Friday, October 3, 2008
WHAT'S THE POINT?
I consult to an up and coming wine company. At the moment the company and brand is hardly known but will be one of the country's foremost Ultra Premium brand in a few years.
At the current stage of development wine writer endorsement is very important as, without wide distribution already, it is necessary to have good accolades to attract new distribution. Good accolades will also encourage consumers to purchase a brand they have not before heard of.
Wine accolades can come from winning medals in wine shows (GOLD is obviously best), having nice things said about the brand in a wine column (although this becomes the next day's fish 'n' chip paper) or, increasingly important, gaining a high points rating from one of the top wine magazines.
The British magazines like Decanter rate wines but don't go mad over it. They expect their readers to be knowledgeable about wines already and put more emphasis on describing the wines. The Americans are points mad. They rate wines out of a hundred so anything getting close to that is pretty good. The problem is though, how can a wine taster differentiate between giving a wine 97 points and 96 - or even 96 vs 90?
To explain this all wine tasting competitions run on a points system. In the traditional one it is a 20 point system. There are 3 points allocated to colour/clarity; 7 points allocated to nose/aroma and 10 points allocated to taste/overall impression. For a wine to gain a Bronze Medal it has to get between 15.5 and 17 points out of 20. For Silver it has to be between 17 and 18.5 Points. A Gold has to be over 18.5 Points. So. You think you are a wine judge? Have a glass of wine in front of you. A pretty reasonable one that you like to drink. Evaluate it. Look at the colour. Like it? What will you give it? 2.5 out of 3. OK. Smell it. Nice? What will you give it? 5.5 out of 7 - high but you like the smell. Now taste it. Like it? OK you give it 8 out of ten as you think its pretty good. Add up the scores. Total is 16 points. This glass of wine you like barely qualified for a Bronze medal and you would probably pass it over on a wine shop shelf if it had a Bronze sticker on it. To get a Gold a wine would have to get something like a perfect score on colour and aroma (3 plus 7) and then 9 out of ten on taste to add up to 19. It becomes very tricky in separating out the Golds from the Silvers and the 1.6 point spread between a Bronze Medal and Gold shows how difficult it is. A Gold medal can mean the difference between selling thousands of cases of wine vs a handful if the same wine were to get a Bronze.
The 100 point system is kind of like multiplying the 20 by five. A Gold at 18.5 plus then is like a 92.5 plus out of 100. It is American. It is wanky. How the hell can a judge decide between 92 and 93? effectively Silver or Gold. Wine tasting is not an exact science it is all about impression (albeit reasonably well informed impressions in some cases.)
Back to the company I consult to.
We had a major breakthrough recently with The Wine advocate, an American wine publication that bar none is the most influential in the world of wine. Love it or hate it if a wine gets 90 Points plus it is on the map and selling like anything.
We got 3 of our wines at 90 plus - one at 90, one at 92 and one at 93. Big news and sales for us. Interestingly enough the Australian equivalent Gourmet traveller Wine gave the same three wines 95,95 and 96 Points.
I don't much believe in this kind of points scoring but definitely take them and use them when they come in as much as I would use a Gold Medal.
I have a wonderful cartoon framed at home. It shows a wine consumer trying wine at a winery Cellar Door. The consumer spits out a wine saying that it is disgusting. The winery representative behind the counter says that it received 95 Points from The Wine Advisor. The consumer says that he will buy 2 cases.