Wine Spectator’s Vintage Report Card: California Rules!

Looks like Wine Spectator has awarded California with almost straight A’s this year (Paso Robles received a “B”) in reference to the quality of wine expected from the 2005 vintage.

“Wine Spectator’s editors have provided a snapshot of the conditions and expectations in key regions and given each of them a preliminary grade.”

Other scores of note: Germany A- ; France, Alsace A- ; France, Bordeaux A+ ; France, Burgundy A; France, Loire Valley A- ; France, Rhone Valley A

2005 Vintage Report Card: Part 3
Part 3 Details the following regions:
California – Central Coast
California – Napa Valley
California – Sonoma
New York – Finger Lakes & Long Island

You can find their other reports here:
2005 Vintage Report Card: Part 2
Italy – Overall

2005 Vintage Report Card: Part 3
Languedoc and Rousillon
Loire Valley
Rhone Valley

More Champagne / Sparkling White Wine Recommendations

Mike Steinberger, one of my favorite Wine Columnists, explores Champagne and it’s American counterpart, sparkling white wine, in his latest column on Slate.
Mike recommends sticking with the USA for bargain bubble and going for the French product if you budget allows it. One of my favorites from France is Champagne Philipponnat Royale Reserve Brut for around $35 USD [Website]. It’s a great bottle with a wonderful yeasty, baked bread characteristic. The finish is refreshing and crisp and very well structured.

Read [Slate]

Parker Backlash from Biased Panel – Comments from Wine Opinions

The story I wrote earlier this week received quite a few comments, interestingly they were emailed to me instead of posted on the site. One of the emails was from John Gillespie of Wine Opinions, the originator of this study, and I thought it merited a repost on the blog. Thanks John and Christian Miller for taking the time to reply to my original post. I do feel however, that some of the points brought up should be addressed.

Attched you will find the origninal press release on the study, and a profile of the Wine Opinions panel. At the time we fielded the first Core Track survey, there were about 1,200 panel members. The survey was based on 403 responses. Today, the panel has grown to over 1,700 members. As you can see, they fairly and accurately represent that segment of the consumer market with the highest levels of consumption frequency and the highest levels of purchase of wines over $20. Our panel is in no way “biased,” as you speculate. It is simply respresentative of the 16.2 million high-end wine consumers in the U.S.

While I feel 1,700 members is a good number to draw information from, the Panel profile attached in the email reveals some problems. I’ve broken the data down. (Note: The national average figures were found in the Wine Opinions panel breakdown, and are derived from the “latest core consumer breakdown” from the Wine Market Council.)

Panel Profile: Wine Publications Read or Subscribed To

  • Wine and Food Magazine
  • 43%
  • National Average
  • 15%
  • Wine Spectator
  • 30%
  • National Average
  • 7%
  • Wine Enthusiast
  • 17%
  • National Average
  • No data provided
  • Wine & Spirits
  • 12%
  • National Average
  • No data provided
  • Robert Parker
  • 7%
  • National Average
  • 1%

Frankly, seeing this information isn’t helping me feel that this study isn’t biased in some way (that’s 109% by the way [I know, I know, the data]). The core consumer as described by the Wine Market Council is much less likely to be a Wine Spectator or Wine and Food Magazine reader than those from the Wine Opinions Panel.

Another issue I have with the Wine Opinions Panel is it’s demographic breakdown.

Here’s the information provided from the press release. (Again, the national average information represents the 16.2 Million regular wine drinkers information as collected by the Wine Market Council.)
Demographic Breakdown

Over 60
National Average

National Average

National Average

National Average

National Average

National Average

The study seems to lean heavily towards the Baby Boomer demographic.
From the Wine Market Council:

There are 77 million Baby Boomers (ages 40 to 58 in 2004), compared to a 44 million Generation X population (ages 28 to 39 in 2004). But the Millennial generation is a group of some 70 million.

Referring to the Wine Opinions Panel as “fairly and accurately” representing the Core high end wine consumer seems to be a bit of a stretch. The rising high end wine consumer is coming from a group of only 12% on your panel. These are the ones looking for some direction in the wine world, Robert Parker is definitely an influence for them.

In my experience, I tend to see more male’s making high end purchasing decisions. Although the National average still favors women, it isn’t to the degree of the Wine Opinions panel.

The email continues:
I said: “If the study was to be unbiased, it would seem only fair that an equal number of Robert Parker and Wine Spectator subscribers would have been interviewed.”

Not true, there only has to be a representative sampling of sufficient numbers of each. Because our respondent mix is truly representative of the high-end consumer segment, there are a greater number of Spectator readers in that group than there are Parker readers.

As the data points out, the panel is biased towards two publications, exponentially more than the Core Market Consumer as researched by the Wine Market Council. Both Wine and Food Magazine, and Wine Spectator, appeal to a larger audience and have a larger circulation than The Wine Advocate. I agree that it wouldn’t necessarily need to be split between the two to be accurate, but unfortunately the Wine Opinions panel is unbalanced in this regard.

I said: “The goal of the study was to find out who influences high end wine consumers (if you want to call over $20 high end, I think $50 would be a better number) purchasing decisions.”

There is plenty of research to show that even for affluential core high-frequency wine consumers, wine over $20 is a special purchase. A study defining high end as over $50 might well have a different result, but it would represent a miniscule (if important) number of consumers.

I can agree here, as I was just making a personal definition of what I consider high end.

I said:”The problem is, if the majority of people interviewed don’t read the Wine Advocate or Erobertparker online, than they probably aren’t going to list them as a purchasing influence, aside from those that use information in retail stores.”

Of course, although the Parker number hints at how far beyond actual readership his influence may extend. But the main cause of our singling out Parker was not the low number citing him as an influence, it was the distribution of his rankings compared to other sources of influence. He had a much larger number of people giving him a “1”, compared to the others. If this was simply a matter of different levels of readership, then you would expect his “non-influence” ratings of 1-3 to be spread evenly or similarly to the other sources. We should also keep in mind that the number of people who see Parker ratings as shelf-talkers and in advertising is quite considerable. Mr. Parker’s ratings are also widely made know to consumers by sales staff in fine wine shops, so his presence as a critical force far exceeds his actual subscription base.

What I was trying to say is that if someone reads Wine Spectator regularly, more than likely they aren’t going to list Robert Parker as “Very Influential” in their purchasing decisions. As far as his reach, 1% of the 16.2 million daily/weekly wine drinkers is 162,000 who are Wine Advocate ‘readers’ according to the Wine Market Council data you reference. I’d say that’s more than a hint that his influence extends far beyond the reach of his actual readership. Again, the data showing people sighting his influence as low shouldn’t be taken as a sign that his influence is weakening. The majority from your panel already look to other sources for wine information.
Shelf takers who do not subscribe to any wine related journal’s don’t seem to be a part of your study, and therefore speculation on their purchasing patterns seems to be out of place in this discussion.

I said:”A more accurate way to measure if Parker is losing his influence could have been interviewing consumers who were already looking at his reviews and have now moved to another source.”

We intend to do just that, with tracking studies each year. We do not state in our report that Parker is “losing his influence.” We merely point out that for every person who finds his reviews somewhat or very influential, there are three others who go out of their way to state that he has no influence on their purchase decisions.

Unfortunately, that data is misleading and the media took it as Parker losing his influence in all their headlines. The question seems unfair for the demographics of this panel. My point is, Robert M Parker Jr. hasn’t burned any bridges lately for a misrepresentation of any wine judged, so I can’t see how anyone could look at this information as proof that he is losing his influence. If someone doesn’t share his taste preference, they would be able to find that out rather quickly. I feel those who listen to one of his recommendations, try a bottle and like it, will continue to trust his opinion in their purchases.
A new generation of wine lover is emerging and they are looking at many sources for help navigating the world of wine. The Wine Advocate will continue to have a profound influence on the purchasing decisions of high end wine consumers, and I feel this survey provides no indication of that changing.

I can appreciate that your company was not responsible for the headlines. As I have described above however, I feel that the information on the Wine Advocate is incorrect and this panel is not a good means of gauging Parkers influence on the wine community. However, I am sure that your study was otherwise well thought out and executed and other aspects of it may prove to be helpfull to industry professionals. Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

Test Your Wine Knowledge

This fun 12 Question test was thrown together by the ubiquitous Dr.Vino to test your knowledge of wine news over the past year. Hopefully, I’ve kept you up to date on wine related news, so now is the time to dig into the archives and win a prize. Someone will randomly be chosen from the group who scores 100% to receive the Grand Prize, so fire up Google in another window and get to work. Here are all the prizes:

Grand prize: a case of wine! Yes, an excellent mixed case (12 bottles) of wines in the Dr. Vino price range, including wines from the Old World and the New.

Second: Michelin Red Guide New York, this book was released to some controversy earlier this year–see for yourself!

Third: The Accidental Connoisseur, by Lawrence Osborne. An irreverent look at the wine world.

Fourth: Sharpen your sensory evaluation with an Aroma Wheel!

Take the quiz here.

Fair Pouring a Problem?

A study released by the British Medical Journal found that people tend to pour 20-30% more alcohol into short, wide 350ml glasses than into tall, narrow 350ml glasses. The researchers go on to state that alcohol consumption studies should also include the shape of the glass.

The reason for the difference, Wansink speculates, is the classic vertical-horizontal optical illusion: People consistently perceive equally sized vertical lines as longer than horizontal ones.

“People generally estimate tall glasses as holding more liquid than wide ones of the same volume,” Wansink said. “They also focus their pouring attention on the height of the liquid they are pouring and insufficiently compensate for its width.”

It’s a good thing we have bowl shaped glasses for wine as this study shouldn’t pose to much of a problem for wine drinkers worried about getting their money’s worth in the tasting room.

But there are other factors that can effect fair pouring when wine tasting. Most likely mood, prejudice, likes, dislikes, stress, glass thickness, time of day, etc., can alter the amount poured. Mechanical pouring devices offer a solution to this, but they still aren’t used at every winery.

The real solution is to bring your own glass when tasting.

Grape Eating Native American Bears Shot

First, it was Nazi Raccoons, now it’s Native American Bears in the spotlight over the destruction of vineyards. In the Pope Valley, just 18 miles east of the Silverado Trail on the east side of Howell Mountain in Napa Valley, vineyard owners have fought back and had the Bears shot and killed by local authorities.
Aetna Springs winery owner Paul Maroon led the fight.

“They damage the fences on a daily basis almost faster than we can repair them,” Maroon said. “The damaged fences allow the deer to enter. The bear eat the grapes, as do the deer, and they both damage the vines, sometimes killing 12-, 13-year-old vines.”

Maroon tried everything, well everything except an electrified fence and other similar methods. But those darn bears are just so destructive, trying to stay fed and all. It’s a miracle that locals survived this long! The same can’t be said for a few 12 year old grapevines, which faced utter destruction.
Black Sears Vineyards owner Jerry Sears has a different view of the bears ferocious appetite, writing off the lost grapes as a natural property tax for having a winery in the area.
Some are outraged by the murder of the noble creatures.

Ann Curtis, the director of Aetna Springs Golf Course, just down the road from the winery, called the controversy “wine for blood, life versus profit.”

“It isn’t just bears. Herds of deer have been killed over the same thing,” said Curtis, who has lived in Pope Valley for 34 years. “To come into a wildlife area and then kill off the wildlife is wrong. I don’t see much difference between throwing a sandwich out the window for bears in Yosemite Park and inviting them to dinner here by putting grapes out for them to eat.”

Read [SFGate]

Parker Backlash from Biased Panel?

That’s what it looks like, as the new Wine Opinions study that claims Parker’s influence is weakening with American consumers seems to have primarily interviewed readers from Wine Spectator! If the study was to be unbiased, it would seem only fair that an equal number of Robert Parker and Wine Spectator subscribers would have been interviewed.
The goal of the study was to find out who influences high end wine consumers (if you want to call over $20 high end, I think $50 would be a better number) purchasing decisions. The problem is, if the majority of people interviewed don’t read the Wine Advocate or Erobertparker online, than they probably aren’t going to list them as a purchasing influence, aside from those that use information in retail stores.
A more accurate way to measure if Parker is losing his influence could have been interviewing consumers who were already looking at his reviews and have now moved to another source. The market research done here doesn’t look like it would be a reliable way to gauge if Parker were indeed losing his edge. The data gathered should never have been applied to that statistic.
Some good points were made over at Vinography in the comments section on how Parkers influence doesn’t seem to be weakening.
This just goes to show how unreliable and inaccurate market research can be. It’s unfortunate that people jump on information that is incorrect.

Hack Wine Spectator with Google Part II

It’s back! I know Wine Spectator will get wind of it soon and fix it, but for now, access to Wine Spectators paid content is available.

Click here

Now Click Here

The power of Google’s cache strikes again!
This time instead of using Google News, we use Google’s Cache through search. Here’s how it works.

  1. Go to Wine Spectator’s site.
  2. Click on Articles and Features > Headlines and scroll down to a headline a few days old.
  3. Copy and paste that headline into Google with quotes. (e.g. “A Week in the Rhone: Part 3″)
  4. Click on the Cached link in the top search result
  5. Read!

Here’s a few recent stories:

Note: Looks like there is a two day lag before the stories are viewable on Google’s Cache.

Disclaimer: Again, I am not showing you any illegal hacking here. The problem lies with Wine Spectator and Google, and I am just pointing it out. Hopefully they’ll get it fixed soon.

Kermit Lynch: Recipient of French Medal of Honor

The French government has awarded the Berkeley Wine Merchant the insignia of Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur to be presented at a private ceremony early next year, the Chronicle reports. Other recipients include Robert Parker, Robert Mondavi, Julia Child, Leonard Bernstein, Josephine Baker, Duke Ellington, Gregory Peck and Ronald Reagan.

Established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, the award is France’s highest accolade and is given primarily for military achievements, although 10 percent of the awards are now given for cultural accomplishments.

Lynch has been instrumental in helping American consumers get in contact with small production French Wine. He had previously been honored with the Chevalier de l’Ordre de Merite Agricole award by the French Government. Why two separate awards? General de Gaulle signed on December 3, 1963 the decree instituting and organizing the National order of merit intended to reward the civil and military “distinguished merits”. By doing this, it holds for the Order of the Legion of Honor the reward of the “eminent merits”.

Congratulations Kermit Lynch.