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Drinking by the Numbers

January 13, 2012

Let’s not talk about wine for a minute. Instead, let’s talk about sandwiches.

Say I got a real sandwich expert to blindly taste the Italian sandwiches of Albany. And at the end of the day, the following document was produced based on a 100 point scale:

Note: The below are fictitious and solely meant to make a point. They are not actual scores.

– Cardona’s Italian Mix: 89
– Cardona’s Meatball Sub: 86
– Ragonese’s Sausage and Peppers: 88
– Ragonese’s Salami and Provolone: 84

I guess it’s kind of interesting. You know out of the four sandwiches which one the expert thought was the best and which one he thought was the worst. It’s clear that the reviewer wasn’t blown away by anything, and that there wasn’t a great disparity between the sandwiches. But these numbers aren’t terribly useful, because if you are in the mood for a meatball sub from Cardona’s, then sausage and peppers isn’t going to do it for you. And is there really a discernable difference between an 84-rated sandwich and an 86-rated sandwich.

Yet people make their wine buying decisions based on these numbers all the time, and the profitability of a wine can vary dramatically based on the whims of one point. More people will buy a 90-point wine than will buy an 89-point one.

So how does our local wine stack up? Well, I’m glad you asked.

I received an email a few days ago from the owner of Hudson-Chatham winery, Carlo Devito. We’ve never met in person, but I do enjoy his Baco Noir. I had meant to get out to the winery last year, but never quite got my act together. Anyhow, he relayed the following news:

The Hudson Valley is one of the oldest producing wine regions in the United States, and New York State is the third overall producer of wine in the U.S. But with the influx of new money, talent, and drive over the last five years, the region is growing at a fast pace, and producing a number of highly rated bright, flavorful whites, and soft, approachable reds. Wine Enthusiast editors tasted more than 20 Hudson Valley wines that earned scores of 85-89 points consistently across seven producers. This is the first major tasting of the region by any major news outlet, and helps to establish the region as a producer of fine quality wines.

Carlo was quite pleased with the results. I’m just tickled that I beat Wine Enthusiast to the punch. They gave Carlo’s 2010 Casscles Vineyard Reserve Baco Noir 87 points. And I’m eager to try this current vintage and see how it stacks up against my recollections of the 2009.

The other wineries that were scored respectably in this roundup were Tousey, Millbrook, Oak Summit, Brotherhood, Whitecliff, and Palaia Vineyards. Honestly, a lot of these places weren’t on my radar screen before, but now based on this Wine Enthusiast tasting, I have a few new bottles I’d like to try. Most notably the:

86 Hudson-Chatham 2010 Cabernet Franc New York $17.00
89 Millbrook 2010 25th Anniversary Pinot Noir Hudson River Region $18.00
86 Millbrook 2008 Cabernet Franc Hudson River Region  $20.00
85 Brotherhood 2009 Pinot Noir New York $16.00
87 Whitecliff Vineyard 2010 Cabernet Franc New York $20.00
86 Whitecliff Vineyard 2010 Traminette New York $16.00

If you are interested, you can see the full list of scores here.

But scoring wines is a cheap and tawdry affair. It’s like having a little black book with a scoring system that reduces people to a number. No, wines aren’t people. But they are complex and individualistic, and like people are best taken on their own terms. Every wine is special, in its own way. Each wine has a history, a story, and a reason for being.

And this 100-point scale thing is a farce anyway. For starters it’s not 100-points. Generally it’s just 50. With Robert Parker the wine gets its first 50 points just for showing up. When it comes to Wine Enthusiast, they don’t rate any wines lower than an 80. So in a sense, theirs is just a 20-point scale, well 21 if you are being precise. 

Oh, how I wish John & Dottie were doing this as part of one of their broad samplings of wine. They didn’t mince words or mess around with numbers. Wine was either Delicious!, Delicious, Very good, Good, OK, or Yech. My feeling is that many of our region’s better wines would be on that Good/Very good border.

Given the constraints of our growing climate, that’s a great place to start. As these serious wine makers keep making more serious wines, they will just get better and better over time.

The reason to drink these wines is not because of their score. Rather, these local wines are an expression of our regional climate in a glass: the soil and sun, the cold and the rain. Pinot noir made in California tastes different from those made in France or the Pacific Northwest. And while I’m not expecting one of those world class wines to come from the Hudson Valley, I’m really curious to experience what a decent pinot noir from upstate New York tastes like.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Bill Swallow permalink
    January 13, 2012 11:05 am

    I agree with the scoring. I often score beer, whether on BeerAdvocate or via Untappd. Many times I find myself changing my score the next time I enjoy one. It could reflect what I’d previously eaten or drank, or could have been my mood at the time. I always look for a descriptive review and not just look at the numbers. As I’ve found even with reviewing score sheets from homebrew competitions, the devil’s in the details, not the number at the top.

    • Bill Swallow permalink
      January 13, 2012 11:09 am

      That is, I agree with your take on the scoring; it diminishes a qualitative assessment, and it can in fact be misleading. A score of 96 could mean that it’s absolutely fantastic, or it could mean that it’s pretty close to perfect with regard to the style, but it says nothing about the quality of the overall experience, which is highly subjective even among the world’s top tasters. And what the taster may think may not correlate to what you or I particularly enjoy.

  2. January 14, 2012 5:28 pm

    Bill Swallow has some good points about the scoring, and I agree it doesn’t tell me much. To expand on that, an IPA (for example) could be scored at 96 points, and it really wouldn’t matter. I still wouldn’t enjoy it all that terribly much because I don’t care for IPA. I love stout, however, and if that scored 90 points, I would like that a lot more. Conversely, my husband would prefer the 90 point IPA to the 96 point stout.

    I didn’t use wines in that example, because, I’ve found there aren’t many varietals I DON’T like if they’re well-made and/or from a good vintage in the right region. (For example, ’07 Pinot Noirs from the Russian River valley? Yum.) But, see, that ’07 Pinot could be from an itsy bitsy boutique vineyard that’s simply divine, but hasn’t caught Robert Parker’s eye yet.

    The scores, however, help you get a good feel. ’06 is not as strong a year for that region, but if a wine has a high score for that vintage, that tells me a lot about the vineyard – that, even in an “off” year, they consistently make good wine. It serves as a guide when you can’t taste the wine before buying it, for example.

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