Why don’t you rate wines?
I have been asked several times why when I’m reviewing or writing about wines, why I don’t offer them a score or a numerical rating. Aside from not being a really efficient numbers person – maths has never been my strong suit – I don’t score wines because I want to make wine accessible, relatable and easier to appreciate.
For me, wine is subjective. Every wine is different, and so is every person and their preferences and tastes. Our collective experiences in life are also different, this means that in the grand evolution of our wine tasting palates, some people are old and wise whilst others are naive and frivolous – irrespective of our physical age.
Some of us never change… Our hair, our clothes… our wine. This is why there is a still strong market for sweet fizz and why they still make Moselle. It also explains why some people still get a perm and kept their denim jackets in case they come back in fashion! (heads up they are everywhere in the USA so they might be back next season!)
Fashion and fads
Everybody and I mean everybody must be drinking Sauvignon Blanc right now. It is so in fashion right now. The Sauvignon Blanc aisle at Liquorland is strangely the centre of the bottleshop universe. But why? With all their wines, the range is still limited and there are only select few I would consider purchasing. I asked Hunter Valley legend Karl Stockhausen about his opinion on fads and trendy wines for my last article. He said generally consumers flock to obvious characters in wines. What I find annoying (cloying green passionfruit) in Sauvignon Blanc, the normal everyday consumer recognises as delightfully obvious. The same went for over oaked Chardonnay. Over done, and overly obvious.
Karl also told me a story about a more recent line up of winemakers and Sauvignon Blancs for a wine magazine. After tasting all of these wines, though technically well made, none of the experienced palates of these winemakers actually personally liked any of the Sauvignon Blancs. Makes you think doesn’t it?
Biggest selling variety right now and the people making it don’t even like to drink it? It reaffirms everyone’s different and this way you and I never have to share!
I like to go home and drink Chardonnay but that doesn’t mean I don’t have the technical skill to evaluate and appreciate how well made or technically correct a Cabernet Franc, or Chenin Blanc is. It just means that when I’m at home in the privacy of my living room, the first thing that takes my fancy is a good old Chardonnay!
On our recent trip to the USA all we really drank was Chardonnay! Flicking through our photo album has been like, “this is us in San Francisco (drinking Chardonnay), oh and here we are in Vegas (that was a lovely Chardonnay)…check out the wonderful Chardonnay we bought in New York!”
I find Chardonnay to be complimentary to whatever choose to burn for dinner, and it’s a great match with tacky reality television. The irony is I have always preached the importance and value of wine matching to food in the formal arena, but even I take the low fuss road and enjoy what is in the fridge. Everything goes with Chardonnay!
My Chardonnay doesn’t judge me or my remote control in my Pajamas, and I don’t score or rate how perfect or imperfect my Chardonnay is. We have a great thing going on.
Surely a wine covered in golds is the best….
When you see a wine rated a certain number of points or boasting various stickers of golds or medals, there are certain things that that wine had to be scored upon that appeal to a wine judge. First, usually the wine is submitted to the writer or the wine show. Mostly, wine shows charge the winery to submit per wine, per category of style they wish to enter. It can be a costly process. They give the wine a number, and rate colour, clarity, aroma, palate, length of palate, acid balance, fruit, varietal definition and style against benchmarks and wine faults.
The score is added up and all scores are assessed and scaled against gold silver and bronze. The scores will determine how many medals are given in that category. They could all be bronze. Or none could rank high enough for a medal at all. If there are multiple golds, points determine a top gold and if the wine is deemed spectacular enough, a trophy is awarded. Really, it’s the trophies you want. Most wineries have a filing cabinet full of bronzes and silvers and this is why it’s not overly exciting to see the shiny sticker on the bottle. And trust me, it’s not exciting to have to be the person who sticks those on straight on every bottle. I did that on a labeling line through high school!
Just because James Halliday or the Royal Hobart Wine Show says its a gold, 5 star or a 95 point wine doesn’t mean you’ll even like it. It comes back to personal preferences and palate experience. I know a wine, a Hunter Semillon, that kept winning the trophy at various shows. Technically brilliant, faultlessly interesting. Great acidity, hints of minerality, good length of palate, flawlessly developing honeyed characters and mellowing off as bottle age took hold. The general consumer would taste it and say “very tart” and pull a face. They weren’t talking about me! Their palates were simply not ready for it, nor should they have to wait for the right food (delicious with the right food). The average joe would have rated this multiple trophy winner 1/5.
Back to me
So if I rated or scored a wine, should it be because I liked it personally, or should it be because it was faultlessly made or technically correct, or both? Neither. Just because the experts say its good doesn’t mean you’ll like it. And just because you like it doesn’t mean it’s a well made wine. But who really cares as long as you like it (and it’s Australian grown and made! No more NZ rubbish!)
You can’t even take my professional opinion seriously anymore because you know I went half way across the world and had my Chardonnay Tour, then came home and had some more! I suggest everyone read up on wine, sample as many different wines and styles and regions as possible until you find something you love. And I promise I do venture away to other styles and varieties occasionally!
The moral of this story is a “good glass of wine” doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as a “glass of good wine”. But ultimately, I enjoy both and so should you!