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I'm going to ask for some trouble

by jameyer » Thu Nov 16, 2006 6:00 pm

So I just finished a wine class, and learned that Wine Spectator is not really respected throughout the industry anymore. I was told to look at either Parker or International Wine Cellar. So I'll put it to the assembled. Which do you recommend?

Also, does anyone have any good recommendations for free wine software for the palm?
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Re: I'm going to ask for some trouble

by Thomas » Thu Nov 16, 2006 6:20 pm

jameyer wrote:So I just finished a wine class, and learned that Wine Spectator is not really respected throughout the industry anymore. I was told to look at either Parker or International Wine Cellar. So I'll put it to the assembled. Which do you recommend?

Also, does anyone have any good recommendations for free wine software for the palm?


Hmmm. Depends on what you seek from what you read. At what level are you in your wine education/interests?
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Re: I'm going to ask for some trouble

by Ian Sutton » Thu Nov 16, 2006 6:22 pm

Jamayer
Who is respected (or otherwise) shouldn't matter. If you like their tasting notes and they match enough to your tastes, then take info from whoever you like. In particular as Parker is the big voice amongst the critics, if you buy the wines he's 'annointed' then you're probably paying a bit more for them than you would otherwise. If you also don't like the wine, then you've really lost out.

It's well worth picking a few wines you've tasted recently and match your experience against as many critics as you can find who've reviewed them. See whose tastes you align most closely with. You may find you agree with none of them, which is fine. The golden rule, oft quoted, but forever true, is you're the best judge of your own palate, so trust that more than any critic.

Presumably in the wine class you got to taste a number of wines and to analyse what were the main features together with what you did and didn't like about them. If so, then this is worth much more than a years subscription to Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate or any of the others.

If you want to spend a little money and learn more (which is an admirable aim), then I'd recommend wine books as a longer lasting resource you can dip in and out of over the years. That might include Parkers tomes if his palate aligns to yours, or maybe a regional specialist like Penin guide to Spanish wines or maybe Livingstone-Learmouth for a very in-depth view of the Rhone. Magazines gather dust and for me now represent just an occasional purchase to lighten a long train journey.

I've purposedly dodged your question, but hope it still helps your decision.

Palm cellar software. Not sure - about 3 years ago the standard was poor. Now I suspect there is some good software out there. However cellartracker is the benchmark now for cellar software and I reckon that the portability of the palm would still not make it more advantageous than using cellartracker on PC. In fact if you web-enable the palm, then you could use cellartracker. It is the community input of wines that means inputting a new wine can be as little as a handful of clicks away - impossible to achieve on a palm.

(n.b. I've no affiliation to cellartracker)

regards

Ian
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Re: I'm going to ask for some trouble

by jameyer » Thu Nov 16, 2006 6:28 pm

Well I want to find a reviews site so that I can find new wines based on what I've taken away and want to drink again. For instance, I really like red zin, but know that the market can be very uneven so I would do better with some help. I am also not very wise to drinking windows and would benefit from some guidance there as well.

As for cellartracker, I have found the community aspect almost a little annoying. I don't care so much who has the same wine as me. I want something where I can do some searching and data manipulation. Cellar Tracker definately doesn't have it. That's why I am working on my own program. But something for the palm, where I could reference it while at the wine store, would be nice...helpful even.
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Re: I'm going to ask for some trouble

by Florida Jim » Thu Nov 16, 2006 6:45 pm

jameyer wrote:So I just finished a wine class, and learned that Wine Spectator is not really respected throughout the industry anymore. I was told to look at either Parker or International Wine Cellar. So I'll put it to the assembled. Which do you recommend?


None.
IMO, you will do better to not read any commercial publications. Some people think they are good guide books - I think they are misleading.
If you are reading this board, you will get ideas from others here. If you have a retailer you trust, you will get ideas there. If you taste wine regularly, whether with others or at organized events, you will get ideas there.
But, as sure as I am breathing, there is only one rule; drink what you like. Parker knows what he likes, Tanzer knows what he likes; they don't follow anybody else's taste, they follow their own.
I have been drinking fine wine for over 40 years and I am just barely beginning to learn about the wines that are available in the world and what they mean to me.
This isn't supposed to be easy or fast; its supposed to last a lifetime. Time is not "of the essence." So buy a mixed case of stuff you can't pronounce and never heard of before and try them, over dinner, one bottle a night. Repeat.
By doing this, you will not be tasting wine against other wine but rather over the period of your dinner in a setting where it is likely you will drink wine most often. This is not a competition (despite the scoring systems that intimate as much); rather its an opportunity to find your own way and in the setting where you will note a wine's place at your table.
Do not be seduced by scores, or prices or tales of grandeur; approach each bottle with a sense of wonder of joyous anticipation. Pour some for a friend. And when you have had enough, recork the bottle and try it again another time.
Wine is food. It is alive. And it is fun.
And no critic can ever tell you how to live or have fun or what you like.
Best, Jim
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Re: I'm going to ask for some trouble

by Thomas » Thu Nov 16, 2006 6:46 pm

Here's my take, and I have been at this wine thing for, oh forget about that...

When I started consuming wine there was no Wine Advocate, and the Spectator was a glimmer on the horizon. I looked at a few books like Wines of Italy, Wines of etc. etc. etc. And then I started to get my feet wet by trying the many types of wines I had read about.

At some point, I figured I was going to like this wine thing and that I needed to know more. I took a part time job in a wine retail shop--learned so much just by tasting the wines that the proprietor was thinking of bringing in.

I joined a wine club too--Les Amis du Vin (now defunct). The point of the club was to attend tastings, numerous, numerous tastings.

After a few years of that stuff I discovered that I had begun to know not only what I liked but how to discern it in wine and how to find what I liked. I never, ever, followed the advice of a critic--maybe that's because I am no good at calibrating my palate to anyone else's (tongue in cheek there) or maybe because I have faith in my own desire to exploration and talent for developing a palate. Maybe I am just ornery.

Of course, my story took a wrong turn--I eventually got into the business, but you don't have to make that leap!!!

What I am trying to say is, and I am not the first to coin this phrase--it's in the journey. With wine, the palate leads the safari, the critics only lead the pack.

That is of course only my opinion. others will disagree I am sure, but then that's another thing about wine--nothing is certain.
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Re: I'm going to ask for some trouble

by Ian Sutton » Thu Nov 16, 2006 6:48 pm

Jamayer
Re: cellartracker - yes that's cool. If you have other stuff you want to put in, or want to really hack around the data, then go for home-grown. The great beauty of cellartracker is how it's created something simple out of something complex, but I work in IT, so can appreciate the desire to push the boundaries for personal satisfaction. Have fun doing so.

Re: the guidance, yes there's plenty out there, but it really is important not to see 95 points and think "Wow! that must be great". It really is no guarantee to enjoyment. It really is very easy to fall into that mindset though. Even Parker has moaned that people read the score and not the tasting note.

Drinking windows: I agree with you, though I do need some reassurance that the critic has a good knowledge of the wine in question and has a strong understanding of how it matures. Some magazines (decanter is very bad at this) publish plainly stupid drinking windows, often from blind tastings which is IMO as unreliable as it gets in assessing drinking windows.

regards

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Re: I'm going to ask for some trouble

by Thomas » Thu Nov 16, 2006 6:52 pm

Ian Sutton wrote:Jamayer
Re: cellartracker - yes that's cool. If you have other stuff you want to put in, or want to really hack around the data, then go for home-grown. The great beauty of cellartracker is how it's created something simple out of something complex, but I work in IT, so can appreciate the desire to push the boundaries for personal satisfaction. Have fun doing so.

Re: the guidance, yes there's plenty out there, but it really is important not to see 95 points and think "Wow! that must be great". It really is no guarantee to enjoyment. It really is very easy to fall into that mindset though. Even Parker has moaned that people read the score and not the tasting note.

Drinking windows: I agree with you, though I do need some reassurance that the critic has a good knowledge of the wine in question and has a strong understanding of how it matures. Some magazines (decanter is very bad at this) publish plainly stupid drinking windows, often from blind tastings which is IMO as unreliable as it gets in assessing drinking windows.

regards

Ian


I usually agree with Ian on wine matters, so here's the disagreement.

I believe that when you are at novice or slightly above novice level, you should steer clear of critics. They are in the business of telling you what they like--you are in the business of finding out what you like. After you know what you like, you can then read the critics, and actually discover the humor in their discoveries.
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Re: I'm going to ask for some trouble

by Cynthia Wenslow » Thu Nov 16, 2006 6:54 pm

Welcome.

Ian, Jim, and Thomas summed up nicely what I would have said as well. What you like is what ultimately matters.

It's also a good idea to hang out with a few people whose palate is not exactly like yours. You'll be introduced to some lovely wines you wouldn't have otherwise tried.

Also, I am hoping you subscribe to Robin's 30 Second Wine Advisor newsletter. You'll find it most informative and interesting.

(No, Robin didn't pay me to say that.....)

http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor/index.shtml
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Re: I'm going to ask for some trouble

by James Roscoe » Thu Nov 16, 2006 6:58 pm

How about, Otto Nieminen, or Bob Parsons or David M. Bueker or Howie Hart or Ian Sutton or Thomas P or Robin Garr or Bob Ross the Wine guru or JC (NC) or Hoke or Joe Perry or Randy R or Rahsaan or Covert or Carl Eppig or Jenise or Oliver McCrum or Florida Jim or Ed Draves or Paul B or geo t or or anyone of a bunch of other great folks who post here. You will find their tastes are much more real than some magazine's. Someone here will have a similaer palatea and as Thomas points out, it's all about the ride anyway. Salute!
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Re: I'm going to ask for some trouble

by Thomas » Thu Nov 16, 2006 6:59 pm

Cynthia Wenslow wrote:Welcome.

Ian, Jim, and Thomas summed up nicely what I would have said as well. What you like is what ultimately matters.

It's also a good idea to hang out with a few people whose palate is not exactly like yours. You'll be introduced to some lovely wines you wouldn't have otherwise tried.

Also, I am hoping you subscribe to Robin's 30 Second Wine Advisor newsletter. You'll find it most informative and interesting.

(No, Robin didn't pay me to say that.....)

http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor/index.shtml


Well then, he should... ;)
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Re: I'm going to ask for some trouble

by Florida Jim » Thu Nov 16, 2006 7:10 pm

Thomas wrote:Here's my take, and I have been at this wine thing for, oh forget about that...

Yeah, I kind of got carried away in that area; maybe in all of it. But this hobby does breed passion, even in us old guys. 8)
Best, Jim
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Re: I'm going to ask for some trouble

by Glenn Mackles » Thu Nov 16, 2006 7:33 pm

There is a lot of really good advice above. I am not anywhere near being in the league with many here but I too have basically given up on critics entirely. In fact the only time I see any of those scores at all is some wine stores put little tags on some bottles claiming various scores from various publications. I try to generally ignore them. I have just been disappointed way too many times by the "ratings." Perhaps it is my senility but I have decided to trust myself and people I know and can actually talk to.

I buy most of my wine at stores that I have been frequenting for years where they know me well. I tend to buy mixed cases. In the average mixed case there is usually say 2/3 or so of wines I already know that I like from experience. On the other hand I am always trying new stuff. I get ideas reading in here. I get ideas from my friends. I also get ideas in my regular wine stores. In most mixed cases I buy are 3 or 4 bottles of stuff I want to try. I'm always exploring.

The really hard part is stuff that needs to be aged.... big reds mostly. The conundrum is that you have to buy it now (when it is available) and generally age it for 3-5 years (or more) and by the time you finally know if you really like it, you can't buy it any more even if you wanted to. I am afraid that I have no real answer to that problem other than I generally stick with buying wines to age from producers I have enjoyed in the past. But I am sure I miss out on a lot of real bargains that way. And that is exactly why I read what goes on in here.

Good Luck,
Glenn
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Re: I'm going to ask for some trouble

by Jenise » Thu Nov 16, 2006 7:34 pm

I agree with what everyone else said, but back to your original question: Steve Tanzer (IWC).
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Re: I'm going to ask for some trouble

by Ian Sutton » Thu Nov 16, 2006 8:21 pm

Thomas
I think our differences are small here (but neither of us would be worried if differences remained :) ).

We're both in agreement that walking into a wineshop with a book, wad of paper, magazine or palm pilot, with somebody elses scores on it is not the way to learn about wine, or even get to taste the wines you like. That we know it occurs on a regular basis probably irritates both of us :oops:

Where we differ (perhaps, or perhaps not), is I think it's good to read about the styles of wine (e.g. what to expect from a Hunter Semillon or White Rioja if you've not had it before). I'd also like to know stylistic differences between producers (e.g. oaked to oblivion or tend to use overly ripe fruit). I can't taste all the wines, so such stylistic information can be useful (if only to narrow my choice down). In addition, tasting aged examples of a cellaring style is very useful in explaining why it's great to cellar it. Knowing that a certain Aussie shiraz has a good cellaring track record might be useful when offered (say) a 1986 vintage, whereas a similar wine from a less cellarworthy producer might be completely over the hill and a complete waste of money. There's value in critics IMO, but not in blindly accepting scores like they were an assessment of suction capabilities of vacuum cleaners or strength of household bleaches (both of which can logically be measured).

There is good info out there and tasting notes, here, or from critics can help guide me towards or away from certain wines. Robert Parker telling me it's wonderfully concentrated and sumptuous is all I need to know to turn the page :wink: . That's palate callibration to a degree (it's not just about agreement).

However your own impressions of the wine you've just tasted should never be compromised by critical opinion. Maybe a wine gets criticised for being dirty, yet you found it earthy and complex 8) .

The only catch to our shared belief of judging by ones own palate, is that we are all on a learning curve and we do learn new things. If we shut out all comment or observation, then we may end up tasting a narrow band of wines as we only buy what we know we like. Taking a gamble is very healthy, but it's not so bad to seek inspiration from elsewhere. How else would I have been inspired to experiment with specialist teas again? (thanks Otto!)

So maybe not that far apart, but maybe you seek a slightly greater distance from the points chasers (and that I can fully understand).

regards

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Re: I'm going to ask for some trouble

by Bob Parsons Alberta » Thu Nov 16, 2006 8:35 pm

Good points all round and I liked Glenn`s response. I am not a critic man, my stores know what I like and I go to as many tastings as is possible. I love the notes posted here and am keen on some of the UK bloggers who keep up to date and seem to visit many wineries. The impressions gained there can be invaluable.
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Re: I'm going to ask for some trouble

by Brian K Miller » Thu Nov 16, 2006 8:56 pm

I'm a newcomer who developed (to the extent it is :oops: ) my palette through tastings-lots of tastings. It helps that I live 20 minutes from Napa County and enjoy bicycling and that the Bay Area (CA) has lots and lots and lots of wine shops and wine-centric restaurants.

I do, however, enjoy reading the magazines. They do guide me (to a decreasing extent) to trying wines and wineries to a small extent. Which, to me, is still fine. I like what I like-and that is always changing, but the magazines can give you a bit of a starting point-but only that. I enjoy reading the tasting notes and yes, the scores. However, I've already determined that Wine Enthusiast's scores don't jobe very much with my palette. (I much prefer Wine and Spirits World)

That said, I tend to like finding the little, hidden, not cult, 1000-case places that rarely get reviewed in any of the big mags.
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Re: I'm going to ask for some trouble

by Jenise » Thu Nov 16, 2006 9:24 pm

Brian said:
I tend to like finding the little, hidden, not cult, 1000-case places that rarely get reviewed in any of the big mags
.

Brian, you point out one of the commonplace problems associated with following critics: if you rely on a critic, then you only buy the wines he tastes. And he doesn't taste them all by a LOOOONG shot. For our questor's information, that's not only because he can't get around to every wine in every country, but because many producers who don't need points to get customers don't provide their wines for review or they provide them only to the occasional reviewer they know 'gets' their style and vision.

The public all too often makes the mistake of assuming that wines that don't get reviewed simply aren't good enough. Bad assumption: sometimes they're too good. :)
Last edited by Jenise on Fri Nov 17, 2006 12:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: I'm going to ask for some trouble

by Mike Filigenzi » Fri Nov 17, 2006 12:33 am

Florida Jim wrote:
jameyer wrote:So I just finished a wine class, and learned that Wine Spectator is not really respected throughout the industry anymore. I was told to look at either Parker or International Wine Cellar. So I'll put it to the assembled. Which do you recommend?


None.
IMO, you will do better to not read any commercial publications. Some people think they are good guide books - I think they are misleading.
If you are reading this board, you will get ideas from others here. If you have a retailer you trust, you will get ideas there. If you taste wine regularly, whether with others or at organized events, you will get ideas there.
But, as sure as I am breathing, there is only one rule; drink what you like. Parker knows what he likes, Tanzer knows what he likes; they don't follow anybody else's taste, they follow their own.
I have been drinking fine wine for over 40 years and I am just barely beginning to learn about the wines that are available in the world and what they mean to me.
This isn't supposed to be easy or fast; its supposed to last a lifetime. Time is not "of the essence." So buy a mixed case of stuff you can't pronounce and never heard of before and try them, over dinner, one bottle a night. Repeat.
By doing this, you will not be tasting wine against other wine but rather over the period of your dinner in a setting where it is likely you will drink wine most often. This is not a competition (despite the scoring systems that intimate as much); rather its an opportunity to find your own way and in the setting where you will note a wine's place at your table.
Do not be seduced by scores, or prices or tales of grandeur; approach each bottle with a sense of wonder of joyous anticipation. Pour some for a friend. And when you have had enough, recork the bottle and try it again another time.
Wine is food. It is alive. And it is fun.
And no critic can ever tell you how to live or have fun or what you like.
Best, Jim


This should go in the FAQ. Great post, Jim.


Mike
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Re: I'm going to ask for some trouble

by Thomas » Fri Nov 17, 2006 10:51 am

Ian, we aren't far apart. But I believe that the last thing a person new to wine should do is rely on critics AT ALL. As Jenise points out, they often stifle exploration by what they omit.

I certainly don't see anything wrong with reading up on wines. For that I recommend wine writers who are in the business of informing rather than wine critics who are in the business of proclaiming.
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Re: I'm going to ask for some trouble

by Mark S » Fri Nov 17, 2006 11:21 am

Thomas wrote:I joined a wine club too--Les Amis du Vin (now defunct). The point of the club was to attend tastings, numerous, numerous tastings.


I used to belong to this too, circa the late 1980's. Had some great tastings and met a lifelong friend through this. The great thing about this was they brought in winemakers, chateau owners, you tasted through a vintage, and it was all done in a non-'hoighty' atmosphere. Very educational.
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Re: I'm going to ask for some trouble

by Mark S » Fri Nov 17, 2006 11:35 am

Glenn Mackles wrote:The really hard part is stuff that needs to be aged.... big reds mostly. The conundrum is that you have to buy it now (when it is available) and generally age it for 3-5 years (or more) and by the time you finally know if you really like it, you can't buy it any more even if you wanted to. I am afraid that I have no real answer to that problem other than I generally stick with buying wines to age from producers I have enjoyed in the past. But I am sure I miss out on a lot of real bargains that way. And that is exactly why I read what goes on in here.


When I became bit by the 'bug', I was either lucky or too stoopid to know better that I tended to buy things from regions that looked interesting to me, and also to find things on closeout that missed other people's boat. This allowed me to try some better aged examples than I would have normally had and wander in areas I might not have been keen on had it been at a steeper cost. Unfortunately many of these have risen in price beyond my budget, but I tried some great wines and broadened my palate. Today, I'd say try something from an up-and-coming area or from places that appear 'cheap' (South Africa, Portugal, Loire, SW France, the small Italian DOCs, and wineries that are local to you). Trying wines from these areas will broaden your tastes and won't break the bank. When you are comfortable with higher-end purchases, you can coordinate what's important to you (fruit? earth? gobs? melted asphixia?) to what other folks are saying about this (good shoppeople and the Internet is great for this) and have better luck buying what you'll enjoy. Good luck and have an open mind!
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Re: I'm going to ask for some trouble

by Bruce K » Fri Nov 17, 2006 11:40 am

Amen! Beautifully written.
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Re: I'm going to ask for some trouble

by Ian Sutton » Fri Nov 17, 2006 2:10 pm

Thomas wrote:Ian, we aren't far apart. But I believe that the last thing a person new to wine should do is rely on critics AT ALL. As Jenise points out, they often stifle exploration by what they omit.

I certainly don't see anything wrong with reading up on wines. For that I recommend wine writers who are in the business of informing rather than wine critics who are in the business of proclaiming.


Yes, definitely against the proclamations!
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