I guess it all started with a young wine-loving lawyer from Maryland, but the business of wine critiquing has grown into quite a big business…I’ve heard people are even using something called a blog to give opinions on wine…imagine! Now, don’t get me wrong: I have used wine reviews as much as any wine retailer—a review is a very powerful tool. Many wines are sold based solely on the number of points a particular wine critic might honor a given wine. And believe me, the people that produce the wines are fully aware that a 90 plus rating from someone like Robert Parker, the aforementioned former barrister from Maryland, can cause a wine to disappear instantly from the shelf. I’ve seen Mr. Parker create a buying frenzy with a 94 point rating on a $20.00 wine. It can be quite a scene watching people react to a big review from Parker or the Top 100 list from the popular Wine Spectator magazine.
Most all of the reviews are based on the 100 point system, which claims the higher the score, the better the wine. Now, understand that how and why you and I might like a wine is purely subjective to our unique palate. Each wine tastes a little different to every individual, which is one of the great qualities that wine possesses. So having one man or woman’s opinion designate the taste and character of a wine is, in my mind, purely one individual’s opinion, not the final word. A highly educated opinion, for the most part, but still just an opinion, and, as I said, tastes vary. I have seen the wine rated as high as 96 points from one critic to as low as 80 points from another. Now, a couple of points’ difference is one thing, but when you get into double-digit discrepancies there must be a problem somewhere. As Robert Parker recommends in each copy of his bi-monthly magazine, The Wine Advocate, it is much more useful to purchase a wine based on the written review, not just the score a wine is given. I completely agree with that statement; the flavor profile or characteristics that might get a wine a high score may not be what you like. As I tell guests of ours, you can’t taste a number or a price tag. I have bought wines based on big scores in the past and sometimes found that the wines were just not the style of wines that I enjoy. For example the so called “modern style” of highly extracted, big alcohol Australian Shiraz is not my cup of tea, so to speak. They are perfectly good wines that most people love, but I prefer the traditional, Northern Rhone style of Syrah. Same grape, but different animals to be sure. Isn’t wine great?
I do think the reviews can be helpful for most people, in that they do give you a starting point to help make a buying decision. Buying wine based only on the number a critic gives, and there are many people who do, is not really the intention of the reviewers. I know people who say that they only buy 90 point wines. They will bypass many 87, 88, and even 89 point wines that I know to be unique, delicious and incredibly well made. And try to get them to try a wine that hasn’t been reviewed, no way. There is nothing wrong with reading wine reviews, but I think talking to a wine consultant or attending wine tastings and trying different wines is a better way to make your choice. And don’t limit yourself by relying only on the numbers. Let your palate be the critic; it’s the only one that really counts…
Ken Amendola, Wine Supervisor, North Florida