Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

To Point or Not to Point?

Monday, October 13th, 2008

I don’t like wine ratings. I think they fully objectify what is a partially subjective thing. That sounds confusing, but to me a wine can be divided into objective and subjective – the objective part is that a wine is well-made & defect-free or not, while the subjective part is if you like the wine. Critics and those with a lot of tasting experience can sort out if a wine is well-made, but beyond that the scores are if that particular critic likes the wine, which may not be to your taste at all.

However, there’s no doubt that ratings sell wine; they also give consumers who are unsure of what they want something tangible to base their selection on, especially with wines unfamiliar to them. Our shop has loads of unfamiliar wines, but I want the fact that it’s on our shelves – we tasted it, we stand behind it and recommend it – to be the seal of approval, not some score.

The Wine Spectator to me is the worst – they use different critics for different regions, so a 91 for a California wine isn’t necessarily the same as a 91 for an Italian wine. The descriptions are usually only a sentence or so long (and generally sound the same), so it’s hard to tell what the wine is actually like. And, frankly, some of their critics are comically bad. (Jim Laube, who rates California wines, has a particularly poor palate.) With Robert Parker (Wine Advocate), though his tastes are generally different from mine at least his descriptions are detailed enough that I know if I’ll like the wine or not. Steven Tanzer (International WIne Cellar) is the critic who I follow the most – he tends to appreciate balanced, elegant wines more than the other two, who favor extracted, big, less nuanced wines.

We have many wines that happen to score well with the publications listed above, but we haven’t listed ratings on our shelves. We’re in the process of creating shelf labels that give our descriptions of the wines to give customers more information (we’ll also list if the wine is organically/sustainably/biodynamically farmed; we’ve had several requests for that), and I’ve been wrestling with whether to include ratings. I originally didn’t want to, but now I’m leaning toward it – like anything else, it’s another piece of information, and we do have some customers who ask about them. The shop’s not about me, after all, it’s about our customers, and some of them happen to like knowing how many points a wine got. For those that don’t care, our descriptions will be the main point of reference, so hopefully everyone will be happy.

My favorite analogy about wine

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

I was asked once why I was so interested in learning about wine, and after thinking about how to explain it for a bit, came up with the following analogy. Aimee’s probably tired of hearing it since I still use it whenever I’m asked.

Books & WineTo me, a glass of wine is like a good novel. (I was a lit major in college, by the way.) A person should be able to pick up a novel without any context or background and still enjoy the story. If nothing else, the book should bring pleasure. To me, though, if I know something about the social or political conditions the author was writing in, the context of references made within the work, what the author’s contemporaries were doing, literary archetypes, etc., the book became a much richer experience.

Same with wine. Anyone should be able to pick up and enjoy a glass of wine without knowing anything about it, and it should still bring pleasure. I got interested in the backstory, though – what made that wine taste different from another one – whether different grape varietal, region, winery from the same region, or even the same wine from a different vintage. It made it a much richer experience for me, and from then on, it was down the rabbit hole.

The analogy works for our business philosophy, too – if you want to just browse around with no assistance and pick up whatever you’d like (trust us, it’s all good), that’s great. If you’ve got questions about a wine in particular or any wine topics in general, want to create a custom flight to see the differences for yourself, or just want to chat – that’s what we’re here for.