Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES August 31st: Smart Buys and Ludicrously Big Numbers

Look for the Name, Not the Number

By John Szabo MS with notes from David Lawrason and Michael Godel

This week’s report features smart buys from the Vintages August 31st release, the last of the summer. I’ll keep it short; hopefully you’re engaged in more enjoyable holiday reading, and absorbing the last rays of summer warmth. If you care to ponder yet another round of thoughts on wine scores, read on. Or, jump straight to the buyer’s guide.

If you pay attention at all to wine scores, you’ll probably have noticed that the numbers on WineAlign are relatively low compared to the impressively large numbers that are invariably attributed to wines on shelf talkers, stickers on wine labels, websites and other marketing material, including the Vintages circular. Believe me, we hear about this frequently from our advertisers.

You’ll also have noticed that the numbers seem to be getting bigger and bigger – in the industry we call it “score creep”. It’s like an arms race, with certain reviewers and bloggers engaged in Olympian one-upmanship, attempting to outdo one-another with ever-higher scores. It’s an effort, I’d have to guess, to be that name quoted on the marketing material. Which writer doesn’t want free public exposure?

The real problem for you, the consumer, is that the numbers are rendered meaningless. Rather than a useful shorthand for making buying decisions, now you might be led to believe that near-perfection lies in countless bottles, even ones priced in reach of everyone. The 100-point magic is gone.

Parés Baltà Brut Cava 

I really didn’t want to re-open this discussion; we’re content at WineAlign to try to keep some semblance of meaning in our scoring and suffer the consequences from advertisers and dwell in anonymity in the murky wine marketing world. We’re working for you after all, not advertisers.  But I came across yet another ludicrously high-scoring wine at the media tasting for this release that made me angry. It’s a 2017 Tuscan Red ($16.95) rated 98 points by Luca Maroni, an Italian reviewer notorious for his scarcely fathomable scores. Even the platinum medals we awarded during the National Wine Awards of Canada, the best of the best, didn’t come near to such a large number.

98pt Tuscan Red Blend $17When it comes to impossibly big numbers, Maroni’s in a rarified league of his own, outdoing even other notorious high scorers like James Halliday and James Suckling. And the wine? It’s a rather thick, chewy, rustic red, slightly sweet, a commercial proposition. It has wide appeal no doubt, but hardly 2% from perfection. I’d have to think that even the winemaker who made the wine was scratching his head upon learning of the score, perhaps even giggling, before turning despondent and maybe even upset that he has already reached the pinnacle of his career, and that whatever future wines he might make, he can only do better by the smallest of margins. Maroni has taken his dreams away.

Or maybe, he just ignores the number, knowing that it is meaningless (after of course using it to sell the crap out of the wine), much like I suggest you should do.

Maroni’s trick is that he apparently bases his scores on a “quality – quantity index”, presumably meaning that this a decent wine made in impressively industrial quantities. It’s a near-perfect combination. But you’d have to read the tiny print on the sticker to learn this and work it out for yourself. The trouble is, the sticker looks a lot like every other bottle score sticker. Shoppers are stopped by the big number, and I guarantee you that precious few look more closely – it’s a calculated scam.

The LCBO for its part also happily quotes Maroni’s massive score in the Vintages magazine, conveniently omitting any explanation that it is not an absolute score, but rather an extraordinarily relative score. Even worse, Maroni provides no tasting note to accompany the score, no explanation of his personal index, no context for the wine.

The bottom line is that the most useful thing you can do is to find a reviewer whose preferences align with yours, and then use her recommendations to help guide your buying. It’s a matter of tasting a handful of recommended wines from a few people and finding the nexus of your and a reviewer’s preferences. The highest scores from your trusted source, then, even if they are relatively low numbers “only” in the high eighties or low nineties, are more valuable than the highest scores from an attention-hungry writer. Look for the name, not the number, I suggest.

Buyer’s Guide August 31st: White & Rosé

Domaine Des Deux Roches Pouilly Fuissé Vieilles Vignes 2016, AP Burgundy, France ($41.95)
John Szabo – Here’s an impressively rich and densely concentrated Pouilly-Fuissé, with superb intensity and length. A genuine mouthful of wine, drinking well now, but certainly capable of another 4-6 years in the cellar or beyond.
Michael Godel – Full fruit compliment, smokey and reductive, managed and assuaged by wood, extended, elevated and then lifted by very mature acidity. All in and doling out plenty of pleasure.…

Paid ContentThere are 15 other VINTAGES Release recommendations this week that are currently only available to our premium members. This complete article will be free and visible to all members 30 days after publication. We invite you to subscribe today to unlock our top picks and other Premium benefits.

Unlock our Top Picks

Please take a moment to understand why we charge for this service.

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

Paid Content

That’s all for this report. I hope to see you around the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

Use these quick links for access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release. Non-Premium members can select from all release dates 30 days prior.
Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
Szabo’s Smart Buys

New Release and VINTAGES Preview