There’s no point! Wine retailers that say no to scores

wine shop score1

An item on Bloomberg yesterday detailed how Spaniards are drinking less wine, which has prompted Spanish wineries to pursue export markets more. From this perspective, it’s partially understandable why Spanish wineries might want to pay a fee to invite Wine Advocate critic Jay Miller to their regions. They want to crack into the US market and they figure the best way to do so is to get a score from the Wine Advocate (even if one document from the regional organization referred to the scores as “Parker points”).

But that sales strategy is sooo 1990s! In my view, many American wine consumers have moved beyond scores, and an increasing number of wine shops have too. What do you think: should the wine industry move beyond scores? Are scores less relevant today to consumers in your experience than they were five or ten years ago? It seems to me that today the trade clings to scores more readily than consumers do. But one importer I spoke with recently Jose Pastor, has said no to scores.

I asked the Twitterverse for shops that do not use third-party tasting notes or scores. The unverified responses appear after the jump–hit the comments to keep the list going!

In NYC:
Astor Wines
Chambers Street Wines
Crush Wines
Le Du Wines
Frankly Wines
Slope Cellars
Dandelion Wines
Olivino Wines
Grapes Wine Co (no Miller scores)

The Wine Bottega (Boston)

East End Wines (Austin, TX)
J. Emerson’s Wine (Richmond, VA)
Vinsite Wine Shop (Asheville, NC)

Perman Wines (Chicago)
Red & White Wines (Chicago)
The Goddess & Grocer (Chicago)
The Bottle Shop (Wilmette, IL)

Du Vin Fine Wines (Alameda, CA)
Terroir (San Francicso)

Derniere Goutte (Paris, France)

Related: “Wine Ratings Might Not Pass the Sobriety Test” [NYTimes.com]

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43 Responses to “There’s no point! Wine retailers that say no to scores”


  1. To clarify, we use no shelftalkers of any kind, not just ones with Jay Miller.


  2. Scores are less relevant that even 3 years ago because there is exponential growth in the consumer base and education (thanks Doc!). But they are still powerful. Just ask anyone who’s received a great one or bad one from Parker or Spectator! If you produce less than 10k cases total, and start small, growing your production as your sales increase, you won’t need them… ever.


  3. I believe Clive Coates’ quote applies here…”In the United States, the trade has allowed itself to be emasculated. Instead of continuing to buy and sell based on their on professional judgement, they have consigned themselves to the role of mere purveyors. They buy what the Wine Spectator and the Wine Advocate score highly and then sell their wares by proclaiming the magazines’ marks. It is totally crazy.”

    To me, shelf talkers are a sure sign of an uninformed staff.


  4. We don’t use scores at all in the store, but….if one of my reps calls me and says they have some wine with 98 points plus or something (especially from CA) I will probably take it and handsell it to a few customers who care about that kind of stuff.

    I think though with Spain, most of the big named expensibe wines sort of sell themselves because of a long track record of high scores, not so much for the current score.


  5. We write all the shelf talkers and menu descriptions ourself. 110+ wines By the Bottle. 40+ By the Glass. No Parker Points. No points, period. Instead? Unique stories that connect you to what’s inside the bottle. Terroir, idiosyncrasy of the winemaker, the story behind the bottle. All way more relevant to the juice than a score based on someone else’s palate.


  6. This only makes sense for retailers that actually have an established reputation for caring about the quality of their inventory. In most cases I trust reviewers quite a bit more than retailers and would probably just leave empty-handed if there were no posted reviews and I didn’t recognize anything. Obviously this doesn’t apply to specialty shops like Red and White or Terroir, but not many shops are nearly as well-groomed as they would have to be for me to feel comfortable just grabbing a completely unknown bottle.


  7. Daniel – Thanks for the clarification. Although you have no shelf-talkers in the store, I’ve never seen a sales email from you that doesn’t have a score and tasting note.

    Since yours is a rare case of customer segmentation, why do you find that online/email customers always need scores while in-store consumers never do?


  8. Doctor

    Our email today of 2009 Clio had no score.

    Our email yesterday of 2009 Burgs had no scores.

    But I digress.


  9. Daniel –

    You have the fastest reply in the East.

    But you still miss the question: why do you pepper your email customers with scores while never submitting your in-store customers to them?


  10. The Wine and Cheese Cask, Somerville, Massachusetts. Nary a Parker nor Wine Spectator score ever rears its head.


  11. If a wine is rated below 85 points, we never see a score attached to it. So, the score is a marketing tool. Some consumers may prefer to chose their wine on their own. Others may appreciate the help of the wine shop staff. And still others, like me, follow the advice of wine journalists who have recommended wines that I have enjoyed. A respected critic’s favorable review does help to
    sell the product.


  12. I haven’t checked the entire list thoroughly, but at least two of the NYC retailers are blatantly lying, so my guess is that more of them are trying to cover up their use of an un-trendy marketing tool.

    From my retail perspective, a good wine salesperson should be able to gauge a customer, to figure out what kind of information flow should evolve. So if you’ve had 98 points thrust down your throat for no apparent reason, I apologize on behalf of that retailer, wherever they may be.

    However… although it’s very easy to knock ratings, scores, point-whores and cherry-pickers, it is also worth mentioning that without Parker, Shanken et al, the US wine industry and consumer awareness would not be where it is today.

    Acclaimed critics have to be given some respect for the continuous effort they make to publish interesting reviews with (generally) coherent tasting notes. Although it’s now becoming unfashionable to listen to them, they will always be in the envious position of being exposed to incredible wine. Yet whilst what these critics have to say is important, one can only hope that they are ethical, unbiased and impartial.

    And at the end of the day, if you don’t like what they have to say, the answer’s simple… tune them out, buy a bottle yourself and make up your own mind! Wine is subjective after all.


  13. Domaine LA in Los Angeles is gloriously POINT FREE!! Owner Jill Bernheimer established a point free zone the day the doors opened 2 years ago.

    Points, to me, are completely useless in my every day and business life.

    And having just come back from Spain I can tell you that A LOT of winemakers spoke of “Parker” and “Parker points.” So, it’s definitely going around. But there are a many number of great producers fighting the good fight (along with Jose Pastor’s help, for one).


  14. I think most consumers don’t want to follow the scoress, but it helps the wineries (if they get a high score) and noone wants to miss out on a “great” wine, so consumers still buy high scoring wines. Also, the point dealers depend on them to make their living. If there were no points, somehow we, the consumers, would still be able to find out about wines that were worth considering.


  15. I have been tasting, buying and selling wines for my family’s wine shop for the last 20 years and have never or will never buy or sell a wine based on a review. I belive reviews are for the stores that don’t taste everything they buy or have no interest in learning a customers palate. When a customer asks me what score a wine recieved I honestly say I don’t know. I Then describe the wine to them and give them my reason for purchasing it.


  16. Dedalus Wine – Burlington, VT
    No points – we write all of our own shelf talkers and all of the reviews on our website. Our shop is as much about the narrative behind a wine as it is about the contents of the bottle.


  17. Good points (no pun intended). I can certainly understand retailers (and producers) wanting to use point ratings, even though I pay no attention to them. As to the reviews that accompany point scores, I agree that they can sometimes be useful, but it seems that sellers mostly just list the points w/o any elaboration. Also, I find many of the reviews accompanying the points to be about as [un]useful as the points. I recently saw a retailer’s email that promoted a particular wine that got 90+ from both the WA and the WS, and the ad included the description. The 2 descriptions had almost nothing in common. One was: “violet, plum and boysenberry fruit enlivened with a hint of pastis … [and] a lingering hint of blueberry fruit ” the other was: “a big, sweet kiss of truffles, black cherries, tobacco leaf, and spice box.”


  18. I can vouch for Frankly Wines, Chambers Street. Can also attest to the fact that Grapes The Wine Co. frequently loads scores in emails, but store is a fairly points-free zone.
    Add http://www.maratenes.com/ in Waldwick, NJ.

    The real key here is whether retailers have the guts to reclaim their sense of authority. It is indeed happening, and will continue to.


  19. I’m not a big lover of scores, but there is a demand for them. And wine, like anything else, is a business. If a retailer wants to leverage scores to their advantage and use it as a selling point, it can make a lot of sense.
    That said, I totally respect Chambers St. and the like to ignore the scores, and move wine with other means. They’ve established a great niche that doesn’t revolve around numbers.


  20. I appreciate the talkers being posted. It is a point of information. Particularly if I have no other information on the wine. I cannot buy every bottle in the store and see which one I like. Sorry for not being a 1%er. I have a fair idea of what a particular reviewers taste buds lean towards, so it is helpful. It would all be nice if there were any decent stores within 30 miles of me. But there are only county stores, where they know nothing, and private stores, where all they care about is beer. My gripe is when some stores post talkers that are for different vintages than the one on the shelf. I tend to remove them or put annotations on them for the next customer.


  21. I understand why a high-end or specialty wine shop may not use scores but for a general retailer not to use scores is just plain stupid. The average consumer is still intimidated by wine, needs guidance, and often will not want to ask for help. To not provide the service of scores to these customers as at least one point of information is ridiculous.


  22. I have told by many Spanish cellars that they need Parker’s/Miller’s scores mainly for India, China and other Asian countries. I remember once being told by a Spanish producer to guarantee them never to submit any of their wines to any magazines for review. Why? They used to export a wine to Ohio for many years until the importer had the wine reviewed. When it “only” got an 88 he stopped importing it. :)

    We used to be asked for the wine’s score before we even opened the bottle. Yet, most of our imports were never reviewed as we were importing native grapes from producers that nobody had ever heard about. I guess that’s one of the reasons why we never got caught up in the “point game”. What has made our days sine 1991: Someone enjoying one of our “strange” selections at a restaurant that was hand-sold to him/her and getting a call to find out how he/she would be able to get some more.

    It is true that it has become a lot easier to sell pointless wines today. And all of our “strange” wines are no longer “strange” (like Pigato, Vermentino, Vitovska, Gutturnio, Lagrein, Schiava, Cesanese, dry Lambrusco)


  23. [...] there be wine scores at wine retailers? When I’m picking out a wine, I like scores in front of me, personally. I need that [...]


  24. Ah, the Points Controversy. The gift that keeps on giving! I have no problem with referring to scores from the Advocate, Spectator, Tanzer, or whoever. Some people want numbers, and there is nothing you can say (believe me, I’ve tried) to convince them otherwise. Fortunately, there are fewer of these types than there used to be, but I don’t think they’ll ever go away, and frankly some of them are still willing to part with a good chunk of change for a 98-pointer. So post the scores for them and take their money!

    I’m far more concerned about the prevalence of the iPhone in wine retailing. The people who walk around a store with their faces in a little screen are, if anything, worse than the point-hunters. It seems to me that it never enters their minds that the people working on the floor are actually there to help them, and may actually know more about their own inventory than Google does.


  25. It’s interesting to see the support of no score aisles in wine stores and refreshing as well.

    I’m wondering what you think of the flash wine sales sites that make extensive use of the score – even if it’s for another vintage from the same winery.

    Julie


  26. I need guidance. I like wine.com and cellar tracker because of the multitude of opinions. I distrust the scores of anyone who profits by the sale of wine. Wineries and retailers are going to have to start problem-solving; eg. having two people with different tastes in wine who score each wine and give pros and cons. It could be fun if you didn’t have to worry about the profits.


  27. Robin

    Wine.com is a retailer.

    Dr. Vino

    We try not to use scores at all. However, for our business purposes, it is just not reality. Our mailing list of full of folks looking for highly rated wines. At the same time, as you know, I am constantly mocking the entire system. It is great if you can align your self with a wine critic, but how is that even possible these days? Most of them are giving high scores to everything under the sun. I love it when folks say, “This wine is great, so and so really nailed it.”

    I prefer to look at the negative reviews. Show me a wine critic giving negative reviews that I agree with. That is much more impressive.


  28. I don’t find shelf talkers by retailers to be useful. Do we really think they are going to say bad things about the wine they sell? The only one who slammed wine they were trying to sell was Gary V. to my knowledge.

    For all of you who hate pro scores how do you buy your wine? Do you go out and just buy any bottle of Burgundy priced $100 with no data on it? Do you buy bad vintages such as 2002 in Piedmont and Chateauneuf? I think you hate the idea of someone else trying to influence what you want to drink.

    While I trust my own palate more than anyone’s I am not just going to throw down $50 for a bottle with no score. As mentioned Cellar Tracker can be a good source but there is plenty of worthless reviewers on the site.

    I do plenty of scoring with notes and respect those who take the time to do so. We are passionate about wine and it is nice to have data on Cellar Tracker to see the evolution of the wine or to double check if I liked it.

    No one reviewer will match up to anyone’s palate but overall most do a good job on wine reviewing.

    John


  29. The focus on retailers and no-points zones or no is patently absurd. These folks are trying to sell wine. It is a tough business, with a high failure rate. Many would use nude pin-up mailers if they thought that would sell more wine. The problem is, of course, the whole phenomenon of points and useless, fabricated purple prose tasting notes. And for that, we must blame ourselves and nobody else. When the Wine Advocate is down to 5,000 subscribers, this issue will disappear just as suddenly as it came 30 years ago…


  30. I nominate a couple local shops who do not utilize scores to sell wine:

    Barrel Thief (Richmond, VA)
    River City Cellars (Richmond, VA)


  31. I’d like to add to the list: Morgan & York (Ann Arbor, MI) is a great wine store, and there are no points anywhere in sight.


  32. I’d like to add a wine store to the list: Manley’s Wine & Spirits (New York, NY). Instead of scores, there are energetic signs placed around the store.


  33. I run a small boutique beer & wine shop with about 400 wines and about 140 beers. I am a sales professional not an order taker. I do my own shelf talkers. I tell the wine sales reps that I represent hand made food products and people – not points. If I wanted to sell points I could simply order 400 wines with good scores, then stock the shelves and sit down. That being said, if a wine has points I will mention it on the shelf talker. For better or for worse (I think it’s for the worse) it probably helps sell product. I don’t subscribe to Parker so I probably have some wines that are highly rated by him but the information does not get on to the shelf talker. I do subscribe to Wine Spectator. My customers do not seem particularly interested in points. I feel that points are bogus. There is no agreed upon system. It’s not like gymnastics or figure skating, both of which are quite subjective but there are agreed upon scoring conventions and training that judges must go through before they are qualified to judge a gymnastics or skating competition. Lastly, I sometimes get wines that have tags on them which advertise points from other vintages. This drives me crazy and I throw the tags away.


  34. James Koch wrote: “I have told by many Spanish cellars that they need Parker’s/Miller’s scores mainly for India, China and other Asian countries.” Is that why Parker lets this Campo-Miller situation, which smacks of “pay to play,” go on? Because the people he is associated with are going to rake in Banzai buckaroos from the growing Asian markets? Maybe the American market and what people think of critics accepting payments to come ot wineries and taste wines is being written off for the promise of the “gigantic” Asian market.


  35. Tinto Fino in NYC an all Spanish wine shop in the East Village also does not post scores whatsoever. I agree completely with score free wine shops!


  36. Beyond emerging wine destinations and owners as Justin, I believe points will be even more visible and pertinent in the subconscious, more than ever thanks to wine e-tailing. Judging by the re-design of the winelibrary.com website with its aprox. 40 different raters available – I don’t see how these are going away. Interesting post.


  37. When we have founded our wine club 3 years ago in Montreal (Canada) we established right from the begining that wine personality was too complex to try to resume it into one single score: it takes words to describe it, specially the emotions you get from drinking it. How much points does an emotion worth?

    We have wrote a detailed article to explain our position; it is in French but you can simply use the Google Translator. Here is the link:

    http://www.clubdgv.blogspot.com/2011/11/editorial-choc-5-lire-de-linefficacite_11.html

    Dr Vino, we love your site!


  38. Greetings Doc,
    I have been beating the drum for my fellow retailers to stop using scores for a while. In the score-centric NJ wine market it is rare thing for a store not to sell on scores. I am proud to say that I do not use point scores at all in my shop Maratene’s Fine Wine, and have not since I took over in 2008. I am glad to see a list of so many like minded people, of course none of them are in NJ.
    Cheers


  39. [...] least one DrBigJ tasting note without attribution and slap on point scores, instead of pursuing the point-free path). [Village [...]


  40. [...] more retailers become points-free zones? As Americans’ confidence with wine climbs, shops may not need to turn to third-party [...]


  41. [...] ratings as they were just five years ago (and, in fact, a number of wine shops nationwide are now point-free zones). I’m curious if your observations square with mine (and Kermit’s), or if you think I’m [...]


  42. [...] and placed in the North End has a “manifesto” for “real” wine and is a points-free zone. The well-curated selection of the delicious esoterica of the wine world makes it a great stop for [...]


  43. […] Vino asks if retailers still need scores on their shelves. We like to include scores on our shelves. We’d rather talk to youpersonally, but we get […]


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