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The Problem With Wine Rating Scores – and a Robert Parker Over-Rated Toro

ratings.jpgThere are a number of very large, mostly well respected wine rating organizations that taste thousands and thousands of wines, put out a blurb about the wine (much like we do) and then give it a numerical score (which we don’t do).  Robert Parker pretty much invented the 100 point scale and became an international celebrity when people started paying attention to it and buying based on his score.  Now the 100 point ratings fly.  What do they mean?  Are they accurate?  Are they consistent?  Who knows?

These days it seems there are two scores that carry the most weight with the general wine consumer across the board, The Wine Advocate (Robert Parker’s scale) and The Wine Spectator.  There are certainly others including Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar, James Suckling (who left the Spectator and went off on his own) and Allen Meadows (who specializes in Burgundy).  All have roughly the same descriptions of the score ranges.  Above 90 is excellent, while above 95 is exceptional and classic.  Anything in the 80’s is considered to be a good to very good wine, and I would say that is fine for everyday drinking.  Their rating scales go down much lower, but you very, very seldom see a wine rated below 80.  This has to do with improved quality across the board in the wine industry, but I can tell you we’ve seen a few sub-80 point wines and they are out there.

But what does all this mean?  Sometimes not much.  The various rating organizations or people can vary, sometimes quite a bit.  One might give a particular bottle an 87, or very good, while another scores it 93, or excellent.  This is a big difference, and can translate into a big difference in price as well.  What is a consumer to do?

Here is an example.  We recently picked up a couple of bottles of this Toro from Yaso based on price and a rating from Robert Parker.  We’ll insert our notes here:

2012 yaso toroWine:    2012 Yaso Toro Tinto           

Winery Location:  Toro, Spain

Tasted By:   Neil & Cheri                             Date:  June 2014

Tasting Notes:      – fruit on the nose with some oak.  Not much complexity here.  On the palate the dark fruit emerges, but not much else.  There is no mid-palate, as the wine just sort of disappears, never to return.  The middle and back of your tongue are just kind of left standing there wondering what happened.  Barely medium bodied, this is a major disappointment, and probably the worst bottle of Toro we’ve ever had.  Nothing going on here.

Price Point –   $13

Would We Buy It? – never.  This is weak and watery, had no body, depth or length and really is a poor bottle of wine.  We’d give it a 75 at best if we were scoring it on a number sale.

Now we would normally not give a numerical score in one of our ratings, but in this case we felt compelled, because Robert Parker gave this wine a 93!  Here’s a quote from his tasting note: “Full bodied and opulent…”.  Opulent?  Not the same wine clearly.  Full bodied?  Ditto.  93?  On his scale, a 93 falls into the range which he describes as “An outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character. In short, these are terrific wines.”  This wine is poor, and clearly so.  It’s not a matter of personal preference, it’s glaring and obvious.  I’ve got 2003 and 2005 Bordeaux that was rated 93 that makes this wine look like colored water.  Heck, I’ve got 88 point wines that make this look like colored water.  Clearly we have a disconnect.

So what happened?  Maybe this wine was a completely (and I mean completely) different animal when he tasted it.  Maybe it shut down before I got it (highly unlikely here).  Maybe he lost his notes and had to make this up?  I don’t know.  I do know you should not buy this particular wine based on his rating.

So what do you do with this tangled web of wine ratings?   I have a couple of recommendations.

1. Do some homework over a few years and compare some people who rate wines against your impressions of the same wines.  This can give you a fairly good idea about who likes the same things you do, and values the same qualities in a wine.  I did that with James Suckling while he was with the Spectator and covering Bordeaux.  I became confident I could buy based on his ratings and pretty much always agreed with them.  When he rated a cru bourgeois wine a 91-93, and said “Hard to believe, it’s so good”, that equated to “buy a case” in my head.  I did, and the 2005 Chateau Caronne Ste. Gemme is still one of the best deals I have ever seen.  This approach can work, but it takes time and effort.  And you have to drink a lot of wine!

2. For certain areas look towards a few people who don’t give astronomically high scores and appear to be more critical.  Allen Meadows, The Burghound, is a good example.  He focuses on Burgundy.  You won’t see 100 point scores here.  You likely won’t see 98.  Low 90’s is a very good score from Allen.  I tend to believe him (he knows 9 zillion times more about Burgundy than I ever will, but still it’s about whether his review matches with your impressions).

3. Try lots of wine and drink what you like and can afford.  This is always the best advice and always will be.

It’s a confusing landscape with all these ratings.  If you think about it, how can you take this too seriously when the major rating groups are giving away lots of 100 point scores these days.  That is, by their definition, perfection.  Exactly what is that?  How can any wine actually be that?  Now,  in a universally proclaimed “great” vintage in Bordeaux (again – one of my favorite buying opportunities) there might be 7-10 “perfect” wines.  I’m not buying that and I’m not buying them.  I’m going to drink what I like and can afford. (alright, we stretch it a little at times)

Unfortunately the 2012 Yaso Toro is not in that group.

Yet we just bought the 2012 Caymus Cab (96 from Parker!) – so we do agree at times.  Who’s right?  No one knows.  At some level we all are, and that, most importantly, includes you.

1-31-2015: Just as an addition, see the comment below from Jared, who believes that there is a good amount of mega-purple in the Caymus.  So maybe we got fooled by that one, and the score is another one that’s off base.  Be careful out there!

A votre sante!

14 comments to The Problem With Wine Rating Scores – and a Robert Parker Over-Rated Toro

  • Jim Vincent

    Very informative article Neil. Really held my interest. I like the fact that you should compare your analysis with a few different ratings people to see how their taste and evaluations match with yours. Only then will you have a good solid reference to judge a wine that you really might like before you buy it. See you soon.

  • Joseph Allen

    I unfortunately bought 4 bottles of this wine before reading this article. The price was so low ($13) that I didn’t bother to research online. I found this article only after tasting the wine and looking to see if anyone else was as disappointed as I was. Neil and Cheri’s tasting notes are spot on. The middle and back of my tongue were indeed left wondering what happened. Although in my opinion its not a terrible wine. Its just that there are so many other wines at this price point or lower that are so much more enjoyable.

  • Joe Roberts

    I too am very disappointed in this wine. There used to be a practice where the wine taster (and score maker) tasted a fabulous wine in the cellar from a select barrel, but the stuff that actually made it across the ocean was rather mediocre plonk. Wonder if that could be the case here? RJP ought to be thoroughly embarrassed to have his name on this wine.

  • Jared

    First of all, I’ve been in the wine business for 13 years. I definitely agree with your premise. The 100 point thing is usually rediculous. I tell my clients that it’s like a movie review, some people love the same move that I hate… it’s mostly opinion. I was tracking with you till you got to Caymus. That 2012 is awful. I just got off the phone with a customer about it, saying the same thing. You are incorrect on the score, Parker gave it a 96. There is so much sugar and mega-purple (look it up) in that wine, and every red wine from Chuck Wagner, that I can’t get past it. I lost all respect for Parker on California wines after reading his review. Living in Napa, I have probably tasted this wine at least 10 times over the past year and each time, it disgusts me.
    Here is his review: eRobertParker.com #215
    “Oct 2014 Robert M. Parker, Jr. 96 Drink: 2014 – 2039 $49-$107 (75)
    They appear to be immune to some of winedom’s less than intelligent trends and fads that we see from time to time, and the result is a spectacular 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon 40th Anniversary offering. Its dense purple/black color is followed by copious quantities of crème de cassis and blackberry fruit, silky tannins, a voluptuous texture and stunning purity as well as length. This full-bodied effort is a fabulous example of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon as well as a tribute to this amazing family. It is so good now, why wait? However, I’m sure that like most vintages of Caymus, it will last for 20-25 years. Amazing!”

    • admin

      Wow, I know what mega purple is, but don’t have enough experience with wines I know have it to mark it. So the depth of flavor in the 2012 Caymus is due to the concentrate? Mega-purple is a concentrate made from a teinturier (red fleshed) grape also called Rubired. In general it’s assumed that it shows up in lower priced wines, to bolster color, flavor and add sweetness. You would not expect it in something like a $60 bottle of Caymus. Or maybe you would. We don’t know for sure. But Jared’s words are a good caution. And actually, the score is incorrect at 97 and I have been meaning to correct that, so thanks for pointing it out. I appreciate the comments, and hopefully others will see them and take note as well. I’m going to do a little more research on Caymus.

  • Don L. Mathews

    I’m currently drinking the 2012 Toro of this discussion. Love it! Can’t say that I have the most sophisticated taste in wine. However I like it. It makes me more interested in Robert Parker because his taste seems similar to mine. Thank you for your thoughts. After all, how we taste things is not exactly the same is it? Taste buds vary.

    Thankful for differences,

    Don L. Mathews

  • Dave

    We must not be drinking the same wine. My wife and I have had this wine on many occasions over the past 2 years, and have always agreed that is a fine glass of Toro.
    93? Maybe – I don’t get to try that many different Spanish wines. Worth the money? Definitely! Has never disappointed, and my wife demands we reserve it for special meals.

    Dave Parker

    • admin

      And once again here we see the great thing about wine. Everyone has their own opinion and wines are uniquely evaluated by each individual. We’re glad you enjoy the Yaso. All we can say is we had four different bottles and they were consistent. Most of the feedback we’ve received agrees with us. Some liked the wine though. Generally we are big fans of Toro, and have had many excellent bottles. We stand by our comments however, and have, over the course of twenty years of paying some attention to wine rankings, almost never encountered a wine we thought was this over-rated. If for you it is actually a special occasion bottle then that’s great.

  • Dave

    Indeed. Something is going on here. I have been drinking and enjoying Spanish wine for 35+ years. Our bottles must be somehow different than what you sampled, because the finish is long and almost Rioja Gran Riserva dusty. Plenty of fruit mid-palate after an hour of breathing. A very good glass of wine.

    So I wonder if there is not a lot of bottle variability going on here – we’ve all heard the tales of the Spanish wine industry, in recent years. And we just got lucky, as did Mr. Parker.

    • admin

      It’s certainly possible. We sampled four different bottles over the course of a few weeks with consistent notes. Did the wine shut down? I’m doubtful, but anything can happen. Glad to hear yours is making you happy!

  • John Morrison

    I have a couple of bottles of this. It’s a nice wine. It’s not exceptional but its pretty solid. A decent bottle that didn’t cost much.

    • admin

      Glad you like it. We thought it started out pretty well and then disappeared, with no finish whatsoever. What really got us was the score, especially considering other wines scored points lower by the same person.

      All that matters is you like it.

  • Bill

    I too think this a terrible bottle of wine, cheap it maybe but still way overpriced. Had hoped that time would soften it (surely Parker must have had some reason) – but no, oily and unpleasant, tasted once and tipped the rest in the the cooking. Have a Finca Museum 2009 open at the moment – no comparison, the Finca eclipses the Yaso.

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