Monday, March 23, 2009

A question of points

William Tish (known as Tish), at, made a comment on one of my recent posts. The post was about my experience at Total Wine and Tish had a question about what I found more influential, cards that list the number of points that the wine received or the personal notes that were written by the staff.

I started replying to the thread and before I knew it I had a whole blog post written. So instead of just posting it as a comment I thought I would post is as an article and let others see it and respond as they see fit.

Tish’s comment was:

Are you for real about the points? Why do numbers impress you? And if one rating comes from WS and another from RP and another from IWC, doesn't that make you wonder what they ratings they did NOT post were? I have been to Total Wines in several states, and have always been WAY more impressed with the hand-written shelf talkers that consciously avoid ratings.

And now the response:

Hey Tish, thanks for the comment!

I think that's because you have a strong bias against ratings to begin with. I agree that it made me think about what the other publications gave the wines that had ratings tags, or why there weren't ratings on every wine. But they were names I trusted. Perhaps it is the special position I have in the industry, but if Michael Schachner at WE rates a wine or Josh Raynolds from the IWC I have a higher chance of buying that wine because I have tasted wines they have rated and I have agreed with their ratings (for the most part).

And do not get confused between trusting and being impressed. I am not impressed about which wines are rated what, it is simply a matter of trust. I trust wines that have the names of WS, WE, W&S, IWC, WA associated with them. And why shouldn’t I? That is why these publications exist! However, I trust my own taste buds MUCH more!

Which brings me to the point about the staff at the store. I don't know them, and I do know that the main goal of the storeowner and staff is to sell wine. Sure they have the incentive to recommend a good wine so that I come back for another recommendation, but because I have not tasted with them I do not know if I should trust their recommendation.

It would be much different if I visited Total Wine regularly and got to know the staff and taste with them during their free in-store tastings, but since it was a one time visit (and maybe again in the future if I get back there) I trust names I know.

At the end of the day, I did not buy a single wine that I knew was highly rated unless I had already tasted it. I purchased wines from producers I had little experience with or regions that I had not tasted as thoroughly as I had others. I completely ignored the signs left by the staff and made my own choices on whatever criteria my brain came up with that day. I might have been buying with a few articles that I had read in mind, or perhaps a wine by the glass I had at a wine bar that someone had recommended that I found enjoyable. But I still found it comforting to know that there were wines that were rated there.
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