Welcome to 2023 and the highs and lows that us consumers will face towards 2024. I have a few gripes which I will share.
Here are six wine issues I’d like to say goodbye to as we look ahead to next year:
1. Wine Quality
Overall wine quality has never been higher than it is today; it’s easy to find a good wine just about anywhere. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t bad wine around. You may already have consumed some during Christmas and the New Year particularly if stingy relatives bring cheap supermarket of liquor chain bargains.
I’ve noticed all the bad wine in the world seems to have been packaged into tiny bottles or worst, colourful glaring labels begging you to” buy me”.
Like so many of you, I am not seduced by the cute packaging, only to be disappointed each time. I’ve had unspeakable red wines, bitter white wines and some truly terrible sparkling wines packaged in a festive disguise.
2. Terrible Tasting Notes
When I write a wine tasting note, my goal is simple: I want to convey to a would-be drinker how the wine tastes. Is it fruity? Is it light to medium-bodied? Does it have a lot of acidity and/or tannin?
The words that I use tend to be direct, not dramatic. I don’t find heavenly choir descriptions applied to a wine to be particularly useful. Mostly they seem a bit self-indulgent on the part of the author.
And yet some wine writers and critics regularly offer up descriptions that leave me baffled and even confused. Take, for example, the first two lines of a tasting note written by one well-known critic: “This champagne comes onto the palate like a lightning bolt that splits the night sky in two. Electric and alive, the flavors—lime zest, vanilla bean, oyster shell, and wet rock—are fast and engulfing.”
I’ve had the Champagne in question. My tasting note would say something more like “medium-bodied with vibrant notes of pear and spice.” No lightning bolt there.
3. ‘Natural Wine’
I have no objection to the word natural, nor to the word wine, I just don’t think the two should be conjoined. To me this is especially important because it doesn’t seem that anyone can agree on what exactly a natural wine is or should be.
I looked up the term and found quite a few variations on the definition. Even more important, if such a thing as a “natural” wine exists, there must naturally be a counterpart in opposition to which it is defined. What is that? A nonnatural wine? An unnatural wine?
4. Wine List Markups
The price of wine, particularly wine sold in restaurants, has spiked over the last year – there is no doubt about that! Built into that price hike are the costs of shipping, glass bottles, hefty mortgages on flashy cellar doors and even wine labels, all of which have increased—but not to the extent some restaurateurs would have their customers believe.
Markups on wine have been considerable this past year, and in the case of some restaurants, particularly outrageous. I just don’t think that it’s necessary, let alone a way to build good will or long-term clientele, to charge diners $35 for a glass of non-vintage Champagne when the bottle costs about that same price retail.
I know it’s been a very challenging time for restaurants, that food and labour costs have increased and that wine is traditionally the basis of meeting a bottom line. But does a wine list’s bottle prices have to be five times their wholesale LUC cost? Do you feel the same?
5. Wine Education
Look for qualified Sommeliers. If in doubt just ask them.
6. Inflated scoring system
The terror of the wine-retail world is a wine that has been awarded a rare 85-point score by some expert or other. Just try to find one in your local wine shop. There are virtually no wines on store shelves today advertising such a lowly numerical score. Yet they exist.
If a bottle on a retail store shelf bears a number at all, it will likely be a score of 90 points or higher or wears a sticker of gold silver or bronze. Now be careful here and try and read the award it represents. It can be from a class that attracts few entries in a regional wine show. I tend to view these skeptically.
Once upon a time when Len Evens or James Halliday awarded a wine of 90 points or more there would be a rush to buy. Now almost all wines score 90 plus in tasting notes reflecting commercial interests, advertising deals, favoured producers or free bottles delivered to the reviewers door. I agree winemaking skills have improved over the last 20 or so years but this is not in line with the present high scoring.
I’ve purchased more than my share of underperforming high-scoring wines. In many cases, I’ve come away convinced that the impressive numbers, have been bestowed by critics who write for publications that must reflect a high score. Now we don’t want to upset anyone do we?
My recommendation is the reviewers reduce their scoring template to reflect if a wine scores 92 – it is truely a wonderful wine.
By the way WineState Magazine has folded after 45 years and 318 issues. Grab the last issue now. Shame.
Let me know your gripes in the comments section on this page.