Awards, Points, Ratings and Critics

Last weekend I received a text from my sister asking about a quote on a cork. It said America’s most award-winning winery. She was asking me if it was true. I responded with a ‘probably is true, but likely doesn’t mean anything’. Bold statement, I know. But let me explain…

You see, all wineries are looking for something to set them apart from the competition. This particular one has decided to stake their claim on being the winery with the most awards. Not bad, really. Likely it works very well for them. I don’t know how I feel about their wine because I’ve never had any. And that is my whole issue with awards and points and ratings from critics.

Let’s talk about awards. These usually come from some sort of fair or wine competition. Generally there is a panel of tasters that all decide (on their own) which wines get a bronze, silver and gold. Then those scores are averaged and awards are given. Some competitions even have double gold and some have best in class and most have sweepstakes winner or best overall winner in red and white classes.

So, let’s say you submit your wines to a competition and you get a medal. What’s it worth? Well, you could send an e-mail out to your list and hopefully drum up some business. But what is that medal really worth? Let’s say a particular competition has 1000 wines that were submitted. And the judges award medals of some sort to 850 of those. Not uncommon by the way. Now what is that medal worth? Exactly.

Now, let’s talk about critics and their ratings. Too many people rely on them for all of their wine purchases and need the points and ratings to have something to talk or boast about. You want to know where I would use ratings? Let’s say I’m standing on the wine aisle looking for a particular wine and I have $30 in my pocket. I’m staring at two wines that are the same price (or close enough) and one has an 88 point rating and one has a 94. Pick the one with the higher points, right? More than likely, yes. This is where I see ratings come into play.

Medals and ratings have one thing in common: It’s one person’s thought on what the wine tasted like at that snapshot in time. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about wine is that we all have different palates and tastes. How do I know that that person who decided this wine was worthy of a 95 point rating has the same tastes as me? I don’t. Which is why these rating systems are so unreliable. Maybe I like Syrah from cooler climates, but the wine judge or critic likes them from warmer climates. If we were judging the same wine, we would come up with very different scores.

Maybe that award hanging around the bottle neck or the shelf talker below the bottle are the things that draw you to that particular wine. If that’s the case, then I guess the critics and the wine judges have done their job. But I think there’s more to it than that. I think the general wine consumer is too easily swayed about what wines are good by point ratings or even price (higher is better, right?). Sure, I’ve sold some wines that way in the past. But not anymore (and I haven’t for a while). I’ve been selling wine based on my guests’ tastes and what they enjoy. It’s great because I sleep well at night knowing I’m not pushing wine based on some other person’s palate.

You won’t find me ever rating wines on this blog. I don’t believe in point systems or ratings. What I do believe in is writing about wines that I enjoy. Will you enjoy all the same wines? Definitely not. And I wouldn’t expect you to. But I hope to introduce you to some of my favorite wines over time. Maybe I’ll turn you on to something you’ve never had or haven’t heard of before. but that is entirely up to you. Know this though, if I don’t like a wine you won’t know about it here. I just won’t write about it.

I also don’t believe that we should fill our cellars with wines that other people say are good. And here’s the real take-away from this blog: You should buy wines that you enjoy. Wow! Earth-shattering stuff, I know. Sure, you may need a little help deciding which wine to initially pick off the shelf, but then rely on your palate and trust in what you liked (and dis-liked). The only critic you need is the one holding your wine glass.


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Filed under choosing wine, Wine

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