The Issue With Points and Sommeliers

Dining | Written By, Life on the Island |

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Have you ever seen a wine list where each wine has a rating (point scale), printed after the prices? It would look like this: Speers, Angelo Gaja, Piedmont, Barbaresco, Italy 2001 WS 98/ RP 95 Mr. Robert Parker, one of the most famous wine writers and critics, rates wines based on his 50 – 100 point quality system. His ratings can even give newly released or unknown wines a reputation, dictating an increase or decrease of certain wines’ prices.

Personally, I beg to differ with some of his judgments as sometimes he scores them too high. I do however find it very interesting that so much investment is placed on prediction while nothing can be promised by way of wine aging and how the end result of the wine fulfils one’s expectations. Mr Parker, who is revered when speaking of wines, has the aura of a great personality and many people eagerly await his book on wines. Personally, I only listen to wine makers when Mr Parker or Mr Hugh Johnson (also a wine writer) are not mentioned in their wine valuation, comparison and discussion.

A team of wine specialists for The Wine Spectator magazine, with its 4 to 5 million readers each month, also use Mr Parker’s points system as does the even more famous Decanter magazine, which hosts tastings with quite famous wine experts. The hotel and restaurant industry works with the Wine Spectator/Decanter Magazine and in fact buys their wines after having consulted with them.

You Can Trust The Big Wine Magazines And Wine Writers

Now the question is, how much importance should one give to a wine’s rating on a wine list? I personally feel that the points are important when it is given to a wine with a name in wine history, or if it was given in the last couple of years, as the wine has not changed so much since then. To me, it does not carry as much importance when the points were given over 3 years ago. I say this as we do not know much about the history of the wine, and actually to me, wine is like a human being; it changes constantly with age just like the character of the wine. So really, the year in which these points were given should also be stated. Another thing to consider is that in Asia, the storage conditions are often not as good as international storage facilities and exporting the wine has an effect as the wine waits in hot conditions at the harbour. Finally, I would like to add that everybody can give points based on his/her own feelings about the wine he/she is drinking, and nobody can in any case doubt your opinion as every tongue and palate has its own distinct taste and sense of enjoyment.

What is A Sommelier’s Job?

This also means, that the Sommelier should know when the points were given, from whom and why the Sommelier believes in these points. A good Sommelier will normally not comment on the points as he/she will make a judgement based on his/her own palate or the palate of colleagues, wine makers and guests who have tasted the wine already. At fine dining establishments like Kayuputi Restaurant, the sommelier must find out what the guest likes, as his/her job is to make the lunch and dinner experience as special as possible. The Sommelier will therefore ask guests what wines they have enjoyed in the past and what wines are their favourites. The Sommelier will then make a pairing based on the guest’s feedback. However when the guest is open minded and would not mind trying something new, the Sommelier will be more than happy to suggest. Rarer wines like Touriga from Sardinia (Italy), Heinrich from Burgenland (Austria) and Al Bosco from Tessin (Switzerland) may be an interesting choice. The goal of a specialist Sommelier is to build a trusting relationship with his/her guests. It generally comes with the first wine suggestion or the guest’s second visit when the Sommelier recognizes the guest and his/her wine choices from the past.

A good Sommelier should be knowledgeable of the character change in a wine over the years and be able to suggest a wine which is matured and which has reached ‘peak time’. However it will be the opinion of the Sommelier and not that of Mr. Parker or any other wine guru, unless the guests are asking for wine points.

Finally I would suggest trusting the Sommelier and his/her wine list as opposed to the points on the right side of the wine.

Happy conversing with your next Sommelier.

My Inner Voice Dec 14-2
Harald Wiesmann, Restaurant Manager of the Asian inspired Haute Cuisine Kayuputi and Chief Sommelier at The St. Regis Bali Resort, has a very interesting career history spanning a number of years with different roles in various countries. His 42 years of international experience has led Kayuputi to receive prestigious awards from the Wine Spectator Magazine (USA) for six consecutive years since its opening six and a half years ago.


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