For the average wine consumer, it is hard to walk into a wine store or the wine section of a market and make purchases without much guidance. This is why, most of the time, consumers stick with what they like. The other obvious alternative is to buy wines by points assigned to them by popular rating entities. Ah – the world of points…
While making purchases based on points in itself may not be a bad way to go, there are certain pitfalls. I would advise consumers to first calibrate their taste with a certain rating organization’s points. You can do this simply by taking notes on how much you like the wine compared to how highly rated it was by the entity. If you are the more discerning type, your notes can be more detailed, such as the fruit and non-fruit properties you get from the wine, the structural elements such as acid, tannins, and alcohol, and so on. Soon you will have a reasonable number of wines you will have consumed where you can correlate your own level of like/dislike of the wine with the points assigned.
This will tell you if you generally agree with the ratings (if the wines you like are rated highly), if you do not, or, if it is not conclusive (if you like half and dislike the other half of wines rated highly). Now these results can help you decide if that particular rating works for you. If not, you know not to pay a premium for it.
Understand that wine appreciation is a HIGHLY subjective matter. What one likes is often not what someone else likes. So pinning one’s purchases purely on points is folly! I always cringe when I read studies where academics like to prove that “experts” really could not tell which wines were more expensive or had high points assigned to them. First of all – I consider tasting experts as those who are credentialed by the industry (Sommeliers, MSs, MWs), or others that by virtue of being in the industry over time continuously taste and rate wine over long periods of time. I do not necessarily consider someone that has a huge cellar with expensive bottles and has drank wine all his life – an expert.
Sommeliers and other experts often disagree with points assigned or the prices charged for certain kinds of wines. What an expert should be able to do is to be able to differentiate ‘quality’ from ‘personal taste’. I should be able to objectively state that a certain wine, though low in acid, high in alcohol and fruit, and not my taste, is well made and of good quality. This is what most points systems do not do. But as long as they are consistent, and you know what they like, you are tuned in and can use that lens to make the buying decisions.
A great way to explore, other than diligently following this column of course, is to take time to go to specialized wine stores and ask. Ask to explore a region or varietal you do not know – go home, uncork, enjoy, and make a note. Repeat process.
Until next time – continue exploring!!!
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