“If I don't stand my own ground, how can I find my way out of this maze…”

by Katie Pizzuto on October 6, 2008

in Ratings,Reviews,Wine

If you’re standing in the aisle of a local wine shop, browsing the shelf talkers in the Italian section, and you find 2 bottles standing next to each other, one that costs about $10 and was rated 89 by Wine Spectator or Wine Advocate, and the other also costing $10 which was rated 90, which would you more likely pick up? What the hell exactly is the difference between an 89 and a 90 rating for a bottle of wine? Apparently, the difference is sales. Given a level playing field (same varietal, similar pricing, etc.), the wine that gets to go home with consumers is almost always the higher rated wine, even if it’s a one point difference. These 89-rated wines, lovingly called the redheaded stepchildren of the wine industry, often get the shitty end of the stick when it comes to shelf presence and sales because they miss the 90-point hurdle by an inch or two—according to the wine reviewers that steer the market, that is.

89 seems to be the kiss of death—so close and yet so far—but in an almost arbitrary way. What is it that keeps a bottle from hitting the elusive 90 milestone? Is it well made, structured and nicely priced but just doesn’t soak your shorts? Or is it the one that’s priced at a point that you expect a lot from, and it fails to deliver the goods? How, in the name of all that is holy, do you taste a friggin’ one point difference in wines? It’s a stigma, and it’s bull crap. So in the name of giving 89-point wines a second chance, in hopes that someone won’t give them a cold shoulder next time they see them on a shelf, let’s dig for gold…

Falesco Vitiano 2006 – A red blend from Umbria containing cabernet sauvignon, merlot and sangiovese. Over the last few years, this wine has teetered between 88s and 89s in the big rags. The Spectator’s most recent review? “The 2006 Vitiano Rosso is another intense, deeply flavored wine. This powerful effort bursts from the glass with an array of jammy plums, cherries, cassis, graphite and minerals. It will offer much pleasure now and over the next few years and is a terrific value for the money.” It was even listed among the WS’s Top 53 Wines of Value in Italy. It generally sells for about 10 bucks.

Here were my tasting notes from a while back: “13% alcohol. Dark garnet. Smoke and violets on the nose, with a little earthiness and minerality. Lots of plum. Very spicy finish, mellow tannins. Good acidity—can sit for a couple of years.

89? 90? Do we really give a crap? It’s a great wine with an even better QPR. Stop thinking that the one sitting next to it is somehow substantially better because of one point, will you please? Give the underdog a chance once in a while, cuz he may just be your next best friend.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 smokenmirrors October 6, 2008

Two bottles – same price
what to buy?
Point to point to point to point WS vs RP vs WA vs God knows who else
I always get a kick reading the close reviews in wine stores for moderately priced wine. Should I spend my money on Parkers reccs, the WA consortium or should I use my own system?

My criteria for purchase would be the bottle itself. How much has the vintner spent to showcase this wine… Is it quality glass with a pronounced punt and decent foil? My experience has always been in a close heat , purchase on bottle quality. Rarely if ever have I been let down.

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2 fiascowines October 7, 2008

You’re right – it sure is hard to get place all the bollocks in the wine industry. All the more reason to just try lots and make up your own mind 🙂

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3 Coupe 60 October 7, 2008

I rarely go into a store and buy a wine blind nowadays (meaning not knowing what I was going to pick up before going in). But on the few times that I do, and I don’t know the personal working at the store, or they aren’t familiar with the wine – I will pick the one rated higher – especially if from the same reviewer. If its a blind guess, why not grab the one that at least somebody liked better…

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4 Katie Pizzuto October 7, 2008

I understand if there were several points difference how that may affect you, Coupe, but can you honestly say that a 1-point difference matters one way or the other, even if rated by the same reviewer?!? That’s what I’m trying to get at….89/90 difference is nonsensical to me.

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5 Anthony October 7, 2008

I personnaly would buy them both and judge that way. If I could only buy one bottle i would have to agree with smokinmirrors on how the vintner showcased it.

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6 Coupe 60 October 7, 2008

Katie, One point doesn’t matter one way or the other…but if I was just choosing one wine, and I had a choice of two wines that the same person tasted and gave one a higher score to. I am choosing the one with the higher score. I don’t shy away from 89 point wines, or any point wines for that matter..If I get a recommendation from someone that I know and trust, then I would buy that wine. But if its a blind choice …why not pick the one rated higher. There is no logical reason not to…maybe that is the Electrical Engineer in me speaking, but I think you are being unfair to 90 point wines…

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7 Katie Pizzuto October 8, 2008

Sorry you think that, Coupe, as I wasn’t trying to be unfair to the 90 pointers…I never dissed them. I’m just trying to pump up the 89 pointers to let folks know that often (I’ll post more 89ers on occasion) they’re every bit as good as the 90ers.

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8 Coupe 60 October 8, 2008

Katie: There actually one bit (or point not as good) hence their rating…if they were as good they would be a 90

as you can tell I am a B-Breaker

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9 Katie Pizzuto October 9, 2008

No, Coupe, you’re a good old-fashioned pain in the ass…..don’t change!!

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10 Jeff October 17, 2008

Nice Floyd quote…

😉

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