Let’s ponder this wine ratings expression: “When a wine is rated more than 95 points; you can’t afford it. When it has 90 to 94 points; you can’t find it. When it has 89 points or less; nobody wants it.”  Sometimes true but never so for the savvy wine shopper. Let’s explore ratings, scores and the untold truth behind them all.

Two of the most influential rated items in the world may be movies and wine. Have you ever gone to see a movie based solely on a great review, and after viewing, be highly disappointed. You could blame the critic, but the problem may simply be that his taste just may not be the same as yours. This lesson learned may cost you around $15 or more.

When it comes to fine wine, high ratings and a great review with an unappealing bottle may end up costing you hundreds of dollars. Even so, if it falls in the $20 range or slightly more, you still feel cheated out of your hard earned money. For this reason, wine ratings, should be a tool used as a guide, not scripture.

There are many scoring forums used to rate wines. They can be found in a magazine, newsletter or today’s popular internet blogs. You may see them rated using a sliding 1 to 10 scale, the ever popular 100 point system, some using a 5 star rating or the gimmicky 3 wine bottles to name a few. These descriptive opinions  can be quite helpful but often times misleading.

It is believed, and often times fact, that some magazines have a financial interest in giving certain wines high marks on a regular basis. Heaven forbid that cult superstar costing upwards of $500 gets less than a 90 point review. That high ticket ad space they pay for will disappear faster than a toupee in a fan factory.

Be cautious of slanted opinions of wines always reviewed by only one person. A consensus rating by a panel of tasting experts is usually a safer bet. Ever notice the same wine, rated by  supposed experts working for a different magazine will often give you two opposite tasting results and a rating nowhere close to each other? Caution Alert! These wines could have been tasted at different times and under different conditions. The results show different scores from the exact same taster. Even the experts cannot be relied on to be right all of the time.

Some highly rated wine may not appeal to your palate at all. Yet wines that may have received a lower score may be more to your liking. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times I came away from sampling a number of very expensive and highly rated wines, only to come away shaking my head and thinking to myself, Why? What’s the big deal? Why the big price tag?

On the opposite side of the coin, I’ve tasted numerous moderate to inexpensive wines that received low ratings with little or no fanfare whatsoever and came away with the feeling that I had just discovered liquid gold. It’s these wines that I try to recommend to my readers because who doesn’t like a hidden gem that can save you money in the long run. Thus, what I always stress to lovers of the grape, the most reliable rating system in the world should be your own palate.

Think of it as 10 people judging the same beauty contest. One may like the eyes, one the legs, one their hair, etc. Ten separate opinions and who determines which one is right?

These days, with the economy flush and wine tasting at an all time high, wines with a hefty rating are usually quite expensive. But that big price tag does not always reflect its quality. Many people invest in these wines solely because of their ratings or to display them as trophies to impress their friends, with no regard as to their taste or quality.

I have these type of clients and one problem that I notice is that they are often blind to their purchases. Many of the wines they acquire need ample time in the cellar, often years until they show any signs of their true greatest. Often times, they open them way too young, well before they show anything close to what the winemaker intended of his product. Then they are stupefied as to why the wine did not appeal to them. The technique of cellaring and aging any wine requires time, patience and a keen sense of knowing when opening a bottle is a day too soon or a day too late.

Imagine the disappointment if you open one of these wines many years down the road and it does not meet your expectation. It could be a case of over aging, improper cellar temperature, exposure to light, too close to a heat source, any number of issues that may infect a wines taste and quality. It would be hard to take it back for a refund or exchange at that point, resulting in one expensive lesson.

Many quality gems receiving 90 points or above can be found at very affordable prices, often in the $10 to $25 range. Though many are in ample supply, some you often find to magically disappear. Many of those that are in short supply may be produced in such small quantities, found to be in high demand, or most often, may have few cases imported. This is the time you should rely on your knowledgeable store retailer for sound advice.

If you are not quite sure if you will like his recommendation and do not want to invest initially in a full case, I always suggest buying 2 of the same bottle to sample before you make your decision. If you open the first one and enjoy it, you may be lucky enough to purchase a case or a few more bottles before it goes out of stock. If by chance you purchase a single bottle and enjoy it to its fullest, you may run the risk of returning to find it no longer available. Fond sadness may be your only memory. Hence, if you followed the first rule above, you still have that second bottle to soften the blow.

To be the savviest of shopper, I highly suggest that you do not disregard wines simply because they did not receive a high rating. I have enjoyed untold numbers of bottles that didn’t meet many critics tasting standards. Many of those second class citizens happily reside in my cellar as we speak. Which is why I always say, if you are not 100% sure, don’t be shy. Never hesitate to ask a trusted in-store professional for a recommendation. It is our job to know not only wine ratings, but also about the hidden gems everyone wants to be the first to take home. We taste them, we buy them ourselves. We sample the good and the bad so you don’t have to.

Tasting and sampling is the key factor to a happy wine lover. Do yourself a favor and attend any number of wine tastings that may be available in your area. This is  where you can sample a number of different wines, be it red, white, rose, sweet, dry or sparkling and decide which ones you love the most. It’s an inexpensive lesson where you can create your own rating system based on the wines you enjoy and the probability of saving yourself a boat load of money by not investing in those you found not to your liking. With this knowledge, you become the master of an educated future purchase. Don’t be swayed, don’t be betrayed. You be the judge, you be the jury, and let yourself become the Master of your own ratings domain.

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