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Wine Storage

(Credit: Vera Chinese)

Wine Storage

Almost from the first wine review I ever wrote more than a decade ago, I’ve struggled with how to handle ratings and/or scores. When I first started, I used a simple A-through-F scoring system — just like we all grew up with in school. Then, and for many years, I used a five-cork system, which is the same as a five-star system, only with corks. My website’s name is the “New York Cork Report,” after all.

Many wineries — here on Long Island and beyond — also approach ratings and competitions in different ways. Some send their wines out to as many places as possible, hoping for that 90-plus score or the double gold medal — and then base most of their marketing on those wins. Others are more selective, only sending wines out to people or competitions with proven track records. Those folks tend to use scores and medals as a way to enhance their marketing, rather than relying solely on them.

Then there are wineries like Shinn Estate Vineyard. Co-owner David Page wrote in his weekly newsletter last week: “Most wineries submit wine to competitions and trade publications for ratings that help them market wine to consumers. After much thought and deliberation we stopped doing this a long time ago.” He went on to explain why, wrapping up by stating, “We’d rather earn customers’ appreciation one by one in the tasting room. Many critics taste dozens of wines a day while sitting in a sterile office environment, never or seldom visiting the winery or region they are reviewing. This process of tasting and rating wine feels vacuous to us and seemingly denies wine should be enjoyed in the context of time, place and food.”

Page is right in so many ways, and that’s why I rarely attempt to taste more than a handful of wines at any one time and always taste and retaste over the course of several days, with and without food.

I have a great deal of respect for Page and his wife, co-owner Barbara Shinn. They make some of the region’s best wines and have long been champions of low-impact, sustainable practices. Their decision not to send their wines to competitions and critics is admirable. They don’t need to for their business. For them, wine ratings aren’t important.

But I’d argue that for Long Island wine as a whole, ratings are still important. Very important, even.

There is still a large segment of the wine-buying population that won’t consider the wines of a region good if they don’t break the 90-point barrier in publications like Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. For several years, that was a ceiling on the scores that Long Island wines received. There’d be the occasional 90-point score for a chardonnay here or a merlot there, but it wasn’t consistent and most of the scores topped out at 90, which made it look as though that was the ultimate potential for the region.

It was never the case and isn’t today, but that was the perception. Many wine lovers haven’t given Long Island wines a second look because the scores haven’t been high enough. Sad but true.

Over the past year or so, Long Island wines have earned even higher scores from Wine Enthusiast and Wine Advocate — as high as 93 for reds from Raphael and Southold Farm + Cellar. Those scores are important, for those wineries and for the region.

Now that the critics many wine consumers trust have seen just how good Long Island wine is, an artificial barrier has been eliminated. People who won’t pay attention until a region consistently gets ratings above 90 are starting to pay attention.

And once they are paying attention, the scores aren’t important anymore. The wines can be judged on their own merit.

It’s a game. I’m just glad to see that Long Island wines are finally winning it.