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Wine Scores as Collectibles


Rebel Rose
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Frankly I think that anyone who loves food, as most members here do, will be the sort of person to walk into a wine shop and peruse it like an Asian spice store or bustling farmer's market. "Surprise me!" you'll think. Or you'll prowl the aisles looking for something different and inviting. "Seduce me . . ."

But I think anyone who has enjoyed wine for a few years has a fair acquaintance with people who shop strictly based on scores. Of your acquaintances, how many rely 100% on the numbers? Do they collect only 85+ point wines? Only 90+ points?

What is the psychology of buying wines strictly on scores?

Should we design an intervention program? What would it be?

How many have a cellar of 70% guaranteed wines, and 30% impulse purchases? How many purchase interesting and as yet under-the-radar producers?

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Mary Baker

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Actually, I no longer worry about the scores or impules buys since I mainly buy from some small producers that I've been buying from on allocation since they started their operations and a few Bordeauxs and Rhones that I buy year in and year out. Rather than have a huge number of different producers in the cellar, I now have 5 to 10 year verticals of about 10-12 different producers, (well I still have left over one and two bottle lots from lots of producers.) Works for me. Besides, even though my son keeps saying that when I die my wine goes to him, why keep buying more wine than I drink? (Especially since my doctor has limited my wine consumption to two bottles a week.) I've cut my buying down to about 10 cases a year and now only buy from the allocation lists that I really, really like. I've added a few and dropped a lot, and some of them get great scores (like Kosta Brown) and some are not even rated. I still occasionally go out and buy something different on a whim, but I no longer go looking for those high scoring wines like I tended to do when I was younger.

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I am sure there will be some debate but this "scores" thing is, more often than not, blown way out of any reality based proportion.

First, there is often much more to a person's wine purchase decision than just a score. Most people who use scores have considered the source of the score and know something about the wine in question.

If one is "collecting" wine with an eye toward having a cellar where value (resale or legacy) is important then they would be insane not to consider scores by influential critics and tasters. Oddly many of the highly "collectible" wines are relatively immune to scores in terms of supply and demand. People who buy wine for resale with little or no intention of drinking it are in essence brokers.

Secondly, most "collectors" who are more intent on a cellar for their own drinking purposes consider scores as a part of their purchase decision. These folks pretty much know what they want and scores are simply another part of their criteria (to a greater or lesser degree).

Let's face it. Many of these wines are expensive. Most can not be tasted prior to purchase. So why not consider what someone who has tasted these wines thinks?

Again, most people who are laying out forty to a hundred bucks or more per bottle would be wise to consider what people who they trust think as part of their information base especially when there is little or no opportunity to sample these wines before laying out the money.

There are few guarantees in life and even fewer in wine.

Most people use a critic's scores as part of their body of knowledge in determining what they will buy. A novice can also use scores to learn about wine. It is always a good thing to try what so called experts think is a good example. Most will reduce the influence accordingly as they gain experience and knowledge about what they like and dislike. People often look to third part reviews before buying a car or going out to a restaurant or seeing a movie or a play--gathering opinion and information can help lead to an "informed" purchase decision.

I no of no one who buys a wine for any reason (scores or otherwise) tastes it and finds they dislike it and returns to buy more (for any reason--other than they are "investing" in the wine for resale).

A score or a review or a recommendation from a friend can help lead a person to seek out an inexpensive wine to try. So what?

Even assuming that this person has not read a review and is armed only with a score they do in fact, have the knowledge that someone with expertise has noted that the wine in question is a particularly fine example of that wine and is worth trying. They try it and determine if they like it or not. How is this any different than buying a wine on anyone's recommendation?

In fact, most novice or casual drinkers are not coming into wine shops driven by famous (or infamous) critics or writers-- they are unlikely to have even heard of these people let alone subscribed to expensive newsletters etc. What these folks often read are local or national newspaper columns (Times, Wall Street journal) of food magazines where wines are also rated and yes, scored. Their interest is piqued and they visit their local wine shop. Interestingly, most of these people are very amenable to a suggestion from a good sales person.

Finally, let's face it. Most wine shops are staffed by people who have not personally tasted every wine they sell. Scores are placed on P.O.P and on shelves (hopefully with reviews). Even upon finding that all too rare knowledgeable sales person chances are even they have not tasted the wine they are selling and is a suggestion from someone who has not tasted the wine be any more or less valuable or reliable than an opinion (even just a score) from a well informed person who has?

The customer usually figures things out for themselves.

I believe that the industry itself is far more insecure than the general public. Hence it is mostly the industry that is obsessed with scores. They plaster them all over shelves and print up POP and sales materials with them. They use them when they are good and bemoan them when they are bad. They discuss and debate them endlessly.

It is the industry (from wine maker to distributor to importer to wholesaler to retailers) who rail about scores and how it is a shame that consumers rely on them etc etc etc. then these same folks:

--- pay sales people a pittance

---plaster scores all over the place

---jack up already high prices based on a score on shelves in shops and on wine lists in restaurants.

---over sell mediocre wine based on lame (and unbelievable) hype: "Oh it is thin and sour but that is the land and the history speaking through the wine! Fifty dollars a bottle is a bargain!"

It is no wonder that critics have emerged as consumer advocates.

Perhaps the industry should stop looking at wine drinkers as pathetic sheep who can't make their own decisions and decide for themselves what criteria and information they will use.

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I've added a few and dropped a lot, and some of them get great scores (like Kosta Brown) and some are not even rated.  I still occasionally go out and buy something different on a whim, but I no longer go looking for those high scoring wines like I tended to do when I was younger.

Din, which unrated wines are you a fan of? I am always interested in learning about under-the-radar producers. Are they small production? Do they sell out quickly?

In fact, most novice or casual drinkers are not coming into wine shops driven by famous (or infamous) critics or writers . . .

John, I am sure you are right about the "mosts" and the "usuallys". But that's not what I am asking about here. What I'm asking about are the oddball, yet numerous, wine geeks who buy, own, and rate based almost entirely on scores. And for stories about them.

What got me thinking about them was a protracted conversation I had last week with a professor from Florida. The prof kept asking me for my impressions on various wines he owns or wants to buy, some of which I have tasted and some of which I have not. He was particularly insistent about one vintage of Opus One (vintage forgotten . . . I think I was starting to tune him out). I didn't want to hurt his feelings by telling him that I would rather sit on a case of duck eggs than a case of Opie, so I asked him what he thought of the wine. He's never tasted it! John, don't go off on a 5-paragraph dissertation telling me that's his right. If he wants to be a social bully and bore people about wines he owns, the man's got a responsibility to at least taste his own darn wines. After that, I started asking him what he thought of his other wines (under the guise of not having tasted them) and he hasn't tasted most of those either! This guy has got a 1200-bottle cellar (I clearly remember as he repeated the point several times) of all high scoring wines, both French and Californian (no other regions, apparently) and he knows next to nothing about what he owns. That's inconceivable to me. I'd be ripping those foils off almost as soon as the bottles arrive! :raz:

I didn't think to ask him if he considers his cellar a legacy. Maybe he does, although you would think if it were just an investment, he wouldn't be such an avid reader and follower of the wine scene. But maybe that's the answer . . .

When I asked him what he normally drinks on weekends or with friends, he just replied, "Napa cab."

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Mary Baker

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Well first of all:

Opus one IMOP (and that of others) can be a very fine wine! I am not sure what your problem with it is. Also, interestingly, I don't recall Opus One receiving a plethora of over praise and high scores. It does not seem to have some special status among collectors.

In fact, I have found many more wine geeks who put it down without having tasted it than those who buy it based only on scores or reviews. (it seems to be fashionable to slam it these days). I love the 96!

I am curious as to why you just didn't ask your professor exactly how he "sees" his cellar. Does he not drink anything from it? Maybe those "Napa Cabs" he and friends drink are from his cellar.

It is pretty odd that anyone would spend thousands of dollars anything they themselves had no interest in. Perhaps a bit more probing would reveal some additional information that would shed some light here.

I do know some people who have a small interest in wine for themselves but do have substantial cellars for entertaining purposes.

I suppose there are some folks who are just "collectors" and have latched on to wine for one reason or another.

Just as some wine geeks love to "bore" you with tales of obscure wines from tiny vineyards in wherever that they discovered and that cost fifteen dollars a bottle and their highly developed palates so too people who collect big name wines for thoudsands of dollars can bore on about the big names and big prices and big cellars. Both are IMOP insufferable snobs!

In the end though, who cares? The really great thing about these "odd balls" (in fact anyone who for whatever reason maintains a large cellar of fine wines --highly scored or otherwise) is that when they die their cellars are often auctioned off and well preserved/stored old and mature wines hit the market place!

Edited by JohnL (log)
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Maybe those "Napa Cabs" he and friends drink are from his cellar.

Probably. Although at that point, I was trying to gracefully escape . . . :rolleyes:

In the end though, who cares?

I care, and I would like to have a little fun with it. I bet there are a slew of retailers out there with some pretty good tales.

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Mary Baker

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Mary,

I'm not sure how many of my friends chase or know the scores. Fewer than there used to be, for sure. But I'd like to take this in a different direction based on a word in the title of the thread -- collectibles.

There are two main reasons for collecting wine: 1) to drink on your own years later, or 2) to sell it (hopefully at a profit). I don't see scores playng much of a role in the first reason unless you've been able to calibrate your palate to the palate of whoever is doing the schoring, and you're in pretty tight alignment. Scores play a much larger role in the second reason because potential buyers will likely be using them to help them decide whether or not to buy the wine and at what price.

If I was collecting to resell, I'd have to consider scores -- a lot. But I'm only collecting today for my own consumption, and I have no idea what score 95% of the wines in my cellar received.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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Buying and tasting based on ratings has become an increasing trend. I used to belong to several tasting groups where the focus was more on what someone else said about the wine and how great it is/was than the experience we were having with that wine in the glass.

Like food, everyone has a different palate. When people ask how to learn about wine I encourage them to try lots of regions/styles/producers to see what speaks to them. Unfortunately the rating system has made people afraid to have their own opinion about what they like.

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The reason someone might care about scores and not so much for the resale value is ego as in "I have a 1000 bottle collection of RP 100 point wines aren't I a discerning buyer of wine and therefore an all-around great person?" It can be impressive to serve these wines at a dinner party or even to just show them off in a cellar! :wink:

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

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Isn't this really an issue of the reason people cellar wine rather than the role of scores in the purchase process?--as Brad notes.

I also agree with Doc that people who collect things for whatever reasons can easily become overbearing when talking about their passions--ego really plays into this.

I just think that to bring scores into it requires assumptions that may not be on target and subject to over stating things. Scores are a legitimate issue on their own.

Scores aside, I was talking to a good friend at a tasting of 2000 Barolo we were enthusing about how good the wines were and which one's we would be purchasing and which one's we had already sitting in pour cellars.

Mid discussion, at the exact same moment we each came to the conclusion that we would very possibly be dead when many of these wines were at their peak!

We each muttered something about spending less on current vintages and opening up and drinking what we had.

Wine, more than anything can make one aware of one's mortality!

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Rebel Rose, I'm a big fan of David Dain's wines (Dain), and have been buying them since he started producing about 4 years ago, but recently they have been well reviewed in Wine Spectator. Another of my favorite Pinot producers is WesMar (another winery that I have been buying from every year since they started.) I also like and A Donkey and Goat. One of my favorite Bordeaux producers is Chateau Behere, and I don't think I've ever see a score for them. I also love Karl Lawrence, which isn't new, but does not normally submit their wines for review or scoring.

If you are looking for a syrah producer that is just starting out, see if you can get on the list for Shane Wines. New this year, they should be killer.

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Rebel Rose, I'm a big fan of David Dain's wines (Dain), and have been buying them since he started producing about 4 years ago, but recently they have been well reviewed in Wine Spectator.  Another of my favorite Pinot producers is WesMar (another winery that I have been buying from every year since they started.)  I also like and A Donkey and Goat.  One of my favorite Bordeaux producers is Chateau Behere, and I don't think I've ever see a score for them.  I also love Karl Lawrence, which isn't new, but does not normally submit their wines for review or scoring. 

If you are looking for a syrah producer that is just starting out, see if you can get on the list for Shane Wines.  New this year, they should be killer.

i tasted Shane's wines this past Friday (along w/ KB & Kutch)... delicious!!

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Er, does Shane Wines have a website? Because all I'm finding online is a high school first baseman in VA named Shane Wines . . . :blink::raz:

Seriously, should we start a thread just for under-the-radar rec's? I have a few of my own!

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Mary Baker

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Er, does Shane Wines have a website?  Because all I'm finding online is a high school first baseman in VA named Shane Wines . . .  :blink:  :raz:

Seriously, should we start a thread just for under-the-radar rec's?  I have a few of my own!

Sounds like a good idea. I remember when Quilceda Creek was under the radar! :laugh:

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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