wine scores are not eternal, but wine ads may be

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

There is a large billboard on the highway I drive during regular trips to and from Waitsburg, and for some time I barely noticed it. But lately, it's become annoying. In fact, more than just annoying.

In bold letters it carries the name of a Walla Walla winery, along with the tagline “95 points – Wine Enthusiast” Sometimes wineries, when quoting one of my reviews, will kindly include my name along with that of the magazine I write for. But in this instance, I am quite happy they did not. Why? Because this is a particularly egregious example of what can only be called disingenuous, if not outright dishonest, advertising.

First off, any time a score is quoted, it should be attached to a specific wine. Ideally, a complete review should be included. Granted, that is probably not possible on a billboard. So be it. But there is no wine mentioned (or pictured) here. So what is the real story behind this headline?

I checked my notes, and found that I have not tasted anything from the winery in question since March of 2011. Prior to that, it had changed its name following a break-up of the original owners, and some older vintages were being cleared out. In fact, looking over my reviews from that period (2009 – 2011), none of the wines scored particularly well. They were all in the mid to high 80s.

So when did this magical 95-pointer appear?

My notes show only one such score in a history of reviews dating back to the winery's 2003 vintage. That single 95 point wine, which I reviewed in December of 2007, dates from the 2004 vintage. Odds are, it’s long gone, wouldn’t you think?

A check of the winery website shows only two wines listed for sale, both from the 2005 vintage. I can only conclude that winemaking at this location has been terminated, though grape growing continues.

The point here is this. Such squirrelly advertising may not always be illegal, but it’s clearly unethical. It’s unfair to the consumer, first and foremost, but it’s also disrespectful of the publication that is quoted. And it happens more often than just the occasional billboard. Those supermarket aisles littered with shelf talkers often conveniently fail to list the actual vintage of the review. Or if they do, the wine on the shelf is from a different vintage entirely.

Ultimately, it’s up to the buyer to take a careful look at any wine that is being sold on the basis of a score. But when that score is unattached to any specific wine, or any actual review, and especially when it’s emblazoned alongside a freeway for years after the actual release, it should be completely disregarded. And the winery should take it down.

1 comment:

Brandon Redman said...

That would really drive me crazy, and I don't even work in the wine industry! I also continue to see shelf talkers from prior vintages in TOP TIER local wines shops! It amazes me. I realize that keeping all shelf-talkers up-to-date is a tedious, time-consuming task, but I feel it should be the standard at wine shops especially.

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