Wine ratings 1 of 2

Wine drinkers become more sophisticated every time they pull cork (or twist screw cap). Not good for a devotee of rating systems such as those made popular by Robert Parker or Wine Spectator.

Give devils their due—American wine consumption soared as ratings guided insecure consumers. You might not know anything about wine, but you know 92 is an A and 78 is a C.

Two bottles cost about same—buy 92-pointer. Want an expensive bottle to impress the boss or in-laws—buy a 90+ bottle. Some expert, someone who certainly knows more than you, claims the wine’s a winner. Whip out the pastic.

A study of Bordeaux wine showed a single Parker point meant seven percent increase in price, even more at 90-plus levels.

Such power invites scrutiny, and so it has come, and it has not been pretty.

In 2001, the Journal of Experimental Psychology reported flavor pros cannot reliably identify more than four components in a sample. Wine experts regularly list six or more. Where do they get this? Signs indicate they just make it up.

In addition, there are many examples of tastings in which same wine is presented in different bottles and experts proceed to score juice from expensive-looking bottles higher than juice from a jug. Same wine, different containers, different scores. All righty, then.

Expectation and context influence judgment. As far back as 1963, Cal-Davis researchers added various colors to dry white wine, then asked experts to rate sweetness. Opinions varied according to what they thought they were drinking. Oops.

Next week, more on scores.


• Toro Loco Tempranillo. Medium body, dry; black cherries, strawberries, pinch of pepper; silky tannins, generous. Outstanding value. $10

• Charles & Charles Red Wine. Cab-syrah 50-50; inky black; blackberry, cranberry, cherries; oak, soft tannins; fruity value bomb. $12

• Universo Austral Malbec Patagonia Ruta 22. Ruby color; blueberry nose; blackberries, black cherries, plums; good tannins, structure; great value. $13