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Does Your Palate Agree With That Wine Rating?


Even since wine critic Robert Parker Jr. popularized a 100-point rating system in the 1980s, consumers have been persuaded to buy a wine based on a numerical ranking. Parker wasn’t the only one to score wines, but he was the first to be associated with a 100-point scale. Today, it has become the standard for wine ratings.

There are as many flaws — or vagaries — associated with scores. On behalf of the consumer, it is convenient to have someone plowing through a sea of wines and telling you which ones are the best. But palates vary.

https://www.freepik.com/free-photo/smell-wine_5402327.htm#query=wine%20tasting&position=32&from_view=searchThe most respected wine raters are unbiased in the sense of not being paid for a favorable rating and they are judging a wine based on how well it is made. But they are nonetheless human and subject to bias. Those of you who rely solely on scores need to understand that.

A critic’s palate may not be your palate. Critics tend to like complex, tannic red wines meant to be aged, for instance, while you don’t plan to age the wine and want something softer, more accessible for tonight’s dinner. The critic may score a $100 cabernet sauvignon 95 points. You splurge based on the score and discover it’s not to your liking. We pour these heady wines to non-collectors and without exception find little appreciation for them. Palates accustomed to drinking Meomi pinot noir are not likely to enjoy an expensive great burgundy made from the same grape.

https://www.vecteezy.com/photo/1385206-sommelier-in-the-wine-cellarGood ratings should first measure typicity — whether the product typifies the region where it is grown and whether its character is a classic representative of what is expected from the region. But beyond that foundation comes the biases of a critic who may dislike, say, a rich and well-oaked chardonnay or a cheap box wine.

Have you ever seen a wine rated 60 or even 70? We haven’t. In fact, a wine rated 85 is considered so average. This halo effect has had a profound impact on a producer’s wines. A wine rated 95 or above sells out; a wine rated below 90 points struggles in sales among consumers who value ratings. Yet they are still good wines.

When Parker scored French wines below 90 points because they didn’t meet his standards, sales plummeted. The French changed their recipes to appeal more to Parker’s influential palate and guess what? Sales rose as the wines achieved 90-plus ratings. Yet it may be that 84-point wine that you like the most.

Although Parker has retired, his journal The Wine Advocate is indisputably the most unbiased publication in the wine world. He takes no advertisements, unlike popular alternatives such as the Wine Spectator, nor does he sell wine such as the Wine Enthusiast.  You don’t have to wonder if a rating is influenced by financial gain.

https://www.vecteezy.com/photo/6907005-woman-is-buying-a-bottle-of-wine-at-the-supermarket-backgroundWhen you go into stores, such as Costco, are you influenced by shelf-talkers that hang from the shelves with high scores? Look carefully at them. Are they coming from reputable critics and are the ratings for that vintage – or is it a rating the producer got the previous year?  We have seen ratings for wines without any attribution that are highly disputable.

There are a couple of alternatives to professional critics. Cellar Tracker, for instance, is an amalgamation of collectors who have carefully recorded their impressions of wines in their cellars. The Vivino phone app has 50 million users who can take a picture of a label and get access to critical reviews plus those of subscribers like them.  Although “like them” presumes all amateur palates are alike, that’s not the case. One person may give high marks to an oaky, buttery chardonnay, like Rombauer, you make prefer a more austere Macon-Villages chardonnay at half the price.

What’s a wine buyer to do when faced with hundreds of choices for each grape variety? Finding the right salesperson is probably your best bet. If he or she steers you in the right direction a couple of times, then you know his or her palate complements yours.  If he doesn’t – and we have experienced this numerous times – you’re better off depending on yourself. You can do so by narrowing the field: oaked or unoaked wines, tannic or soft, red or white, forward fruit or more nuanced, zinfandel or merlot, California or Europe?

We have friends who drink nothing but zinfandel blends from Cooper’s Hawk or La Crema pinot noir, or Ferrari-Carano sauvignon blanc. They feel safe with a wine they know they like, but they are also hopelessly trapped by not being more open to alternatives.

Get out there and explore. You are the best judge of your palate.

Affordable cabernets

TerraNoble Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 (Vivino)

TerraNoble Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($20). We’ll be writing more about Chilean cabernets in the future, but for now set your sights on this gem from Colchagua region.  Bright red fruit flavors with intriguing waves of spice and dried herbs. Dusty tannins portend good things to come with a couple of years of cellaring, but it’s tasty darn good now.

Smith & Hook Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($25).  Even this producer’s reserve cabernet sauvignon is a deal at $45. But this less expensive version, sourced from 5 sub-appellations, is richly textured for the price. Full-bodied with ripe blackberry, raspberry flavors and a dash of vanilla.

Rodney Strong Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($23). Light in body but long in finish, this wine is delicious but not too serious. Dark fruit character with round mouthfeel.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($15). What a deal! From Washington state, this wine is characterized by its simple and vibrant dark fruit flavors.

Greenwing Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($30). This Washington state wine sources cabernet sauvignon and merlot from Red Mountain, Horse Heaven Hills and Walla Walla Valley. Good structure with fresh cherry aromas and plum, juicy cherry flavors.

French Blue Bordeaux Rouge AOC 2019 ($15).  This simple but sturdy wine is a blend of 80 percent merlot and 20 percent cabernet sauvignon. Ripe red berry flavors with hints of vanilla and spice.

Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr, MoreAboutWine, posted on SouthFloridaReporter.comMay 8, 2022

Republished with permission

Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr have been writing a weekly wine column for more than 30 years. Additional Wine reviews on MoreAboutWine

All photos are randomly selected and do not indicate any preferred wine. Listed prices are subject to change and do not include tax or shipping.

You can send questions to Tom Marquardt mailto:marq1948@gmail.com

Always drink responsibly!

Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr have been writing a wine column since 1985. They have traveled extensively to vineyards in France, Spain, Italy, Greece and the United States. Tom currently resides in Naples with his wife, Sue, where he conducts wine tastings. His web site is MoreAboutWine.com. Patrick is in the wine retail business in Annapolis, MD.