Exporting to the USA & Wine Spectator scores

The USA is an important target export market for most wineries around the world as it is the fastest expanding wine drinking market. The market is also totally driven by the Wine Spectator scores (http://www.winespectator.com). The Spectator scores play at every level – in the same way as a trophy or gold medal can make a huge difference to a winery’s sales. A 90+ WS score is almost essential if one wants to sell a good volume of wine at a price point higher than $10…  A 90+ wine is an easy sell for the distributor’s rep, because the 90+ WS score tag will attract shoppers and will help the wine sell through.

Because it’s the most influential magazine in the USA, Canada and many other countries, it’s maybe not surprising that the Wine Spectator is often being (wrongly or rightly) criticised.

Earlier this week I read an interesting  blog post by Blake Gray  (http://wblakegray.blogspot.com/2010/09/open-letter-about-wine-spectator.html) - where he elaborated a bit on his Open Letter to Marvin Shanken – the WS ‘s editor. His open letter caused quite a stir in the wine world, with quite some reactions on Gray’s own Blog post (http://wblakegray.blogspot.com/2010/09/open-letter-to-marvin-shanken.html) lots of tweets and more on the the WS forum (http://forums.winespectator.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/6826053161/m/717100867)

Whilst I feel I am in no position to voice an opinion one way or another on James Laube’s palette and his way of scoring Californian wines for the Wine Spectator, I do have an opinion on the Spectator’s policy of having just one person conducting the tastings. I feel the magazine is far too influential and too crucial to a winery’s commercial success in the USA for it just being up to 1 person to decide on the wine’s faith…  I also feel that it’s not fair that the person tasting knows exactly what wine he is tasting – I feel it’s very difficult to mark a wine objectively if one knows the wines – i.e. what if the winery is a major advertiser in the WS, or the winemaker or owner is a friend of the taster – by seeing the label, the taster will often already have a preconceived idea of what scores he should allocate to these wines…

In my opinion, it would make much more sense to follow the model most important and influential wine competitions use: a blind tasting by a (multi person) tasting panel. This will allow for an objective weighed score reflecting a joint opinion of the real quality of the wine. Its a known fact that the WS has a significant depth in their editorial staff (ie tasters)  and I feel the wealth of tasting knowledge of the individual tasters can only add value to the ultimate score they will jointly allocate.

Whilst I know some people do follow the WS tasters very closely, it’s also a fact that the vast majority of the distributor’s reps, shop owners and general consumers do not really know who tasted these wines – what style they like and how they generally score – all that matters for them is that the “Wine Spectator” considers this wine to be extraordinary and allocated it a 90+ score. So with this in mind I really do not think they would be aghast by the fact that the wines are now tasted blind by a tasting panel rather than knowingly by 1 taster.

And I feel it would also be easier for the wineries to accept a weighted score – most wineries I have worked with say they stand for quality and I think this should come through better in a weighted score.

About Caroline

Caroline is a certified Sommelier (by the CMS) and WSET diploma student. In order to specialize in the wines of Champagne she moved to the region and currently works as a wine consultant, wine educator and wine writer. She is a member of the Circle of Wine Writers and writes for several international publications including Palate Press, Snooth, Wine-Searcher, Decanter and Vinogusto; further activities include teaching Champagne related courses at Reims Management School and organizing personalized tasting experiences at http://www.tastingswithatwist.wordpress.com as well as being a regular judge at international wine competitions.
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