When Critics Are Overrated, Not The Wine

A unique expression of Barbera PHOTO FROM ROBERTO VIERNES

A unique expression of Barbera

Have you ever had an “overrated” wine? What is it that makes it overrated? Do they hype the ratings or the expectations? Conversely maybe you don’t understand the wine. Perhaps your palate is not sensitive enough to understand the nuance.

All rubbish!

I hear people — and even some sommeliers — poohpooh overrated wines. Typically, their definition of “overrated” is one of several things. It could be that the wine is overpriced in their minds. Some typical candidates they deem over-rated are Opus One, Silver Oak, Dom Perignon and Louis Roederer’s Cristal. They like to prove that they are in the know, and recommend lower-priced wines that they deem to be just as good if not better. They may recommend something like a Forman or Neyers Cabernet for less money, or show their knowledge by recommending “grower Champagne,” such as Bereche or Vilmart.

But I must say that, if these wines did not exhibit the quality that justifies the price tag, no one would pay that much money. And yet consumers do, because there is quality in the bottle.

Opus One is one of the most consistent top Cabernets in Napa Valley. Silver Oak has not swayed from its singular style for a reason. It is delicious and consumers love it. Dom Perignon and Cristal are still two of the best Champagnes available, bar none. The combination of elegance, complexity and flavor are standards by which others are measured.

Another reason a wine may be perceived as over-rated is because of a rating. If a wine gets monster ratings, your expectations are for it to deliver a sonata of flavor to your palate’s delight. Then you finally taste it, and go, “I spent how much for that?” or “It was good but not great” or “What was s/he thinking?” Ratings are subjective. One person’s tastes may not be your own. Find the critic or person who shares yours, and trust more in that experience and relationship rather than the number. I often disagree with wine writers and critics on their evaluations. And yet I always taste wines and evaluate them on their own merits, without the influence of whatever such and such rated the wine. I think that is the best course of action, in order to keep my own expectations in check and to give the wine the best possible scenario of being enjoyed (or not, in some cases).

But don’t let anyone tell you that it is your palate that might be wrong. They might insinuate that you cannot pick up complexities, nuances or earthiness that “experts” find.


What you taste is what you taste. It is your money you spent, not theirs. Yes, there are those with more sensitive, educated and experienced palates, but that should never negate your own opinion. You know what I call people who try to make you feel like that? Snobs! You have your own palate. What makes you happy is exactly that. If you like big, brash, highly alcoholic wines — terrific! If you like softer, lighter wines — awesome! If you only like red wines — great! Wine is an inclusive beverage. Its greatest moment is when it is shared.

If you don’t like it, it may not be overrated, it just is not for you.

Remember: The best wine is truly the best wine to you, regardless of price, rating or hype.

Recommendations: 2012 Marchesi di Barolo Barbera “Maraia” ($14) This is a unique expression of Barbera, as it has all the wonderful fleshy fruit, but also is framed with a note of vanilla from French oak aging. This buffs it up and gives it even more guts and richness, but still at a very reasonable price. This is a Barbera for meats and cheeses, not just for pizza anymore. You can find this at R. Field Wine Company. 2012 Paul Lato Chardonnay “Belle du Jour” ($69) Very limited production single-vineyard Chardonnay from the up- and-coming, almost cult-like producer Paul Lato. This comes from the Hilliard-Bruce vineyard in Santa Rita Hills. It has wow proportions of fruit and oak that luxuriate themselves all over your palate. This is a truly fruit-driven wine, with loads of power and fabulous intensity. Butter and lobster would be perfect, or anything with butter, really. You can find this at Fujioka’s Wine Times and Vintage Wine Cellar, if you are lucky.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier.

Twitter: @Pinotpusher