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Wine Spectator Ratings.......

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  • tito Sep 14, 2010 06:26 PM
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Love it or hate it....we all read the WS.

I for one, always turn to the ratings pages in the back and see "what is hot" that month.

I DO NOT purchase wines based on the WS scores, but it is always fun reading. I do however, for the most part agree with the ratings if I drink something that they have reviewed.

A few years back I purchased a 2003 Simi Cab Alexander Valley. before drinking it, i couldn't help to look it up and WS gave it an 82.

When I opened the wine I thought it was much better than an "82". . Tonight I opened another and the wine is not just good, it is awesome!!

Yes, it is 7 years old now and has revealed alot more with age. Is WS too quick to pull the trigger??

Does the WS influence your purchases? How often has everyone out there disagreed with the WS after tasting a wine??

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  1. The thing about WS ratings, or any ratings for that matter, is that they are really only valid for that wine on the day it was tasted. Wines evolve and change in the bottle, so the review from 6 months ago may have little relevance to today. I have had a very similar thing happen to me - a Santa Maria Valley Pinot which I loved was rated an 82 or 83. Obviously the reviewer caught the wine on a bad day because the wine absolutely rocked when I had it.

    And for another glaring example, WS panned the 07 Willamette Pinot Noirs early on, but those who waited for the wines to mature in the bottle were rewarded with a terrific vintage. Every 07 I've tried (and I've tried a LOT) that had at least a year in bottle was fantastic. Just goes to show that WS is merely a guide, not a bible.

    1 Reply
    1. re: orlwine

      I had a WS experience that was completely opposite! When the 1988 Mouton Rothchild came out, they raved about it and gave it a perfect 100!! So I bought a few. As the wine matures, the rating started to come down. Now, not only was this wine no where near perfection, it has dropped to a merely good 88-90 ( RP-WS ). After learning my lesson, I now refer to at least 4-5 sources ( Decanter, Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson...etc ) before pulling the trigger!

    2. we all read the WS ??

      Other wine forums are full of people who have stopped.

      Orlwine's first sentence says it all.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Gussie Finknottle

        Who they kiddin!!!! Oh they read it all right..........the WS is like a bad accident on the interstate......as much as you don't want to......you just gotta look!!!!!

        1. re: tito

          Speak for yourself. When I first started collecting wines I read the Wine Spectator but quickly came to realize that it was a lifestyle magazine more than a wine magazine, that its collective palate was skewed toward big, internationalized wines and that much of the advice it gave was laughably bad (e.g. drinking windows). Would guess that the last issue I bought was in the mid-'90s. I doubt I've even leafed through an issue since the turn of the century.

          1. re: carswell

            "it was a lifestyle magazine more than a wine magazine"

            Even much less!

            It's worth re-reading the celebrated WS "Awards" fiasco not too long ago:

            http://www.winesandvines.com/template...

      2. I used to read them and I still consider them when the ratings are included where I buy wine, but I don't necessarily hold much stock in them. Here are my reasons:
        1. I typically cannot find the wines that are highly rated
        2. Once they get the rating they are typically out of my price range.
        3. It is subjective and I found that my tastes did not coincide with their evaluators.

        Since I live in Washington State I have access to a lot of quality wine that WS will never taste so I typically just try a lot of different wines. It is always disappointing when one of my favorites ends up highly rated in WS and then becomes too expensive.

        1. I don't read WS. Not with any regularity, and I put little to no stock in not only their ratings, but anyone else's other than my friends and colleagues. I'm more interested in what I think of the wine.

          There are those who feel that WS often takes into consideration other factors than the taste of the wine they are sampling when reviewing.... for example, they look at the dollars the wine's owners spend on advertising in WS before they assign a rating. I'm not saying that is so, just that it is a point of contention among many wine people.

          1. I tend to drink Italian wines mostly, and James Suckling's career is marked by his promotion of and preference for a globalized style and the use of non indigenous varietals in Italy. For myself, his legacy has negatively impacted Italian wine making and my personal enjoyment of wine. Yes, he's "retired" now, but his opinions are those I most associate with WS.

            At the end of the day, I understand this is a disagreement over personal preferences. If you love excessively ripened cabernet sauvignon primarily aged in new French oak barriques, then why shouldn't Italian winemakers pull up all the Sangiovese vines, chuck all their old Slovenian oak barrels, and try to appeal to your palate? I'd say because we'd be losing a hugely important part of human culture, and replacing truly elegant wines reflecting a wide diversity of place with soulless, homogenized juice. But, of course, that's just my opinion.

            Nonetheless, for me, Suckling personifies the most negative impact of the (mostly US) wine consumers' slavish following of the critical establishment. And, so, Suckling/WS are irrelevant to me in terms of their opinion when I select wine, but excessively relevant in an almost wholly negative way in terms of the legacy of wine.

            5 Replies
            1. re: Ricardo Malocchio

              Bravo--well said.

              My enjoyment of a wine is generally inversely proportional to its WS/WA rating.

              1. re: Ricardo Malocchio

                Thomas Matthews similarly sniffs after extracted internationally styled Riojas, and clearly does not appreciate the traditional style (except, with some measured words of approval for Lopez Heredia.)

                1. re: Ricardo Malocchio

                  I observed something disheartening in Italy this last March, the wine shops were prominently displaying the WS ratings and promoting them over the Gambero Rosso and other Italian reviews. Evidently, the Italian customers are starting to follow these ratings.

                  1. re: BN1

                    Check this out. Suckling's wine. The favorite of King's and Pope's. I almost thought it a hoax:

                    "Called One Wine One World, Suckling created it on a whim. ‘I wanted to blend Californian and Mexican wine,’ he told Decanter.com, ‘and then I thought, Why not make it a political statement – why not make a global wine?’ The red is a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault from Roussillon, Zinfandel, Grenache and Petite Sirah from Mexico, and Cabernet Franc from Wente Vineyards in California. The white contains Ribolla Gialla from Slovenia, Friulano and Pinot Grigio from Italy, and Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc from Hungary."

                    http://www.decanter.com/news/wine-new...

                    A political statement, indeed.

                    Again, I know - personal preference and all that. Suckling's globalized, homogenized approach, although utterly misguided to my mind, is non objectionable except to the extent that it displaces centuries of winemaking expressing unique terroirs and varietal typicity. And that's exactly what's happening, largely as a result of attempts by winemakers to appeal to the palates of influential reviewers like Suckling and tap into that lucrative market that his opinions influence and move.

                    Why anyone would prefer an Italian "bordeaux blend" in the global style with gobs of new oak over a traditionally made Barolo or Brunello aged in old Slovenian casks is something I'll never understand. But some people certainly do. And this has seemingly created great anxiety among Italian winemakers, many of whom are clumsily aping this globalized style that so appeals to Suckling.

                    Barbera growers in Piemonte are intervening to reduce the high, palate-cleansing acidity traditional to these wines - and which makes them so food friendly - and applying new oak regimens that cover up that grape's inherent sour berry/dark fruit typicity with toast, toffee, mocha and vanilla. It's the wine making equivalent of dumping those harsh, artificial tasting syrups in your cappuccino, Starbucks-style. Obviously, many Starbucks customers prefer this. I'd wager it's those who don't exactly like the flavors of coffee.

                    Or consider our own RicRios' "Strange case of a case of 1999 Clerico Barolo Percristina" http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7325... Here we have a wine from one of the great traditional Piemonte winemakers from one of the 2 or 3 best Barolo vintages of that strong decade. It should have aged gracefully for 30-40 years, ultimately becoming one of the finest wines in the world. Instead, this wine Ric now considers undrinkable. So much so that he's donated the rest of his bottles to chowhounders for the purpose of determining what went so wrong. I don't think it's surprising to discover that 1999 was smack in the middle of Clerico's adventures in modernity, even using a 100% new French oak aging regimen. And I don't think I'm courting controversy by suggesting that Clerico's shift to this style was motivated by a misguided and clumsy attempt to appeal to 'important' palate's like Suckling's. Perhaps even specifically Suckling's. And, of course, to that vast segment of wine consumers who follow him.

                    This, to me, represents WS's unfortunate legacy with respect to Italian wines: short-lived, non typical, homogenized wines made in an interventionist style that disregards tradition in favor of current trends. When young upon release, they score well among the Suckling's of the world, are bought up by the case by wealthy consumers pushing their prices ever higher, and then die young due to their inherent lack of balance, or fall out of favor with the fickle tastes of the global market. We are then left with this mess (alert RicRios, check this out): http://wineberserkers.com/viewtopic.p...

                    1. re: Ricardo Malocchio

                      Looking back at the 1999 Per Cristina ratings, the very Italian Duemilavini 2005 gave it their top 5 / 5 stars. Anticipating "best after 2010".

                      So probably this is not so much a WS-related phenomenon, and more of a global trend.

                      On the producer's side: make whatever gives you high scores; get praises; sell high; repeat.

                      On the critic's side: surf the high-water marks; be on top of the wave; sell subscriptions;
                      repeat.

                      Unfortunately, real traditionalists ( case at hand Luigi Baudana from Serralunga d'Alba, a winemaker true to centuries old tradition ) can't survive current trends, and/or his limited output of 25,000 btls. Since last year, both land and cantina run under new ownership.

                      Sad picture, indeed.

                2. I've come to believe that the majority of people are reluctant to put down more than a few bucks for a bottle of wine based on their own assessment of the source of the fruit or whatever they might know about the winery or the winemaker involved. Over the years I've never really bought into the way the French put so much stock in that because I found it to be arrogant. But, if you think about it, their way could be more predictable of quality than scores are................. or at least there's that possibility.

                  In addition to the score not being relevant to anything but the specific bottle on that specific day, scores are not really relevant to anything other than the palate and personal preference of the scorer. If you like soft reds, it's tricky to trust a high rating from someone who likes bold reds........ or to go counter to their score.

                  I think scores can be a helpful guide if you can calibrate your preference to the way a specific reviewer scores, but they're mostly a crutch for most people.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Midlife

                    WOW......this is a great subject.

                    From most of the comments here, I take it that most of us steer towards a "old world" style of wine.

                    That being said, do you dislike California wines for the most part?? If you do, do you have any producers in California that you would prefer??

                    There is one particular producer in Sonoma, Joseph Swan that I love.

                  2. I don't read WS. But its clout is undeniable. Case in point: K&L Wines is no dummy when it comes to selling wine, and they use WS and Parker scores all the time in their writeups. One unnamed employee said to me: we don't want to, we have to.

                    I think there are very few Americans who ever get to the place in drinking where they find their own palate and sensibilities. For as long as that trend is happening, there will be more WS readers than us "independents."

                    1. I'm neither a reader of WS nor an oenophile, per se, but I do love to buy and learn about good wine, and of course, to drink it! I've always relied on the recommendations of winesellers I know and respect. There's just so much wine being produced across the globe that is available where I live in nyc that I've never found the need for the kinds of ratings game that WS popularizes, though I respect that WS can be educational in its own way.

                      Per tito, I am ambivalent about California wines that I've drunk, anwyay (California being a big state and a prominent wine producer, that's a lot of wine to characterize in a singular fashion!). There are undeniably good wines being produced in California, but I blanch at the sticker price of some of the better choices, and the alcohol content can be, well, steeper-than-steep. Went to tasting of Scholium Project whites and reds, and the average alcohol content was about 16%....fortunately, it didn't slap me across the face, but I think that's a bit high (maturation of fruit notwithstanding).

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: 280 Ninth

                        Not to intentionally re-direct the topic but I've found it to be the case that wine enthusiasts on the East Coast (particularly in the NY Metro Area) tend to favor Old World wine styles over new. As a California resident I think it's likely that I have access to far more California wines than I would think you do in NYC (at retail, in restaurants, and at the source). My conclusion has been that the preference of each area is mostly a function of exposure and palate 'training' rather than any actual qualitative difference in the wine. I don't always get the same feel from others.

                        1. re: Midlife

                          Hey Midlife....I am glad you mentioned east coast. I am a fan of Long Island wines. I assume a few of us may be from the east coast.

                          If so....your opinion of East Coast wines???? Finger Lakes, Virginia??

                          1. re: tito

                            I live in CA and have never seen one in a restaurant or a retail shop here. That's part of my point about where you live and what wine you have access to influencing your taste.

                            1. re: Midlife

                              In the SF area, I've seen some Finger Lake wines in the shops and restaurants. Of course they make up a very very very small percentage of shelf space and the wine lists.

                            2. re: tito

                              I've tried 100 Long Island wines over the past few years. There are only a handful that I believe are world class, and boy howdy, will you pay for them. We can thank a very dense population west of Long Island for keeping the prices up, not to mention the high cost of land.

                              Bottom line: no wine expert I know takes Long Island seriously. But many may support the region because they live there. For comparable varietals and higher quality, they look to France -- Alsace, Loire, Chinon, etc. and many other regions of the world that are offering a much better QPR.

                              1. re: kaysyrahsyrah

                                Are there 100 LI wines? I know the region has exploded with new vineyards over the past 15-20 years, but that number sounds a bit high to me. For my part, I'm not troubled by the contention that "no wine expert takes Long Island seriously," and n fact, I don't think that's correct. Robert Foley and Abe Schoener are working with North Fork grapes and are bottling Red Hook wines....Cabs, I believe. If $20 - $30 is a "dear" price for wine, then, indeed, Long Island is a pricey place. But when compared to the average price of many a California wine, that's quite reasonable. If the "wine experts" arten't paying attention, well, so be it. I'll just continue with my quiet enjoyment of LI wines.

                                1. re: 280 Ninth

                                  100 wines? Sure! 100 wineries? No.

                                  1. re: 280 Ninth

                                    Pindar alone has at least 25 wines. I'd say there are easily 100 LI wines but I'll agree only a handful that are really notable.

                                  2. re: kaysyrahsyrah

                                    Kay Syrah- Agreed 100%......Being a native Long Islander I just like the idea of having a localy produced wine near home that is of good quality. And yes they can get pricey as compared to the quality produced.

                                    But I will say, IMHO they produce a much better Cab Franc than California.

                            3. If I'm buying wine for me - no. I actually let my WS subscription lapse, despite the umpteenth number of reminders and "special" subscription rates offers they sent. IMO they've been trending towards wines with high % alcohol that are just fruit forward with no finish to them that are meant to be drunk earlier and earlier (no cellaring). I guess they are simply giving what the US wine drinking customer wants but I prefer something with a bit of tannins, a nice long finish and wines that improve spectacularly with some cellaring... more Old World style.

                              Ideally, I get to visit the wine region and taste the wines at the winery before I buy. If I find a winery whose style of wines I really like, I'll get their recommendations of other producers in the area with a similar style. I've found some amazing wines this way that haven't even been mentioned by WS at all.

                              If I'm buying a bottle for a meal/friend who isn't as into wine as I am - yes, I go to the wine shop and see which wines have a little tag with a high WS rating. These friends' palates like the big fruit bomb types of wines.

                              1. Hmmmmm . . .

                                >>> Love it or hate it....we all read the WS. <<<
                                Haven't even picked up a copy in over a decade.

                                >>> I for one, always turn to the ratings pages in the back and see "what is hot" that month. <<<
                                I vaguely remember when I did that . . . then again, I had a good excuse: I had to create signs that touted the WS (or WA) score.

                                >>> I DO NOT purchase wines based on the WS scores, but it is always fun reading. <<<
                                No it isn't. The wines are often sold out by the time the magazine hits the streets, unless the savvy retailer loads up on "Wine X" because he/she got tipped off early by the WS as to upcoming scores. And don't get me started on the annual "Top 100"!

                                >>> I do however, for the most part agree with the ratings if I drink something that they have reviewed. <<<
                                Which means that your palate agrees with theirs . . .

                                >>> A few years back I purchased a 2003 Simi Cab Alexander Valley. before drinking it, i couldn't help to look it up and WS gave it an 82. When I opened the wine I thought it was much better than an "82". . Tonight I opened another and the wine is not just good, it is awesome!! <<<

                                It's awesome ***to YOUR palate*** and that is great! Having not had the wine recently, I have no idea if, for example, I would agree with you. I may very well agree with you, I just have no recent tasting experience with this particular wine to agree or disagree.

                                >>> Yes, it is 7 years old now and has revealed alot more with age. Is WS too quick to pull the trigger?? <<<

                                I'm confused: "pulling the trigger" usually means that you bought it. I don't think the WS actually bought any of the wine. Were they too quick to dismiss the wine's aging potential? Perhaps, perhaps not. But this simply proves that a) EVERY individual has his or her OWN palate, not anyone else's, and b) they don't call it the Wine Speculator" for nothing . . .

                                >>> Does the WS influence your purchases? <<<
                                Clearly not.

                                >>> How often has everyone out there disagreed with the WS after tasting a wine?? <<<
                                Frequently, though in all fairness it depends upon WHO is the taster, whose initials follow the note.

                                Cheers,
                                Jason

                                1. One year at crush, in California, I met a young man who, through his family's connections, had the job of preparing WS tastings at their NY location. He knew nothing about wine, his job was just to perform the mechanics of getting the wines ready tor the "tasters" . After talking to him, I decided to stop reading the WS, to let my subscription lapse. It wasn't just because of our conversation. For some time I had been uneasy about the WS. Our conversations just clinched the deal. My wine drinking has certainly improved since. Who kows why. But I believe that it helps not to have been exposed to all that WS garbage. It also forces me to make my own decisions and to pay more attention to what I am drinking instead of what I am reading. Hope this helps someone out there.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: pinotho

                                    Not sure how it could really help if you don't wish to go into any details of what he told you that helped you with your decision. Not that I haven't heard plenty on my own that has made me very skeptical as well. One can only guess that he knew some things about the way the wines were obtained, how they were evaluated, and might have listened in on some revealing conversations?????

                                  2. I don't know if I should respond to this -- I'll probably get ripped somehow. Regardless of the ratings, I am amazed at how many ratings I disagree with. Robert Parker is the worst for my taste. WS/WE/WA depend upon who is reviewing.

                                    I actually made a visit to Italy after Suckling's '97 brunello report and bought six bottles. The one bottle I bought based upon a grocery store recommendation was the best though. The others were still very very good. After tasting, the highest rated wine was still near the top, but the six bottles ratings moved around in terms of points compared to the original review (IMO).

                                    Whenever I run across a rating and wine that I'd like to try, I usually cross reference it with cellartracker. That is a particularly harsh crowd it seems, and if any rating body says it good and the masses on that site also give kind words, I usually trust it in terms of quality -- but not my taste per se.

                                    As for the WS 100, I tend to trust it a bit more than individual ratings. Isn't it a blind panel rating where the wines are tested more than once? Or at didn't it used to be? The bad thing is that a panel usually reduces the inclusion of interesting and old world wines, but it also seems to reduce the bias of individual tasters and eliminate wines that can be biased towards a taster's preference.

                                    Robert Parker ratings, on the other hand, are a death knell for me. I so don't care for his taste, that his ratings steer me away from wines. And I am sure I am missing some good wines because of this.

                                    In the end we all develop our own wine tastes and taste for wine ratings, and in the end -- even if we read WS or not -- we still drink wine. And that is good. Very very good.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: smkit

                                      cellartracker is a good resource, but there is a bit of a sheep-mentality there. As you say, high scoring wines can often not be to your taste.
                                      For Wine Spectator, there is frequently only ONE guy who is giving the score for the wine. The magazine split the wines according to region. There are many, who disregard any score given by James Laube. I am one of them, especially for pinot.

                                      Wine Spectator has become too much of a lifestyle magazine with too much advertising. It used to be that the advertising wasn't that distracting, but now it is, with multipage spreads. Wine Enthusiast is even worse. These two magazines are (IMHO), not worth the 2.99 or 1.99 that I paid for year long subscriptions.

                                      I view Tanzer's IWC in a slightly more favorable light, but I don't subscribe. The only one I do subscribe to is Meadow's Burghound, because there are way too many burgs to wade through each vintage...of course I've started to find my favorite producers so I don't lean as much on him as I used to.

                                      1. re: smkit

                                        According to their website Wine Spectator's Top 100 is determined by their editors: "More than 3,800 of these wines earned outstanding ratings (90 points or higher on our 100-point scale). We narrowed the list down based on four criteria: quality (represented by score); value (reflected by release price); availability (measured by case produced or imported); and an X-factor we call excitement. But no equation determines the final selections: These choices reflect our editors' judgment and passion about the wines we tasted".

                                        So......... the top 100 are all 90 point or better wines that have to have been reviewed in the magazine during the previous year. Since it's not likely that all the editors have tasted each of those 3800 wines I'd say the top 100 is more an 'office buzz' kindof thing than anything else. That's not to suggest that it's an invalid list, but to suggest that it's nothing like a group blind tasting of all the wines.

                                        For me Spectator and Enthusiast are reasonable road maps to wines I wouldn't otherwise know about, but I don't tend to put much stock in their ratings unless they're backed up my similarly high scores in BOTH plus other sources.