• RateFished: Are Wine Ratings Lying to You?

    We’ve all done it. We’re walking the aisles of our favorite wine store or browsing the web for wine and we see it.

    “California Cabernet Sauvignon – James Suckling 96 Points!”

    “Napa Chardonnay – 92 Points Wine Spectator!”

    “Oregon Pinot Noir -The Oregon Wine Awards!”

    Since every new bottle of wine is a gamble and experts have endorsed these wines, we figure that they are our safest bet. We buy them; get the wine home; prepare our favorite dish; decant the wine; and take that first much anticipated sip only to be completely and utterly let down by what touches our palate. What in the hell happened? Well… you my friend have just been ratefished.

    Ratings and wine awards are not necessarily bad. After all, they do push consumers to try wines that they otherwise may not have experienced. In all fairness, the highly rated, disappointing wines you’ve drank were probably good quality wines. The issue is that they’re not your preferred wine and that is why you feel tricked.

    The biggest problem that I have with wine ratings is that people often allow them to dictate what wines they buy and even worse, what wines they think they should like. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a person say something like, “I guess there’s something wrong with my palate” after hating a highly rated wine. When they do, they typically laugh nervously, half joking but half serious, and then wait on someone to tell them what they’re doing wrong.

    If you’ve been that person, and no one has said it already, let me be the first to tell you that there’s nothing wrong with your palate! We all like different kinds of wine and there have been studies done by the Journal of Food Quality and Preference that show that typically what critics like is the complete opposite of what the general public likes. You see this same trend with things such as movies and other visual arts, but nobody thinks twice about it.

    So how does one avoid feeling ratefished?  You have to do some research to really understand what you like and how to shop for it. The good news it starts with drinking a bunch of different wine!  After trying various types of wine if you notice, for example, that you generally like bold, fruit forward, high octane wines, you probably want to stick to new world regions that have a lot of sunny days. This means you’d want to shop for wines from places like California and Australia. If you like more subtle fruit notes and prefer to taste notes of minerality from the soils of the region, perhaps you should start with European wines.  

    If you still want to let ratings or points guide you on wine purchases don’t fret.  You can always find a critic that prefers the same style of wines that you do. Even if the critic doesn’t specifically list the style of wine they prefer, you can look at the types of wines that they consistently rate the highest and get an idea. If you do this and note that your styles are aligned, you’re much more likely to agree with their ratings and avoid an expensive bottle of disappointment.

    Cheers!

  • Cheap Wine: What’s In That Bottle of Plonk?

    They’re everywhere and more prevalent than ever. Mass produced bargain wines are now a staple on grocery store shelves and in the aisles of large wine retailers. With all the cheap wine options you may be asking, why would I pay $50 for a bottle of wine when there’s plenty of wine out there for 5 to 10 bucks? The real question is what is in that five-dollar bottle.

    The Throw Away Grapes

    Great wine starts with great fruit. Generally speaking, cheap wine is made from bulk wine and bulk wine is just what it sounds like, wine made in bulk. Sometimes, when a reputable vineyard has an uncharacteristically bad vintage, the vineyard opts to put some or all its lower quality grapes for sale in the bulk wine market. Those grapes eventually become bulk wine and are used to make the bargain wine sold in stores. For example, there will undoubtedly be a dump of many smoke tainted grapes into the bulk market due to the California fires this year. The wine from these grapes will be doctored to cover the smoke taint so that you don’t taste mesquite grapes.

    Bulk Farming

    Some vineyards are bulk producers. They start their growing season focused on producing grapes or grape juice for the bulk market. These vineyards are normally large vineyards in flat areas that get plenty of sun for even and expedited ripening. They also have a high concentration of grapes per vine in order to maximize profitability. Unfortunately, by jamming a ton of berries on the vines’ shoots, you create a situation where many of the clusters are simply under nourished. After all, there’s only so much nutrition to be shared. Also, because these bulk producers do not use high quality farming practices such as rotating cover crop to provide nutrients back into the soil, the soil is not as nutrient rich. The end result is a bunch of lack luster grapes that lack flavor intensity.

    The grapes are machine farmed, machine harvested, and machine sorted but who cares? Well, you should because although hand harvesting and sorting makes wine more expensive, hand harvesting ensures that only grapes are harvested. Machines suck up everything in the vines including grapes, bugs, snakes, and anything else that might be on the vine. Also, on the sorting table, a human can inspect grapes for quality and make sure only good fruit is used in the wine making process. With machines, not so much. Some of the stuff making it into the press may not even be grapes at all.

    Finally, with bulk farming no consideration is given to ensuring the grapes have a certain terroir (taste of the region) and in fact the primary focus is efficiency. These vineyards stick to ripening the grapes, machine harvesting them, and getting them to the producers as efficiently as possible.

    Wine Manufacturing vs. Winemaking

    After tons of subpar grapes and whatever else are collected and pressed into juice, bargain wine producers begin to manufacture the generic bulk wines into something that they believe their customers will want to drink. For example, if a wine is missing oak characteristics, a bargain winemaker will not spend the hundreds or even thousands of dollars to age the wine in oak barrels. They will opt for the much cheaper alternative oak chips or even oak dust. If the wine is too astringent, fish bladders, gelatin or egg whites are brought to the rescue. Is the wine stable? If not, no worries, they will add enough sulfur to clear a building. Last but certainly not least, the bottle get’s a nice dose of color additives and sugar concentrate.

    The Takeaway

    In short, most of the time, when you buy bargain wines, you’re getting far more than what you paid for and in this case, that’s not a good thing. Bargain winemakers can use over 60 additives when frankensteining a bottle of $5 plonk from subpar grapes. The worst part is that with the exception of the sulfur, none of it is required to be disclosed. So, the next time you grab a bottle of bargain wine, consider that what you are drinking is to wine what a McNugget is to chicken. There’s probably some in there somewhere but nah…

  • Pur VinKnow Ep. 1

    Welcome to Pur VinKnow! It’s our new video series where we will provide you guys with regular updates about what’s happening with Pur Noire. We will also give you guys regular wine tips! Be sure to keep checking for new videos!

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