Lake Wobegon wines

In the pages of BusinessWeek, Robert Parker calls some under $20 wines from Gallo, Beringer, and Kendall Jackson “very good” to “excellent.”

Meanwhile, in the main arena of the Parker Empire, the Wine Advocate, his new hire Dr. Jay Miller handed out high scores like candy–including five 100-point scores–to Spanish wines.

Is Robert Parker’s world turning into an enological equivalent of Lake Wobegon where all the wines are above average?

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25 Responses to “Lake Wobegon wines”

  1. Hey Doc, you gave me a great domain name for my new Minnesota only wine blog… watch out for to take the world by storm soon 😉

    The whole scoring flap over those 100 pointers is pretty interesting reading over at eBob. I’m going to post something shortly on the issue and will send the old tap tip your way.

  2. Happy to help, Tim. But will all the Minnesota wines be above average too?

  3. Great story! I put it in the newsroom at Wine Life Today.

  4. They may not be above average but they are handsome and strong 😉

    I’m actually now seriously considering doing this… if not me, then who?

  5. That is why I use an averaging system. It helps bring the scores closer to reality. Cheers!

  6. Are you suggesting 100 point Spanish wines are so preposterous that there is a need to investigate?

  7. “…his new hire Dr. Jay Miller handed out high scores like candy–including five 100 point scores–to Spanish wines.”

    I’m not agreeing with this “like candy” comment. If you compare these scores to RPs scores for the Rhone and Australia, they don’t seem even slightly wacked.

  8. Dr. Debs – thanks!

    Joe – not at all. I’m just surprised that Jay Miller comes in and fires off 5 perfect scores and many 95+ ratings right off the bat. I think I saw a 100 point in Wine & Spirits magazine last year–and it was the first time in 20 years they had ever given one. Different strokes for different folks I guess.

    Jack – I’d love to see the data but do not have a subscription. And it may well be true “Dr. Jay” is not any more liberal than RP with the big scores–that’s why they’re co-authors! 😉

  9. Ken: Good (86-84) (Drinkable, ordinary, & non-distinctive)

    This is from your site’s rating system.

    Basically your system starts at 84, since by implication, anything 83 or below is defined as less than good, AND less than drinkable… Ouch! (What description is beneath non-distinctive? Does Not Taste Like Wine?) Talk about your score inflation. You can’t even DRINK anything under an 84.

    That’s why folks need instead of, well… anything else is just old hat, I’d say. Nothing below 90. And why not? Why fool around? Who wants that 89 and lower dreck anyway? And it HAS to be an honest scale, too, because justwinepoints does not give ANY 100s!

    Anyway, Parker’s slew of 100s for Spanish wines is just another crack in the Berlin 100-pt-score wall. As most folks in the trade agree, the scale only lingers as a crutch for lazy salesmen, and as a laughably over-accurate rating system heeded only by the clueless.

    Long live the three- to five-point system and the knowledgable merchant. Goodbye American Bandstand.

  10. Living in Spain and talking with winemakers, and while I love to see Spanish wines get big scores, it all seems I agree a bit with the “like candy” bit. Not to mention the reaction people here have to the scores. This is Jay’s first time out and he is being treated with the same respect that people afford Parker. This confuses me, no one LOVED parker(some still don’t) when he published his first issue. I say callibrate your tastes to the scores and see where they sit with you.
    Spanish wine is amazing, but the high scorers are all big red beasts! When I get the isssue in the mail it will be fun to compare the scores with Penin, our local Parker, who tastes more Spanish wine than anyone I know of

  11. I’m looking forward to the wine with 105 points. Reminiscent of “Spinal Tap”:

  12. Hilarious, Mark!!!!!! Spinal Tap wines…ho ho ho

  13. Wine ratings can mean different things to each of us – only if you try to make them universal do you run into problems (and I’m not sure that Parker or Wine Spadvocator even expect to be considered in that way). We all pick our favorites and understand their relative meaning, and go from there. I like Asimov’s tasting panel, and blogs like this and others, personally…

  14. Just goading you…I certainly would be more cautious in throwing those around in my first day on the job. Of course, RP is his supervisor, and must have signed off on it. Anyway, if I ever find one of those I will buy it for an (expensive) experiment…

  15. Great comments, all! Brooklynguy, that’s exactly the problem of trying to make something subjective such as wine tasting appear objective–your 100 may not be Jay Miller’s 100, for example…Are you going to make it to the meetup?

    Btw, if you want to link to your web site directly and bypass the Blogger “about” page, click other under “Choose an identity,” type in you handle, then your WHOLE URL starting w http://…Then the rest of us can see your site in one click!

  16. I wish I could come to the meetup, but I will be out west In Portland (I will be at a winebar, joining you in spirit). I will come to the next one for certain. Jack (F&B) says I’m essentially an idiot for not yet meeting you. And thanks for the signature tip – I’m using it now.

  17. brooklynguy-

    Sounds like a plan–I hope to see you in April. Actually, I’ve never met Jack either so I look forward to meeting him too at some point!

    Have fun in Portland and the many wine bars–just not at PDX.



  18. […] “Lake Wobegon wines” [Dr. V] Map of New York City wine shops [Dr. […]

  19. I enjoyed tasting Argentina wines with you back in April.

    Regarding the awarding of 5 100-point scores, aside from the fact that the wines merited their scores, I tasted well over 1500 Spanish wines for that review. By my calculations, that makes the percentage less than 0.03. That roughly corresponds to the percentage of 100 point scores that RMP has awarded over the years.

    Some folks have implied that I was a bit bold to award such good scores on my first time out of the box. I’d simply say to taste the wines and form your own judgment. If you can’t give a 100 point score in the 2004 vintage, you’ll never give one, it was that great a year. And then there is the fact that over the past 22 years I have tasted side-by-side with Bob Parker at least 1000 times. I think he trusts my palate at this point.

    Regarding grade inflation, The Wine Advocate’s policy has been to not list wines that failed to earn a recommendation. In my Chile report in the current issue, I tasted 650 wines and 277 were recommended. Averaging in the non-recommended wines would probably make the average score in the high 70s.

    The other point to consider is that the overall quality of wines over the past 25 years has increased enormously. Nowadays, you virtually never see wines that are commercially unacceptable due to technical flaws. That was commonplace back in the day.

  20. Hi Jay,

    Thanks for stopping by.

    I have not tried any of the wines from Spain that you rated 100 but I am up to your challenge of tasting them myself–if I can find one that is! Perhaps I’ll end up with one of the many 95+ points instead.

    Regarding the overall trend toward higher scores, I think it would be helpful for readers to know which wines were evaluated and found not up to snuff. If you don’t want to publish a list of their exact scores, then perhaps you could publish a list of wines tasted for the review? That way readers who follow your scores would know which wines to avoid in case they were confronted with them on a wine list, say, where choices can be more limited. This could be accomplished on your web site, which wouldn’t raise the printing costs.

    The question of whether wines have gotten “better” is, of course, as inherently subjective as giving a wine a perfect score. There may be fewer “technically” flawed wines available in the market now. And storage conditions have also improved.

    But there are also more (red) wines available that have higher extraction and higher alcohol. Whether this is a good thing or even avoidable is a matter for debate. Clearly you take one side on this. And, for the sake of argument, I’d be happy to take the other. Shall we do it in 500 words or less?



  21. […] the thread on grade inflation in wines. He comments about the trend and specifically discusses his recent reviews of Spanish wines, which […]

  22. I totally agree with Tyler that if the Advocate really is only running rated reviews of recommended wines, publishing the names of the others is mandatory if Dr. Jay and RMPJr. expect people NOT ot think grade inflation is chronic. It’s also the right thing to do given Parker’s longtime standing as a consumer advocate; wines that don’t pass muster are important to many people as well as wines that do. Note that Wine & Spirits is the only glossy mag I know of that publishes (albeit online only) the names of every wine tasted.

    The de facto bottom line of the massive increas in both numbers of wines available and number of wines rated is simply that points no longer have the impact they once did. 85 poitns is worthy of barely a shrug. THere are really only two scores now: 90 or not.

    I think all wines deserve exactly 88 points.


  23. The issue of whether to list non-recommended wines has been batted around frequently over the years. Up until recently, when the only vehicle was the hard copy, and space limited, it was an easy call; printing and postage costs add up quickly. Now, with the internet, that’s not an issue any longer. Obviously, most people subscribing to The Wine Advocate want to know what to buy, not what to avoid. And, invariably, if non-recommended wines are listed, some people may want to know was it a close call or was it really, really nasty. In the end, it’s not my call. i could be persuaded either way.

  24. Jay –

    I’m curious how you factor the emotion of the moment into your ratings? I was surprised to learn that it matters for RMP jr when he told the Naples Daily News earlier this year that, “I’m a very passionate person and an emotional person. I really think probably the only difference between a 96-, 97-, 98-, 99-, and 100-point wine is really the emotion of the moment.”

    It seems completely understandable as a consumer. But it also seems to run counter to the entire operation of scoring wine if the opinion can be so subjective from one setting to the next. Your thoughts?

  25. […] you go: relativism. That’s what I just mentioned in the comments section to Jay Miller, a critic at the Wine Advocate. Join the fray with your comments! Or see Jay Miller’s […]


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