Ahhh, November! Besides turkey day, in the wine world November brings the dreaded "Top 100" list by Wine Spectator magazine.
Ratings..today everything is based on a rating system of either stars, thumbs up/down, letter grade or points.
Yelp and other similar websites are changing businesses everyday especially with mobile technology. Next time you're out dining and see people taking pictures of their food, chances are that they are on some website praising or destroying the place.
Wine ratings go the same root. There are many critics out there that have a huge following of loyal readers that hang on every word they publish about a wine. These wine afficiondos can make or break your vineyard with one swipe of the pen. Some winemakers consider it an honor to have their wines reviewed by any critic, other vineyards choose not to play the games and simply refuse to ever submit their wines for criticism.
The most popular rating system for wines seems to be what is called the Parker Point Scale, made famous by "The Wine Advocate by Robert Parker" publication. In this scale, the overall rating from 0 to 100 is evaluated by specific critics who specialize in certain areas of wine all over the world. Parker's not alone! Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Decanter, Stephen Tanzer, etc. all have a subscription based neewsletter/ratings guide to wine. Heck even your local wine shop jumps on this system like they were hired by the New York Times, "Tim gives this Yellow Tail Merlot 95 points because he wants you to buy it so he can justify his over purchasing for the week!"
As the scale goes...If you're in the 80+ point range you're safe. Over 90 points you're pretty darn good. Under 80 points, pack up the vineyard and rethink your career choice. Again it's not the golden standard. It is merely one person's opinion on a specific wine in their respective region of preference. Some critics only rate/review Italian wines, some only California wines. And with that you have to submit your wines for the tastings for the inevitable smackdown. It's like sadomasochism! "Here are the fruits of my hard labor of the season for you to only destroy my hopes and dreams!"
Remember, it's a person's opinion about a wine. You don't have to agree with it. I don't agree with most of them. I've drank some great wines that have never been reviewed, that refuse to play along.
There are a lot of great writers out there. Find one you jive with. Eric Asimov writes a wine column for the NY Times that is great. I find Food & Wine Magazine to have great articles about wines. Their reviews are from more obscure vineyards and wines. Also, I like to see what they are pairing each wine with in regards to food which helps with the whole visualization process of what the wines is going to be like. At the local level, get to know your wine guy or the people that work under the owner. Ask what they drank this past weekend and chances are that it's some lonely bottle out of the spotlight tucked away on a lower shelf. Those are the gems!
Wine ratings are a good guide to help you navigate through the maze towards making a decision. By no means are they or should they be the BIBLE of the wine world. At some point in my career, I just began to call BS when I read the reviews and took bottle after bottle home to try only to discover that the review was totally off. It's my opinion, it's there opinion! We both still put our pants on the same way. Remember that!
It all comes back to try, try, try! Make your own notes and compare them with your friends, family.
How about you...do you follow a rating system when it comes to making a wine purchase? Do you buy wines based on cool labels or names?