Wines Do Not Live By Scores Alone!

It’s Not All About the Scores

Friends, colleagues, and followers know I get irked by “Best of…” or “Top (pick a number) Wines/Restaurants.” The other thing that irks me is a heavily reliance on scores that goes something like this from my community newsletter regarding a Christmas wine tasting:

“_______ Liquors will present wines that have SCORED OVER 90 POINTS and are under $30 per bottle.” (Emphasis added)

How boring!

Ok, I get the “under $30” part, but why oh why do I so often see “over 90 points” in advertisements? It’s a tasting, so can’t the liquor store curate some delicious wines that aren’t necessarily rated?

Now, before I get in trouble (again) with a certain executive editor, let me clarify that I am not dissing ratings…well, not exactly. All I am saying is that there is much more to discovering new wines than by relying solely on big scores. And let’s face it, wine is all about the experience, so why not begin that experience with your search for new vinous excitement in your life?

Back to the community newsletter invitation to taste.

Needless to say, whose ratings are we talking about in the first place? What about Italian wines that received Tre Bicchieri or 5 Grappoli from highly regarded Italian wine guides? Three glasses and five bunches of grapes carry a great deal of weight in Italy. Or what about wines like Nadia Curto‘s family’s Barolo Arborina 2014 that was just cited by Jancis Robinson in the Financial Times as one of her recommended wines for Christmas. I challenge journalists not to wait for a cold day in the Netherworld before you taste the Curto family’s wines, and those of other wineries — many of them run by women — flying below the radar.

Some producers may nail down well-deserved high scores for their top wines, but their entries further down the price list are often not scored. Don’t miss out on those! This is particularly so for Langhe Nebbiolo, Nebbiolo d’Alba, and Roero Nebbiolo, and Barbera, particularly in favorable vintages. And those are just some reds. Don’t miss the previously obscure Langhe Riesling or the incredible metodo classico bubbles coming from the region, particularly Alta Langa, I wrote about recently.

Ah, but the secrets that Piemonte holds for those who do not live by numbers alone.

Looking Beyond the Numbers

There are many up and coming producers who remain — for now — well under the radar. Wineries, like the Curto family of Annunziata in Barolo I mentioned above, never get rated because of some journalistic prejudices against the small wineries. I’ll let you in on a secret. Nadia Curto’s mamma is Adele Altare. Ring a bell? It should. The guiding hands of Nadia’s uncle up the hill and his charismatic, talented daughter can be found in these precious wines. If you check out the genealogy of Chapter 5 in my book, Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte, you’ll find Adele’s name on the same generational line as Elio Altare, her little brother, and above her niece Silvia. Get my point?

Altare Family Genealogy

My rule of thumb and advice I give to clients and readers: If you are unfamiliar with a region or wine, use ratings as a guidepost, but not as the end-all. Most of all, do some research on importers and find out which ones and are known for having a well balanced and high quality portfolio. Do they offer entry level wines of great producers like Chiara Boschis of E. Pira e Figli in Barolo and Marchesi Di Gresy or only their superstars? Chances are you will be very happy with whatever wines these sorts of importers choose to fill precious shipping space in a container.

Treasure Trove of Resources 

Not sure how to find out that information? Ask for guidance from your favorite search engine (which could be DuckDuckGo.com) and from the other reputable wine professionals in your life: your favorite bottle shop staff. In Colorado, my list of go-to importers includes (this is not an exhaustive list, only the ones I’ve dealt with and have a very high regard for): Dalla Terra (Brian Larky), Giuliana Imports (Steve Lewis), Old World Wine Company (Zach Locke), Vias Imports Limited (Chris Blacklidge), Winebow, Elite Brands, and Southern Wine and Spirits (Damon Ornowski).

In the Vail area, Jarrett Osborn, owner of Riverwalk Wine and Spirits has been a very good friend of Piemonte and has a great selection from across the world, and Cary Hogan at Avon Liquors, and Beverly DeMoss at Boone’s Wine and Spirits in Eagle are all very reliable sources. Again, not an exhaustive list as our valley has a great wine culture.

And then there’s John Rittmaster in Walnut Creek, CA. No, you don’t have to travel to the San Francisco Bay Area to take advantage of John’s vast wine knowledge that he so generously shares. All you have to do is seek him out at Prima Vini Wine Merchants and Restaurant and ask the oracle to help you find, source, and ship delicious wines from across the world. Easy peasy.

Want to go even further afield? There’s Davide Pasquero of Terroir Selection in the tiny Barbaresco denomination village of Treiso. Davide is a full-service resource and he can find you hard-to-get vintages as well as easy ones, too. Don’t let shipping costs scare you off from going straight to the source with someone like Davide.

Final tip (almost there folks). Restaurants with creative wine lists can be a great source of wines that will wow friends and family around your table anytime of year. Again, in the Vail area my two favorites for always having a great selection of wines that aren’t on everyone’s lists are vin48 Restaurant Wine Bar and Zino Ristorante (Italian wines, especially). Greg Eynon has a knack for finding the most obscure, delicious wines for his tome of a wine list. Giuseppe Bosco at Zino provides a wine list filled with great choices of Italian (and American wines) that are not the usual suspects. If the wines are on their list, they are obtainable in the state…provided they or their savvy guests haven’t bought all the importers’ stock.

The bottom line is you might want to use scores as a roadmap when you’re in new vinous territory, but it pays to get off the interstate highways and drive along the backroads and talk to some of the people along the way to find some treasures.

Ok, enough with the metaphors.

Whatever you end up with, enjoy it and raise a glass to all who toil in the vineyards, cellars, and retail establishments to get these wines to you.

Buon Natale, tutti!

Now my question:

HAVE YOUR OWN TIPS YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE, PARTICULARLY YOUR FAVORITE WINERIES OR SUPPLIERS WHEREVER YOU ARE ON THE PLANET? PLEASE SHARE IN THE COMMENTS BELOW.

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2 thoughts on “Wines Do Not Live By Scores Alone!”

  1. I’m an amatuer enthusiast that has a lot of wine (read – hoarder, I’m afraid.. Oh, ‘collector’ sounds better, right?). I love the thrill of finding decent wine and purchasing it. That being said, I respect Antonio Galloni’s tasting notes mostest of the ‘pros’. (I’m fond of Italian wine, can you tell?). My favorite wine shop is a small store in Fort Worth, near TCU’s campus – Put a Cork in It. Chris Keel is a one-person operation. He knows a lot about wine and understands your personal tastes, recommending wines that you might enjoy. He’s my go-to person for wine. Having been to the International Pinot Noir Celebration twice now, I’m big on the smaller artisan producers in the Willamette Valley. I enjoy the process of meeting with and tasting (did I mention buying already?) wine with the winemakers themselves. How inspiring!

    1. Ciao Don, Many thanks for chiming in and giving some suggestions on good spots for wines. Yes, Galloni’s tasting notes are excellent and make for great guideposts along the way. There’s that “traveling along the road” metaphor again! But isn’t that what we’re doing as we explore the wonderful world of wine? Buon Natale! Happy drinking.

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