Wine scores: This was one of my very first stories on my wine blog… It was written on February 5, 2006. And, it was a very daring move for the time, because I knew it could enrage a few people.
I wrote it, because I was so frustrated with salespeople who wanted to just take orders and not really hand sell the wine… their job, by the way. So, I wrote the following. Let’s see if it’s still relevant today. And I do have an afterthought at the end…
The frustrations and irony of wine scores…
Frustration 1) “We need a 90 point score, Jo. We can’t sell the wine without it.” [I think to myself, “No, you HAVE to sell the wine without it, and you’d rather be on the golf links.”]
Frustration 2) “Jo, if it’s NOT a score from Parker or Wine Spectator, we can’t sell the wine. Nobody cares about Joe Schmoe from Idaho.” [This declaration always put me over the edge.]
Every time I hear those words, I have to go through this explanation over and over, again: Local U.S. writers are a connection between the wines and their readers. These writers have valuable opinions and are providing a wonderful service to their readers and to the wineries. To compile a list of all these opinions provides insight, and important third party endorsements, that take us beyond only two opinions.
Here’s the really BIG irony.
I’ve always been frustrated with these sales declarations, so I wanted to write a business-2-business story. The point of it would be to show sales people how off the mark they had become, and realign their sales pitch to include all third party endorsements as a very powerful tool, while trying to promote their wine. To do this I would have to prove that if writers were given the same exact wine to taste, the results would be diverse, not seamlessly the same.
So, I convinced six of my trusted wine writer sources to help me with an experiment, explaining what I was trying to do. I was given an awesome Petite Sirah by Robert Biale Vineyards. I then had each writer taste the wine and tell me his or her impressions. I knew there’d be a full range, and was dead on. Each one liked the wine, but the descriptions of what they tasted were very diverse… as diverse as their palates.
Another reason I did this was that I’ve become close to many writers, and was hearing from some of them how hard it is to make a living reviewing wine. In fact, one very prominent writer said that it’s so difficult being an independent writer that he periodically thinks about just giving it all up. I know that if these writers simply go away, we’re not going to have a wide range of opinions anymore, and it’s that wide range that gives a creative sales person the endorsements that make a difference with successful sales.
So, off I went. I had a publisher willing to print the story. I even rewrote it with a different twist, but it still wasn’t in print, yet. So, I created this blog, because I wanted this story out there. Once it was up on the World Wide Web, I let each writer know about my blog and the story.
An amazing thing happened. The writers who have confided in me that it’s tough to make a living got right back to me with applause… And like wine where everybody has an opinion and a palate, one of my sources was very upset with me. Here are the problems this writer was having:
- Question: “What are you trying to say here?” I knew what was meant, because I soft pedaled and skirted the issues in my process. I really didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes or hurt anyone’s feelings. (Remember my Frustration 2: “Jo, if it’s NOT a score from Parker or Spectator, we can’t sell the wine… Nobody cares about Joe Schmoe from Idaho.”)
- Question: “If writers are having a hard time making a living at being a wine writer, then they should just get outta the business!” Then, this writer went on to name a couple of prominent writers who would be appalled at what I had written. The irony? These two writers were within the group who were part of the story… the very ones who told me that it’s difficult to make a living as an independent writer not on anyone’s payroll. [The ultimate irony]
- Exclamation: “The reviews are all over the place!” [My point exactly]
- Question: “Who’s your audience?” Initially, I wanted it to be business-2-business, but I still don’t know where this blog is headed; however, I’m not going to shut it down while I continue to ponder that question. I’m willing to give more clarity to my writing, and not soft pedal anymore. Also suggested was that I don’t rant and rave. I know I won’t do that, as I already have that luxury available to me without making a public spectacle of myself in the process. [Well, I have ranted a few times, I’m happy to say.]
Here are the reviews.
- 5+ An outstanding Petite Sirah, in full, ripe style. Opaque black purple color. Very full-bodied, concentrated, and powerful in style; a massive wine, which is ripe and lightly oaky in aroma/flavor (blackberry, boysenberry jam, black licorice, toast, roasted nut, nutmeg, and tobacco). Very young; should age well for another ten+ years. 15.5% alcohol. 75 cases. Drink 2008-2014.
- Biale Zinfandel from the historic Napa Valley, gravelly Dr. Crane Vineyard is sumptuous and expectations, therefore, run high for the Petite Sirah. It delivered with concentrated dark fruit aromas, complex and layered flavors on an agreeable framework with a long, dark fruit-laden finish, simultaneously depthful yet elegant. Expensive by Petite Sirah standards , but worth it. Rating: Outstanding.
- Typically inky, this Petite Sirah exhibits strong flavor profiles which do soften and open with aeration. Heavy on the blackcurrant, blackberry and sweet cherry, the wine’s high alcoholic content is tempered by caramel and chocolate over notes. Will be better in a few years, but drinks well already, especially when paired with strong and spicy foods.
- The wine is dark and richly flavored, lots of blueberry and ultra-ripe flavors, thick and rich on the tongue. The alcohol is high, but the flavor’s quite accessible.
- 89: Deep in color and generously endowed with ripe, somewhat jammy blackberry and black pepper fruit aromas, this full-bodied, weighty wine impresses in the mouth for its full-bore, densely packed, ripe grape character and for the peppery, spicy, smoky seasonings that extend its range dramatically. Unavoidably hot in the finish (15.5% alcohol), but long and tasty as well and only moderately charged with firming tannins, this Petite Sirah drifts a bit towards the over-sized side while scoring big points for accessibility. Limited availability. Drink now to 2012 with full-flavored foods.
- Powerful wine. Big, even for a Petite Sirah. Lots of Blackberry flavor with some briary notes. Pepperiness in the background. Many foods would be overwhelmed by such a wine, but we enjoyed it with T-bone steaks given a spicy dry rub before grilling over charcoal.
Okay, I proved my point. Every wine writer has a different perspective, so to settle in on what only person says, is probably going to restrict the learning process for those not daring…
But what none of us could really envision in 2006, was what effect social media was also going to have regarding wine scores and or points. … In some ways, I saw the future; in other ways, I stepped onto a diving board and many have followed… Someone just had to dare to say it. I think if that one writer who had someone else call me and tell me, “Don’t ever call him again. He doesn’t want to talk to you,” hadn’t happened, I might never have written this story.
While at face value, this person might be judged as being a bit rude; when in fact, it was a great learning curve for me… Go where media people are friendly, and where I don’t tick them off so badly that they can’t even have a tête–à–tête with me, because I’m so objectionable. (Do I have body odor?) I honestly appreciate the lesson, because it drove me toward some really special people that have also become mutual friends, and I nurture those relationships. The importance of all wine critics have now all been a bit diluted… and social media has played an important role in the changing of the guard.