Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The 50 Point Wine

Many who search out the pinnacle of wine perfection chase the myth in wines given a perfect score, 100 points! On the other end of the scale are the wines that never seem to be talked about, those that fall below the cutoff score that signifies a recommended wine, below 84-85 points for Robert Parker or 75 points for Wine Spectator. But the true bottom of the wine barrel is 50 points in the 100 points scoring system. A wine scores 50 points just for being liquid in a bottle.

Do 50 point wines exist? It is difficult to get any definitive numbers because non-recommended wines are rarely described in any detail by wine critics. Why? Well in the case of Robert Parker they make up some 65-75% of the wines he tastes. Recording the tasting notes, or even just the scores, for those wines would consume a significant amount of space in any publication, hardcopy or otherwise. This is a blessing for winemakers because the wine buying public never learns that certain wines have achieved non-recommended status. Of course it is possible that a wine does not receive a recommended score because it was not submitted for review, which leaves the wine buying public even further in the dark about the quality of a winery’s portfolio.

Enter the enthusiastic amateur wine critic or, as we are known these days, the wine blogger. Wine bloggers, it seems, will drink pretty much everything and then they will blog about it. Why? Well most of us are not occupied in the wine trade full-time. Wine is our passion, not our mistress; although there may be some to whom it is a passionate mistress. Wine bloggers are willing to experience the spectrum of wine and comment on the knowledge gleaned to the world of cyberspace. We are an information conduit to the masses yearning to gather bits and bytes of wine knowledge at the click of a Google enquiry.

And if you Google Graeme Miller Wines you will find a 50 point wine courtesy of a wine blogger. Cam Wheeler of Appellation Australia gave 50 points to the 2005 Graeme Miller Wines (Yarra Valley) Rosé. According to what is fast becoming legend Cam tasted the wine at the Victorian Winemaker Exhibition 2006. He commented at the tasting that he thought the wine had a problem but was told (by the winery owners) that the wine was sound; no additional bottles were opened to confirm the quality of the wine. Cam posted his, rather apologetic, tasting note on his blog; how else do you write a 50 point score? Several months later he received a short, terse email threatening legal action if the tasting note was not removed! Further emails have passed back and forth between Cam and the winery and their content can be found here. Needless to say Cam has not removed the tasting note.

What does all this say about wine bloggers and their critiques of wines? Should we be like the Parkers' and Wine Spectators' of this world and not describe those wines that fall below a certain score? Hardly. As Cam notes on his blog the wine in question was tasted by others and found wanting, severely wanting. The consensus seems to be that its not a wine that should be recommended. It will be interesting to see what the established critics make of this wine. If no recommended scores appear then Cam will have done us a service by putting a score out there for us to see. And that is one thing that wine bloggers should do, assume the role of the long abdicated consumer advocate, and talk about the wines that should not be recommended.

Still, I’m intrigued about this 50 pointer. I don’t know that I have ever had one. Well maybe some of the stuff from around the Great Lakes that is made from the native American grapes, or perhaps from Virginia. But no, some of those may be 60-70 pointers. Fifty points is in a class of its own. I have a feeling that sales of this wine might just increase with all the internet discussion. Will they export? 50 points, there is a real marketing gimmick there, especially if they can get Robert Parker to agree with Cam’s score.

6 comments:

Cam Wheeler said...

Mike,

Thanks for the support.

I think there is one other advantage that bloggers have, in most cases we are not dependant on continually receiving samples from wineries in order to actually make a living through reviewing wine. That gives us certain freedoms in regards to what we are able to say. I'm sure some wineries hate the idea of these independant critics publishing their views on the internet, but those making good wine have nothing to worry about.

If there is a worse wine than the one I tasted I don't want to know about it.

GollyGumDrops said...

I think I once had a wine that would earn 50 points, it was a Bulgarian red and cost the same as a 2 litre bottle of Coke. It was nasty, but we were students and we'd paid for it. We added orange juice, sugar and ice - and bought another bottle the next week!

Alder said...

When I first started Vinography, I decided I was going to be different from all those magazines and review EVERY wine, even the crappy ones.

But I quickly realized two things:

1. There are a lot of mediocre and lousy wines out there -- so many that a large portion of my time and energy would be spent reviewing wines that I was telling people not to drink.

2. Readers want to know what to buy, not what NOT to buy. Sure, they appreciate a warning off of something hideous, but most of the time they're looking for recommendations, and have little patience for wading through long lists of stuff they're being told to pass over.

Mal said...

Mike

Great piece!! I think you are actually onto something. I would like to try it just to see what a 50 point wine is like (maybe they should send Parker a sample) - but I must admit, I don't think I want to pay for a bottle of the stuff!

When it is all said and done, I can't see Miller taking legal action (if he has at least a halfway decent lawyer) because he hasn't got a case.

I actually think Miller will be happy about the controversy because he is probably looking at his hit counter and thinking that he has never had as much traffic.

Mike said...

Alder

Thanks for the comment. You raise interesting points. I’m sure these are the main reasons why many critics restrict their published comments to recommendations rather than complete assessments of a winery’s portfolio. Robert Parker, for example, only recommends about 30% of the wines he tastes from Australia. That means that 70% of the wines do not suit his palate. Are all 70% poor wines? I seriously doubt it. Should wine bloggers taste the other 70% and report their finding? No. For most of us this is an avocation rather than a profession. But my feeling is that we should make the best attempt we can to comment on all the wines we feel are of interest to our readers. More importantly fair and honest comments on poor wines not only serve to warn the consumer but they also put the winemaker/winery on notice that an inferior product has not gone unnoticed in a public arena.

A more serious problem is that most wine drinkers actually do consume wine that is closer to 50 points than 100 points. I’m talking about the wine drinker who buys his/her (inexpensive) wine from the non-specialist wine stores or supermarkets. Most of these folks drop by the store to get a bottle of wine for their dinner. The last time I purchased wine in a supermarket there were no shelf talkers or any sort of recommendation, and the wines were mostly unfamiliar to me. Less than $10/bottle is not the price range I normally buy to taste. But there is a niche there that could be filled by wine bloggers, that is before Robert Parker occupies it as he has suggested he may do!

Mike

Mike said...

Mal

Thanks for the comment. Parker does have 7 wines on his site that have received 50 points. He may have given more wines the big five-oh but he now only puts recommended wines on his site; there are over 71,000 scored wines on the site. One of the 50 pointers is the 1965 Mouton-Rothschild which he notes "Because of its "educational value," I was willing to put this wine in my mouth. I just had to see what might be there given the frightful smell.". So both Cam and Graeme Miller are in exhaulted company!

Mike