Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wine Spectator: Which Wines Did They Review?

It would be interesting to determine the breakdown of wines that I have reviewed over the past few years, to get an idea of which regions I review the most and least. It may be instructive to me as well, and indicate areas where I should review more. It would also be fascinating to see such breakdowns for other reviewers, including the Wine Spectator.

Thus, I was pleased to read their latest issue (1/31-2/28/10), which has an interesting article "The Year in Wine: 2009 In Review" by James Molesworth. It provides just such a breakdown for the nearly 17,000 new release wines they reviewed in 2009. There is a chart in the article which breaks down their reviews by region, as well as listing the average prices for wines that scored 90+, and giving a breakdown of the range of scores.

In 2009, their total number of reviews of new releases was 16,787 and those wines that scored 90+ wines had an average price of $77. That is certainly a very high average, making those inexpensive 90+ wines seem like tremendous bargains.

The wine region that garnered the most reviews is probably not a big surprise, France. There were 4719 reviews, roughly 28% of the overall total. Wines that scored 90+ wines had an average price of $100, so their wines are more expensive than the overall average cost. The most reviews were of Burgundy (1395) and Rhone (1026). That might surprise those who were expecting Bordeaux to be first.

The second largest region for reviews was California, with 3050 reviews, roughly 18% of the total. Wines that scored 90+ wines had an average price of $64, lower than the overall average. Though you might suspect Cabernet Sauvignon had the most reviews, it was actually Pinot Noir (637) with Cabernet (585) a fairly close second. There were only 161 Merlot reviews. The Sideways effect in operation?

Italy is a very close third with 2915 reviews, also roughly 18% of the total. Wines that scored 90+ wines had an average price of $69, lower than the overall average. Tuscany (1062) was the top region with Piemonte (745) in second place.

Fourth place is Spain with only 703 reviews, roughly 4% of the total. Wines that scored 90+ wines had an average price of $84, higher than the overall average. You can see the sharp decline in coverage between position three and four, from 18% to 4%. The top three regions occupy quite a significant portion of the total reviews.

In the U.S., wine reviews from states beside California include Washington (579), New York (422), and Oregon (328). There were also 84 reviews of wines from all of the other U.S. states, with no breakdown of which states are included in that total. It surprises me a bit that New York had more reviews than Oregon, only because Oregon wines are more readily available across the country than New York wines.

As for the other countries that came after Spain, there was Australia (688), Chile (587), Germany (586), Argentina (576), South Africa (466), Austria (294), Portugal (269), New Zealand (231) and Miscellaneous Other Countries (290).

Based on all of these figures, I think Wine Spectator should try to cover a greater amount of wines outside of France, California and Italy. As 64% of their coverage is just on those three regions, that seems a bit unbalanced. But it also leads to a few questions. Are those percentages intentional or accidental. Do these percentages simply reflect consumer buying patterns? Do they reflect production levels of the wine regions?

For wine bloggers and other wine writers, some of these figures also seem to offer opportunities. If you wanted to create a niche blog, concentrating on a specific wine region, you might be able to post a number of reviews competitive with Wine Spectator. You could provide greater coverage to areas where Wine Spectator provides only very limited coverage.


ryan said...

"Do these percentages simply reflect consumer buying patterns? Do they reflect production levels of the wine regions?"

I think that consumer buying patterns are influenced by statistics like these. Sadly these patterns than beget more of the same rather changes that are dramatic.

The Wine Whore said...

I am surprised and curious as to why a mag like WS DOESN'T have better coverage of wines from around the world.... Maybe one of their editors could provide some insight!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments on Wine Spectator's wine reviews in 2009. Here are some thoughts in response:

Many factors influence what wines we decide to review. One is practical: we have 10 tasters on staff, all of whom have additional responsibilities. There is a limit to the number of wines we can taste in a year.

Also, our methodology limits our total. We review all wines in blind tastings in our offices. That's more labor-intensive than tasting at wineries, or allowing trade organizations to set up tastings for us. But we believe this gives results that are more fair, more objective and more reliable.

Given that, we negotiate "budgets" each year for each region. Each taster makes a case for the importance of each region's wines. We look at reader interest, market penetration, vintage quality and price trends. Based on this interplay of facts and judgment, we set the number of wines to taste higher or lower.

Take Bordeaux as a case in point. In 2009, we reviewed 790 wines from Bordeaux, mostly bottled wines from 2006, and barrel samples of 2008. Neither were exceptional vintages; prices were high; the economy was poor. In 2008, however, we reviewed 1,009 wines from Bordeaux, reflecting the quality and excitement surrounding the 2005 vintage. That's a 20% swing.

When it comes to balancing, say, the wines of Burgundy versus the wines of New Zealand, well, in our judgment there is simply more to explore in the classic French region than in the emerging New World one, and our readers are measurably more interested in Pinot Noir from the Cote d'Or than from Central Otago.

We don't claim our allocations are the only way to prioritize the wine world. But we do our best, given our resources, to review the wines we and our readers consider important. My impression is that few sources of wine reviews and information are as comprehensive as Wine Spectator.

Thomas Matthews
Executive editor
Wine Spectator

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Ryan:
I would agree such statistics may have some influence, but I am not sure that can really be quantified. And as I said near the end of my post, it gives opportunities for others to champion regions which have received less attention elsewhere, to give consumers alternative information.

Hi Randy,
Thomas Matthews of WS provide some additional info in that regard.

Hi Thomas,
I appreciate your further clarification and information on these issues. I can understand the factors involved in your decisions, though I, and others, still would like to see more coverage of some of the newer and lesser known wine regions.