Getting a Read on Readers

Oct 24, 2006

One of the things I enjoy most about the Wine Experience is the chance to meet readers, old and new, and talk about what I’m (or we’re) doing right or wrong, or how we might improve.

In the span of nearly four days, I ran into dozens of readers, producers, restaurateurs and retailers at the walk-around tastings, dinners, restaurants, lunches and seminars—even in the coffee line at the Starbucks kiosk at the Marriott.

One topic that came up on several occasions was my critique and analysis of the 2003 Cabernets, since that appeared in the Nov. 15 issue, which many people had just received and just read.

Although I’ve consistently called 2003 a mixed and challenging vintage for Napa Cabernet for years, and even written several pieces on this subject, some people were surprised by my reviews.

Well, I have to say I was surprised by some of their comments and conclusions.

For instance, a couple of people said, effectively, “Boy, you really trashed the ’03 vintage.”

Really? I gave the vintage an 85 rating, which puts it at the low end of very good. I did say it’s a weaker year than either 2001 or 2002, and I compared 2003 to the 2000 vintage, which, in general, yielded lean, less ripe wines.

Other common comments related to specific ratings for specific wines. Some readers concluded that when I gave a high-profile wine an 83 that I hated it. An 83-point rating means I thought a wine was good, not horrible. You have to use, and respect, our scale to get an accurate picture of where a given wine falls in our rankings.

I'm sorry other critics rarely go below 85 points and don't tell you about wines they don't like, or wouldn't recommend. That makes those of us who use a fuller range of the rating scale look like we're the only ones who don't like certain wines. Truth is, other critics apparently don't want to weigh in on these wines, and that's their choice.

Yet another observation came after the two nights of Grand Tastings and seminars at which 2003 Cabernets were tasted. Previously, many people hadn’t tried the wines I’d reviewed in the issue, and once they had the opportunity at our events, most said they agreed with my reviews. And those who attended my Cabernet seminar also learned that there were some out-of-this-world 2003s.

I find it impossible to debate with people who haven’t tried a wine, but want to rely on a winery’s reputation or assign a motive on my behalf. Any talk about me losing enthusiasm for Napa Cabernet, or trying to correct the market by giving “low” scores to big-name producers (as if an 88 or 89 is dumping on a wine), is simply wrong.

My goal is to provide you with my most accurate impression of a given wine. I taste virtually every wine twice, blind, and have one of my colleagues taste it blind as well. If I think it’s an off-bottle, I retry it. If an off-wine comes from a good producer, I retry it. Sadly, the issues of bad corks, bottle variation (including storage) and undesirable microbial activity in wines make it harder for all of us to know if we are tasting exactly the same wine.

If you have new comments or questions about the Cabernet issue, I’ll take my best stab at answering them.

United States California Red Wines Cabernet Sauvignon
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