News

Wine Beyond Points

When something comes along that makes life more secure, the immediate reaction is to
embrace it. For much of the wine world, the 100-point system is viewed as just that, a life
preserver in an ocean of wine. It’s a visceral connection from grade school days. Scores of
90+ equal an A, 80 to 89 a B and so on. It’s simple to understand, an A is better than a B,
which is better than a C. And who doesn’t want an A?

Various point systems for wine have been around for a very long time, but the 100-point system caught the attention of a broad market with the widely renowned 1982 Bordeaux vintage. The premise was
simple, just follow the points provided by a highly respected critic who had access to a lot more wines than the average Joe and your wine drinking life would be good. At the tip of the spear was Robert Parker and his publication, The Wine Advocate.

For me, the 100-point system came on the scene during my early years in the business. Early on, I thought it was the greatest thing ever. If understanding wine could be reduced to a single number, the
wine business just became a whole lot easier. In this pre-internet world, I subscribed to their snail mail publication and bought the voluminous books that had a second purpose as a door stop.


Soon after, a wave of publications followed suit utilizing the same approach. Eventually, this served to inundate the market with the notion that scores meant everything. In some ways, they did. It drove significant parts of the market. Big points often meant brisk sales, along with higher prices. Low points meant your wines might as well be welded to the shelf or were maybe headed to the discount bin. It drove the decisions of the retailer, restauranteur, the auction market and everything else, including the consumer.


Today, the influence of scores is still a force to be reckoned with, but it’s been diluted by the sheer number of people that have jumped into the game. Who do you trust? What criteria is being used? Who rates the critics?

Also, the relevance of points has diminished simply because the average scores continue to go up, while the range continues to get more compact. For most publications, the vast majority of wine scores now land between 86 and 95. The caveat is sometimes low scores are not made known at all. Today, it really comes down to a five-point system, anything under 90 and no one cares or above 94 and you can’t find or afford it. Does this really tell you what you want to know?


Points attempt to provide a sense of security and a notion of precision for something that is inherently imprecise. Consider the following:


Misleading

  • Virtually no one drinks wine in the way that they are professionally assessed.
  • It’s been shown time and time again that wine scores cannot be reliably replicated among a single taster or among a group.
  • The time of day, concentration level, physical well-being, etc. all factor into perception level.
  • Reviewing a wine today is like a snapshot in time. Wine has a life-cycle. It evolves, a wine assessed today can be quite different in just a few months down the road.
  • How the wine is transported, stored, served and even the type of glassware will impact the sense of perception.
  • Scores are often based on one person’s opinion, it’s largely subjective, it may or may not align with your preferences.
Lacks Detail
  • Wine ratings are routinely referenced in the trade with no added storyline to provide a broader context. Any reputable wine publication will support that points, combined with a written word review is needed for a complete picture.
  • If you’ve ever experienced what it takes to produce a wine from the vineyard to the glass, it could be years, along with a massive effort. A few second assessment hardly seems complete.
  • There are a lot of wines that do not get reviewed.

Lacks Context

  • In a mass tasting, often wines with high extract, high alcohol, high levels of ripeness garner the top scores because they stand out. If that style is not your preference, points provide no value.
  • Most of us drink wines with food, points rarely take this into account.
  • When and where are the wines being consumed will impact how it is perceived.

At Stellar Bottles, our purpose is to provide wines that better fit into your lifestyle. We assess wines under a core belief that the best is a result of obsessive attention in the vineyard and typically a minimal manipulation within the winery. This allows for the most expressive, authentic and pure experience, along with the truest sense of place. This is the essence of true artisanal wines.


We’ll start by identifying the most consistent, iconic, quality driven family producers, along with the newest up-and-comers through our extensive network of contacts and travel. That forms the basis of our tastings. Yes, non-family owned wineries can and do make good wines, but we choose to go with the
small guys who do not build their brands through marketing dollars. The wines are then split into groups by price. Less than 2% of what is assessed is offered to our customers.


We’ll provide the story of what the wine tastes like in non-geek speak language, where and how it was made, along with the people behind them. We’re all about eco-friendly, everything we represent is made sustainably, organically or biodynamically. Everything is tasted with food. We’ll let you know what we think it will pair with. In addition, we’ll provide thoughts on how to serve the wines, how long they can be cellared and even how they fare on the second day. Sometimes, leftovers are the best!


Points have a place and they’re not going away anytime soon, but today people expect and deserve so much more. Our intent is to fully maximize your experience in the wine world by talking about them in ways in which you actually drink them. That’s what Stellar Bottles is all about.


7 Tips for Extending the Life of Your Opened Wine Bottles

It’s a Tuesday Netflix night, one glass of wine would be nice, but opening a fresh bottle seems like a waste, as there’s a real chance it’ll not be the same the following day. No worries, there are loads of options to address this problem. Better still, some are effective and cost little or nothing.


If you leave a halved apple on your countertop overnight, it’ll brown and won’t be nearly as fresh by morning. This is similar to what happens to your opened wine from one day to the next. Simply put, this is oxygen doing its thing, it’s the catalyst for oxidation. With wine, some oxygen can be a good thing, but too much and your opened bottle will eventually go flat and lifeless.


No matter which solution you opt for, there are some constant truths. Reducing the exposure to oxygen is critical. Minimizing the exposed surface area will extend the wine’s life, store opened bottles upright. Cool storage temps will reduce the level of oxygen absorption into the wine. The volume of the remaining wine will also matter. The greater the volume, the longer you can extend its life.


Options to consider:
1) Choose the right wine, some wines benefit from a hefty dose of oxygen. Certain grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or Petit Verdot can actually drink better on the second day. As general rules, reds will hold up better than whites, as do younger versus older wines. Lightweight wines tend to be more impacted by exposure to oxygen versus bigger, bolder wines. Sparkling and fortified wines require a completely separate conversation.


2) Smaller bottles, like an empty 375ml can help. Fill the smaller bottle into the neck, put the closure on tightly. Drawback, the wine is no longer in the original bottle and it only works when you have half of a standard (750ml) bottle remaining.


3) Inert gas (like Private Preserve) is a great option. Made from tasteless and odorless food grade gas with a good dose of Argon. It’s heavier than oxygen, forming a protective layer over the wine’s surface. Wineries commonly use something similar during the bottling process. Drawback, if using it from a spray cannister, insert the spray straw just above, not under the surface level of the wine or you could be cleaning wine off of your ceiling. That advice comes from personal experience.


4) Vacuum pumps of all sorts have been around for a few decades, a few pumps with a specially designed stopper will suck out the oxygen in the bottle. Drawback, the rubber seals tend to allow an ingress of air. And, I’m convinced it compromises the wine’s aroma, but it’s a decent short-term fix.


5) Floating wine disks was something that I first encountered in Australia. It’s a flexible, lightweight disk that is inserted into the bottle. It floats on the surface of the wine creating a protective barrier. As the wine is poured, the disk resettles on the surface, until the bottle is empty. Drawback, it’s not one size fits all.


6) Tiny food grade marbles are an ingenious idea that I saw in Chile. The marbles are dropped into a bottle until the fill level is raised into the neck, then the closure is put into place. When the wine is completely gone, dump the marbles into a colander and rinse. Drawback, pouring the wine can be tricky and clean-up is a pain.


7) Coravin is perfect for ultra-premium and well-aged wines. Drawback, it’s expensive and it will eventually need replacement parts.


Sometimes, keeping an open bottle for a day is no big deal, beyond day two is usually another story. That said, when next Tuesday night comes along and it’s time for another episode of Black Mirror, you’ll now be better prepared if you want to enjoy a glass of wine.


Expect the Unexpected with Stellar Bottles

If there’s a sure thing in life, it’s to expect the unexpected. This certainly applied to me when it came to a career path. Call it chance, fate or dumb luck, but a seemingly insignificant moment became life changing. Simply put, being in the right place, at the right time can make all of the difference. In addition, it’s also about how you handle a situation when the unexpected takes place. This is how I ended up in the wine business.

The path to this business was highly unlikely, as no one in my family, past or present has had anything to do with wine. To take it a step further, business ownership was not the norm in my family. That said, I’ve spent my entire working life in the wine business, a good part of it owning a specialty retail store. Now, more than thirty-five years later, I can’t imagine being in anything outside of wine.

It began as a high school kid when I landed a part time job in a suburban Detroit area wine shop in 1981. I stocked shelves, unloaded trucks, bagged ice, along with other various grunt work duties. There, I befriended Lester, a semi-retired night manager who was more than a bit obsessive about wine. It had been an integral part of his life for more than fifty years and he made no secret of it.

Most nights, Lester would have a late supper in the shop’s office. One evening, he said to me, “Polish boy, try this wine”. To this day, I recall seeing the bottle of 1966 Chateau Cantenac Brown. At the time, the name meant nothing to me, but I did find the gold and black label with a slightly gothic look as confusing, imposing, and maybe even a bit sinister. With some hesitation, I gave it a try. With the first taste, I nearly wretched. Who could manage to choke this down? This is exactly what Lester expected to happen. After he stopped laughing, he gave me a copy of Alexis Lichine’s Encyclopedia of Wine, the gold standard reference book of its day. He said, “take this home and read about what you’ve just tasted.” I was not overly enthusiastic about it and even a bit agitated. It was like I had been punked before the term came into its current meaning. In the worst-case scenario, if I had no interest in the book, at least I could use the voluminous piece as a doorstop.

That night, with a freshly made bad impression, I read about the wine that nearly gagged me. Slowly, it started to sink in that wine is much more than just something to drink. I began to see it as an epic story. There were aspects of science and art, culinary connections, politics, religion, business and on and on. It’s about people, places, tradition and those breaking the mold. It’s about it being a part of the social glue for a millennium. With each vintage, the deck is reshuffled again. And, the fact that wine comes from many of the places that I hoped to visit was an added bonus.

For the next few years, Lester and I tasted, read and discussed nearly every wine sold in the shop. I found it groundbreaking and definitive. My appreciation for what I was tasting grew by leaps and bounds. I had found my calling or maybe it had found me. I worked my way up to store manager and at the age of twenty-three, I decided to move away and open my own wine shop.

In retrospect, the chance of succeeding as an inexperienced young man with a start-up, owner operated fine wine shop was slim to none. It was clearly a case of instinct over intelligence. Cash poor, but ultra-determined, the business slowly took hold as a place to buy, unique, different, interesting wines that spoke of place and pedigree, made by people that had a passion for their trade. The formula worked as the business slowly took hold. While it was a success, it was also a dinosaur business model, with limited reach. I loved what I was doing, but I also found it confining.

Inspired to broaden my horizons and to put the pieces into place for the next step in my career, I entered the notoriously difficult Master of Wine program. With a typical annual, global pass rate of about 5%, I set out for the ultimate prize within the wine trade. The exam consists of three sections. Included are three days of blind tasting (identifying a total of 36 wines), four days of written essays (today’s exam has five days) and a dissertation. After some humbling setbacks, I managed to become the nineteenth North American to pass the exam in 2002. In doing so, it broke a four-year drought in which no one in North America had successfully passed the program.

In passing the exam, I was now at a crossroad in my career. After sixteen years, I chose to sell my shop for a new chapter in the corporate side of the wine world. For nearly another sixteen years, I found myself working for some of the largest wine retailers in the U.S. and Australia. Much of my time was spent traveling to nearly all reaches of the wine world. Often times, it came with a necessity to work with the behemoth wine producers of the world. At times, I saw wines corporatized, commoditized, homogenized and marginalized, influenced more by accountants than winemakers.

Currently, the wine business is going through major changes. The recent proliferation of online wine retailers is changing the market and driving much of the growth. Many web-based businesses have built a platform of selling private label, bulk wine, close outs and wines from virtual wineries, without making it overtly known to their customers. Some are simply marketing fronts for much larger organizations. It feels disingenuous. This is my impetus for the creation of Stellar Bottles.

At Stellar Bottles, the mantra is in the polar opposite direction. The best small scale brick-and-mortar wineries are searched out from all around the world, many with histories that go back multiple generations. The most consistent, iconic, quality-driven family producers, along with the newest up-and-comers with real brick-and-mortar wineries are partnered with through an extensive global network. These are wines that will not leave you indifferent. They have the it factor! Many are made by sustainable, organic and biodynamic methods. They are the types of wines that do not find consumers with large marketing budgets, but rather are discovered through actively searching them out. It’s all communicated through a non-geek speak featured wines page that provides all that you will need to know about how the wines were made and taste, along with the people and story behind them.

Whether it’s wine or any number of other products, people are increasingly putting a higher value on items they trust and view as authentic
and artisanal. With Stellar Bottles, wines are assessed under a core belief that the best is a result of obsessive attention in the vineyard and
typically a minimal manipulation within the winery. This allows for the most expressive, authentic and pure experience, along with the truest
sense of place. This is the essence of true artisanal wines. This is the sole purpose behind Stellar Bottles. I still have that old copy of the Alexis
Lichine Encyclopedia of Wine. I can’t imagine where I’d be today, if I had taken a different path and simply used it as a doorstop.

About Stellar Bottles LLC, www.stellarbottles.com
Based in Concord, CA. The company was formed in 2018, sales launched in 2019. As a monthly wine subscription business, our obsession is finding the finest artisanal wines from classic and cutting edge wine regions from all around the world. The focus is customer friendly options that offer flexibility to meet personal needs. We’re a no frills business model that goes direct to the source
whenever possible. We’re connected via a broad global network. We travel extensively to visit our supplier partners, along with attending major wine fairs and competitions throughout the world. For further inquiries, reach out to info@stellarbottles.com

Subscribe to RSS feed for News