Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Wine >
Feb 22, 2007 08:55 AM

What is meant by "Backward"?

I saw the term used in a wine review by Robert Parker and had no idea what he was referring to. Clarification, please...?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. That the wine needs more years in the cellar before it'll be ready to drink. "Closed" means the same thing.

    1. Michael Broadbent defines it as "retarded, undeveloped for its age/vintage."

      26 Replies
      1. re: carswell

        Parker uses it more loosely: "An adjective used to describe (1) a young largely unevolved, closed, and undrinkable wine, (2) a wine that is not ready to drink, or (3) a wine that simply refuses to release its charms and personality."

        Wine Spectator's definition is like Broadbent's: "Used to describe a young wine that is less developed than others of its type and class from the same vintage."

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          I should probably pay attention to what Arpy says and does but I don't.

          1. re: carswell

            I don't pay much attention to Robert Parker, since his taste is so different from mine, but the question was what he meant by the word.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              I was led to Parker's wine review when I wanted to read more about Beaucastle, as mentioned by carswell in another posting.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Just a point of information - Did you ever have a 85 plus Parker rated wine that you didnt like(not necessarily love) ?Do you compare Wine Spectator ratings with Parkers?
                I'm sure that you use your own rating system - which publically available rating system is closest to your own system? I appreciate reading your CH posts and I'm simply curious.

                1. re: drobbia

                  I've tasted lots of wines Parker rated 88 or higher that I didn't like. Most were from California or Australia. Often the people I've tasting with think they're great.

                  So many different kinds of wine are delicious in different ways that numerical ratings seem useless to me. My rating system is basically:

                  0: spit it out and rinse
                  1: take a sip or two and push the glass away
                  2: finish the glass
                  3: finish the glass and pour / order another
                  4: buy as much as I can afford

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Love your personalized rating system - I like Parker(although he loves fruit bombs,and the wine world is responding to please his ratings) and the Wine Dictator(with reservation-they take too many full page color ad's in their mag that suddenly are rated in the 90's). IMO There are just too many wines out there to taste(or afford to taste) to not trust(with noted exceptions as Parkers US and Aussie choices,for example) the main Wine raters(Parker and W.S.) just a tad. A comparison of Parker to W.S. would show that they are very close on wines they have mutually rated.
                    I do like the Decanter Mag's ratings of USA wines as those rated highly are not often advertisers.-- Ah, so many wines, so little time!!!

                    1. re: drobbia

                      RE: the WS ads vs ratings. I've found many ads (multi-page spreads) for wines that never make their various lists. I've always wondered about that. OTOH, it's common practice in mag advertising to contact someone "featured" and let them know - this is universal, and not limited to the world of food, or wine. The object of this contact is to sell more advertising. If a local mag is doing a feature on my photography, I get calls a few months out, asking if I'd like to pick up some ad space in that issue. Same for my wife's hospital.

                      Now, I'm not defending their tasting/'rating criteria. As with Parker, I've puzzeled over some of the top-rated wines, but that is just my palate.

                      The only problem, that I have, is that once a wine/wine maker makes a "Top X" list, the wine(s) is instantly sold out, and you see frenetic folk prowling the aisles with tear-out lists, hoping to find one of these. However, if I were producing a wine, I'd hope that someone would rank it very highly and that every bottle would sell. I just happen to be in another business, all together. Afterall, most are in the business to sell their wines and make enough of a profit to do it again next year. Some will sell their souls to the accountants, so that they can do a real "Reserve" bottling, that reflects their love for the vines, the earth and the wines produced from these. It's rather like the actor, who does blockbusters for millions of $, so they can do indie films, that speak to a limited audience. Someone's gotta' pay the $, unless they are legacies, or made their fortunes elsewhere. Show me the winemaker, who doesn't even know the name of his/her banker, and I'll show you someone putting ALL of their heart into their wines.


                      1. re: drobbia

                        I've tasted so many high-rated wines that I didn't want to have more than a sip of that if I pay any attention to the ratings it's as a red flag.

                        (California or Australian) + (>=14 % alcohol) + (88 or higher RP or WS rating) = >90% chance I won't like it.

                    2. re: drobbia

                      You and Wickmans are making me think I should resurrect my rating system. It's binary, with all wines being scored on a scale from 0 to 1 (0 = nope, 1 = yep).

                      1. re: drobbia

                        I'm not Robert -- obviously -- but I think anyone who has been "into" wines for a time (and/or in the wine trade) develops their own scoring system shorthand that works for them. Well, at least, I think this has been true historically, though now an ever-increasing number of people seem bent upon using the 100-point scale, even though no one can ever explain what the difference is between a score of 89 and 90 (except $10). And, of course, the 100-point scale isn't really 100 points, but only 51 and . . . .

                        Michael Broadbent uses a scale of five stars (with a very rare 6th star awarded for something truly extraordinary). Connoisseurs' Guide used to use a five-point system, too, until they succumbed to "100 point fever." (So does Robert Lauriston.)

                        Others have used a modified UC Davis 20-point system.

                        FWIW, I had a rating system I used as a wine buyer for evaluating wines for purchase for the company for which I worked. It consisted of TLAs (three-letter acronyms):

                        IFC (In-F'ing-Credible)
                        GSM (my homage to Dobie Gillis -- Good $#!+, Maynard)
                        PGS (my homage to Cheech & Chong -- Pretty Good $#!+)
                        DNS (Does Not Suck)
                        and finally, DNPIM -- which I freely admit to steeling from Bob Thompson and tweaking it (Do NOT Put In Mouth!) -- this to describe a wine that is fatally flawed, corked or otherwise utterly without socially redeeming value.

                        Then, I realized something was lacking for a wine that started out with great stuff but was ruined by a winemaking flaw that could have easily been avoided, so STW (Shoot The Winemaker).

                        1. re: zin1953

                          The "100-point scale" is actually a 50-point scale. 50 points are added to make it friendlier to wineries that make crappy wine.

                          If it were a 100-point scale, a 68-point wine would get only 34, and even naive consumers would recognize that it was an F rather than a C.


                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Robert? Didn't I say "And, of course, the 100-point scale isn't really 100 points, but only 51 and . . . ."


                      2. re: Robert Lauriston

                        I sometimes use Parker's ratings when I have no other information (past experience, personal recommendations, etc.) on which to make an informed choice. One of the wine stores I sometimes shop at puts tags with the ratings (not only Parker's, but Wine Advocate and a couple of other publications, as well) and excerpts from the reviews right on the shelf.

                        Which leads me to ask, in the absence of any other bottle-specific information, how does one make an informed wine-purchasing decision?

                        1. re: CindyJ

                          There's really no substitute for information on the particular vintage of the particular wine. In fact, there's really no substitute for *tasting* it.

                          Absent that, you can extrapolate from previous vintages of the same wine, or current or previous vintages of nearby wines, but that's always dicey.

                          A region or appellation can have a bad year (e.g. 1993 northern Rhônes, 2002 southern Rhônes), which is useful information to memorize, but you're not likely to come across such bottles at a good shop. And there are almost always exceptions.

                          1. re: CindyJ

                            The best information, Cindy, is personal -- YOUR experience, etc., etc. The second best source of information is friends and/or others who know and understand your taste -- and this includes, by the way, *informed* retailers who taste a lot more than you do. (As a retailer, I used taste anywhere from 50-200+ wines per week.) If your retailer is "worth his (or her) salt," they will take the time to listen to you, learn your likes and dislikes, and the recommendations they make will be excellent.

                            Keep in mind there are exceptions to everything . . . in wine, as well as in life. Robert's point about a bad vintage and the exceptions to it is spot on! I have had a couple of very nice 2002 southern Rhônes that I never would have tried had it not been for a retailer's recommendation. Why? Because even after 35 years of being in the wine trade, I know that a) 2002 was a bad vintage in the southern Rhône, b) I know that there would be exceptions but which wines are the exception I have no idea, and c) the retailer *did* know.

                            Hypothetically, let's say you enjoy the 2008 vintage Storrs Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay. Even with no supporting information or recommendations from others, you may want to try a) other Storrs wines, or b) other Santa Cruz Mtns. Chardonnays. Having tried (let's say) the 2008 Ridge Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello Chardonnay, perhaps you want to try one of Ridge's Zinfandels or Cabernets. From there, you might try a different Ridge Zinfandel, or a Cabernet from the same area but from a different producer,and so on and so on and so on . . .

                            Exploration is a part of the fun.

                            Publications such as The Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, etc. can be useful guides, but they are not gospel by any means. I've always found recommendations from a solid retailer to be far more accurate.

                            1. re: zin1953

                              I totally understand what you're saying, and agree with you 100% about using my own personal experiences as a guide. But there are those times when I want to try something new and different. Generally I ask the advice of a knowledgeable store employee (except, of course, if I'm shopping for wine here in PA, where the phrase "knowledgeable employee" is an oxymoron).

                              More and more I can see the importance of keeping a wine journal or notebook, and taking it with me when I shop, so I can do exactly as you're recommending, zin.

                              1. re: CindyJ

                                I'm sorry you're in PA -- that does cut back on your options.

                                Another "trick" is to seek out reliable, small importers. They are much more likely to import wines they *like* rather than wines they have to carry or wines they think others may like. Thus, if you find that you like a couple of -- say -- reasonable priced wines in PA from the Languedoc region of France, and you find both are imported by Hand Picked Selections . . . you may want to try other wines that are imported by HPS.

                                Louis/Dressner is another importer which I've found to be very reliable, as is Kysela Pere et Fils. All three can be widely found on the East Coast, including PA state stores.

                                There are many others worth recommending as well, depending upon your tastes and their availability in PA.

                                1. re: zin1953

                                  Good advice. I just bought a mixed case of Italian wines imported by Oliver McCrum because I realized I'd liked every one of his wines I have tried.

                                  1. re: zin1953

                                    I avoid shopping in the PA State liquor stores whenever possible. Fortunately, I live only 3-4 miles from the DE state line, so most of my wine shopping is done quite easily in DE. The store I shop in most frequently, Moore Brothers in Wilmington, DE, has an interesting arrangement with their importer, Petit Pois. As I understand it, the folks from Moore Bros. visit small wineries in France, Italy and Germany, and find the producers they like. Then they have their importer arrange for the shipment of these wines. In this way, they're not at the mercy of their importer for their selections.

                                    1. re: CindyJ

                                      Not quite . . .

                                      A lot of retailers will buy wines overseas and then have someone clear the shipment for them. (We used to do this for several well-known retailers in California. We were a Federally-licensed wine importer; we also did this for many private individuals.)

                                      In other cases, the retailer him-/herself will do the importing. In other words, they ARE the Federally-licensed importer. A number of retailers do this, where permitted by law. But no one is "at the mercy of their importer" unless they are owned by the importer, and that is all but illegal. (There are a few exceptions, notably where the importer has opened up a retail store -- for example Kermit Lynch in Berkeley, CA.) Non-state owned retail stores are free to buy from any state-licensed wholesaler they choose.

                                      1. re: zin1953

                                        I think we might be saying pretty much the same thing -- or, at least I was attempting to say what you said with a bit more clarity. Here's an excerpt ( that describes how Moore Bros. imports wine:

                                        Sometimes, retailers act as importers, though they are not legally allowed to directly import, except in rare situations (Kermit Lynch is one exception). “If we buy exclusively from an importer, we end up with only the wines he likes,” says David Moore, co-owner of Moore Brothers Wine Company in Pennsauken, N.J. So David, his brother Gregg (a former sommelier) and their staff spend a combined six months every year seeking out small producers in France, Italy and Germany. When they find “interesting wines that reflect the culture and tradition of a region,” the wines are imported by an independent company, Petit Pois Corporation, based in Merion, Pa.

                                        1. re: CindyJ

                                          Right. We *are* saying the same thing. The only "exception" I have with David Moore's comment (“If we buy exclusively from an importer, we end up with only the wines he likes") is that no store I know of in the US buys all their wines from one importer or from one wholesaler (who would generally represent several importers). The exception is a store like Kermit's, which is the retail outlet of a wine importer.

                                          1. re: zin1953

                                            A quick peek at about 9 different bottles sitting here, all purchased from Moore Bros., all show Petit Pois as the importer. An unscientific sampling, I'll admit. Coincidence..? Maybe. I'll ask about this when I'm in the store next week.

                                            1. re: CindyJ

                                              I think that is their importer. All shipped (and stored in the shop) at 56 deegrees. Don't you love their selection of Loire and Champagne? I have not had a Chinon/Bourgueil from Moore Bros that wasn't excellent, interesting, and unique. Made me into a cab franc fanatic. The 02 Olivier & Anne-Marie Rion Burgundy is also a great value.

                    3. Just to add . . .

                      Wines evolve as they age, but not in a straight line. They evolve in a series of "peaks and valleys," if you will. When a wine is "open," "accessible," and/or "forward," it is delicious, enjoyable and tasty. It may be described as at a (but not necessarily "the") peak. Then, wines tend to "close" up -- they are "backward," "inaccessible" -- and if opened during this stage, will be nowhere near as aromatic, flavorful or enjoyable as they would have been a month or two ago (when it was "open"), nor as it will be with additional aging . . .

                      13 Replies
                      1. re: zin1953

                        Wow! The more I learn about wine, the more I realize I don't know. You folks are an incredible resource. I'm so glad I discovered you. Thanks!

                        1. re: CindyJ

                          Let's add one more term, often seen, "dumb," i.e. "the wine is going through a 'dumb' stage." Same thing as the "valleys" in above posts.


                        2. re: zin1953

                          Zin, now I'm a tad confused. I thought a 'backward' wine was one drank prematurely. As you describe it, I sense a 'backward' wine is one past its peak -- past its prime. (Read: Just give up on it -- unsalvageable). Am I understanding this correctly...or is the wine experiencing as you put it, a 'valley', and needs more time?

                          1. re: Cheese Boy

                            Take a hypothetical wine, tasted over its lifetime, by one taster (or the composite of many tasters) and its "development" might look something like the attached chart.
                            Hope that it helps,

                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                              Some big wines meant for aging are sort of drinkable for a year or two after release, then close up and taste like nothing for a few years. That's a dumb phase. Barbera is often that way: palatable for a year, tasteless for five, lovely for two or three.

                              Other wines are closed and undrinkable on release and stay that way until they're approaching maturity. Great Bordeaux and Rhones are often like that. (A tasting of new releases of eight of the top Rhone reds was one of the most unpleasant tasting experiences of my life!)

                              Others are drinkable on release and get better until their peak. Barbaresco's often like that.

                              Sometimes the winemaker goes overboard and the wine is so tannic that it never reaches a balanced peak. When old those wines can have nice aroma and an interesting leather and tobacco flavor, but they're never as delicous as a wine from a more balanced vintage would be.

                              I've never heard of a wine going through a dumb phase after its peak. So far as I know it's always a gradual decline.

                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                Bill, the visual helped clarify what I was inquiring about. The chart clearly reveals that a wine experiences TWO dumb stages during its lifetime -- one is before its prime and one is after its prime. The wine's decline only occurs after its *second* backward phase. Thanks for helping clear that up. : )

                                1. re: Cheese Boy

                                  Oops, not necessarily. The chart was to show general ups and downs and is not reflective of any one wine. Yeah, it can have many more ups/downs, and they can come along the way at any point. Robert was correct to point out that once a decline has begun, it's usually pretty much a fall. I've had Ports, that went through several minor peaks and valleys after what I (notice that it's really based on the taster's perception and palate) would have declared its peak. With some wines, it's up, peak, then down. Sometimes, those slopes are pretty steep. With others, it's like an audio wave, up, down, up, down, who knows.

                                  I did not mean to convey that the graph was typical of any particular wine, and Robert might well have been correct to cite that. It can happen as I showed, but it was meant to be VERY general. Please don't try to extrapolate any trend in any wine from it. Sorry if I misled you in any way.

                                  A wine may well have two, or more, "dumb" stages, and they may come anyplace in the development curve.


                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                    I don't think that chart is realistic. I've never encountered or heard of a wine that through a dumb phase after its peak. I can't think what chemistry would cause such a phase.

                                  2. re: Cheese Boy

                                    A wine can have MANY peaks and valleys -- not just one or two.

                                    Tpically I find what people generally describe as THE peak (i.e.: the wine will never get better than this) is not really a peak at all, but rather a plateau which it holds for some time. After it begins to decline, it will never return to its former heights, BUT there is usually one last "hurrah" (think of a leaf falling from a tree in autumn; as it drifts inexorably downward, it may flip, turn upside-down and actually go up a tiny bit but it invariably does hit the ground).

                                    1. re: zin1953

                                      Thank you for everyones input. I hope most of us have experienced fine wines during their prime. Cheers.

                                      1. re: zin1953

                                        These ideas are really interesting and certainly plausible, but I have a hard time understanding how all of it could possibly work in practice. To monitor the peaks and valleys of a wine's life, one would have to have a case or two and open a bottle at regular intervals, or perhaps two bottles, to confirm that the new dumb phase isn't just a flawed bottle. Do you have a lot of friends and associates keeping track and keeping you updated on various wines' progress? I have heard that Burgundy drinkers do just that. An extremely expensive hobby.

                                        1. re: kenito799

                                          It's much easier than you think -- as long as you begin with the realization that it's an educated "guesstimate," which is a lot better than a WAG . . .

                                          YES, you need to taste and/or read a lot, but it's not necessary to taste through 11 bottles just to -- at long last -- open the last bottle of the case at just the right moment.

                                          As I said, it's an "educated guesstimate." And it's the same thing that winemakers do. For instance, just as a winemaker will -- early on in the process -- think that this 2015 growing season and harvest is very reminiscent of the 2009, and adjust his or her winemaking accordingly (as opposed to the very different 2010 season), most experienced wine *drinkers* do the same thing. It starts when they take into account their purchases ("Ooh, this vintage of ___________ [insert wine type here] is the best since 2009! Better buy lots!"). It continues with their drinking patterns -- this 2014 vintage tastes reminiscent of the 2010, and since 2010 was an *early maturing* vintage, so too will 2014 . . . probably. On the other hand, 2016 reminds one of the 2008, and that vintage matured quite slowly and so, the same is probably true for 2016.

                                          Thus, these "peaks and valleys" are -- within reason -- somewhat predictable. Not exactly, of course, because much depends upon one's own cellar condition, the storage conditions at the retailer from which you purchasd the wine, how far the wine has travelled and the conditions under which the wine travelled, and so on and so on. So allowances are made, "guesstimates" are adjusted, and sometimes you "hit" it and sometimes you don't.

                                          But it's nowhere near as difficult as you may think.

                                          * * * * *

                                          >>> . . . the new dumb phase isn't just a flawed bottle<<<

                                          THAT'S easy.

                                          A flawed bottle is just that. A wine in a dumb stage or backward phase is not flawed. In other words, it's not corked; it doesn't smell of hydrogen sulfide or mercaptans; it's not filled with VA or EA; it's not any of those things or countless other possible flaws.

                                          A wine in a dumb stage is just that -- dumb. So if it is a wine or grape variety known for being, for instance, highly aromatic -- and it isn't . . . it's probably in a backward phase. If it's generally a wine that displays lots of fruit -- and it isn't . . . And so on.

                                          1. re: kenito799

                                            Generally the progression is fairly simple:

                                            - not ready to drink, hold
                                            - drinkable but not at its peak, better to hold
                                            - at peak, drink at will
                                            - declining, drink up
                                            - over the hill

                                            Online tasting notes are helpful in getting an idea of where in that sequence a particular older bottle might be.