With some interesting facts, tips and tricks for buying, gifting and sipping, Modern Mississauga’s resident wine expert demystifies the world’s most interesting beverage.
As a regular person that likes wine, it can be completely overwhelming to walk into an LCBO, Wine Rack or grocery store (yay!) and try and select a bottle. Does it have a cute animal on the label? Is it branded with words like bodacious, skinny or apothic? Or do you use the counter-intuitive strategy: the plainer, more “classic” the label, the higher the quality of the wine?
The reality is that whether it’s a Tuesday-night-dinner-wine or a pricey gift for your boss, we often find ourselves relying on critics’ scores, conveniently stuck to the shelf, making our decision for us. RAVE REVIEW 92pts from Jane Smith, Wine Magazine. Well, who can argue? They’re the expert right? Jane probably is an expert, but what you have to remember is that her 92 point score is not objective, it’s just her opinion. Don’t get me wrong: most professional critics are evaluating wine on similar qualities that most would agree define “a good wine,” but the rest is taste. À chacun son goût.
The rise of the 100-point scoring system is largely credited to Robert Parker, an American lawyer-turned-wine critic, whose tiny newsletter of the 60s and 70s evolved into one of the most influential wine publications in the world by the late 80s (Wine Advocate). What Mr. Parker correctly realized is that most people don’t want to read wine reviews verbosely describing the history of the winery and the emotion evoked by this particular bottle of fermented grape juice. They just want to know if it’s good or not. Should they buy it or not?
And so, the simplicity of this idea caught on. 80 points or better is good. 85 points is very good. 90 points is described by the Wine Advocate as: “An outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character.” The demand for these scores went up as publications and wine shops around the world wanted to help their customers make good decisions. Especially in this information age, we now have hundreds of critics giving their opinions.
Store shelves are littered with score tags and there are apps for your phone, websites and magazines abound to help narrow things down. But if you’re standing in the aisle deciding between two wines of the same price, and one got 90+ points, that’s a no-brainer.
So none of us are going to stop looking at scores. It’s too easy; too helpful. But I would encourage you to take the next step and note the name of the reviewer. If you buy a wine that comes highly recommended by a particular critic and love it, then perhaps your tastes match theirs. Or vice versa if you don’t enjoy that particular bottle. If this idea intrigues you, check out Wine Align. Unlike most apps and websites, they are based in Ontario, so they review almost every bottle in the LCBO. The reviews are written by some of the top wine-minds in Canada, and they often disagree with each other. Which is okay, because it’s just their opinion.
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Tim Reed Manessy [Sommelier CAPS, CMS] is a wine instructor at George Brown College, restaurant consultant, private & corporate event specialist and really annoying at a dinner party.