Posts Tagged ‘wine reviews’

Can’t Wait for the 2015…Rhones!

November 15, 2017

Ha, ha, gotcha Bordeaux lovers!

Although people who follow/know me may say I ‘gotcha’d’ myself, given how often I have written about the perils of falling for the latest vintage promotion.

But here I am, doing it anyway…but I have learned, and wanted to pass that on.

First off, as someone who works in PR, I know the yearly vintage promotions – Best Ever, Vintage of the Decade, etc – are designed purely to sell wines, at higher prices if possible. But if you want to wade into the fray, there is a way to manage things.

First and foremost, make sure you like the kind of wine being promoted. Sounds basic, but I am amazed by how many people – myself included – have been sucked into buying Bordeaux, even though they don’t really know what it tastes like or, like me, don’t like the style. So make sure you know you like it before you buy those 90 pt bottles!

Also, if you are buying to cellar the wines, make sure you know what mature wine tastes like and, again, that you like it! Too many people don’t understand that “older” means less fruit, more wood, herbs, etc. Completely different!

Third, buy/try before you buy/cellar. That doesn’t have to be expensive – even Bordeaux has cheaper wines that are well rated. Buy a bottle, open it…better to find out before you spend a lot if you agree with the reviews.

That can also help you with find out what it tastes like when it matures. You don’t have to find an (expensive) ten-year version of the wine either. Open the bottle and try it…then leave it open for few hours, and try it again. Then put the cork back in. Leave it overnight, and try it the next day.  Air will mimic the maturation process, and give you a sense of how it will age/taste years from now.

Finally, if you know/like the style, have tasted cheaper versions/like them…how do you decide what to buy?

First, have a budget per bottle and stick to it; don’t get sucked into spending ridiculous amounts of money just because of ratings.

Second, find a wine reviewer who likes the same style as you, and buy based on that. How? Well find some cheaper wines they reviewed, buy them and try them. If you agree/like what they like, then you are set. Few people can afford to buy a bunch of $50 ++ bottles to try first…so you have to trust someone!

Finally, buy 2 bottles at least…that way you can track how it develops. Try one in a few years, see how it is, then decided when to drink the other(s).

So, there you go…how to get involved in the latest vintage frenzy if you want!



April 20, 2016

Well, I did it again…decided to buy a wine that I have historically not enjoyed. And when I tried it tonight – surprise! I still didn’t like it!

So why do I do it? Why do I keep buying wines that I just know I won’t like?

Before I answer – or try to answer – the question, let me tell you the wines I am talking about.

For everyday drinking? It is Chilean Syrah (which is what I had tonight). Once again, there was oak in it – not needed for Syrah – and a strange dirtiness (not earthiness) – that I just don’t enjoy.

Other everyday wines that fall into this category for me include Spanish Garnacha. Again, it seems to be the oak in those wines, which in their case just rips the fruit right out of them.

The same thing still happens for my cellar wines as well. Case in point – Spanish wines! Maybe because most of them are Garnacha (see note above), but even for Tempranillo-based wines, they just don’t develop like I would like.

At least I have broken my addiction to Bordeaux! After too many wines that ended up woody and devoid of fruit – despite lofty, fruity reviews from wine reviewers that I trust.

So back to the question – why do I keep going back? I know the style of wine that I like, I know my tastes, and yet…

Part of the answer, I know, is ratings. Like almost everyone else, I can be seduced by wines that score 90 pts or more, particularly if they are reasonably priced (like a lot of the Spanish wines are).

But it isn’t just the rating itself…it is also the review! When I see references to ripe fruit, that really draws me in. And yet, for some of the wines I reference above, those flavours don’t seem to be there.

At the end of the day, though, I think what gets me is my optimism! The thought that maybe things have changed, maybe I will like it now, maybe this is a new find! Those ideas get me every time.

But now that I know, will I change? Yes…until next time!


July 10, 2013

There was an interesting article this past weekend in one of our national newspapers – front page, no less – about wine experts, and if they actually know anything. It called into question everything from wine ratings (what makes a 90 point wine vs an 80 point wine) to whether the average person can actually tell “good wine from average wine” in blind tastings.

Now, I don’t know if I would call myself a wine expert. It is definitely a hobby, one that I have been passionately engaged in for over 25 years. And I do give advice and reviews. But I have no formal training – aside from a few courses and membership in some wine associations – and wouldn’t even think to try and explain any of the technical details relating to winemaking.

But, from my perspective, I think this all misses the point. And that’s because taste in wine – like in so many other things in life – is personal. It’s not good or bad, right or wrong (aside from wines that are actually “off”, of course). Echoing the words of a teacher I once had “the best wine is the wine you like the best”.

And that is always the approach I take in reviewing or recommending wines. For the former, I make sure people know what my personal likes are – fruit forward reds, buttery Chardonnays, slightly off-dry Rieslings and Roses, etc. That way, if I say a particular wine is “great”, people will know that statement has some context to it.

I try to do the same thing when people ask me for a wine recommendation. Inevitably, my first question is “What style of wine do you like?” Dry or sweet? Fruity or woody? The answers to those questions are what guide my recommendation. I also ask for a wine they already know they like. If I know it – and its style – I can then probably make recommendations for others (the same price, more expensive and even cheaper) that person will probably like.

I take the same approach (in reverse) when picking wines for my cellar – which I will keep for 5 – 15+ years to develop and mature. Many times these wines cost $40 or more and I can’t afford to just “taste before I buy”. So I need some help.

So I have looked for a reviewer who seems to like the same style of wines as I do. For me, Robert Parker and his associates at the Wine Advocate meet that criterion, particularly when it comes to wines from the Rhone Valley, Italy, California, Oregon and Washington State. I know if they “like” a wine from these areas, it will probably have a lot of fruit in it, and enough of that fruit to age well. So the chances are I will like it too. And that has been my experience since I began relying on the Wine Advocate over 20 years ago.

Interestingly, I don’t go by their reviews for all wines. That’s because I know there are wines and wine regions – Bordeaux, for example, or Spanish Garnachas or most Chilean reds – that I just don’t enjoy, regardless of how “good” they apparently are. I have learned the hard way to just stay away from those wines, even if they get 90+++ scores from the Wine Advocate.

So does all this mean that wine critics are of any use? Well, I think they can be, as long as they think about it from the perspective of the consumer and the style of wine they like. If that’s how they give advice, then they can provide a very useful service in a world of increasingly expensive and – unfortunately – average wine.



January 16, 2013

After my new year’s “wine resolutions”, this is what I like to blog on next each year. As a “wine dweeb” who has been reading, writing about – and drinking – wine for almost 30 years now, I have discovered a number of words and phrases that should immediately make one suspicious if they are being used to describe a wine somebody wants you to buy!

1. It’s a “food wine”

This is the main one to watch for, year in, year out. The bottom line is – a wine better taste good on its own. Yes, there are some food/wine pairings that make the food and/or the wine taste better, but if you need food to make a wine taste better…then it is probably not a very good wine to begin with! So if you hear this one, stay away…far away!

2. It just needs a little time in the cellar to develop…

This is another one to beware of. Yes, there are some wines that will age and become better over time. But it is the vast minority! Over 99% of wines are made to drink right away, and should be consumed within a year. Often this comment is made to cover up the fact a wine – particularly a red wine— doesn’t have enough fruit in it, or is under-ripe. Time won’t solve either of these problems. My advice? Taste it…if you don’t like it now, chances are you aren’t going to like it much more in 3, 5, 10 or even 50 years!

3. Fruit-filled, ripe and alcoholic wines are not sophisticated

This one really bugs me! First of all, wine is made from grapes, which are fruit; it is therefore logical that it should taste like fruit (rather than wood)? Second, if we eat our fruit and vegetables when they are ripe, why wouldn’t we want our wines the same way? Who wants to drink something that tastes green (like a sour apple or rock hard pear)? Anyone who has tasted a ripe California Cabernet, bursting with blackcurrants, knows just how wine should taste. And finally, the alcohol thing…the fact is, the riper the grapes, the more sugar, the more alcohol, plain and simple. As long as the wine isn’t unbalanced because of the alcohol level, it just means you can’t drink as much of it. But you aren’t supposed to be drinking it to get drunk anyway, right?

4. It’s the vintage of the century!

Every year, it seems, somebody is touting the most recent vintage from some country or region as “the best ever”. The fact is, that just can’t be the case every year!

Yes, in most countries/regions, vintage variation is extremely important. But even in a so-called “great year”, winemakers still have to make a wine great! It is almost impossible to generalize across a vintage and expect everything to be great. More often than not, this is an excuse to raise prices across the board. My advice here is two-fold. First, try the cheapest wines first. If it is truly a good vintage, you will taste the difference in a $12 wine for sure. Then, for more expensive wines you have purchased in the past, take a look at how much the price has gone up. If it isn’t a lot – say, a few percent – it’s probably worth it. But more than that? Probably note. And for the highest end wines? I would stay away from them. They will have probably gone up the most in price, and is that really worth it?

5. It’s a 90 point wine, so it must be great!

Finally, beware the wine reviewer (says the wine reviewer)! Seriously, though…wine reviews, and ratings, are totally subjective. Too begin with, it is way more important to read the description in the review – what kind of fruit is there? what other flavours and smells? – than the rating itself. Also, if you are going to trust a wine rating/reviewer, get to know his or her style first. Robert Parker, the Wine Advocate, is a guy I know likes wine with lots of fruit in it…and so do I. I have been taking his advice for years and very rarely have I been disappointed. So if I see him raving over a wine, the chances are I will like it. Some of the other reviewers or wine magazines…not so much. Oh, and by the way…make sure the wine that is supposed to be a “90” is actually the right vintage. I don’t know how many times I see shelf talkers in wine/liquor stores promoting one vintage, only to have a different one for sale!

So there you go…five things to watch out for as you start your wine year!