Magazine article Sunset

What's the Score?

Magazine article Sunset

What's the Score?

Article excerpt

Cellar master Wilfred Wong reveals how critics rate wine

Wine Spectator gave the Robert Mondavi 2000 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon an 86. Robert Parker gave it 91 to 93 points. Which score should you believe?

A lot is riding on the scores a wine gets from a handful of experts. With a 90, bottles fly off the shelves; an 89 gets a wine much less attention. But does that one-point difference accurately indicate that the first wine is better than the second?

Wilfred Wong-e-commerce cellar master for Beverages & More and the man responsible for evaluating every wine on the shelves of the chain's 38 stores-invited us to taste with him, to see how he rates wines on a 100-point scale. We wanted to find out how much of the scoring process is objective, how much is subjective, and how much stock we can put in the numbers.

According to Wong, true professionals, who taste anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 wines a year (Wong tastes about 8,000-more than 20 a day, on average), develop a thorough understanding of-and taste memory for-the classic characteristics of every variety: flavors, tannins, acidity, structure, and so on. They have a consistent standard in their heads-pretty close to objective-and can make an instant call on whether a wine is well made by that standard or not.

They do have to contend with physical circumstances: setting, where a wine falls in the lineup, how many wines they've already tasted, and even their state of mind and health that day. …

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