VINTAGES Preview – Oct 29th, 2016

The 90 Point Divide 
by David Lawrason, with notes from Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel

David LawrasonIn the absence of a compelling feature from VINTAGES in this release, I want to re-visit wine ratings. Long time readers may just want to skip right to our 90-point plus picks, but every once in awhile I think it is important to discuss this topic for new readers. In the last year, WineAlign has attracted 7,500 registered users in Ontario.

For a whole generation of wine producers, retailers and consumers a 90-point rating has become the great divide or fault line of wine quality. Below 90 the wine is ignored, above 90 fanfare awaits. Any rational human will know that this is an arbitrary line, and that the importance of “90 points” has ballooned out of proportion. But we critics who taste thousands of wines a year still need some kind of compass to let you know where we stand.

From my perspective 90 points has always been that threshold of “excellence”. Where I am freed from thinking about fault or inadequacy and allowed to enjoy a wine that expresses purity, fine typicity and balance. And hopefully, the wine has the energy, balance and length to be really compelling – the more compelling the higher that score should be. Theoretically up to 100 points, although I probably won’t score a wine 100 unless it makes me weep.

You may have noticed that at WineAlign, and among other local reviewers as well, the range of scores for VINTAGES releases is generally between 85 and 92 points – which to me is too compressed on a 100-point scale. But that’s where it sits, and that’s actually where quality lies within wines priced between $15 and $50, which is VINTAGES’ bandwidth.  (The average price at VINTAGES is something like $21.95). When I review LCBO general list wines from $8 to $15 most score between 80 and 87 points. If I were reviewing Classics Catalogue wines priced $50 and up the scores would be most often between 92 and 99.

Within this 85 to 92 point VINTAGES framework the 90-point divide looms particularly large, and I urge you not to make 90 your cut-off point, especially without looking at price. You must always look at price, because I do not build “value” into my ratings, as some critics may do. To me, a $30 wine should hit 90 points with ease nowadays, so that any 90-point wine under $30 is good value. So is an 89-point wine under $25, or an 88-point wine under $20, and 87-point wine under $15. On the other side of 90, a $40 wine should be hitting 91, a $50 wine 92, etc. etc. That’s how I see it anyway.

As to how other critics score, that is their responsibility to explain, and your responsibility to find out. I often cringe when I see scores I feel are inflated or plain wrong, but it is not my place to comment on the work of my peers – except when a winery directly chooses to publish a suspect score on the bottle as part of their marketing effort. Anything on the label that might be influencing your point of purchase decision becomes a domain for fair comment. In this regard, I would also hold VINTAGES to account in occasionally publishing inflated “shelf-talker” scores.

To help you calibrate to WineAlign and its critics I have asked Michael and Sara for picks from the October 29th VINTAGES release that hit 90 points. Take a look, note the price, read the review, and then you be the judge.  And remember, 90 points is where this selection begins.  Click the links to see how they have really scored.

Our 90 pts+ Picks from the Oct 29th VINTAGES release:


Note:  Our latest VINTAGES Buyers’ Guide selections are only visible to our Paid subscribers. Non-paying members will see the recommendations 30 days after publication. Non-paying members now have access to our New Releases to discover the best of recent VINTAGES releases still in stock.

We have implemented changes around our VINTAGES content including a reduction in our annual Premium Membership rate, and the introduction of a new three-month rate. We would ask you to take a moment to understand why we are making these changes and invite you to subscribe today to unlock our top picks.

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“For the cost of a good bottle of wine we’ll help you discover hundreds of great ones.”

So this is the first take at the October 29 release. John will be back next week. It’s an exciting time for M. Szabo with his new book, Volcanic Wines, Salt, and Power, hitting the shelves. John will be hosting a Volcanic Wines Taste & Buy and Book Signing at George Restaurant on November 22nd. There are still tickets left!

Until next time!

David Lawrason

From VINTAGES October 29, 2016

Use these quick links for immediate access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release.

Lawrason’s Take
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Michael’s Mix
All October 29th Reviews

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Premium subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


 Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2013

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