I’ve been fielding some interesting questions regarding wine ratings, sooooo – let’s talk wine ratings! This can be a fiery topic. Do they matter? Are they fair (whatever that means)? What are they even judging? What is good? Bad? Why 100 points? Lotsa questions. Losta opinions.
We judge everything – books, movies, songs, restaurants… Who among us doesn’t read scads of reviews before buying anything on which we are slightly unsure? Don’t tell me you haven’t navigated away from a product because Cheryl N. from St. Louis said something bad about that Widget you were checking out, conveniently ignoring your working hypothesis that the average online commenter is not someone from whom you really want to receive life advice. The brain is a mysterious thing.
Should wine be any different? Wine reviews are inputs that contribute to social proof. Let’s forget wine geeks for a sec – how many of you have found yourself in the store staring at a kaleidoscope of wine labels wondering which one you should pick? Hmm, what does that one taste like? Oh, here’s a little tasting note “Bright gooseberry and unripe peach skin with a kiss of hay*”…
What in the actual F? You’ve never eaten a gooseberry (is that a euphemism for goose poop?) and I generally like my peaches ripe. Wait, what’s this one over here? Oh, Established Wine Magazine has this wine rated 89 – let’s round that up to an “A-”, grab it and get the hell out of this aisle.
Are all ratings created equal? In a word, NO. It is just a reality that different types and categories of wine are looked at differently. The average Rosé will never rate as highly as Cabernet. Many white wines will not rate as highly as reds – Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Grigios, Gruner Veltliners, and so on just won’t poll as high as Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo. This is just the way it is. This is OK. We do this with lots of stuff – we judge a $10 sandwich differently than a $50 entrée. Your 7/10 rating on the roadside motel means something different than a 7/10 on the $350/night room on your last vacation (whenever that was). Let’s look at some numbers from past Wine Spectator Rankings**. (Turn your phone sideways to view these tables)
You can see that Chardonnay is rated higher than Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot higher than Chard. When you are buying Sauvignon Blanc, is it useful to compare it to Pinot Noir? Doesn’t it make more sense to compare it to other SBs and perhaps stylistically similar white wines? What about the cost, and what of value? This leads to another layer. From the same database of Wine Spectator reviews, here are the wines $21 and under:
About 1/3 of the Sauvignon Blancs are in this category, 15% of the Chardonnays and only 4% of the Pinots. The average ratings have pretty much converged.
I chose this price level because this is where Groove is living. Yes, we are putting wine in cans, but what we are really trying to do is make delicious, high quality wine from sustainable and organically farmed California vineyards. I’ll flat out say it – we want to make the best $20 wine (bottle equivalent) in California. Period. This is a lofty goal. California is expensive. Organic farming is expensive (vs. nuking the soil with harsh chemicals). It is difficult to compete with the large scale of conglomerates that own most of the labels that you see in the grocery store – yeah, they’re all owned by the same few companies. Distributors want volume and brand recognition. And so on…this is a challenge
What does this have to do with ratings? Well, we have received our first ratings. Do we care? Are we happy with an 87 on our Sauvignon Blanc? Frankly, we care if you care, but we care more about what YOU think of our wines. We are always going to want to be better. Always. But, yeah, given a raging pandemic and apocalyptic wildfires during harvest, there is some satisfaction coming in alongside <cough..HIGHER THAN…cough> some of the big names in California wine, all the while being priced well under the category average.