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Reviews - a waste of time?


#1

I am getting fed up, I think, trying to get any expert help in finding wines that I will enjoy. Take an example from the recent Rhone EP: Domaine du Cayron Gigondas.

Drinkrhone: 6 stars (top score - awarded solely to this, top Beaucastel, Rayas CNDP and some very expensive Cote Rotie in this vintage). Waxes lyrical
Jeb Dunnuck: 92 - 94. not so effusive but still very good
Jancisrobinson.com: 15. Basically ‘it’s a bit odd and I didn’t like it’ from Richard Hemming

I have gone for this wine, I trust drinkrhone because I have loved his highly rated wines in the past especially in Gigondas. But how can three experienced wine critics have opinions ranging from basically epic to ‘very odd’ off what we would presume are the same barrel samples at the same tasting?

Perhaps this is a bad example, as it is clearly a bit unique, for better or worse and this article suggests that jancisrobinson scores correlate least well with cellartracker and other reviews:

What have others found? Do you consistently find your own tastes align with specific reviewers/sites? Jancis is meant to be the foremost critic in the world but are her and her colleagues favouring some specific characteristics that others aren’t (and apparently do not correlate well with mainstream tastes on CT?)


Personal Rating Scales
#2

Like with any quantifiable model, the ‘size’ is important. If 99 out of 100 people said the wine is fantastic, I’d be interested to know for sure. But when two people say something, well there is a 50% chance that the first gentleman has or hasn’t got a mad cow ‘condition’ & that the second gentleman might or might not in fact be a gentleman cow rather than a lady-boy cow, or not a gentleman at all, like a lady-bird (unless he is a gentleman-bird, ‘which is rare’), or just a cow-boy & not a pure cow because cows tend to be ladies.


#3

It’s called a subjective opinion, at least in the case you mention there is a difference of opinion, you would get the same response if you had a tasting among non “experts”, we all like different things otherwise there would only be a couple of wine styles.

The same applies to wine competitions, you will see in some cases a Gold a Bronze and a recommended on the same bottle all from different committees in different competitions, someone wrote " when you see a Gold medal on a wine it means a lot of people didn’t like it" meaning it probably was entered in umpteen competitions before it got an award, that would certainly apply in France where there are a hundred wine competions made up of numerous different panel styles and rules.
Jancis whether you agree with her findings or not will put her head above the parapet on occasions rather than following the ‘me too’ line of most wine critics.

When it comes to barrel samples they are just that, they are not the finished product, you are relying on an expert to predict what the final assemblage may taste like, not only is it still subjective but they often get it wrong, if you look at Farr Vintners site you will often with a more popular wine get three different assessments of a wine over years from the same expert and often the scores are very different.
It all comes down to wether you really feel you can go with any particular expert as your guiding light, if you do then you will also be as has been proved by tests likely to be influenced about how you personaly judge a wine as you will have a pre concieved idea about how it will taste already implanted in your brain.
It’s not unlike saying I always drive a Mercedes as they are the best cars, conveniently overlooking that today the cheaper ones are made up with Renault and Nissan parts, but you have a pre oncieved idea about Mercedes as a better vehicle.
The wine critic and competition scores and award boosts prices and gives publicity it is why wines are entered in the first place for all but a few it is simply a business.

Quite simple things when comparing a wine with the blurb from an expert is used for comparison, how many of us have opened a bottle poured and then said this is nothing like the wine x said was wonderful, it is because outside the faulty and the fraudulent, the fact you do not taste in the same way as the expert, that does not make your view less valid it is simply how we are, again I repeat there is only one expert in the end yourself.


#4

I think this is often key when using critics scores and reviews as a guide - if you have had good experience with well reviewed wines from a particular critic in the past, then you are probably looking for the same thing and should probably continue to take the reviews of that critic over others.

I recently came across another oddity in a critics reviews and scores in two reviews for the Dufort-Vivens 2005 currently offered by TWS through their Bordeaux offer, which does serve to highlight @cerberus point that an experts review of a wine can change as the wine is tasted later in it’s evolution, although it did strike me as somewhat odd that the score remained consistent given that, to my mind, the two reviews gave very different impressions of the wine -

Jancis Robinson, 2006: (16) Very dark maroon. Sweet, almost porty notes on the nose. Very sweet on the front palate, without quite enough acidity. Some strong Merlot influence. Good attempt but not very complex. Fades very fast on the finish. Lack of intensity on the mid palate. Not very appetising. Hot finish. Quite brutal. Unappetising - a bit sickly. Drink 2015-22

Jancis Robinson, 2017: (16) Tasted blind. Blackish ruby. Rather opulent and satisfying on the nose and alluring on the palate. Some freshness. Slightly bitter finish. But really good start.
Drink 2018-2030


#5

I think you are right. It is worth understanding how your tastes align with others, have regard to those who you have agreed with in the past and not worry about the others. Perhaps a quite enjoyable exercise in finding wines with very varying reviews and trying to deduce order from the chaos in terms of who to have regard to in future.


#6

No, not a waste of time but learn trust and develop your own palate.
Remember if you find that wine from the same bottle often smells and tastes different the next day…
HHas the wine developed or deteriorated…
Are conditions ( temperature, background etc the same …
Are you using perfume or aftershave ( apologies to those who use both)
Are you taking medication or liable to be driven by mood changes…, for instance my anxiety, depression can give me three different wines from the same bottle.
In my muddled unstructured way I am saying maybe follow one or two expert opinions, but don’t be afraid of disagreeing, formulate how the wine presents itself to you !
If you’re even more confused now than when you began reading this reply, I recommend a couple of venlafaxine and a darkened room…:flushed::innocent::rose::wine_glass:

Btw you’re on the right track with TWS Rhone wines…


#7

Expert reviews are only there to aid my confirmation bias and cherry-picking:

  • Critic X likes this wine: “Me too! This is important - it means my palate is just as good as theirs!”

  • Critic X doesn’t like this wine: “Well who cares, it’s all subjective anyway…”


#8

It may seem my earlier puts me in the cynical category, far from it I am merely making the point that experts are as gullible as anyone else and if hanging your hat on one particular experts peg is your way forward fine, as long as you can be sure that you are in total agreement with what he predicts, that is going to be unlikely, as onlyawino says you have to learn to believe in your own judgement.
It is a fascinating adjunct to wine buying and drinking, but it has to be remembered that wine press and critics are relatively new to the wine industry, and it could be said it has reached saturation point.
This is from Michael Broadbents introduction in his book Vintage Wine.

“There is no such thing as ‘objective’ tasting. Tasting wine is subjective: what I think and what you think of a wine is important.Less and less these daysdo I labourwith tortured descriptions, I am more concerned with the wines qualityand it’s state of developement. Moreover I do not claim to be a “great” taster, merely a fairly conscientous one.”

And then…

“It would be most convenient for a wineto have a once-and-for-all rating,In practice, the taste, or ones perception of a wine, can differ depending on the context: the temperature of the wineand the room, the fitness, alertness and experience of the taster, the conditions in which the wine has been stored, the cork, the ullage, its relationship with other wines tasted alongside, with food, the ambiance and the company.
One can only record what a particular wine was like at the time of tasting”

Further down he also says, and remember this is a few years back…on the huge expansion taking place in the wine world, all the worlds making wine.

“It would seem to be a wine consumer’s paradise. We are spoilt for choicebut, I suspect, we have never been more confused.”

He does go one to talk about a “red alert” the gold medal syndrom, but that is for another thread and day, the differnce with someone like Michael Broadbent is that he speaks from a different perspective, he does not have to give marks out of a hundred to make his point he says it as it is, or did and we could do with more of that in wine writing instead of the endless buy this buy that by a whole army of new critic experts who do indeed confuse and like us have their own failings.

"


#9

I think it was the case a few years ago that there were very distinct differences between the ratings of US and UK critics, particularly for claret. Perhaps the critics had different tastes, or believed the market they were writing for did. There was certainly an impression that to get high ratings in the US the winemakers needed to lean towards the high-alcohol, “fruit bomb” style, and the subtler charms worked better with European critics. In turn, that may have been a reflection of their perceived markets: With the explosion in interest in the US in wine (from a very low base) the market there was seen as younger and less vinously “educated” . Hence the over-reliance (and resulting deification) on critics there. I remember one wine merchant was quoted a few years ago - "If Robert Parker scores it below 90 I can’t sell it; if he rates it over 90 I can’t source any."
So back then it was not at all unusual to see marked differences between critics’ appraisals depending on which side of the Atlantic they were from/writing for. But I get the impression these cultural differences are diminishing - perhaps as a result of an unfortunate homogenisation of wine taste globally. Also the (excellent, English) Neal Martin working with Parker’s organisation for years (and now with Galloni’s Vinous) has perhaps built bridges between the two camps.


#10

Still, it might be fun to compile between us a “User’s Guide” to the better know critics/ reviewers: I’ll start…

(Remember, my views only; don’t speak for the Society, etc etc…)

James Suckling: Always first to publish, always waay over the top. Knock ten points off his scores, add five years to his drink dates;
Antonio Galloni: Mainly interested in coming up with a killer first line that winemakers can use in their marketing, which gets his name out there. Apparently has never disliked a single wine, ever;
Richard Juhlin: self appointed world Champagne expert. Not afraid to criticise, at least. For me, a really good counter-indicator - what he likes, I don’t.
Tyson Stelzer: Aussie. But despite that knows his stuff - and his tastes match mine more than most. Champagne specialist.

Any to add?


#11

James Halliday: If it scores less than 93, it’s literally garbage water.


#12

Halliday has taken points creep to a whole new level, spurred by the growth in online retail. Given its heavy reliance on wine scores, I’m not quite sure how a wine could possibly sell if it doesn’t have 96 points and be under $20.


#13

See it just invalidates everything they say. My sense is that Tim Atkin scores may be heading in the same direction? He gave nearly 10% of wines in his SA tasting a score above 95, including a 96 for the 2013 Tokara which TWS have for a modest £23. If he is right then we all need to stop buying Bordeaux!


#14

Of course when pushed on this they will quote the points as including price value factor as a get out, an impossible algorithm when applied to the vagaries of wine pricing and subjective tasting, and where in this quality/ratio scoring do the big boys sit, the fifth category cru classe vers the first cat, it becomes impossible and meaningless, as they are all judged on one level despite huge price differentials.
Do I use critics and their scores ? yes but only to give me a slant on the enormous amounts of wines that without having the advantage of a professional taster I would never know existed, I drink my wines I do not taste spit and move on its a very different approach.
There have also been studies that put the ability of tasters to get through the very high numbers on a given day that they often do into question as to whether they really can be objective after a certain number, many admit they can’t yet the figures given are sometime beyond the realms of belief notes or no notes as a sustainable and fair assessment.
It is an interesting area of discussion in an age when there are so many opinions in print and online, and personally I just think you have to stand back and be less believing in what is put before you for as someone else said here when did you last see a wine review that said anything other than something glowing about the product.


#15

I’ve always preferred Hugh Johnson’s scoring, something along the lines of ‘two bottles = the real thumbs up’ or whatever it was (vague memories from an earlier book). I’ve never followed any critics and doubt I’ll ever pay to read their opinions, no matter how much I might respect their palate or experience. And the experience is the more useful arbiter anyway, at least in terms of choosing what to buy; I can’t hope to taste as many wines in a year as TWS buyers, for example, so I value their notes when making my EP selections, but they can’t always tell me wat I’d like, and I may disagree with them on that score anyway.

But whether reviews are a waste of time or not, well, it depends what you want to get out of them. The best ones take me on a journey, and inspire enjoyment through theatre and stories. Endless flavour descriptions just feels like a competition to see who has the most sensitive nose.


#16

I was just going through my locker at work today and to my surprise found this book… I forgot I owned it… Have since checked out certain older wines I tried recently (or are in the pipeline) and it was a very fascinating read. For example I had 1981 Prieure Lichine recently, which both me and my brother quite enjoyed, according to MB it was a “drink up” in 1993. The vintage report on 1974 in California was a very satisfying read…


#17

@tom, or the most eloquent and imaginative descriptors :rofl:


#18

I think it’s really important to understand the reviewer’s likes and dislikes up front. Also to be aware of the subtext in the words sometimes.

I find Jancis Robinson’s reviews good because her views on styles of wine for each region generally accord with mine, and I’ve found over time that if she likes a wine, I tend to as well. I’ve even tasted a couple before she’s reviewed them and found her views very similar to mine.

I can’t say I find the same with Richard Hemming’s reviews though. Not that they are not technically proficient, more a lack of shared tastes at times. He gave a particularly scathing review for a Gigondas which I happen to like, and his review was markedly different from other decent critics . Maybe a bad sample - perhaps acknowledge that may be the case.

Many of the others I find sycophantic and unwilling to say a bad word about anything. It’s true that the technical quality of winemaking is higher now than ever, but that doesn’t mean that all wines are as wonderful as some would make out.

I also think that if a wine is number 78 of 80 tasted, particularly new vintage from cask samples, it’s bound to be that the taster has just had enough at times!

Therefore, I don’t think they are a waste of time, but be careful what you take from them, and it’s definitely useful to know if the reviewer has got vaguely the same taste in specific wine style as you.

Drinking window dates can be a bit of an educated guess. I’ve seen them out by a lot in both directions. If buying a case, sample one at the beginning of the window and take it from there. I often keep a bottle back for years after to see how it goes. Sometimes find Cellar tracker reviews helpful there, sometimes not.


#19

This whole thread started with a sniffy Hemming review of a Gigondas and it has come full circle. Which specific wine was this?


#20

Same one. I didnt read the whole thread from the top. However I stand by my general observations.