of 6 wines, which ranged in price (are you listening winemaker Richard of Raphael?) from $5/btl to $200/btl - lower than just random guessing should’ve produced, which is a 1-in-6 result (3 people)

Other important points from the show? Several come to mind…

  • don’t let wine stewards cow you into buying what they want you to buy, get them to find out your tastes and pair a wine to your preference (and pocketbook)
  • drink what you like – regardless of the price tag
  • one man’s $200 bottle is another man’s $5 bottle (and vice-versa)
  • you don’t need 7 different styles & shapes of wine glasses, just some all-purpose stemware
  • some professional wine critic gives a wine a 97, you get the wine & totally dislike it (YOU give it a 37!)…it only proves that people have very different tastes & perceptions

Something that I’d take issue with (here we go again) is the statement that different wine glass shapes influence taste rather than aroma. Certainly the wine-guy who made the statement seemed to believe that, but my experience differs. It almost sounded like a shameless plug for the glassmakers (and we’re not sure, as viewers, if Spiegelau or Riedel “donated” glassware in trade for a plug at the end or not). For those who toe the party line that glassware makes all the difference- take the HJWOW challenge: Pour 4oz. of Chardonnay into 5 Reidel/Spiegelau "White Burgundy/Chardonnay" glasses and 1 "Red Burgundy/Pinot" glass. Have a friend mix up the glasses and blindfold you. If what you believe is true, then you should be able to pick out the Burgundy glass by taste every single time. Try it, you'll be surprised what your preconceived notions (marketing) can lead you to taste (or not taste). Its quite revealing....

And what was it with the somellier at the end who sidestepped the Brettanomyces issue by focusing on corked wines (TCA) when asked about defects? Is it truly too controversial a topic? And what of oxidized/aldehydic wines, or VA? Personally, I’d have loved to hear Mr. Cleese describe manure & horsey notes in his wine…
Perhaps they had to edit it out due to the short timeframe…

And did anybody else notice that at no time did they show anyone “swimming the grapes” in a vat? Nooo, they showed people punching down the cap in the proper fashion! (See the "traditional" way here...)

Friday, October 15, 2004

Mondavi - how it all came apart

Apparently, much of the doings at Mondavi have been in process for quite some time.

After Ted Hall's appointment as COB in January of 2004, he has been pursuing the elimination of the class 'B' shares (those held by the family that give 10-for-1 voting power) in order to lower a perceived risk of lawsuits for a public company that is disproportionately controlled by the Mondavi family.

Simultaneous to Mr. Hall's attempt to merge the two types of stock, the company was pursuing various strategic alternatives, including:

  • Outright sale of the company
  • "combination transactions"
  • separating vineyards, production and marketing assets
  • separating the luxury and lifestyle businesses

Apparently, company management recommended staying the course, but the board unanimously (therefore including family members) rejected this alternative and also unanimously determined that the company should be restructured. The board then told management to come back with a plan for separating the luxury and lifestyle businesses. The board also approved investigating the conversion of class 'B' shares to class 'A' shares at an exchange rate of 1.165, resulting in ~40% control for the Mondavi family, rather than the ~80% control they currently have.

One has to wonder about the coincidental timing of the two votes, however. Would the Mondavi's have given up voting control without an "ace in the hole?" Furthermore, given management's recommendation to keep the luxury and lifestyle businesses together, followed by the board's UNANIMOUS vote against that plan, followed by the board's recommendation to separate the luxury and lifestyle businesses, it seems pretty clear that the family gave up voting control in exchange for a break out of the luxury assets (namely Oakville). What remains to be seen is how they will do this without losing it to another buyer or creating shareholder lawsuits.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

[yellow tail] the #3 Overall Supermarket Brand over last 12 weeks!

[yellow tail] continues its phenomenal growth, climbing to #4 over the last 52 weeks and #3 over the last 12 weeks, indicating continued recent growth. Rankings are based on total scanned retail dollar sales.

Top brands in the last 12 weeks ended 9/5/04:

1. Franzia CA
2. Sutter Home CA
3. Yellow Tail Australia
4. Woodbridge By Rbrt Mndv CA
5. K-J Vintners Rsrv CA
6. Livingston Cllrs CA
7. Carlo Rossi CA
8. EJ Gallo Twin Vly CA
9. Beringer CA
10. Almaden CA

Franzia and Sutter Home showed strong growth over last year (7% and 5%) but the rest of the domestics were flat or negative.

YT is now so dominant in the Shiraz category that it sells more Shiraz than the next 7 brands combined! (all of which are Aussie by the way, but look out for Fat Bastard Shiraz from France, climbing fast!)

There's a real noticeable trend too, all of the big, older brands are languishing. The growth is coming from brands introduced in the last 36 months. This will likely start to slow, however, as the glut is easing up and many of these negociant brands will be out of bulk wine supply soon.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Spanish/Argentinian Wine Consumption Falls
Spanish wine consumption fell 1.3% to 562m litres in the first half of 2004 as Spaniards drank less wine at home, according to a report by national wine federation FEV.
A 3.4% gain to 337m litres in bar-and-restaurant wine drinking could not offset a 7.7% fall to 18.7m litres in home consumption, the report said.
The figures show that 60% of Spanish wine drinking takes place outside the home, "very differently from the extra-domestic consumption of other countries" FEV said.
Spanish demand for Cavas and other more expensive wines rose 8.7% to 1m litres compared to the same year-ago period. Table-wine drinking fell by almost 17m litres.
Per capita consumption of Argentine wine in the domestic market fell 9.72% in August compared to the same month last year.
Across the whole population, per capita consumption fell to 2.5 litres. Consumption of those over the age of 18 also fell, by 10.27% to 3.76 litres on average, according to the figures from INV, the country’s wine institute.
Meanwhile exports of Argentina’s wine and grape juice reached US$26.7m in July 2004, up 32.86% year-on-year, according to INV.
In the first seven months of the year wine and grape juice exports totalled US$155.52m, a 29% year-on-year increase.


What does this mean for the US market? Continued flood of cheap Spanish wines (woo-hoo!) and some great deals on Argentinians as well....

If these trends continue, the US may actually catch another wine producing country in per-capita consumption. Probably not, unless we somehow boot Utah, Mississippi, etc....

Slowing down in the 'high end' market segment

Some people have asked questions (especially after the advent of Two Buck Chuck) about where and how the flood of "cheap" table wines has occurred. Since most of it is from the California wine glut of the past few years, I think it would be helpful to discuss some of the reasons that these wines can be made in this ultra-bargain price range.

California's wine glut has several factors:
  • failure of the boom which eliminated quite a bit of the high-end 'conspicuous consumption' luxury wine purchases
  • the mild recession which hit
  • exacerbation of that economic downtrend with terrorist fears sparked from 9/11 (and further tweaked by a color-code alert system of debatable usefullness)
  • vineyard plantings which were not yet producing, but started to come on-line during this period
  • loss in market share to imported wines which were produced & marketed at prices well below that of most domestic wines in the same quality category
  • the general upward trend of wine quality expectations which had made the Central & San Joaquin Valleys' wines less desireable, and therefore dropped the price out of the bottom of their market

All of these have played into the current domestic glut (let's talk about the global wine glut later).

Now, what this means to the consumer:

  • more competition in the marketplace for consumers (lowering of prices)
  • as wineries have fewer consumers and oversupply of the high-end wines, they attempt to sell the excess wine on the bulk market (a term which refers to the purchase or sale of wines which haven't yet been bottled)
  • they may start to roll some of that excess downward into their lower price tier wines if they can't get what they want for their product on the bulk market or can't sell as much as they need to (meaning increased quality for consumers at or below the previous market price)
  • lower prices and greater availability of wines for everyday consumption (and that's what we're really looking for isn't it? that isn't so expensive & elusive that we feel we have to rob Ft. Knox just to have a nice glass of wine?)

However, many are quick to point out the wide variability in wines in that low-end range. Others are equally quick to question where the grapes came form, or even if it's of the varietal stated on the label. [Answers: a) Primarilly the Central & San Joaquin Valleys, b) TTB mandates that a minimum of 75% of the wine in the blend is from the varietal named on the label (with some exceptions).]

Many of Two-Buck Chuck blends were initially supplied with excess from higher-priced wines.
So will all these cheap wine deals end when the excess dries up? Perhaps not…
Fred Franzia of Bronco Wine Co & Two-Buck Chuck fame, who has extensive vineyard holdings in the Central Valley, has publicly stated (as did Golden State Vintners) that he could continue to profitably produce a $2 wine (bearing in mind that much of the viability comes from being able to sell direct to Trader Joe's and not through a wholesaler).
It wasn't that producers couldn't make a $2 wine in the 90's, they did - but they put it in a jug or box and called it 'burgundy', or 'paisano'… its just that there was no perceived market for it.
Much of Charles Shaw's initial success was due to consumers thinking that they were "getting back" at the wine business by buying their overstocked inventory at a deal (and ultimately that's true, it's just that it wasn't Charles Shaw's inventory - it was Beringer's and Mondavi's and others).

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Zero tolerance, zero common sense...

In 1998 I’d read an article by Richard Cohen about a Colorado school trip to Paris, France, titled "Zero tolerance, zero common sense".
I would post a link to the entire article (if I could find it online), but excerpts follow:

“If perchance some magazine is thinking of doing an article on an “All-American” school district, I nominate Cherry Creek, Colo. In the first place, the name alone is hard to beat and, second, the suburban Denver district is where a principal of a magnet school was demoted for letting a group of seventh- and eighth-graders taste wine while on a class trip to Paris. It has a zero-tolerance policy.

“Of course, the Cherry Creek kids are too young to drink on their own – and depending on what their parents think, too young to drink at all. But they are not too young to learn about drinking and about how wine, for instance, is not something you guzzle in the back of a car, but a libation that complements a meal.

“And a meal, in point of fact, is where the 13 kids from the Cherry Creek Challenge School had their sip of wine. On their last night in Paris, they were having a three-hour meal – escargot and duck, among other things – and they were allowed to have a thimbleful of wine. When they got home, the group’s chaperon – school principal Shawn Colleary – was busted, demoted to teach in another school.

“But Colleary was right in the first place. If the idea of the trip to France was to broaden the education of the kids, then it was perfectly appropriate – even beneficial – for them to learn how to drink wine.

“It’s true that they could not – and should not – do so on their own. But in a little time, there is no reason why they could not join their parents by having a sip of wine at dinner, maybe for some occasion or another.

“This is how the French and Italians learn to drink wine – and why, according to some social scientists, public drunkenness is both rare and not tolerated [in those societies /hj].

“America, though, is off on one of it’s periodic attempts to deal with a problem by, in effect, simply banishing it. Zero tolerance sounds nice, but it does little more than make alcohol taboo and, therefore, more attractive to young people.

“It may account – since logic cannot – for the apparent upsurge of binge drinking on American campuses. I can think of no other reason why anyone would want to be instantly drunk and almost as instantly sick.

“In fact, binge drinking is the antithesis of what the Cherry Creek kids were being taught in Paris: You don’t guzzle wine (or beer or booze), you savor it. The idea is not to get sick drunk, it is to have a thoroughly enjoyable and sensuous experience – and to be able to remember it the next morning.

“The zero tolerance approach is suffused with moralism at the expense of common sense…This approach has not worked since, approximately, the Neanderthal era.

“Some social scientists think we are going through a neo-prohibition era – booze, sex, you-name-it. Maybe…But the issues here are not ideological – they are eminently practical: What’s best for kids? Always, the answer is education, knowledge, an appreciation of both the pleasures of a substance (or an act) and its risks – and of course, the admirable virtue of moderation.

“Cherry Creek’s kids, though, were instructed in arbitrariness, absolutism, and the supposed virtues of ignorance.

“I bet they can’t wait to finish the bottle.”

Amen, Brother.

My upbringing was along those lines; wine on the table at most meals, and when the family thought I was at an age (~7 y.o. I think) they gave me my first taste of wine.
It was in very small amounts, and it was well thinned with water, and I never really thought of it as anything that should be swilled to get drunk.

I hope I can teach that to my kids as well as my parents taught me.

(Epilogue: Shawn Colleary was reinstated after publicly repenting, admitting "poor judgement", and praising the school Superintendent Robert Tschirki who had demoted him...oh, and also after quite a bit of pressure from parents to have him reinstated who thought the superintendent acted arbitrarily and unfairly. See? A happy ending after all...)
(Excerpts from an Op-Ed article by Richard Cohen of the Washington Post, published in the Press Democrat [Santa Rosa, Ca] 6/5/98)

Monday, October 04, 2004

Mondavi and Reality - ships passing in the night

Robert Mondavi Corp filed a press release Friday assuring Wall Street that they will achieve the numbers they had previously forecast for the divestment of their luxury wines ($400-500 million after taxes).

The HJWOW would like to reiterate its position that Mondavi cannot possibly achieve the numbers they have published without either:

a.) a significant change in their cost structure (which is what today's announced layoffs of 360 employees might be intended to demonstrate) with dramatically increased net earnings - as in 4 times greater.


b.) a buyer in need of a significant tax shelter.

This isn't the first time Mondavi has put assets on the market at ridiculous prices, either. The old Byron winery in Santa Barbara county has been for sale for years, as have several vineyards in Mendocino and a winery facility purchased for the Grand Archer brand that has been sitting idle for over three years. The Vichon/la Famiglia facility in Oakville finally sold last year after sitting on the market for over a year at nearly double the final sales price. Vineyards in Santa Barbara finally sold earlier this year, but not after the prices were brought down to reality. Seeing the pattern?

It seems as though this company thinks that every asset they touch turns to gold, at least in their long will it take before the prices on the Luxury assets settle down to reasonable numbers? or is this the way that the family will get it all back - by being the only buyer foolish enough to pay a price far above what the Napa winery can return?

Numeric Wine Scoring

Okay, okay, this has been done before but its always been a pet peeve so I thought I'd put my own spin on it........

My least favorite events at the Olympics are: gymnastics, figure skating, diving, boxing, etc, all of the sports that have a highly subjective component that must be judged by an official. Hopefully, the tie-in with wine scoring is obvious - I dislike subjective scoring of wines using a number. It creates many problems, chief among them:

  • Consumers become helpless, can't buy wine without a number whether or not they would have liked it anyway. "Honey, this only got an 87, I don't buy anything below a 90!"
  • Confusion between critics - if Wine Speculator gives it a 90 (Outstanding) and The Wine Enthusiast gives it an 84 (merely 'good'), what's a girl to do?
  • Unfortunately retailers and wholesalers make purchase decisions not based on their own palates, but rather the palates of the tasters in the major magazines (principally Wine Spectator). Bad WS scores mean bad sales even for good wines.
  • Wineries who make wines that aren't to the liking of the wine popes, but are otherwise great wines, have an uphill climb to get attention for their products
  • Winemakers can end up having to compromise their wines in order to make them for a style that will score higher and please the critics.
  • There is no correlation between scores and price, although is a start
  • The whole idea of describing what wine tastes like using numbers reminds me of the quote attributed to Elvis Costello "writing about music is like dancing about architecture"

The solution is that consumers have to be taught (or learn on their own, usually) to find ways to make a flawed system work for them. Find a reviewer that you like and who has tastes similar to yours (Dan Berger is usually right on for me). If you shop for wines at Target, I guess you can look to Andrea Immer for guidance. Also, don't buy wines that have a score on the shelftalker that either doesn't attribute the score to a reviewer or one that reviews a prior (usually inferior) vintage. Buy from producers you trust based on your own palate, not their most recent score. Buy a bottle to try and if you like it, go back and get a case.