Friday, November 21, 2008

What is a wine rating?

Oh boy, did I jump the gun with my last post. I got a few notes on Facebook and by e-mail asking some questions. Sorry about that, let me start at the beginning.

There was once a bunch of grapes. Someone left these grapes outside in a bowl in the sun for too long and the sugars in the grapes fermented and became alcohol. Since by that time humans had already found an enjoyment of alcohol (A History of the World in Six Glasses), they drank it and found it delicious or at least that it took the edge off. And so, wine was brought into the world (well, close enough anyway). Eventually, people learned how to make wine better by crushing the grapes and letting the juice ferment, leading to wonderful moments of Greek mythology and I love Lucy.

And since there has been wine there have been people who want their wine to be known as better than anyone else’s wine. There was a classification in 1855 that solidified in history the prestige of the wines in Bordeaux, all of which was simply based on the price that each Chateau charged for their product. For the time being, a wine’s quality was fixed by the prestige of the winery and had very little to do with what was in the bottle.

Then came the Judgment of Paris in 1976, where some of the top Californian wines and the top French wines were compared in a blind wine tasting by some of the most prominent wine journalists and sommeliers in France. The results staggered the wine world, as the Californian wines not only held their own but were also considered better than the French wines by some of the judges.

After that more wine critics started doing more blind tastings and considering the wines based on taste and no longer on the prestige of the winery. One of the motivators of this trend was Robert Parker, who brought the 100-point rating system into the mainstream. The point ratings are based on the educational grading system in the US (90-100 = A, 80 – 89 = B, etc.). Now Parker’s publication The Wine Advocate as well as competitors such as Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Wine & Spirits and the International Wine Cellar use this system.

So why do people get so uptight about ratings? Mostly because the financial health of any single winery can break even, go under, or have amazing success based on these ratings. I think I explained my thoughts on ratings and their impact in my last post. A wineries entire future can change depending on if it received a mediocre 89 or an impressive 90. Today’s most prestigious rating publications are The Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator, but the others are fast evening out the playing field and bloggers (hurray!) are adding a whole new twist on wine recommendations.

When it comes down to it, ratings are just one person’s opinion about a wine and I don’t think anyone has the same tastes as anyone else. There are just too many factors that can change your experience of a wine: who you are drinking with, how you are feeling (Happy? Good wine! Sad? Bad wine!), etc. So drink what you feel like drinking. If you need advice, ask someone. If they steer you to a wine you like, ask them for another recommendation. If you did not like what they sent your way, then ask someone else.

Questions? Comments? Post them below! I’d love to hear them.

I am also going to be involved in an online tasting tonight (who decides to do tastings on a Friday night??). I will let you know how it goes when I post this weekend.


Parker said...

Thank you sir. Although, no one has ever actually asked my opinion on any particular wine.

Rob Bralow said...

Last I checked your first name was Jonathan.

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