Wednesday, May 1, 2013

How to get 90 points for your Cabernet in Wine Spectator

Rich, creamy mocha: 92 points!
Flipping through the current (May 31) issue of Wine Spectator, I noticed a trend in the rating of California Cabernet Sauvignon and blends by Mr. James Laube: the ones he likes taste like "mocha."

He reviewed 29 Cabs in the issue. He gave no scores of 90 or 91. Everything was either 92 or above (salesmen's manna) or 89 or below (discount store, here we come).

Here's the breakdown:

Wines mentioning "mocha" in the tasting notes:

95 points: 1/1
94 points: 4/6
93 points: 4/5
92 points: 2/4 (including "mocha-laced oak;" also "rich, creamy mocha and vanilla-laced oak")

89 points: 1/4 (not counting "melted chocolate at the center")
88 points: 1/8 (and that one has "subtle mocha." I guess it's too subtle.)
87 points: 0/1

Above 90 points: 11/16
Below 90 points: 2/13

In sum, if you want a good score on a Cabernet from Wine Spectator, it's best to stop by Starbucks on your way to submitting the sample.

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26 comments:

Jonas Landau, everydaywineguy said...

Hilarious! Next issue maybe caramel - double pump.

hewitth said...

Love it, Blake. It's why I always read your blog!

rapopoda said...

Laube has a terrible palate, full stop

Joe said...

I think last year it was anise. If only a winemaker could predict for next year.

Larry the Wine Guy said...

This is a stunning revelation. James Laube does not like elegant, balanced and structured wines. In other breaking news, the Berlin Wall has fallen, WWII has ended, and the stock market crashed.

ericlee said...

I saw something similar to this analysis regarding the descriptor "Licorice" , but boy those two tastes sure don't seem to go together.

Man About Wine said...

Next year he is going to channel good old VP Dick Chaney and the wines will have . . . GRAVITAS.

Man About Wine said...

Cheney, not Chaney. No coffee before 1st email.

Tom Ferrell said...

Several years ago I found a website where you could paste in text and it would give you a summary of the words and the number of times used. So I cut and pasted the descriptions of 1000 Cabernets that the WS scored 92 and above to get a sense of the same thing that was presented here. On Cabernet Mocha was 43rd on the list being used 95 times or on less than 10% of the wines.
At the top of the list were "currant" used 781 times, "cherry" 499 times, and "ripe" 495 times. More common than mocha was plum 339, blackberry 283,"oak" 273, "berry" 255, ""cedar 249, "anise" 149 mentions.
Of course certain descriptors like "rich" 611 times and "tannic" 515, times, were as expected.
Not that I'm discounting the importance of the word mocha, but there seem to be other routes to big WS scores on Cabernet other than Starbucks.

W. Blake Gray said...

Tom: Maybe this issue was an outlier, Laube has changed, or the wines have changed, but obviously the numbers here were different from your search. This was clearly well more than 10%.

thewinegetter said...

That is an awesome observation!! And speaks volumes about the so called objectivity in wine tasting...

Casey said...

I always thought the best way to get over 90 on Cabernet was to 1) have it labeled Napa Valley, 2) have it be over ripe, 3) have it be over oaked, 4) have it be a flabby low acid slut!

W. Blake Gray said...

Casey: That's for the Wine Advocate.

Mark Andrew Sinnott said...

Blake, I found a similar trend with James Molesworth's notes... all 90+ seem to have had 'fig' or some derivative of fig. I haven't been a WS print subscriber in a while, so unsure if JM is still a Fig Newton in his current reviews...

Andrew Walter said...

I think the point of a professional reviewer is to be consistent. If JL says "mocha" and rates the wine highly and you taste the wine and like it as well -- then you know to look for wines he reccomends with the flavor "mocha" -- even if you think it tastes like chocolate, cocoa, dark fruit, fig or whatever. The opposite of course is true. If you don't like wines with "mocha", or you find that "James Laube does not like elegant, balanced and structured wines"...well then, don't use WS rating to help make purchase decisions. There is really no point in being snarky. Blake, you have to keep in mind that you have the fortunate position of being able to try alot of wines without plunking $30+ per bottle....I don't have that luxury so I find the WS ratings and tasting notes, while not perfect, to be quite helpful. I've been a happy subscriber since 1997

W. Blake Gray said...

Andrew: There's no point in being snarky? Really? Would you mind handing me that petard?

noblewines.com said...

Ummm what about Espresso & Sambuca?

noblewines.com said...

Classic!

Joe Roberts said...

I know of three different CA winemakers who have told me in confidence that they have a matrix that is used for predicting what a (red) wine will score from WS and WA.

All 3 used them at previous employers, and the wines were teased during development to emphasize those aspects in the matrix.

Haven't seen the matrix myself, but I strongly suspect it has similar descriptors on it.

I can tell you here that I also have a formula for getting high marks from me:

1) Don't over-oak,
2) Preserve acidity,
3) Try to emphasize uniqueness and balance.

Just sayin'...

noblewines.com said...

THere are plenty wino's who hate the Natural wine debate but... Teasing during development for purpose of any matrix doesn't seem to be natural at all:

"All 3 used them at previous employers, and the wines were teased during development to emphasize those aspects in the matrix."

Bob Henry (Los Angeles wine industry professional) said...

Blake and Joe,

On the subject of a "matrix" or "formula," here's a bibliography:

"The Grapes of Math" - Wired
[http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.11/wine_pr.html]

"The Chemistry of a 90+ Wine" - New York Times - The New York Times
[http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/07/magazine/07ENOLOGI.html?_r=0&pagewanted=print]

"Enologix's Leo McCloskey on Fixing U.S. Wine" - The Gray Report
[http://blog.wblakegray.com/2011/02/enologixs-leo-mccloskey-on-fixing-us.html]

~~ Bob



Jeff Sidwell said...

So that is where all the merlot is going.
Jeff Sidwell

Jason Solanki said...

Haha. That's awesome!

p.s. Love mocha in my Cabernets.

Nick said...

Is there a concurrent trend in winemakers using a certain yeast or enzyme? Have rumors of using malbec as a blending agent been circulating?

W. Blake Gray said...

Oooh, Nick, that's a good question about the yeast.

I like Jeff's theory about the Merlot.

Portland Charcuterie Project said...

I subscribe to WS via some random airmiles thing I signed up for a few years ago, but mostly just look to see new wines that I may be interested in trying, as well as to see the scores of my friends here in Oregon who make wine and submit to WS ( not the big overextracted, overmarketed, overpriced "estates" that advertise in WS) but the wineries run by nice people making great wine and selling at reasonable prices.

I never trusted a Parker score, and will never trust a Laube score.