Why importer Jose Pastor says “no, gracias” to Wine Advocate scores

This week, our “set of titanium corkscrews” award goes to Jose Pastor. The 30-year-old Bay Area resident has a difficult business life selling Americans on the virtues of wines from such little-known grapes as Listan Blanco, Baboso, or Mantonegro from the Canary Islands and Mallorca. And since 2009, he’s added another challenge: selling his wines without Wine Advocate scores.

Citing fatigue of “living by the rule of the trade,” he told me at the recent tasting of his wines in New York that he has not journeyed to Maryland to present his portfolio to the Wine Advocate for two years. It’s also a philosophical difference over scoring.

“Wine is an agricultural thing,” he said. “You can’t score a tomato.”

He added that spending 30 or 40 seconds tasting a wine failed to capture everything about it. “You have to have a respect for the work that has been done. That’s hard to do without being there, meeting the people and seeing the land.”

So how does he sell his wine? He says that good retailers care how the wine got to the glass, not just whats in it, he says. He works with retailers such as Chambers Street Wines in NYC and Terroir in SF as well as restaurants.

“Things are really changing. People in the trade want to know more first-hand, to visit, to learn, to taste. And consumers too.” He says that it’s easier to undersand wine talk when it is coming from a fellow consumer, who describes a wine with food–or even over food, sharing the wine together. Then there are no points, no “chocolate and vanilla” descriptors.

“Back in the day, there were only two or three guys with a voice. Now there are many. It’s great for wine!”

* * *

The diversity that he celebrates in wine appreciation is also evident in his wines that represent one of the most exciting Spanish portfolios available in the US today. All the wines are from small producers with a focus on wines made with a minimal hand in the cellar. The Benaza white and red are terrific value godello and mencia, respectfully. German Gilabert makes a reasonably priced, organically grown cava from 30-year-old vines.

But perhaps the heart and soul of the portfolio is in the large selection of wines from the Canary Islands, a Spanish territory off the coast of Africa. The little-known grape varieties planted in volcanic soil on their own roots (phylloxera never swam ashore) often at 1,000 meters or more make for a distinctive grouping of wines. They aren’t blockbuster wines, but that’s not the point–they are distinctive, fresh, and often quite tasty. From Lanzarote’s black soils and distinctive, low-yielding viticulture (as we discussed once before) come the wines of Los Bermeos. From Gran Canaria come the high-altitude, peppery wines of Fronton de Oro. And you can get your Listán Negro fix from Tenerife’s Tajinaste. I look forward to trying them all with food. And, who knows, perhaps even visiting the islands one day!

Jose Pastor Selections

Related Posts with Thumbnails

26 Responses to “Why importer Jose Pastor says “no, gracias” to Wine Advocate scores”

  1. I suppose he would also reject the Spectator as well, or is it just safer to throw rocks at Parker?

  2. How is it safe to “throw rocks at Parker”?

  3. It’s actually very hard to find his portfolio of wines. I never see them at retail. Heck I would love to see if his reactionary stance is actually justified, but I would have to find the wines first, and you can’t read the importer strip on a website that only shows wine names.

  4. First of all, I feel sad for the Wine Advocate. Has it really lost its relevance?

    Secondly, New Mexico doesn’t get Jose Pastor wines. I might order one if I can figure out how to do that.

  5. Randy, of course he would decline the WS too. As for finding the wines, remember that what is made available in many states is ruled by what the big dominating distributors will distribute. José’s producers are mostly smaller in size and case numbers imported are more like dozens than hundreds or thousands. This makes his portfolio unattractive to mainstream distributors who want big numbers of reliable selling names to push through their channels. Don’t blame José for that.

    David, I don’t it’s fair to characterize his decision as “reactionary” at all. It’s principled. He doesn’t believe in “scores” even though the trade is largely ruled by them. If you are really interested, you can go to his website to see who and what he’s importing and then to Winesearcher. Not that difficult.

    Sometimes items that exist only in small quantities require some effort to acquire. The stupid patchwork of state laws and distributors only impedes access, it doesn’t facilitate it. José must prioritize his efforts and limited quantities on markets where motivated, interested retailers and consumers are concentrated, like NYC and SF.

  6. His wines are available in Massachusetts from a distributor named “Genuine Wine”. Most of their portfolio consists of wines like Pastor’s including the iconic Lopez de Heredia.

    Anyone who like likes wine should be looking for wines like this that do not taste like the mass market industrial wines that dominate the pages (and advertising) of Wine Spectator and are found on the shelves of supermarket wine departments.

  7. Jose’s portfolio is eclectic and brilliant and most Americans wont get it. I follow a LinkedIn discussion about what is the best wine you have tasted recently for under $20, this is supposed to be a group with people who are wine savvy but the selections are horrific. Wild Horse Pinot Noir,Menage a Trois, Gnarly Head,Krios, etc.
    Americans were raised on CocaCola and Fruit Loops and buy into what they are marketed. Robert Parker and his lap dog Jay Miller have a tendency to like extracted wines with no balance.
    There is no room for wines of the nature that Jose Pastor imports in that formula, they are and always will be a hand sell to people who are interested in discovering something new and interesting.

  8. These are wines that really should be sought out by anybody who appreciates wines with real character. If cookie cutter wine is your bag then don’t bother – you’ll just be confused at best and freaked out at worst. There’s a reason why wholesalers, retailers and sommeliers who buy wines from people like Louis/Dressner gravitate toward Jose’s wines.

  9. Jose Pastor Selections are distributed in North Carolina by Bordeaux Fine & Rare, and many of his wines are available at a small shop in downtown Asheville, NC called Vinsite. Pastor’s wines also can be found in Chapel Hill, NC at yet another specialty shop called 3Cups. Les Doss, who runs Vinsite, and Jay Murrie, who runs 3Cups, are both retailers who are fearless when it comes to stocking and selling esoteric stuff.

    As for Parker, I’ve said it before: When he gives a wine you like a 90+, you say “Hey, Parker likes it!” When he gives a wine you like a score of 89 or less, you say “Hey, Parker is just a fat old lawyer from Maryland! What does he know?” 😉

  10. […] Since 2009, Spanish wine importer Jose Pastor, has been “selling his wines without Wine Advocate scores.” Tyler Colman has the details. […]

  11. I see this trend working its way through the consumer psyche every day. We live in a technological age where information is easily available for the consumer. Little attention today is being paid to the old “shelf talker”, but more consumers are using web searches via either their computers or increasingly iphones and blackberry devices. It is becoming less about ratings per say and more about the story of the wine and as stated earlier finding new, exciting wines that make social gatherings unique and memorable. Jose’s wines succeed in this area everytime. Scores have their merit, but I think they are trending less in significance to consumers looking to consume or plan a meal versus those looking to cellar wine. If you are investing in wine than the trade is set up in reality on scores more so for that purpose. Afterall, I think we have all tasted wine rated in the 90’s that frankly did not appeal to us just as we have experienced wines that have never been scored that are wonderful. I think a glass of wine tasted in the very vineyard in which the grapes were grown is worth about five points on any raters scale in my opinion. There is nothing like having a glass handed to you by the winemaker, in the vineyard in which it was born.

  12. Jonathan: It cuts two ways: Yes, the easy, portable availability of sites like this one help reduce a customer’s dependence on the Advocate, the Spectator, the Enthusiast, Tanzer, and other score-producers. On the other hand, it kills me to see people come into the store and bury their heads in tiny screens, when they could be getting a lot more information, in the ultimate real-time, widest-broadband form, otherwise known as real life, from one of the knowledgeable consultants working on the sales floor.

    And yes, a glass handed to you by a winemaker is a wonderful thing, but for most folks not as conveniently available. 🙂

  13. +1 to Ned. Your remarks are spot on. If you know are involved with good wine plow forward if you are retail/onsite/distro/import. There are enough wine salespeople out there who give a damn and are ready for the hand sell in(to) the restaurant/retail shop.

    Scores and reviews are important because they sell product. However, without a passionate one-on-one pitch on the floor who would ever provide a voice for wine outside of the “normal/safe” parameters of wine? If not for those individuals we’d still be on Thunderbird and WineCoolers.

  14. On the other hand, of course you can score a tomato. One can be good, another can suck. All the romance in the world doesn’t excuse a faulty wine. Too many messed-up “natural” wines are given a free pass because of their naturalness. Body odor is natural, too, but that doesn’t make it smell any better.

  15. Interesting point. Nicolas Joly likes to say that wine’s first job is to be true to its terroir, and secondly to taste good. That is quite radical, and there is a part of me that actually agrees with him. But the part of me that wishes to make a living selling wine objects very strenuously to the notion. 😉

  16. Given how awful most of Joly’s wines have been over the last couple of decades I’d say that he is succeeding in his quest to prove that it’s philosophy over result, at least for him. Terroir can be found everywhere. Whether or not it is good terroir is the question.

  17. […] the trade clings to scores more readily than consumers do. But one importer I spoke with recently Jose Pastor, has said no to […]

  18. This is nice, it’s like a debate..
    Anyway I watched Discovery Channels on how to make wines and how many years they would keep it in a barrel. The longer the wine keep in a barrel the more expensive it’s value… and I like this quote “You have to have a respect for the work that has been done. That’s hard to do without being there, meeting the people and seeing the land.”
    very nice

  19. All the respect for a grower’s work means nothing if the wine sucks. Good luck with that one there, Jose.

  20. Wino,

    Last October you wrote about Pastor’s wines:

    “These are wines that really should be sought out by anybody who appreciates wines with real character. If cookie cutter wine is your bag then don’t bother – you’ll just be confused at best and freaked out at worst. There’s a reason why wholesalers, retailers and sommeliers who buy wines from people like Louis/Dressner gravitate toward Jose’s wines.”

    Have you changed your mind?

  21. Actually Jose Pastor’s wines are available thru Proof Wine and Spirits in North Carolina.

  22. Jose Pastor is a revelation and should be celebrated for taking the road less traveled. Those wines are hard enough to sell b/c they don’t have a fancy name like barefoot…

    I found a store in Tampa, FL that might bring them in – Cru Cellars.

  23. My company Vinecraft distributes Jose’s wines in Florida. They are some of the most thought-provoking Spanish wines we’ve ever tried.

  24. […] Canarias, por no hablar ya de España o Europa. Al parecer todo ello es obra de un importador, el valenciano José Pastor, que es quien ha logrado colocar el producto en el mercado estadounidense en los últimos 5 […]

  25. It sounds like wino got confused with his conflicting rants. I’m a huge Jose Pastor fan. Last night I drank Vinya Sanfeliu Garnatxa Peluda and today I am having the Abel Mendoza Rioja. Such unique and wonderful wines imported by Jose! We are very lucky in the SF Bay Area. Many of us grew up drinking wines imported by Kermit Lynch, I imagine he (Kermit) encountered similar reactions to his wines when he first brought to America: Chinon and Bandol among others…

  26. […] there have been some notable wineries that have left his portfolio. Meanwhile, the rise of boutique importers of Spanish wines has been one of the more exciting stories out of the Iberian peninsula in the past […]


Wine Maps

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

See my op-eds in the NYT
"Drink Outside the Box"
"Red, White, and Green"


Monthly Archives


Blog posts via email



Wine industry jobs


One of the “fresh voices taking wine journalism in new and important directions.” -World of Fine Wine

“His reporting over the past six months has had seismic consequences, which is a hell of an accomplishment for a blog.” -Forbes.com

"News of such activities, reported last month on a wine blog called Dr. Vino, have captivated wine enthusiasts and triggered a fierce online debate…" The Wall Street Journal

"...well-written, well-researched, calm and, dare we use the word, sober." -Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher, WSJ

jbf07James Beard Foundation awards

Saveur, best drinks blog, finalist 2012.

Winner, Best Wine Blog

One of the "seven best wine blogs." Food & Wine,

One of the three best wine blogs, Fast Company

See more media...


Wine books on Amazon: