News alert! 90+ is the new 85

 

 

Happy days are here again, but wait…we aren’t talking about people. And really, people before you pop the Champagne, 90 being the new 85 isn’t such a hot prospect.

However, for wine producers/importers, and sales reps, this is positive news.

For those on the other end, the wine consumer with the app and the credit card, well put the bubbly back in the fridge because the news is not so good.

A definite trend in the wine world is that the majority of wine critics, reviewers,somms, bloggers, or anyone else rating wines by a 100 point system are over-rating wines, relaxing their standards, or just being plain old whores.

(My apologies in advance to anyone offended by my use of the word “plain.”)

It may be a coincidence but when 17 out of 25 Sauvignon Blancs reviewed scored 90, I was mystified. Before me was the November 30th, 2016 issue of The Wine Spectator and it also reviewed 12 Syrahs and a remarkable 11 rated 90 points.

In the category of “Other California Reds,” 19 wines were reviewed and 13 were rated 90 points. Not one was an 89.

A few days later, I tasted under $15 red wines and three of them, when unveiled, came with scores of 90 points on the market materials.Wow! And I had all three at 85-86.

The Tilia Malbec has a neck label with 90 points in bold letters from Robert Parker, and the 2010 Vina Cumbrero Rioja wore a Wine Spectator neck label with 90 points in red. Finally, the 2014 Garnacha de Fuego had a gold sticker saying Josh Raynolds scored it 90 points in Vinous.

Examining the label details, I saw that Raynolds actually rated the 2015, not the 2014, and the Tilia label explained that the 90 points were somehow associated with the “last 4 vintages.”

If nothing else these discrepancies confirmed that the 90+ point score is important enough for reinterpreting the truth.

Here’s my main point: as a cop-out, compromise, many reviewers are awarding average to very good quality wine a 90 point score because that is a safe score that will appease the wine trade.The 90+ is something that can be used for promotions. And obviously, will get the reviewer’s names in print.

A score of 89 or lower is unacceptable and unpromotable. Why this is true is anyone’s guess. This is the age of hype, over-achievers, and personal bests. You are either an A student or not. Winners or losers.

And the online retailers I track daily are the most blatant examples of this fixation on 90+ points. Many have a sort by 90+ points as a category.

For example, Wine.com lists 1,575 “90+ wines under $50.”

But, why is any of this important to wine consumers/shoppers?

Let’s begin with the 100 point system. When the Wine Spectator’s editors break down their ratings, a wine rated 85 to 89 is considered to be a “Very Good Wine with special qualities.” To this former English teacher, that should identify highly attractive wines. Wines that buyers should be checking out.

The 100 point system, which was never perfect, is now falling apart and failing. It is failing as a consumer guideline.

Wines in the 90-94 point range, explains the Spectator, are “Outstanding, of superior character and style.” The 3 reds from my tasting did not fit that description at all. The 2010 Vina Cumbrero was a great value which to its credit,The Wine Spectator noted.

Consumers are getting misleading and unreliable information. Some 90 or 91 point wines are way over-rated, pushed into that bracket. Conversely, some very good low-priced, great value wines are being ignored because they are rated below 90.

Either way, critics/reviewers are not doing their job.

The online wine merchants are totally obsessed with point scores. If there’s no 90 or higher score for a particular wine from the dozen or more reviewers, they will often talk about the vintage if it has a 90 rating.

So every CA Cab from 2013 and 2014 or Oregon Pinot from 2014 will be hyped, if possible. Already, the hype is on for every 2015 Bordeaux!

As things now stand, I dont think Robert Parker who elevated the 100 point rating system and promoted himself through it would argue that the system is failing. Failing from abuse, overuse, or simply because it was flawed from the beginning and survived on the basis of his sheer bravado.

Would he personally agree these two wines rated by his new team are “outstanding, and superior?

90 points Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

The grapes of the 2014 (Tilia) Malbec were harvested very early and 70% of them fermented using carbonic maceration. The freshness is so impressive that I had to look at the alcohol level, which is half a degree lower than in the fresher 2013 vintage! There are some herbal aromas (think raspberry leaf), bright cherries and flowers, even lilies. The palate is very tasty, with some subtle bitter flavors, fine tannins and very good acidity. This is a triumph over the vintage. Bravo! This should be readily available, as they produced 500,000 bottles of it. And it’s one of the best values in Argentina too! (LG) (8/2015)

90 Points Wine Advocate:

“The forward, fruity and straight-up delicious 2015 Crozes Hermitage Equinoxe offers a forward, medium+ bodied style, as well as sweet, light tannin, lots of plum and strawberry fruits, solid mid-palate depth and no hard edges.”

Really, raspberry leaf and lilies in one; forward and fruity in the other.

Neither sounds outstanding to me.

At best, an 85.

 

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