Tuesday, October 7, 2008

“If I don't stand my own ground, how can I find my way out of this maze...”

If you’re standing in the aisle of a local wine shop, browsing the shelf talkers in the Italian section, and you find 2 bottles standing next to each other, one that costs about $10 and was rated 89 by Wine Spectator or Wine Advocate, and the other also costing $10 which was rated 90, which would you more likely pick up? What the hell exactly is the difference between an 89 and a 90 rating for a bottle of wine? Apparently, the difference is sales. Given a level playing field (same varietal, similar pricing, etc.), the wine that gets to go home with consumers is almost always the higher rated wine, even if it’s a one point difference. These 89-rated wines, lovingly called the redheaded stepchildren of the wine industry, often get the shitty end of the stick when it comes to shelf presence and sales because they miss the 90-point hurdle by an inch or two—according to the wine reviewers that steer the market, that is.

89 seems to be the kiss of death—so close and yet so far—but in an almost arbitrary way. What is it that keeps a bottle from hitting the elusive 90 milestone? Is it well made, structured and nicely priced but just doesn’t soak your shorts? Or is it the one that’s priced at a point that you expect a lot from, and it fails to deliver the goods? How, in the name of all that is holy, do you taste a friggin’ one point difference in wines? It’s a stigma, and it’s bull crap. So in the name of giving 89-point wines a second chance, in hopes that someone won’t give them a cold shoulder next time they see them on a shelf, let’s dig for gold…

Falesco Vitiano 2006 – A red blend from Umbria containing cabernet sauvignon, merlot and sangiovese. Over the last few years, this wine has teetered between 88s and 89s in the big rags. The Spectator’s most recent review? “The 2006 Vitiano Rosso is another intense, deeply flavored wine. This powerful effort bursts from the glass with an array of jammy plums, cherries, cassis, graphite and minerals. It will offer much pleasure now and over the next few years and is a terrific value for the money.” It was even listed among the WS’s Top 53 Wines of Value in Italy. It generally sells for about 10 bucks.

Here were my tasting notes from a while back: “13% alcohol. Dark garnet. Smoke and violets on the nose, with a little earthiness and minerality. Lots of plum. Very spicy finish, mellow tannins. Good acidity—can sit for a couple of years.

89? 90? Do we really give a crap? It’s a great wine with an even better QPR. Stop thinking that the one sitting next to it is somehow substantially better because of one point, will you please? Give the underdog a chance once in a while, cuz he may just be your next best friend.

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