Wine Pages

Mike Steinberger's Wine Diarist


Great Wine can be Pointless

I was thumbing through The New York Times recently, looking at the film review, and thought to myself 'this would be a lot easier if, like every other publication, they would just assign stars or some other rating shorthand, so I wouldn't waste my time reading a bad review.' Common sense, right? Well, maybe not. I love the quick and easy summaries that such rating systems can afford, but by using them as my only guide, I am doing the reviewer and the reviewed as disservice. After all, isn't knowing the full details within any review going to lead to a better decision on my (the consumer's) part?

That's certainly how I feel about wine ratings - especially the completely non-scientific 100 point scale. Wine reviews have done a lot to help sell wine and promote some lesser known producers who work without any marketing budget. They are a necessary evil part of my day job, where I promote the wines my company sells by sharing any press our wines get to our customers. And consumers can benefit, too, if they find their own taste is aligned with that of a specific critic. But it is not my intention to discuss the possitives and negatives of wine reviews today...

Instead, my mind has run off in a completely different direction, and I need to go with it: There are some wines - often GREAT wines that do not get covered by the critics. Until recently, for example, the Loire Valley was not on anyone's regular reviewing beat - likewise producers from Oregon, Long Island, Slovenia, and other regions of high quality wine production. Why? Well there's just too much wine to be able to cover - much of it with very limited distribution. So why would any critic devote much ink to wines their readers wouldn't have any chance of encountering? Sure, the same could be said for marquis and cult producers like DRC or Sin Que Non, but wines like those also need a consitent "reality check" to justify their prices.

I was thinking about all of this the other night when I enjoyed a few "pointless" wines with dinner - one from Long Island's great experimental producer, Channing Daughters, and another from the king of Arbois, Jacques Puffeney. Neither of these producers get much press coverage, and the wines I enjoyed were not scored by anyone. But both were fresh, nicely structured, food-friendly, well balanced, and, well, delicious. I didn't need any critic to tell me that I'd enjoy these - and certainly didn't need them to assign numbers to these wines.