By The Glass
Spectator ratings aren’t the gospel
I read this somewhere: "Wine Spectator looked through its database of 2004 California cabernet sauvignon releases and found out that an average 87-point bottle of California cabernet costs $69."
While the insinuation may be that 2004 California cabernet is overpriced relative to quality, I have several random thoughts on this:
» While Wine Spectator and its tasters are highly regarded, remember that quantifying the quality of a wine is all subjective. What you might rate 87 points may be someone else's 93 points. It could also be someone else's 82 points. Remember when you were in school and you wrote a paper you thought would earn an A but you got a C instead? Same thing.
» In American society, we are always taught that it is No. 1 or bust. No one remembers the runner-up in a contest, nor the loser in the Super Bowl, but really how many of us in our daily lives are No. 1 in anything we do? Many successful people are not No. 1 in their chosen fields.
Which brings me back to my point. Since when is 87 points bad? Many wine consumers will only consider wines rated 90 points or above from a respected critic. I have enjoyed a lot of 85-to-89 pointers more than 95 pointers. Wine Spectator says this about its rating scale: 85 to 89, very good: a wine with special qualities. Based on that, 87 is far beyond average.
While many overpriced wines are on the market, any serious wine merchant, bar or restaurant always tries to find interesting values. And many may not ever be reviewed by a wine critic. At my store we have tons of California cabernet under $25 -- Joseph Phelps Innisfree ($19.99), Mondavi Napa ($22.99), 337 Cabernet ($13.99), Rock & Vine ($11.99), Lava Rock ($14.99) -- that drink as well as many $69 bottles.
You might recognize some names, like Phelps and Mondavi, and not others, but we see it as our job to find the values, and introduce them to people in Hawaii.
Despite the weakness of the U.S. dollar against the euro, you can still find great wines from Bordeaux that score higher than 87 points and cost less than $69. Chile is offering some great cabernets for even less than Bordeaux and California.
Wine means different things to different people. It is a virtual impossibility to get 100 people in the same room, tasting the same wine to agree on a quantitative manner to judge it.
Even among professionals you can have wide debate about the merits of a particular wine. Scores are useful as general guides, but they shouldn't be the only factor in your decision to try something. You'll have a lot more fun with wine when you realize that scores are neither universal nor definitive.
Jay Kam is president of Vintage Wine Cellar. This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org