Ever Wonder? Is Price a Good Indication of a Wine's Quality?

Source: Wine Folly 8/5/15

Source: Wine Folly 8/5/15

Early in my wine exploration, I was drinking a lot of inexpensive wine. Mostly in the $5 - $10 price range. And that’s where I did a lot of learning.

When I’d splurge and buy a wine in the $10 - $15 range it would usually be a better wine. So, in those early days, I’d constantly wonder how much better are expensive wines? If a $15 bottle is better than a $10 bottle, how much better is a $20 bottle? How about a $40 bottle. Is a $100 bottle of wine perfection?

Well, over the years, I’ve learned that indeed there is a correlation between a wine’s price and its quality. And, the infographic from Wine Folly is generally true. About half the wines priced at $20 will be “good.” And, by the time you are spending $30 or more on a bottle of wine, you’ll probably find it’s a really good one. But, where does this stop?

During my travels through wine country, I’ve gotten to taste a lot of wines. And, generally, price and quality are correlated. I’ve tried a $100 Cabernet Sauvignon from a major wine producer in Paso Robles that I still claim is the best wine I’ve ever tried. It was truly amazing. But, I’ve also tried a $150 Pinot Noir in the Russian River area, from a winery I really enjoy, but found it to be no better than their significantly lower priced Pinot Noir.

Price can also be somewhat of a marketing thing. Is $2500 really worth it for a bottle of Screaming Eagle 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa? I don’t have first-hand experience with this one. I bet it’s good. But that good? When you are trying to impress someone, maybe a prospective customer that you know enjoys wine, or a good client, the $2500 is certainly worth it. Everyone will be impressed and you’ll make your customer very happy. But, is the wine really a thousand times better than a $25 bottle of Cabernet? I’d love to find out!

So, price is usually a good indicator. But don’t let it be your only guide. Cheers!

Behind the Cork™ - 2016 Écluse Ensemble

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2016 Écluse Ensemble ($48)

This Bordeaux red blend from Écluse in Paso Robles is truly an ensemble of varietals. It’s produced from 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cab Franc, 15% Petit Verdot, 14% Merlot, 14% Malbec and 7% Carignane. A little bit of everything!

And the result is quite tasty. It has bright red fruit flavors such as cherry but also has hints of pepper, licorice and other spices.

Écluse has masterfully blended this wine to be big in flavor and smooth on the finish.

If you’re passing through Paso Robles on Highway 101, Écluse is just a couple of minutes away and well worth the stop. And, you’re likely to find the warm and friendly owner Steve Lock (Lock is Écluse in French) in the serving room.

This is a really good one! Cheers!

Let Your Own Palette Be Your Primary Guide When Selecting Wine

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Last time we looked at wine scores and how well they can be relied upon as an indicator when selecting wines. Some wine scores are from reputable sources (e.g., Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate) while others are less dependable. And, when it comes right down to it, a wine may receive a high score from a reputable source but not be something you care for.

And, the fact that you don’t care for a highly rated wine doesn’t make the rating “wrong.” It just shows that professional wine tasters have a different palette from yours.

So, let your palette be the primary guide when selecting a wine. If you are a big fan of particular varietal of wine or wine region, stick with them. But, if you are looking to select a wine from your favorite varietal or region, and you see one with a good wine score, give it a try. You’ll usually be pleased.

Next time we’ll take a look at wine prices and how well they correlate with quality. Until then, Cheers!

Ever Wonder? Are the Wine Point Systems Really a Good Indicator?

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You’ve seen them. The wine scores posted alongside the bottles on the shelf. 90 points. 88 points. 92 points. But what does it really mean? Is it a good indicator for making your wine selection?

Well, the old adage “Buyer Beware” certainly applies when it comes to wine scores.

One reason is that there are some reputable wine rating systems (e.g., Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate) and then there are wine ratings from “The Crew” at the local market or “Bob’s Favorite” at the Big Box wine store.

Let’s look at Wine Spectator scoring system that follows a 100-point scale:

  • 95-100 Classic: a great wine

  • 90-94 Outstanding: a wine of superior character and style

  • 85-89 Very good: a wine with special qualities

  • 80-84 Good: a solid, well-made wine

  • 75-79 Mediocre: a drinkable wine that may have minor flaws

  • 50-74 Not recommended

This seems like a nice broad spectrum from which to differentiate wines. But, you probably aren’t going to come across a whole lot of 95-100 point wines in a typical store. And, you’re unlikely to find anything rated 84 points or below anywhere. Because those scores just don’t sell wine. So, you’re going to see some wines scored in the 85 - 89 “Very Good” range and most rated wines will be in the 90-94 “Outstanding” category. But you’ll also be faced with all those other wines on the shelf that don’t have any ratings! What about them?

Even with a 91 point score from Wine Spectator, you’ll have to ask yourself if your wine palette is similar enough to these professionals? Yours is likely different. So, you may try a 91 point Cabernet Sauvignon and say “No, I don’t care for that at all.” And that’s OK.

Another thing to beware of is the actual bottle on the shelf versus the one that received the rating. I see this all the time. The sign says “Wine Spectator 90 Points.” But, then you read the fine print and learn that it’s the 2013 that received that score. And, the bottle on the shelf is a 2015. The 2015 may be drastically different.

So, buyer beware. The wine scores from reputable organizations certainly are an indication of the quality of the wine. But, don’t let that be the only factor you use when choosing wine. Let your own palette guide you. And we’ll get into that a bit more next time.

Cheers!

How to Deal with Highly Tannic Wines

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Last time we learned that some red wines can make your mouth feel dry due to the natural tannin in the wine that comes from the grape’s skin, seeds and stems. But, if you don’t care for highly tannic wines, there are some things you can do.

The tannins in a red wine will ‘soften’ with age. A young wine may be highly tannic but after several years of aging, the tannins will naturally become less harsh. So, aging is one option.

But, a lot of people don’t buy wines to stick away. They want to drink them now. So, there are other options if you pull the cork and realize the wine is a bit too tannic.

One option is to expose the wine to air. And, just pulling the cork and letting the opened bottle sit for a while isn’t sufficient. You’ll need to decant the wine. And you don’t need to have a fancy crystal decanter to do this. Really, any vessel will work. But, the key is to allow the wine to get as much exposure to air as possible. That’s why decanters, such as the one shown in the image, are large and have wide bottoms. Once an entire bottle of wine is poured into this type of decanter, it only fills the base. This gives the wine a large surface area that is exposed to air. For really tannic wines, they may need one to two hours in the decanter before they begin to soften. But remember, a decanter won’t turn a bad wine into a good one. It will just take a good wine and soften it up a bit.

Another method of helping soften harsh tannins is by aerating the wine. And this starts by just pouring the wine from the bottle to a decanter. Or, there are plenty of aerators that can be purchased that immediately mix air with the wine as it is poured whether directly into the wine glass or into a decanter.

Finally, if you are dealing with a highly tannic wine, pairing it with fatty or creamy foods will really help. That’s why wine and cheese work so well together. Just as pairing a nice steak is a natural with red wine.

So, don’t let that dry-mouth, astringent sensation scare you away from red wines. They can be some of the best there are. Cheers!