Tips & Tools for the Savvy Shopper

 
Here's a Big One: Don't get caught up in Vintage Hype which is way out of control in the online world.
Why: Poor or bad wines are made in excellent vintages because people make wines and humans can screw up even in the best conditions.
 Vintage charts are guides, not guarantees.

Price is no guarantee of quality; never has, never will be.
Why? Do you really need an explanation, here?
 
 Look at ratings and point scores as just someone’s opinion.
Why? A highly rated wine does not take into consideration real value for you money nor does it allow for style differences.

Ratings from professional and peers are still much like beauty contests: it is all in the eyes of the beholder.
Want proof? Look at the Kardashian klan who are either pretty kute, klunky, or krappy.
 
 Always better to buy one bottle before buying a full case or more.
Why? You could be stuck with only only one bottle that wasn't to your tastes.
 
Load up on great value wines to drink daily to avoid consuming your higher-priced favorites.
Why? If you pay top dollar for wines known to improve with aging, let them age to derive the full benefit.
 
Trust your instincts, your first impression, when evaluating a wine for possible purchase.
Why? You are the only expert who knows what pleases your palate.


ON PRICING: When it comes to comparing prices, my recommended resource is
www.winesearcher.com. You can buy the pro version, but the free one is quite detailed in listing prices around the USA and the world for many, many wines. It provides prices at retail outlets and at auctions.

I find its average retail price to be very helpful when considering whether something is a good deal or not. This site's primary purpose is to promote its member retailers but it also provides reviews and tasting notes which are no better or worse than those on other sites.


Another site, www.vivino.com, is also useful for citing prices at retail outlets, including web­ only sites, but to date its data base is not as huge as winesearcher's. The same is true for delectable.com which also relies on its members reviews. These are the two most popular apps.

Both have you photograph a wine label and access reviews of that wine. Vivino emphasizes reviews from its subscribers who frequently refer to relative values and prices.

I dont find cellartracker which some friends recommend to offer anything better than these others mentioned here.

Finally, if you are buying current vintages or newly released wines from wineries in the US, it is a good idea to check the per bottle price at the winery's website. Many online retailers are now offering the 2014 Caymus Cabernet which sells for  $75 a bottle at the winery. I've seen websites listing its full price as $85 before their so-called discounts reduce the price to $74.99. Some deal!


Are Points Scores Practically Pointless?

Once upon a time only Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and The Wine Spectator dueled over which one could score the most wines 90 points or more. Then along came Stephen Tanzer, The Wine Enthusiast and others to jump on the 100 point scoring system with a steady barrage of 90 point scores in their publications.

Recently,  things really began to get out of hand. Parker’s onetime protege, Galloni or Baloney or whatever, split off and now pumps out 90+ ratings on hundreds of wines. And now, Decanter Magazine which railed against the 100 point system for years, allows some of its reviewers to use it.

Today, I can’t think of a qualified expert who does not rate wines by the 100 point system and now with the bloggers, everyone is an expert.

And as more and more sommeliers land a day job as consultants or advisors to online publications, well, the points just keep on coming at you.

You need  to understand  that this scoring system for wine as it has evolved is all about mutual promotion. By that I mean every producer whose wine is rated 90 or above is likely to promote that wine and  in so doing will mention that writer or publication or blogger.

That’s how Parker became so well-known early on and forced The Wine Spectator to start using the 100 point rating system to keep up. Mutual back-scratching at its finest.

For producers, the 90+point ratings only encourages them to increase prices at every opportunity. That is good for the producers; not so good for the consumer.

Even www.wineaccess which is no stranger to hype and self-promotion had this to say recently:

“But perhaps more than anything, what most has us reaching for the TUMS are the soaring prices of Napa Valley’s (admittedly herculean) 2013 Cabernet Sauvignons.

Wine Spectator primed the Napa Valley pump, calling 2013 “an ideal season.” Then Parker came on like gangbusters, posting a record 19 perfect 100-point ratings, before calling 2013 “the greatest vintage in 37 years.” Finally it was Galloni’s turn. Parker’s former protege has always been stingier than his counterparts, causing many to suggest that if you want to compare a Parker score to Galloni’s, it’s best to just “subtract two.” Galloni poured fuel on The Wine Advocate’s Napa Valley fire, publishing a record 46 reviews of 97 points or more.

The whole system is indeed flaming out of control, rendering most point scores in the 90s, well, rather pointless, when it comes down to being useful information for wine consumers.


TIP OF THE DAY -  What about those 86-89­ point wines? To find a real good deal, our suggestion is to look carefully at wines that are scored in the 86-­89 point bracket. 


I've noticed amateur reviewers and even the pros second guess themselves and wimp out or back off and score an excellent wine in this grey area, just below 90.

For wine producers, 90 is the magic number and reviewers know they’ll have to stand behind a wine rated 90 and higher. Their reputation is not at stake with scoring wines below 90.

These 86-89 scores are also common among  professional critics because most of them have a built-in bias in favor of opulent, super-ripe, heavyweight wines that stand out. They will deny this bias, of course. But some of the top-rated Chardonnays and Cabernets are so over the top that they are wines on steroids.  And the kind of balanced wines that are just perfect for normal people fall into the 86-89 range.

The critics also tend to define greatness (scores from 95-100) as a factor of a wine’s ageability. So a super Rose or a red intended to be enjoyed in its youth are unlikely to break the 90 point barrier.

This too will be denied.

And of course, the critics never make mistakes.

When amateurs rate wines by points, often the first wine tasted in a group gets treated lightly because the taster is not quite warmed up.

Or conversely, for a wine that was, say tasted  #12 in a group of 12, the score will be low since by then the taster is fatigued, possibly blitzed.

If the wine is judged by a panel, a score of 86-89 often results from a serious split, meaning some tasters loved it, others not so much. So they compromised..

This frequently happens when the wine is relatively unknown such as an Aglianico  or Grenache Blanc.

A similar situation arises when looking at results from competitions that hand out medals. Some of the best wines end up with Silver medals because the panel was split. In my experience, often 3 judges will love a wine and the others rated it ordinary.


ON OLDER VINTAGES: Many website, particularly those with daily deals, seem to be
magically discovering a treasure trove of older wine or a few cases found hidden in the far end of a winery's cellar.


Here is a rule of thumb: if the wine is more than ten years old, be cautious and a
little suspicious.

To me, a wine made before 2006 must have been moved around from one place to another over time.
Although a few old­style Rioja producers like to hold back multiple vintages, in general 
no producer, importer, or distributor holds a wine for several years.

Chances are most older vintages offered were purchased from a private cellar. And that's also likely to be true for older vintages of Port, Sauternes, and other sweet and fortified wines.

Knowing a Wine's Provenance: 

Talking about older vintages takes ua to the topic of a wine's provenance. 
Our friends at wikipedia have this to say:

"Provenance (from the French provenir, "to come from"), is the chronology of the ownership, custody or location of a historical object.[1] The term was originally mostly used in relation to works of art, but is now used in similar senses in a wide range of  fields, including archaeology, paleontology, archives, manuscripts, printed books, and science and computing."

I would not hesitate to add wine to that list.

Many wine sites offer wines that are old, not current releases or recent vintages.

The question every wine shopper should ask when an old wine is offered is this: where the heck has that wine been stored since its release?
Who owns it, has it had multiple owners, and how was it transported and cellared?

The answer to those questions is the wine's provenance.