I make no secret about the fact that I’ve been dragged kicking and screaming into writing about wine. It’s not that I don’t like wine or writing, but I’ve found the universe that surrounds writing about wine extremely distasteful. I don’t want to lump all wine writers into the same bucket (or barrel), as there are some fine people out there doing some very nice wine writing. Unfortunately, there are many more who are less concerned with you, the wine consumer, and more concerned about their own ego, reputation, and pretentiousness. They don’t care about you, and often see the reader as an unfortunate necessity in the process of writing about wine.
If you want proof of this, look no further than the standard wine rating system. Almost all wine writers use it, and it’s about as unhelpful and useless as a seven day forecast that says “Chance of Rain or Chance of Sun”. The basis of the wine rating system is rating wine on a 100 point scale. Unfortunately, wine reviewers don’t have a uniform criteria to evaluate wine on this scale. One reviewer’s 96 point wine may score the equivalent of 92 points on another reviewer’s scale. What’s worse is that some reviewers who have tasted the same wine at different sittings have given the exact same wine dramatically different point ratings. Taste is greatly impacted by time of day, what you eat, and what else you are tasting along side what is being rated, so it’s not out of the question for ratings to vary based on these factors.
My big problem with the wine rating scale is that it doesn’t really tell you anything about the wine. What exactly is the difference between a wine that scores 92 and one that scores 96? More importantly, what does it taste like? Does it pair well with food? Is it ready to drink now or do I need to put it in my ‘wine cellar’ for a while before it’s going to be ready? None of these questions get addressed on a numerical scale, and they are the essential bits of information that you need when picking up a wine you’ve never had before.
So what’s the alternative? Your first tool for choosing wine is always taste, taste, taste. The more wines you taste, the more you’ll know what you like and what’s a good fit for what you need. Also, in addition to point ratings, many wine shops will have notes from the wine buyer about the wines they sell. Skip the number tags and look for these notes, which often focus more on flavor than a score. If there aren’t tags, use the best asset of a wine store, the wine steward. Never be afraid to get the wine steward’s attention to direct you toward the flavors and styles you are looking for.
For my part, any wines or spirits I write about won’t be rated on the standard scale. When I write about wine or spirits, I’ll tell you what it tastes like, what my experience was, and how I felt about it. With so many wines and spirits out there, I feel it’s more important to spend time and attention on the ones that make a good impression on me. Do you really need to hear about a crappy Chardonnay that left me cold? Wouldn’t rather hear about the gem of a Pinot that wowed me?