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Jun 12, 2013 10:49 AM

Wine critics and the California wine industry (split from Sonoma wineries thread, Bay area board)

My understanding is wine ratings have perhaps generic-fied the taste spectrums of wines (esp. if you consider Robert Parker) but the same thing happens regardless with more information and more influx of the masses (see e.g. yelp). Or with movies. As wine became accessible to a larger audience, sure it lost some of it's uniqueness and cult appeal.

On the other hand, I honestly think that cellartracker, yelp, wine critics, this forum etc. have done so much to bring some transparency and given people confidence in their palates. For people who are intimidated by making appointments, vocabulary they don't understand etc., wine critics and user reviews truly do help.

It would have been a lot harder for me to learn and taste as much as I had when it was an industry for people "in the know."

Now as shown by this and the numerous other posts like it - where people of all different stripes of wine knowledge and education want to go to wine country.

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  1. 'It would have been a lot harder for me to learn and taste as much as I had when it was an industry for people "in the know." '

    My issue with that statement, goldang, is not your guess but what it presupposes. A whole mythology has grown about the pre-100-points days of wine journalism, among people who didn't experience it (and a few others who are have businesses promoting the system).

    I and many people I know in the Bay Area became interested wine consumers before then. I assure you we had NO trouble learning and tasting.

    There was NO shortage of consumer publications dedicated to wine, and beyond them, it was a popular subject for general food journalists because then as now, wine needs demystifying. Harvey Steiman in SF, Anthony Spinazzola in Boston, Alexis Bespaloff and others in NYC wrote newwpaper articles. Anthony Dias Blue and Gerald Asher wrote magazine articles and syndicated newspaper columns. California County and State Fairs were the accolade-bestowing institutions of the time, hyped by the winners as point scores are today, but the wine-drinking public took them less seriously. That is the difference!

    Check out Melanie's Underground Wineletter link and you see exactly how wine newsletters looked BP [before Parker]. Subtantial, accessible content and plenty of evaluations -- usually done blind of course -- just not expressed reductively as "points." I remember those newsletters from the 1970s and 80s; still have them.

    In 1984 the most comprehensive book yet published on California wine, its history and side topics, appeared, 40-some renowned authors on all specialties, edited by three leading independent authorities. Its chapter on wine newsletters compares the five or so popular ones then focusing on California wine. (Parker, around as long as some of those, is absent; he was still fairly obsessed with Bordeaux, and was even criticized elsewhere, later, for neglecting California.) In those days, the independent wine publications were about content, not easy-to-read "scores."

    2 Replies
    1. re: eatzalot

      I'm not saying the knowledge wasn't out there I'm just saying that numerical ratings are an easy, imperfect way to sort a lot of information if you are starting out.

      For example, if I am curious about wineries in Mendocino. I go on cellartracker aggregate by producer and start with the highly scored ones and go down. Could I instead open up the reviews for each producer in Mendocino county read the tasting notes and then determine which ones seem to fit my flavor profile better? Of course, but that is an intimidating amount of work. I'm not saying that this is the best system - just with a ton of information (Restaurants, hotels, wine etc.) if one is starting out you have to start somewhere. And numerical ratings have certainly helped that for the amateur who is starting out.

      1. re: goldangl95

        goldang, I'm afraid you are missing the relevant point of comparison there.

        30 years ago you could have done the same thing. You did not need to read "tasting notes." You'd've seen ratings of up to say five stars (meaning "excellent" and likely to occur rarely), often with half-star gradations. I already referred you to a practical example Melanie cited.

        One who "had to start out somewhere" and "sort a lot of information" did it exactly the same way you describe. You'd easily spot what critics considered the best wineries and wines. For nuances you'd consult the notes, compare to your tasting impressions, and soon learn the critic's tastes.

        It solved exactly the same problems you mentioned without difficulty. I am trying to tell you this from actual experience (but evidently failing). It also had fewer side effects: like wineries angling for points, deeply clueless nouveaux-riches buying strictly by number, and the wine-inexperienced public mistaking an arbitrarily denominated number as more omniscient or authoritative than it is. (One expert argued that they do this because it reminds them of test scores in school.)

    2. I absolutely believe that Parker was primarily responsible for ripe, fruity, oaky, high-alcohol wines dominating the high end of California wine production. It was a vicious cycle, where his scores defined quality for consumers who then demanded more wines of that type.

      At the same time, if you search for them, you can find a much more diverse variety of California wines today than were ever available before.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        Of course, Robert: part of the 80 years' continuous quality + quantity expansion since a disastrous law was Repealed. Visible in principal overview US-wine books of the 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s (which I have). Later, Jancis Robinson in her Oxford wine encyclopedia mentioned how the peak pre-Prohibition CA winery count wasn't restored until 1990.

        Already in the 1940s and 50s, California produced both sound everyday wines and high-end wines appreciated by European-wine connoisseurs. The 1984 UC-Press book I cited earlier mentioned how CA wines had won public blind tastings against old-world competitors "for years" before mainstream media took note of the 1976 Spurrier tasting in Paris.

        One of my wine gurus bought and cellared insightfully in the 1950s and 60s. One truly great 1955 Cabernet from a label now long gone aged so well and was so appreciated that it made news around 1981 by surpassing $1000/bottle at auction (say roughly, $4000 in today's dollars), unheard-of for CA wine. My friend still had a dozen, and graciously shared one among others from 1950s and 60s. By that time I'd had some serious fine-wine experience already: I found the quality revelatory.

        1. re: eatzalot

          I see it differently. Post-Prohibition California wine was often sound but very rarely of great quality until the 1970s. There was exponential increase in production of quality wines in the late 70s and 80s, but the excesses of the Parker era led to a decline, which is I think is starting to be generally recognized.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Well, as I tried to show, the real (in the mathematical sense) exponential growth curve began LONG before the 1970s, but, as exponential growth curves will, it was personally recognized by more and more people as it evolved. This picture reflects both major wine literature of the various decades, and significant actual experience of truly outstanding CA wines from the 1950s, 60s, 70s that were bought and aged by knowledgeable people. For the 1940s I had to rely on others' accounts, and books. :-(

            It's a pretty strong consensus among people considerably better informed than I. (Ask Paul Draper; ask Jeff Patterson. I could introduce you.)

            The 1970s ferment is well docomented in Thompson and Johnson's then-popular book. It visited and interviewed the growing CA winemaker cadre (even some brand-new labels like "SilverOaks Cellars"). I see that decade as an expansion of experimenting risk-takers; they got some things badly wrong (pinot noir, notoriously). But high-profile 1976 and 1979 international wine tastings broadened public awareness of CA wine.

            By the 1980s, unprecedented corporate investment was evident. High-concept brand labels like "Opus One" began appearing. People actuall opened restaurants in Napa Valley (formerly notorious for "no place to eat"). Tourist magazines announced you could get "free wine" samples at CA wineries, prompting a larger, less wine-geeky crowd; winery tasting fees moved from novel to routine. Everyone with big money wanted to open a "winery" (until Napa Valley capped the number) or build an ostentatious villa (spawning the local catch phrase "tourists who remained").

            Agree that Parker had market influence, incentivizing some wineries to aim for his palate, hence "points" that some customers would reliably, blindly follow. One expert friend has a prostitution metaphor -- unsuitable for this respectable, family-friendly forum.

            1. re: eatzalot

              The chart of post-Prohibition high-quality California wine starts around 1940, when André Tchelistcheff's influence started showing up in Beaulieu's releases.

              The line rises very slowly until the late 70s, when the exponential increase started.

              In my view, it leveled off in the early 90s and decreased as the fad for overripe fruit and excessive oak and alcohol resulted in a lot of food-hostile wines that don't age well.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                We may be in agreement re 1990-plus, although I have less direct experience (hence opinion basis) of California wineries started in that era, for the same reason. When awkward, high-alcohol, less food-friendly wines with no demonstrated history of age improvement start coming to market at $100-plus, pricier than reliable classified Bordeaux or classic CA cabs, what incentive is there to try many of them??

                Your mention of 1940 accords with what I wrote above, but whose chart are you citing? What I mentioned was a growth that slowly gained momentum and although I haven't seen quantitative measures fitted to any type of actual curve, a steady growth from the 1940s does reflect a broad consensus of people acquainted with the history and the wines, in my experience.

                Even many wine geeks are not so acquainted. Just as people who get their wine history from mainstream media today often seem to think that the very first world-class CA wines appeared at the 1976 Spurrier tasting.

                1. re: eatzalot

                  I'm talking about the chart I'd make if I had the time.

                  The 11 California wineries in the 1976 tasting weren't the only ones selling world-class wine by then, but there were very few others. There weren't all that many wineries, period: when Bob Travers bought Maycamas in 1968, it was one of only 17 in the Napa Valley.

                  1. re: eatzalot

                    Here's a chart of the growth of California wineries making high-quality wines from repeal up to the 1973 vintage. The growth was pretty much linear in those days. Here's the data:


                    1. re: eatzalot

                      Here's another chart showing the total number of wineries. Data came from here:


          2. Let me first apologize in advance for tossing in my 2¢ so late . . .

            Can I disagree with your first paragraph? And your second? Your third? And your fourth? Yeah. Sorry.

            There are PLENTY of unique and distinctive wines produced throughout the world. And, sadly, there are still "cult" wines -- though I'll readily admit that when a low-production wine achieves "cult" status, it *is* largely media driven. The "international" aspect of wine (i.e.: the planting of Cabernet and Chardonnay everywhere) has far more to do with the popularity of those two varietals in the New World and a desire to "get a piece of the action" than it owes to homogenization of wine styles.

            This is *not* to say that there is no such thing as "Parkerization," but in the long run, it's more discussed than actual; more "inside the Beltway" stuff than real world. I've spoken to winemakers -- on both sides of the Atlantic -- regarding "Cuvée Parkerizée," and while it does exist, it doesn't take a rocket scientist, or a bloodhound, to discover dozens -- hundreds! -- of exceptions . . . so many that one might not be sure which is the exception and which is the rule.

            The problem with the internet generally is that, now, everyone is an expert . . . regardless of how much they actually know (or don't). Yelp has become the poster child for this, but no one reading Chowhound for the first time knows how much experience/knowledge you and I have (or don't have), what our biases are, our weaknesses and strengths, etc., etc. We are all experts, and this may (or may not, I'm honestly not sure) provide more transparency, or it may just muddy the waters even more.

            Considering there are thousands of wineries that one can visit, where one can taste, WITHOUT an appointment . . . considering that wineries had crowded tasting rooms in the 1960s and 1970s -- long before Parker -- I'm not sure anything is too different today. Sure, there are MORE people visiting Napa Valley, Sonoma, etc. today than 25 years ago, but a) there are more people on Earth today, too; and b) there are more wineries as well. People with all sorts of experience and knowledge visit wineries today . . . just as they did in the 1960s and 1970s!

            >>> It would have been a lot harder for me to learn and taste as much as I had when it was an industry for people "in the know." <<<

            Why? I mean, how did any of us learn about wine in the 1960s or 1970s? Indeed, I think it was probably easier then than now.

            Like I said, it's just my 2¢, and probably worth far less. Keep the change.

            71 Replies
            1. re: zin1953

              Parkerization is more actual than discussed for me. It's still the rule here in California.

              Nine out of ten wineries I visit, they won't be pouring one red that isn't Parkerized. Same goes for most restaurants with all-California by-the-glass lists.

              There are exceptions, but those of us who seek them out are pretty conscious of being part of a minority subculture.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Instead of blaming Parker, why don't you just say that 90% of California wines that you taste, don't agree with YOU. There is no need to disparage what you don't like. Your palate is your own and that is fine but because your's is not the prevailing wind is no big deal. I assume you have no problem finding wines made to your taste. There are many others who find Fruit foward to be the their taste and if they never change that is fine also. Parker did not encourage bad wine, just different then your choice. Wine makers make wines they can sell if they want to stay in business. Blaming the critic is an very easy game to play.

                1. re: budnball

                  There's lots of blame to go around. One narrow-minded critic's opinions reduced to numbers were made far too much of by people selling and buying wine, resulting in a vicious circle. The one critic evolved into a magazine publishing numbers cranked out by a staff, and other magazines followed suit.

                  My fellow members of the anti-flavor wine elite have no problem finding red wines we like only because we're not limited to California.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    <<My fellow members of the anti-flavor wine elite have no problem finding red wines we like only because we're not limited to California>>

                    Well good for you and your elite. I don't really know how to respond to that except I hope you and your elite have plenty anti-flavor wine to drink, cause I sure as hell don't want any.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      <My fellow members of the anti-flavor wine elite have no problem finding red wines we like only because we're not limited to California.>

                      There's quite a lot of very tasty wine coming out of California -- not "Parkerized" wines, if you will. I get really tired of hearing people lump all California wine into the same disagreeable pile. No two people's palate is the same, and there's really no constructive reason to diss all the wines that don't fit yours.

                      1. re: ChefJune

                        Once, "ABC' translated to "Anything But Chardoanny," then "Anything But Cabernet [Sauvignon]," and now, "Anything But California."

                        It goes around, and around, and around. Everyone needs a "whipping boy," most of the time.


                        1. re: ChefJune

                          The vast majority of mid- to high-priced California red wines are Parkerized. There are exceptions but they're hard to find. Asimov just wrote about ten of them in the NY Times last month, there was a Refosco that was new to me, but the only way to try it would be to join their wine club (minimum $178 per quarter for four bottles).

                          Here's a typical example of why I complain. A year or two ago I went into a wine shop on the Russian River that had dozens of hard-to-find local wines. Told the guy I was looking for a lower-alcohol, not oaky wine, the only such California red he had was a cheap Lodi Zinfandel.

                          Once the pendulum swings back far enough that that kind of thing stops happening to me, I'll have nothing to complain about.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Just so I know what you're talking about, Robert, could you define "mid- to high-priced" in terms of retail per 750ml bottle? Thanks.

                            1. re: zin1953

                              Depends on the grape variety and appellation, but past around $20 retail it becomes ever rarer to come across a red wine without what is to me an unbalanced and unpalatable dose of new oak.

                            2. re: Robert Lauriston

                              <<The vast majority of mid- to high-priced California red wines are Parkerized. >>

                              How are you defining Parkerized?

                              I don't agree with this statement, and I taste thousands of California wines per year, so I'm wondering what your definition
                              of Parkerized is.

                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                "Everybody in the industry knows what [Parkerized] means. The topic has been endlessly discussed for decades, with worldwide agreement, that, yes, the era of Robert Parker has resulted in wines of higher alcohol, greater fruity extract, stronger oak influence, and a sweeter finish."


                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Yes, know and read Heimoff, but as I stated earlier, and will state again, I disagree with your assessment.

                                  Even in that Heimoff piece, there is no definition given of Parkerized, or any codified definition of Parkerized anywhere.

                                  What is inferred, and what shows up in the comments section of Heimoff's piece, is that Parkerized refers to "heavy, chewy, fruity, alcoholic wines."

                                  That is precisely why I'm disagreeing with you.

                                  You do not find that style often anymore, and the pendulum has been swinging away from that once-popular style for a good eight years.

                                  So, again, I'm drawing on my own experience of wine-tasting -- and I do a lot of it -- and that is why I disagree with your assessment.

                                  I know what Parkerized is, and I am not finding that style with any frequency anymore.

                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                    Yes, you've said that repeatedly, but if that has been happening I still don't see it at the retail end.

                                    Most restaurants I go to still don't have a single by-the-glass California red that's not Parkerized. Often the same is true of the bottle list.

                                    There are exceptions, but those buyers are all drawing on the same relatively small pool of out-of-the-mainstream wineries.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      A distinction exists (though I keep seeing it not recognized here) between the pervasive issue of growing CA wine grapes in regions hotter than ideal for the variety (producing the sugar- vs. phenolic-ripeness dilemma, consequently increased alcohol when grapes are picked and vinified for flavor), and on the other hand, deliberate winemaking for "fruit-forward," high oak, and sweetish finish.

                                      The one phenomenon assists the other, and both saw big growth in the last 30 years, so they have connections, but they're distinct. By 1940, Ag scientists had already publicized the limited availability of growing regions matching European grapes' ancestral climate (in Schoonmaker and Marvel's landmark 1941 book, they even predicted, accurately, where the best red varietals would ultimately be planted -- and the near-impossibility of making naturally delicate low-alcohol Rieslings, on the Mosel-Rheingau model).

                                      I've seen and tasted ABV creeping up for a few decades now, but I've also seen the wines coming from ever new and warmer regions all this time. I think it's careless to lump all of this in with Parker's own undeniable, but distinct and smaller, influence.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Another point: The premium reds that put California on the world wine map have never, during my wine experience, been short-term ready-to-drink wines. The brilliant 1955 Cabernet that a connoisseur friend shared (which I mentioned in this or the original thread) was served more than 25 years old. Ridge's great concentrated Cabernet has always been made to age a long time before serving. I look to places like Europe for lighter, out-of-the-bottle reds (with more character than the simple high-yield Central-Valley California genre products) but that was true, if not more so, before anyone heard of Parker.

                                        California has long fiddled with minor varietals, including the pinot-noir strain sold very confusingly for years as "gamay beaujolais," yet in all those years, has never really come up with wine genres to compete with the flavorful lighter reds of true Beaujolais in France. (I mean here of course real Beaujolais, not "nouveau" which reflects mostly its fermentation method and has distracted many people from what Beaujolais is about.) Or even the lighter pinots noirs, which have always been available from places like the C.-de-Beaune but with only rare comparables in California.

                                        So you can complain about few really good lighter or even ready-to-drink CA reds today, but I've had the same complaint for 35 years, and it had little to do with Parker.

                                        1. re: eatzalot

                                          If California ever had a culture of making quality lighter reds it disappeared with Prohibition or the 1960s-70s shift from generic to varietal wines. The only one I can remember being around in the 70s was Heitz's Grignolino. It was not unusual for winemakers to produce small amounts of quality Italian-influenced field blends (aka "dago red") for family and friends but I don't think anyone commercialized them.

                                          I think Parker's exaggerated influence might have been responsible for it taking so long for that to change. It's definitely a trend these days, though I think so far it has had zero influence on mainstream tastes and buying habits.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            >>> If California ever had a culture of making quality lighter reds it disappeared with Prohibition or the 1960s-70s shift from generic to varietal wines. <<<

                                            ABSOLUTELY (and historically) incorrect!

                                            Robert, varietal wines have been made in California since (at least) the 1850s . . . California varietal wines won awards in the 19th Century in competitions in London, Paris, and Madrid. They won awards in 1900 in St. Louis, and on and on and on.

                                            Now it *is* true that Gallo didn't introduce their first varietal wines until 1974, when they introduced six different non-vintage wines (Barbera, Zinfandel, Ruby Cabernet, [French] Colombard, Emerald Riesling, and Chenin Blanc, IIRC), but there is -- and always has been -- more to the California wine industry than Ernest & Julio Gallo (just as there is more to it today than Fred Franzia!).

                                            I have had -- I don't know; close to 50 -- numerous California varietal wines from the 1940s and 1950s, including but not limited to 1935 Simi Sonoma Zinfandel, 1935 Simi Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon, 1946 Beaulieu Napa Valley Pinot Noir, 1947 Louis M. Martini Pinot Noir, 1951 Beaulieu Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve, 1953 Beaulieu Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve, 1953 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve, 1958 Beaulieu Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve, 1958 Charles Krug Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Vintage Select, 1958 Louis M. Martini Barbera, and more . . . .

                                            It is true, Robert, there are more varietal wines today -- but that's due to a) there being far more wineries today in the the 1960s and 1970s, and b) there being more varieties planted today not available previously.

                                            It is also true, Robert, that there *are* "Parkerized" wines produced in California today. But I see the general trend AWAY from that particular style, so either Maria Lorraine is correct, and you have a different definition from most other people; or I'm correct, and you like to torture yourself.

                                            1. re: zin1953

                                              You're misreading what I wrote. Most production from the end of Prohibition up to the mid-60s was generic wines. A handful of wineries made small quantities of quality varietal wines, but that was a very small segment of the market.

                                              Up through 1966, California produced more fortified wine than table wine, 85 million gallons out of 165 total, and most of the table wine was generic. The next year, the trend started heading the other way. By 1976, that had changed to 13 out of 332, and generic wines were declining in favor of varietally labeled wines.

                                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          <<Most restaurants I go to still don't have a single by-the-glass California red that's not Parkerized>>

                                          It appears you are calling more wines Parkerized than
                                          actually are Parkerized.

                                          That's why I asked you to give your personal definition of Parkerized.

                                          Parkerized appears to occur at a lower ABV for you than for most people.

                                          It also appears you are calling normally ripe California fruit Parkerized. It is over-ripe fruit, instead, that defines Parkerized.

                                          Perhaps you are calling any wine made in a normal California style, and not a Euro style, Parkerized.

                                          But a normal style of California winemaking and a Parkerized style of winemaking are two different things. You may be conflating the two.

                                          1. re: maria lorraine

                                            Most California winemakers still pick their grapes much riper than in the pre-Parker era, as you can see from the still-elevated brix and ABVs, and use way too much new oak. I've had lots of discussions about that with winemakers who are bucking those trends.

                                            The current California average may be dialed back a bit from the worst extremes of Parkerism circa 2008, but the wines are still on average abnormal by historical standards.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              "Most California winemakers still pick their grapes much riper than in the pre-Parker era, as you can see from the still-elevated brix and ABVs..."

                                              Um, Robert, that part is almost inevitable when they plant in warm growing regions requiring the grapes to develop more sugar than their European ancestors did, at the point of ideal "phenolic" ripeness. Wine-grape experts talk about this constantly in places like the Pinot technical conference I cited earlier. Other factors too can influence the time separation of phenolic and sugar ripeness, such as vine youth.

                                              Those factors in California's ongoing grape-planting boom roughly coincided historically with Parker's advent, but they occur independent of Parker, they predate him, and they also continue unabated. Winemakers can add other spins, like heavy oak, that would better fit broad understandings of "Parkerization" but I gather that you lump all of this under that one name.

                                              The distinction is clear enough to winemakers *I* talk to, and I keep explaining it here, for what good that will do.

                                              1. re: eatzalot

                                                The trend toward using riper grapes did not predate Parker. It started in the early 90s and went pretty much in lockstep with his increasing influence.

                                                I can taste see the stylistic changes I'm describing in wines made from grapes grown in Napa and Sonoma vineyards that were in production for decades before the Parker era. I can taste them in verticals of individual wines.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  <<The trend toward using riper grapes did not predate Parker. It started in the early 90s and went pretty much in lockstep with his increasing influence.>>

                                                  You're misapprending the reason for riper grapes.

                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                    Moreover, the trend toward PLANTING in regions ahistorically warm for the particular grape variety (the issue that I actually addressed -- once you plant them there, certain biochemistry ensues, regardless of the winemaker) certainly predated Parker, it was one of the reasons for the notorious Pinot-Noir debacle of the late 1960s and 70s that convinced many people for 20 years that California couldn't make drinkable PN.

                                                    Since that time, California planting expansion has been into ever warmer available land, from SLO to El Dorado and Amador Counties, never forgetting the Good Old Central Valley.

                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                      The grapes are riper because that's what most winemakers prefer. It was simply a change in fashion.

                                                      A minority of winemakers who pick earlier make wines similar in style to pre-Parker-era wines, demonstrating that excessive ripeness is not due to factors beyond the growers' control.

                              2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                <<Nine out of ten wineries I visit, they won't be pouring one red that isn't Parkerized.>>

                                Not my experience, at all.

                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                  Nor my experience either, though I don't think this should surprise anyone because we are probably visiting different wineries according to our interests.

                                  Case in point: Anderson Valley (mostly in Mendocino County), a smaller California AVA but one focused especially on cool-climate grape varieties, and for its small size, producing an unusual number of widely-respected wines. Anderson Valley has been a particular interest of mine for 20 years. Today, if you seek Pinot Noir (the protoype of difficult, cool-climate reds), you can find a group of traditionalist, Old-World-inspired winemakers there; another group (Goldeneye is perhaps the poster child for this camp) deliberately making fruit-forward modernistic California pinots; and a third, small, contingent trying to straddle the fence or something. They all respect each other and tend to support one another in my experience there; and there's enough style range to satisfy many people's tastes.

                                  However I do concur with Robert re Parker's influence on some winemakers and markets. I've been tasting and buying CA reds longer than Parker has been writing. His emergence as a critic with unusual consumer clout, and also particular taste preferences, is familiar history among fellow longtime wine geeks. But he tends much less to be seen in perspective by people who learned wine after Parker took hold.

                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                    I agree that Parker had undue influence on winemaking, but I also know from tasting a lot of wine that the pendulum has swung far back in the other direction for years now.

                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                      I've tasted at most of the Anderson Valley wineries and since Lazy Creek went downhill all the Pinot Noirs were overly ripe and fruity and not in any sense old-school. The only other AV reds I've tasted in recent years that were not Parkerized were Husch's cheap Mojo blend and Bink's Syrah.

                                      There's one newish Pinot producer I've heard good things about from friends and will check out when I'm up there this summer.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        I have to wonder about the Anderson-Valley pinot experience level, or personal preferences, behind such broad-brush comments, which contrast from most assessment I hear from regualr AV hands. (I've made 2-3 tasting trips there annually for the last decade or so, scouting wines for my household and some other folks, and attended most of the annual Pinot festivals for the last several years, more for the technical session than the big crowded tasting event, since most wineries there are happy to taste you on their wines anyway, if you're serious.)

                                        It is true that most of the best PN (and probably most of the good moderately-priced pinot that I buy personally) still comes from its home soil in Burgundy, though California's offerings have improved radically since 1980. But Anderson Valley's winemaker corps is avowedly divided pretty strongly into the Burgundians (a word they dislike -- "we are making A. V. pinot, not Burgundies") who aim for classic varietal expression and some local terroir, vs. the New World "fruit-forward" camp, and a few that don't fit either. They all acknowledge this, and the wineries in the various camps are well known to A. V. regulars. Some of whom even come from France.

                                        Description I'd use for Lazy Creek's transition is not so much "went downhill" as _sold_ by the Chandlers, a few years back, after they'd built its reputation.

                                        1. re: eatzalot

                                          Lots of people like the Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs that I don't, if that weren't the case they'd change their practices.

                                          After the Chandlers bought Lazy Creek from the Koeblers the alcohol levels went up (though not as fast as the prices).

                                    2. re: maria lorraine

                                      <<Nine out of ten wineries I visit, they won't be pouring one red that isn't Parkerized.>>

                                      <Not my experience, at all.>

                                      nor mine.

                                    3. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      Clearly, Robert, not only do you and I visit some VERY different wineries, but I am beginning to suspect you're something of masochist -- you have often complained about California wines not being food-friendly; you clearly prefer wines that are "Old World" in style, if not in origin.

                                      So, why do you visit those nine wineries? Why do you keep "torturing" yourself this way? I can only conclude that you must enjoy it in some way . . . .

                                      1. re: zin1953

                                        I'd never have tasted and bought the lovely Bink Hawks Butte Syrah if I'd just written off the whole appellation.

                                        I've tasted at all but a handful of wineries in Anderson Valley, so it's not that we've gone to different wineries, it's that our taste is different.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          So Navarro is "Parkerized"? What about Roederer Estate? Handley? Husch?

                                          What about wineries which use Anderson Valley fruit, but are located elsewhere? Copain? Littorai? Rhys?

                                          Closer to home, is Edmunds St. John "Parkerized"? What about Dashe? Donkey & Goat?

                                          I know we disagree about Bill Easton's Terre Rouge, but I'm curious to know what else . . . and I'm still scratching my head over your seeming self-infliction of frustration.

                                          1. re: zin1953

                                            Yes: Husch, Copain, Black Kite, Elke, etc. (when I referred here to contemporary winemakers in that valley, I included those who take the grapes out of the valley to vinify; some of the outstanding newer producers do that). I didn't know Rhys had joined the AV bandwagon, by the way.

                                            I wonder if Robert is using "Parkerized" rather loosely here for effects of the famous phenolic-ripeness vs sugar-ripeness dilemma, a constant issue in CA pinots. Even in California's northernmost coastal river valley, some PN grapes end up with more than ideal sugar when harvested for best varietal expression, and the resulting alcohol is at least a tad higher than ideal. Within that constraint though, you still have some winemakers aiming explicitly for "fruit-forward" higher-alcohol styles and some for more of a classic pinot character and to my (Burgundian-schooled) palate, succeeding remarkably.

                                            1. re: zin1953

                                              Roederer's wines are great but I haven't tasted their red except blended into the rosé.

                                              Donkey and Goat uses less ripe fruit. I've talked with Jared Brandt about the trouble they had getting some growers to pick a few weeks before the grapes were as ripe as their other customers wanted them but they've got their growers trained now.

                                              I like Dashe's Enfant Terrible bottlings. I talked to Michael Dashe a few years ago after tasting through his wines and liking only the late harvest one, he said the only grapes he could buy were riper than he would like. I keep meaning to make it down to their tasting room and see if that's changed since then.

                                              From what I read about Rhys, maybe I'd like their wines, kind of expensive to find out.

                                              The reds from the other places you mention I find overripe and overly alcoholic, not as exaggeratedly so as many but still too much for my taste.

                                              I used to like Schug but their alcohol levels have gone up from 13.5% in 2008 (the last vintage I tasted) to 14.5% in 2010.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                Yes, but Robert -- why do you bother? For me, that's the REAL question! You and I both know you prefer "Old World-esque" wines, so why be disappointed in nine out of ten producers? Why put yourself through such agony?

                                                OK, OK, "agony" is an exaggeration -- deliberately hyperbolic -- but I truly am puzzled (and have been for some time) why you continue to explore California when, clearly, you don't like the overwhelming majority of what is produced in the state.

                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                  Sturgeon's Law. I taste a lot of stuff I don't like to find the exceptions. I've told you that before. Drop it.

                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    Actually, Robert, you haven't. Not in a way that I can understand, at least. Ninety percent of what's out there may indeed be crap, but my take is why, then, waste your time drinking it?

                                                    That said, feel free to color me dense; I'll just chalk it up to idiosyncrasy and let it go . . .

                                                    1. re: zin1953

                                                      If you like a small minority of wines on the market, how are you going to find what you like without tasting a bunch of stuff you don't like?

                                                      It's not that much work in the long run. If I taste all the reds on offer at a particular winery and don't like any of them, I don't go back unless I hear there's been some significant change in style. If instead I like some or all of them, that winery goes on my short list.

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        See, for me, Robert, the interesting thing is that you are I *basically* share similar tastes in wine -- the primary difference (at least I think so) is that you drink more Italians wines than I do, and I probably drink more Portuguese and Spanish wines than you do. Or, perhaps, more simply put: neither one of us like so-called "Cuvée Parkerizée" (i.e.: Parkerized wines).

                                                        But whereas you continue to seek out non-Parkerized wines from California -- all the while saying things like . . .
                                                        • "The vast majority of mid- to high-priced California red wines are Parkerized. There are exceptions but they're hard to find."
                                                        • "If you like a small minority of wines on the market, how are you going to find what you like without tasting a bunch of stuff you don't like?"
                                                        . . . I don't waste my time, nor my money.

                                                        When I *do* purchase California wines (had a magnificent 2005 ESJ Parma-Lee Hill Syrah from Sonoma on the 4th), either I opt for wineries I already know I like, or I take the recommendation(s) of friends and wine merchants who *know* my taste in wines. Rarely am I steered wrong in this fashion. In buying imported wines, the same holds suit, with the added advantage, when confronted with wines I have never had before and/or heard nothing about, of checking out the importer. There is a list of importers that I know and trust, having had great "success" (if you will) in enjoying the wines in their portfolio on many previous occasions.

                                                        I can count the number of disappointments -- wines that I have purchased at retail, or ordered off a wine list, or even a by-the-glass list -- so far this year on the fingers of one hand and "have room to spare," so to speak.

                                                        I don't know about you, but I think that's a damned sight better than tasting a whole bunch of wines and being disappointed in 90 percent of them . . . or more!

                                              2. re: zin1953

                                                Thanks for the reminder to give Dashe another shot. I went by the tasting room and his wines are vastly improved from the last time I tasted a bunch of them, around ten years ago. The 2010 Florence Vineyard Zinfandel might be the best I've had since Edmeades' glory days.

                                        2. re: zin1953

                                          I wasn't sure if this was directed at me? But the basic point I was replying to was.

                                          When wine critics started scoring wines using 100 points was this a good thing or bad thing? Was it useful at all? Did it permanently hurt the wine industry?

                                          I will maintain that same as any industry the more information and reviews out there the better for users and consumers.
                                          That numerical scores are a way to aggregate tons of information in to something consumable - if imperfect.

                                          If there is truly only one voice, then yeah that can be damaging over time. But at this point there are not - numerous publications do 100 point scores - and there is also Yelp (horrible for reviewing quality of wine but good to get a sense of customer service/tasting experience) and Cellartracker (horrible for reviewing wine for your particular palate but incredibly useful in avoiding plonk).

                                          For many, more information is empowering - they are intimidated by the expense and the unknown. And for them the internet - and the numerous numerical reviews that come with it - have been a great tool - instead of exposing their ignorance to those in the wine industry and receiving little help in return.

                                          Is it better to spend hours on these boards instead of just relying on 4.5 stars on Yelp? Sure. But you have to start somewhere - or sometimes you need quick answer - and that's where numerical reviews come in handy.

                                          1. re: goldangl95

                                            I fear that goldang is still missing the distinction I tried to point out upthread.

                                            Before Parker, the situation was exactly the very "4.5 stars on Yelp" that goldang just defended.

                                            Numerical ratings didn't start with Parker (or Olken and Singer or Vintage Magazine or Underground Wineletter or any other of P's predecessors). What was novel was the specific 100 point format, and consumers reading, and taking, it for more than it was.

                                            US consumers never obeyed en-masse the 4.5-star type of rating summaries, as they later came to do with 100-point scales (even though I often saw merchants using the older ratings to promote sales at the time). Consultants did not offer to "Olkenize" winemaking, to achieve an additional half star in Connoisseurs' Guide to California Wine.

                                            This all is ironic, given that even P's nominal 100 points, even officially, never used more than 50, and de-facto only 20 or 25, and without pretending to be reproducable or precise to a single point -- i.e., the practical granularity of that system is not very different from the old stars etc., or the 1970s UC-Davis scientific 20-point scale that never caught on much - yet consumers perceive and use the 100-point scores differently.

                                            1. re: eatzalot

                                              So are you saying there is something damaging about 100 point scores in general as opposed to 20 point scores? Or there was something damaging about Robert Parker's use of the 100 points?

                                              1. re: goldangl95

                                                Parker scores were / are damaging because they became / are far too influential.

                                                The lowest score on Parker's scale is 50, which is misleading in a way that panders to the industry: 85 sounds like a 3.0 / B grade, but on a real 100-point scale it would be 70, so it's really a 1.7 / C-minus. That surely helped it catch on.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  I'm not trying to be adversarial just trying to understand the point. Is the reason Parker got to be so influential because he was an easier grader than the other wine critics and gave inflated scores?

                                                  That doesn't sound right to me but maybe that's what happened.

                                                  And so a 100 point system itself wasn't problematic but the "grade inflation" was?

                                                  But what is the continued frustration with the 100 point system? If everyone now uses the same grade inflation, then no producer is going to chase Parker's palate in particular. On cellartracker the average higher end wine (say $25+ a bottle) is probably about an 88. Which is inflated too - but we all know that 88 doesn't mean excellent because everyone uses the same inflated system.

                                                2. re: goldangl95

                                                  The damage is in the 100-point scale itself.

                                                  Robert Parker is not Evil Incarnate. He is not the Devil in a business suit, nor did he run for the office of God . . . the fact that many have given him that position by acclamation is merely proof that the people have abdicated their own responsibilities. Too many people are far too content to say, "For God's sake, tell me what to drink!" rather than to make up their own minds through tasting for themselves . . . a guide or a road map is one thing, but Parker himself will be the first one to tell you his words are not holy gospel.

                                                  Wines are not the Olympics. There isn't one Gold Medal winner, one Silver, one Bronze . . . this continues to cause confusion for some people even today. I know, I know -- we're talking about points, not medals -- but if something as old as medals can still confuse some people . . . .

                                                  Prior to Parker, the most common "point system" in use here in the States was the "UC Davis 20-point scale, " or -- far more likely -- the "UC Davis modified 20-point scale."

                                                  Originally, the University of California, Davis, Oenology & Viticulture Dept. professors developed a 20-point scale with the goal of being as scientific as possible in their wine evaluations, of getting everyone "on the same page," so to speak, and to eliminate subjectivity in wine tasting (well, as much as possible, anyway). This scale awarded a certain number of maximum points points for color, for clarity, for aroma as well as bouquet (there is a difference), for body, varietal correctness, finish and aftertaste (again, there is a difference). There was no way to subtract points, nor was there any way to award points because the taster *liked* the wine. Remember, the goal was to eliminate subjectivity as much as possible.

                                                  But outside the World of Academia, the wine writers, newspapers, magazines, etc. needed to personalize the scale to make it work. Thus, the UC Davis *modified* 20-point scale came into being, which always included a couple of points for subjective observations. So, too, were half-points awarded as a way of making the scale more responsive to subtle differences in wine.

                                                  According to the Powers That Be at UC Davis, statistical analysis of tastings by oenology students demonstrated that the human palate had a built-in "error factor" of +/- 1.5 points. That is, a score of 15.0 was statistically the same as a score of 16.5; a score of 16.5 was statistically the same as a score of 18.0. (But there was a distinct difference between a wine with a score of 15.0 and one with a score of 18.0!)

                                                  Wine World magazine, Vintage magazine, and many, many newspaper columnists used a version of the UC Davis modified 20-point scale.

                                                  Michael Broadbent used a zero-to-5 star system in his books, with a rare 6th star reserved for extraordinary wines. The Connoisseurs' Guide to California Wine newsletter also used a five-point system, but the highest rating was three stars, while the lowest was an upside-down wine glass.

                                                  IIRC, when Bob Morrissey started The Wine Spectator as a San Diego-based bi-weekly newspaper, it too used a version of the UC Davis modified 20-point scale. I forget what the Grapevine used.

                                                  French vintage charts from SOPEXA, the French trade organization, were often based on a scale of 1-7; so were reviews and vintage charts from the Port Wine Institute.

                                                  And then along comes Parker . . .

                                                  EVERY American intuitively, instinctively understands what a score of 100 points means . . . we all strived to get a perfect 100-point score on our tests since elementary school! So a 100-point score implies "perfection." 90 and above was an A (good boy!), 80-89 was a B (good job); 70-79 was a C (nice try; you'll do better next time); and so on . . .

                                                  Remember that on Parker's 100-point scale:

                                                  1) It's impossible to score below 50 points;

                                                  2) Points are awarded arbitrarily, rather than x points for color, y points for taste, etc., etc. as with the Davis 20-point scale, modified or not;

                                                  3) The "built-in error factor" is now +/- 5 points, meaning there's no statistical difference between an 89 and a 94, or between a 94 and a 99.


                                                  1. re: zin1953

                                                    Very well said. I keep trying to point out that what is new is not at all the numerical rankings per se, but the particular 100-point version; and most importantly, how consumers reacted differently to that.

                                                    It is not about "grade inflation" nor about Parker or anyone else being "damaging" but rather about how today's US consumers perceive these scores -- a point awfully hard to convey to some of them.

                                                    Incidentally, 100-point scoring was novel to the US, for which Parker HAS claimed credit; but not so to the larger wine world. I recall Darrel Corti, for instance, commenting that he'd routinely used 100 points in Australia when invited to judge wines there, pre-Parker.

                                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                                      You're quite right -- the Sydney competition employs a 100-point scale, and that *does* pre-date Mr. Parker.

                                                      Of course whenever anyone mentions Darryl, it brings a smile to my face, and lots of stories come to mind . . . .

                                                      1. re: eatzalot

                                                        Though it is now quite old, there was a two-panel cartoon with a patron at the counter of a wine shop.

                                                        Patron - "I bought a bottle of this wine, and it tasted like kerosene, and we hated it. I want to return it for credit."

                                                        Wine merchant - "Sorry that you found it so disgusting. You do know that Robert Parker gave it a 98, don't you?"

                                                        Patron - "OK, I'll take a case then."

                                                        Says a lot.


                                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                          You know that cartoon was based upon a true story, don't you? It took place between Steve Wallace and one of his customers, and involved returning a case (well, 11-1/2 bottles); then returning several weeks later to buy a case because of a Parker review . . .

                                                          1. re: zin1953

                                                            Yes, I had that cartoon panel posted in my (non-wine-related) office for years. One of a series, with SHARP observations on the contemporary wine world. I recall that the panel cited here used a thinly fictionalized publication name ("Wine Advisor" or the like), and also that the customer somehow looked like a perfect parody of the then-new point-slavish, paint-by-numbers wine consumer.

                                                            A related clipping also posted for years was a Gerald Asher column, just when this "points" stuff was going mainstream, around 1987. The column criticized gratuitous jargon in wine descriptions as alienating rather than helping the wine newcomer. Though, Asher admitted, he still found Thurber[?]'s "naive little domestic Burgundy" more evocative than a recent wine that had been authoritatively and precisely described as "86."

                                                              1. re: eatzalot

                                                                "It's a naïve domestic Burgundy without any breeding, but I think you'll be amused by its presumption."

                                                        2. re: zin1953

                                                          I see #2 and #3 as problems and I understand that it's problematic for people to think 91 and 94 mean something different when really - it's within margins of error and a person's whims.

                                                          But I don't see #1 as a problem in this day and age just because grading generally is now this way (e.g. the inflation problem). Most assume 90+ means good job not the best wines in the world. In schools these days it means the same thing. Grade inflation is the new normal.

                                                          Also, I'm not sure if Parker has the same influence he had or people claim he has - most consumers just respond to scores - I think there's very few who know who Robert Parker is or who Wine Advocate is. If the score comes from IWC or Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast or the guy from BevMo - I think most give it equal weight.

                                                          1. re: goldangl95

                                                            None of the numerical points I made above are a "problem" per se, but continuations of my own observations. And, to be honest, "grade inflation" has nothing (IMHO) to do with it. An "F" isn't zero points; it's anything below 50 points, and sometimes 59 or less, if you're grading by strict percentages (versus on a curve).

                                                            Parker's influence may be waning, but he's still the "biggest fish" in the pond. As for "the guy from BevMo," I've known Wilfred Wong for some 30 years or more -- he has an excellent palate and is meticulous about taking and keeping his notes.

                                                            That said . . .

                                                            a) I think there is a significant difference between numbers appearing on a point-of-purchase promotional sign, and the review of a wine with its numerical score in a publication.

                                                            b) No one outside of a BevMo shopper will know who "the guy from BevMo" is. (See "d" below.)

                                                            c) Anyone who has anything more than the slightest interest in wine *still* knows who Robert Parker is, certainly more so than Stephen Tanzer, Clive Coates, Stephen Spurrier, Alan Meadows, etc., etc. -- including Wilfred Wong. The same can be said for the Wine Spectator, which is probably better known than the Wine Advocate (comparing the name recognition of the publications themselves), or the International Wine Cellar, etc., etc.

                                                            d) The Wine Enthusiast is rather problematic, as there is still (in my experience) a good deal of confusion between Wine Enthusiast the sales catalogue (SkyMall anyone?) and Wine Enthusiast the publication that reviews wine. This is similar to the problem Wilfred faces at BevMo. If customers know who "WW" is, wouldn't the initial reaction be to discount the review? After all, BevMo has to sell the wine! What happens if Wilfred slams it? Or worse, how much pressure is Wilfred under to favorably review wines that are in stock? possibly that are slow sellers? etc., etc., etc.

                                                          2. re: zin1953


                                                            I want descriptions, and not some rating system. I do care about points, but, as I cannot taste ALL wines, want descriptions to help me choose the ones, that are worth my $'s, and my time.

                                                            Too many, who I know, are hung up on points, even if they claim not to be. They will serve wine A, and then cite someone's point rating, to try and convince all at the table, that it is worth their time.


                                                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                              Bill Hunt: "Too many, who I know, are hung up on points...They will serve wine A, and then cite someone's point rating, to try and convince all at the table, that it is worth their time."

                                                              I first heard of that around 15 years ago from wine-geek friends, in the academic world. A junior co-worker had come to dinner with a wine and proudly claimed "it's a 95" or whatever. The statement was misinterpreted (including by me, when I heard it quoted) because traditionally to wine geeks, "95" as a characterization (said in a year like 1998) unambiguously meant the vintage. What was novel was the significance that the young wine geek attributed to the critic's number.

                                                              Here was the start (for us, anyway) of a clash of perceptions now firmly entrenched, and manifest in episodes like the original SF-board thread this one spun off of, where an OP sought experienced advice on  "the best" wineries in Sonoma County. It emerged that his perception of "best" meant explicitly "rated highest by familiar critics," and that he not only found that interpretation natural and reasonable, but balked at examining it or its implications. (Per upthread: "I'll take a case!")

                                                        1. re: goldangl95

                                                          Personal comment on "points."

                                                          I could care less about points, but DO appreciate concise discussions of the characteristics of a particular wine.

                                                          I skip points, wineglasses, corkscrews, and the like, and concentrate on the descriptions - regardless of who the reviewer is.

                                                          Maybe I am alone in this?


                                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                            Points, schmoints. I go for descriptions.

                                                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                              As we are all on Chowhound (a discussion website), I imagine most of us favor descriptions over numerical ratings or we still wouldn't be participating. It's much more enjoyable - also much less efficient and doesn't work for comparison/aggregation.

                                                              1. re: goldangl95

                                                                Aggregation, no -- it doesn't. Comparison, yes -- of course it does.

                                                                Then again, I don't understand the reason for the former . . .

                                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                                  Well, let's say in the restaurant context. Some posts on the Bay Area board: coming in on a late plane flight Monday night...any nicer sit down restaurants available around Union Square?

                                                                  Do I have a list of restaurants that are open late on Monday nights around union square in my head? No. So I go to Yelp, I use the Open at... feature. Sort by reviews with $$+. Sort by neighborhood Union Square. Look for the restaurants I like that meet those characteristics and post here.

                                                                  That's what aggregating data does. Just as if someone asks I really like Petite Sirah what sonoma wineries serve it on a regular basis? And I can't remember off the top of my head. I go to cellartracker, I search for Sonoma County, varietal petite Sirah, vintage 2004-2012, sort by producer. Look at my tasting notes/history with those wineries and post about those.

                                                                  1. re: goldangl95

                                                                    OK, chalk me up as dense, but do you mean what wineries MAKE Petite Sirah as a varietal wine, or actually "SERVE it on a regular basis" in their tasting room?

                                                                    / / / /

                                                                    For ME, if someone comes onto CH and asks, for example, what Sonoma wineries produce a varietal Petite Sirah, the only way for me to compile a list is to go to the website and look at their membership list. (Checking your own tasting notes on Petite Sirah only tells you the Petites that *you've* tried, not who makes it.


                                                                    If someone asks instead for recommendations of favorite Petite Sirah producers, I can do that off the top of my head, with no need to consult the internet -- after all, it's *my* recommendations, not a list of popular producers . . . .

                                                                    1. re: zin1953

                                                                      It's cross referenced. On cellartracker, you can search through all your data as well as everyones data. I wouldn't state I liked something I've never tried before, but I would have no idea whether a producer has only produced petite sirah once - or does so consistently year after year. Cellartracker also collects data about average price paid - which is useful if you no longer remember.

                                                                      The data is extensive enough for California producers that you can get that type of information off of cellartracker.

                                                                      Regardless of my own practices having this type of data is very useful. I enjoy it immensely (I clearly also enjoy narrative descriptions or I wouldn't participate on Chowhound). I realize there's people who taste far more than me and have far bigger cellars than mine who don't like this type of categorization/data analysis but for many it's useful and numbers help with the sorting.

                                                                      1. re: goldangl95

                                                                        I'm familiar with Cellartracker, but I'm one of those that don't necessarily find it as useful as others seem to . . .

                                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                                          Thanks for the fabulous history lesson guys. Most of my current clients just care if it tastes good and I only pull out the "score card" as a back up on wines they might not as familiar with.

                                                        2. I have thoroughly enjoyed this discussion even though there has been a lot more heat than light generated in several places. In any case, I just wanted to share my experiences with Robert Parker and his points system. When I moved to central California in the mid-1980s, I was just beginning to develop a taste for wine. Living in Ohio, I had sampled some bottles of French and Italian wine. I had also lived in Oregon and enjoyed some of the Oregon Pinot Noirs etc. However, I had little familiarity with the range of California wines available when I moved there.
                                                          Around 1986 and 87, friends and I took 2 or 3 wine tasting trips, particularly concentrating on vineyards in Sonoma. None of us had much experience with the area, but I had a copy of a first or 2nd edition of Robert Parker's Wine Buyer's Guide. Previously the wine criticism I had read had been all full of flowery generalities – "a truly masculine wine," "smooth and deep flavored," "balanced expression of the vintage," etc. etc. Basically all of that verbiage said to me only that the writer enjoyed the wine, but it was very difficult for me to translate that into what my experience would be. It also made it virtually impossible to decide whether to buy the "lush and flowery" bottle or the "rich harvest fruits" offering. Parker's book offered easy-to-understand scores that made choosing between wines and wineries much easier. While my friends and I could afford very few bottles that scored in the high 90s, we were consistently surprised by the low scores often posted for wines from well-known wineries and so we sought out the harder to find places offering better values. With Parker's help, we located wineries such as Pedroncelli, Lytton Springs, Foppiano, Dry Creek Vineyards, Trentadue, and others. All in all, we felt like his numerical rankings had been very helpful and saved us time and energy.
                                                          Of course, within a few years, Parker seemed to lose interest in any wines that I could afford or would be drinking. I also felt that his scores led me to purchase some fairly expensive wines that I later regretted – in one case, a wine that he changed his mind about over time. However, since Parker bashing is so popular among virtually all wine drinkers that I know, I just wanted to point out why his scoring system was helpful back when I was just learning about California wines and needed direction to select wines and wineries to try. That he has created his own Parkerstein monster is another matter entirely, but I do not think that his overall influence has been entirely negative.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Ed Dibble

                                                            Up through the 4th edition in 1995 those were very useful books with a huge amount of detailed description, including comparisons of various vintages of individual wines.

                                                            I got the impression that they didn't put anywhere near as much work into the 5th and subsequent editions.