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In defense of the 100-point system, once again


Not that I feel it needs defending against the knuckleheads who are always attacking it, but– well, sheesh, I guess I do feel it needs defending!

Here’s one of the best (independent) rationales for the 100-point scoring system — independent, because it comes from someone who has nothing to gain from praising it. His name is  Neil Monnens, he publishes an online wine guide called the Wine Blue Book, and he was quoted in an interview in the blog Good Grape: A Wine Manifesto last week.

Wine Blue Book researches the scores that wines receive “from leading wine critics,” according to its FAQs. (I couldn’t find anything on the site that identifies who the critics are; if I missed it, sorry.) Then they come up with an average price to determine a “quality-price ratio.” In the Good Grape interview, Jeff Lefevere asked Monnens, “Since you and I last talked, have you seen an increase in the use of points as a scoring mechanism,” and here’s what Monnens replied:

Yes. Some folks continue to dismiss the 100 point system but they choose a 10 point system and then score wines 8.9 or 9.6 which just translates to an 89 and 96.  The 20 point system is the same but just 20% of the 100 points. The folks who dismiss the system advocate “trust your retailer” but since a retailer’s income is dependent on the wine the consumer purchases, I would rather trust the scores the critics provide since their income isn’t dependent on the consumers purchase.

I’m glad somebody’s finally talking some sense, besides me ; > The 100-point system isn’t any different from a 10-point system (as Monnens explained), or a 20-point system (which is actually what Wine Enthusiast’s is, since we don’t publish scores below 80 points), or a 5-star system (which is really the equivalent of 80, 85, 90, 95 and 100 points), or any other icon-based system you can think of. I think it’s also important to understand, as Monnens pointed out, that a critic’s income — mine, anyhow — doesn’t ride on the scores he gives. Believe me, I’ve given lousy scores to Wine Enthusiast’s advertisers and high scores to wineries that never advertise anywhere. So he’s right when he implies that a critic like me has far less incentive to inflate scores than does a wine merchant.

Not that the public shouldn’t trust their local wine merchant. If you can get a relationship going with a trusted one, it’s as valuable as having an outstanding physician, analyst or personal trainer: someone you entrust yourself to, and who you know won’t screw you. That’s a good person to have in your life. But so is, ahem, a good wine critic.

By the way, that dream job at Murphy-Goode is getting ready to announce their Top 10 applicants, on July 7. They’re already narrowed it down to the Top 50. If you haven’t watched the videos, which are posted on the website, you’re missing out on some really great entertainment. Some of these people are so clever and talented, it just takes your breath away.

Dept. of Oops!

“An Italian priest caught driving over the alcohol limit pleaded to police that it was only because of the Holy Wine he had drunk as part of the mass, Ansa news agency reported…the 41-year-old priest is set to appeal against the ruling, saying his alcohol consumption was not “voluntary” since it was part of the Catholic ritual…”

Officer, I swear it’s not my fault! I involuntarily had to drink 106 wines because it’s part of the ritual of being a wine critic! If you don’t let me go, you’re a, uhh, criticphobe!

  1. “or a 5-star system (which is really the equivalent of 80, 85, 90, 95 and 100 points)”

    I’m not so sure that all wine rating systems can be aligned so clearly to the 100 pt. system.

    I suppose it’s possible that a 1 star actually means that the wine sucks, which I wouldn’t necessarily equate with an 80 score (but maybe I’m so out of touch with the point systems that I’ve got the 80 concept all wrong).

  2. I would like to chime in with 1WineDude that the 5 star system is different. It doesn’t give you a false sense of precision between two scores. Can you really definitively say a 93 point wine is better than 92 point all the time? To me a more coarse grained scoring system is better in that sense.

  3. Jim Caudill says:

    Dude, 80 is the new 85….

  4. Dan, well, a 5 star system just tells you that any given wine scored somewhere within a range. It doesn’t tell you if the wine just barely achieved (say) 2 stars, or was just shy of 3 stars. I should think that’s an important distinction.

  5. Morton Leslie says:

    Interesting how much this puts a critic into such a defensive mode whenever someone is critical of it. Interesting how they resort to calling their critic a knucklehead and dismissing their critcism without really addressing it. Why set up a strawhorse then knock it down? (I personally would not attack a person who I knew raised legitimate issues with the way I conducted myself professionally. Rather, I would take them to heart and address them.)

    Could it be that what you call a “system” is not a system, but merely a device you use to imply you have an objective method? And that you are defensive because you know it? Whenever someone is asked to explain their 100 point scoring why is the answer always a statement as to what their numbers mean, not how they were mathematically derived? Is it they cannot do the latter because there is no methodology; hence no system?

    I am not unsympathetic to the competition among critics for the quantity of judgements made and being the first to assign a numbers. I realize that being like Parker is important if you are a critic, so there are good business reasons for assigning points like him. Like him, your assigned points tell a reader how much you liked the wine, and it lends an aura of scientific credibility to your purely subjective viewpoint. It’s easy; you can make a long list of wines and numbers, toss in a couple words about each and go out to lunch.

    That’s why I know it is a waste of breath to explain the difference between a hedonistic tasting system and an analytical system. But as you know, I have breath to waste.

    True is not a matter of whether it is 10, 20 or 100 points assigned. It is a matter of whether you assign points at all. Point systems for evaluating wine were developed to aid in vini and viticultural research to allow statistical analysis of the results of experiments. It was intended to bring objectivity into the tasting booth, look at the specific elements of a wines flavor and assign numbers that quantify sensory reactions to those elements. There is a methodology that connects specific elements of color, clarity, aroma, bouquet, acidity, astringency, and balance to a numerical score.

    If for instance you are experimenting with winemaking techniques in rosé production and you have determined that the “proper” rosé is pink, it’s aroma is varietal, fresh and fruity, its flavor is dry, tart, and crisp, and its finish is soft you can try a lot of experiments, have a tasting panel examine the experimental wines, assign numbers to how well the wine stood up to the “proper” profile you have assigned, and allow statistical evaluation of how each experiment affected the flavor profile of wine.

    If, instead, you want to find out how much people like a wine you use a hedonistic system. This is where you tell someone how much you like a wine maybe in ten steps from “the wine is awful” to “the wine is wonderful”. You don’t assign numbers to the elements of wine character, you just look at the pleasure quotient. True, you can assign numbers from one to ten and statistically analyze a hedonistic system, but you really don’t need any more than ten levels of pain to pleasure.

    Wine critics points in place of a hedonistic statement. It is not an application of a science. It is a misapplication of a research tool with no methodology behind it. The number the critic assigns itself means nothing. The sad thing is that as a critic you don’t need numbers because you have words. You can even go beyond the simple statement of the degree to which a wine tastes good or it doesn’t, you can actually choose words to explain why you feel the way you do about the wine. I know this is hard work, but it is honest work. I appreciate the need for credibility on the part of the critic. It is just a shame that you have learned it is as easy as assigning a number to a wine. And that you dismiss anyone who raises the issue.

  6. Finding the 100 point system unnaturally precise, as was noted above, we prefer using five points with .5 given. This allows some overlap and a slight range befitting the nature of the exercise, and allows us to plug in medals. Then, too, need I say, we only believe in group evaluations which does lead to one number on the 100 pt. system.


    5 stars (95+) EXTRAORDINARY (Platinum medal)- An exceptional, ravishing wine that sets the standard against which other wines are judged

    4 1/2 stars (92-94) REMARKABLE (Double gold medal)

    4 (90-92) EXCELLENT (Gold medal)- An outstanding, velvety wine that balances lush fruit flavors with refinement

    3.5 (87-89) VERY GOOD (Silver medal)

    3 (85-87) GOOD (Bronze medal) – A polished and pleasing wine with varietal distinctiveness

    2.5 (82-84) SATISFACTORY

    2 (80-82) FAIR – A fresh and simple quaffer for everyday drinking

    1.5 (77-79) MEDIOCRE

    1 (75-77) DEFICIENT – An inferior, innocuous wine whose characteristics give a flawed experience

  7. Superb comment, Morton. I would only add the observation that according to Mr. Heimoff a Burgundy rated a 17.5 by the ‘knucklehead’ Clive Coates, let’s say the 1996 Domaine Leroy Richebourg, is really the ‘same’ as a 2008 factory-made Cali Pinot rated an 87.5. There is too much ignorance concealed in wine ratings. It is tragic. No real knowledge is imparted and consumers are left passive and diminished, and the culture of wine is rendered a trivial fetish.

    Who is the real ‘knucklehead’?

  8. I still have to learn how the print publications arrive at their scores. How does a wine earn/accrue points?
    What are the criteria for adding or taking away points? How are these applied?
    It’s pointless to tell me what an 85, 92 or 78 “mean” if there is no published criteria how points are awarded.

  9. Judging the appropriateness or efficacy of any rating system only makes sense in light of who is the audience for that rating system.

    I’ll speak to one, which is the large retail floor.

    Here, there’s basically three ratings – unrated, less than 90, and 90 and above. It could easily just be a thumbs up/thumbs down system. The large retailers themselves have fed this approach with their audience (witness Bevmo’s “they have the largest selection of 90 point rated wines” commercials). Above 90 points, I’d say there is some differentiation in consumer attitude – they will think they will probably enjoy a 94 more than a 92. But for the majority of these consumers, I think this is a disservice – they’ll probably enjoy both equally (if they didn’t know the ratings beforehand).

    While one type of consumer might subscribe to three different wine critics, read each of their point scores and detailed tasting notes, and make a purchase decision from that, there is another type of consumer who is just looking for the “staff recommends” tag while they are shopping – which are the majority of consumers at large retailers. I think using the 100 point system for the latter is a misappropriation by the large retailers… but at the same time, these retailers currently have no independent, well-respected wine critics using a more appropriate system for their audience.

  10. Tom,

    What criteria does your scale use?
    You are not stating what your criteria for flaws, or distinctiveness are. And should all wines be velvety? How and in what ways does an exceptional wine set the standards for others (and which others? – should a Napa cab. s. set the standard for a Santa Barbara cab. f.?)What distinguishes a “simple” wine from those just below and those just above this ranking? How is an innocuous wine inferior – from a product flaw point of view?
    Your scale has all the indications of a hedonic, preference-based system. Case in point: your use of “ravishing” and “experience”.
    Yes, wine is a consumable meant to be enjoyed. However, enjoyment is personal – and scores based on this will vary on the cohort you put together for a panel tasting.
    Ultimately, this scale, with no pre-determined criteria for awarding rankings is just what Morton is criticizing.

  11. I cannot believe all the brouhaha over this issue. Trying to apply any kind of statistical quantity to a subjective opinion is lunacy. I understand the attempt, of course, but it is all such bovine excrement as to be annoying. Here is my take on the rating systems.

    The hundred point system isn’t 100 points. When have you ever heard of a 25pt wine or a 30 or even a 50? Anything under 50pts does not count. Which leaves us with a 50-pt system.

    Nobody uses a fifty point system.

    So that leaves us with a 20 point system. But again when have you seen a 5, 7, or 9pt. wine on the 20 scale? Have to throw that system out.

    That leaves 10 points. 10 points. That should be do-able. However if you start with ten points and subtract a point for errors on things such as “color, clarity, aroma, bouquet, acidity, astringency, and balance” to quote Morton Leslie. You end up with 3 pt.

    Three points. That is an easy system. 3pts.= I like it. 2pts=It is acceptable. 1 pt= I’ll give it to my mother-in-law.

    But, do you like Liverwurst and onions with hot mustard on Rye like I do? That is a 3* to me. But maybe not to you. So points don’t mean diddly.

    Which leads to point #2, And I will try to be brief. Critics have just as much at stake as retailers. They have to sell their product, just as wine-retailers do. It is just that they sell reviews of the wine instead of the actual wine. If they continued to give low scores to mediocre wines. They won’t receive samples from the wineries to review. Therefore, they won’t have a product to sell. As Steve said in his original comment W.E. won’t post scores below 80. There by safe-guarding there product and ultimately keeping the company in business. Isn’t that much the same as some un-named companies scoring things highly with there own in-house critics to make sales to keep the company in business?

    In the end, it comes down to do you like the wine or not? A two number quantitative answer for all those who actually have to have a number attached to every detail of their life. Do I like? 1 point. Do I dislike it? 0 pts. That is just my two points you rate it how you like.

  12. I don’t have a problem with a numerical rating scale. But I wonder, when a critic rates a wine, is the wine he/she rates really the wine that the rest of us get to buy in the store? I think this cheating by the winery happens more often than anyone would like to admit. I wonder if any critic tastes wine that they themselves, buy off the self.

  13. Tom, “W.E. won’t post scores below 80. There by safe-guarding there product and ultimately keeping the company in business.” That isn’t the reason W.E. doesn’t publish below 80. It’s because (as I’ve written before) there’s no point in kicking someone when they’re already down. Believe me, getting 80 or 81 points is bad enough for a winery. Why crush them with a 73? I think the reason wineries keep sending me wines is because if they get a bad score they can hope it gets lost in the shuffle, but there always is the possibility they’ll get a good review they can use in their marketing.

  14. Tom,
    I rate your comment 100 points. My thing is, what constitutes a “wine critic”, is Wilfred Wong a critic? Is it getting paid to taste and rate wines? Is it writing articles, features and tasting notes? I’m not trying to be an ass, just really curious where the line is?

  15. Jason, the point you make has been raised in the past. It is always a worry that a winery will send a fake sample instead of the real thing. Charlie Olken, who comments frequently here, buys all his own wine at Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine. He’s the only one I know of, although there may be others. For the rest of us, what can we do? You have to trust in the honesty of the submitting company.

  16. In defense of the retail staff- I have never worked at a store where the staff worked on comission. Maybe the owner is concerned with which products have a higher markup, features those items in ads and pours them at tastings, but the floor staff always has free reign to sell the wines they like and think the customer would enjoy, in my experience.

    As for critics- my biggest pet peeve is when they assign a score with no tasting notes. Jay Miller is notorious for doing this and it makes me crazy! What good is a number without qualification? Anyone can do that. I can do that. A 92 point cab that tastes like leather and smoke is going to appeal to a completely different customer than a 92 point cab that tastes like berries.

  17. The Blue Book has been around for a while, and in no way acquits the 100-point scale; it only serves to encourage false worship of it. To wit, I included it in my 100-Point Hall of Shame in 2008:

    Meanwhile, if a wine critic using the 100point scale OR a 5-star scale OR a 20-point scale could replicate his/her scores with any degree of reliability, I would be far less inclined to criticize it. And remember, Steve, it is use and abuse of the scale I criticize, not the individual critics like you who use it. It is, simply, a system that invites abuse in the marketplace.

  18. The only type of review that had any chance of being replicable all the time would be a “like-don’t like” scale, and even that might not be consistent. Anyway, a “like-dislike” scale is almost worthless from the point of view of a consumer. As soon as the scale becomes more complicated than a binary system, it loses replicability. That’s one of the trade-offs of complex scales, which is why I tell my readers this: The only thing a score means is that this is the way the wine seemed to me at the time of tasting. If people find value in that, I’m grateful. I, myself — if I were an average consumer — would probably use critics’ 100 point system reviews in my wine-buying decisions. Obviously lots of people find the system helpful, which means a lot to me.

  19. Steve, I will grant you the point that W.E. doesn’t want to kick a dog when it is down. By the same token, if the wine is that bad, why would it be carried in any self-respecting wine-shop? Good merchants don’t want to sell swill to the masses. It doesn’t do the wine-shop or the consumer any good.

    My problem is not in a review of wine. It is in the awarding of a prize, or points if you will, of any sort. I would rather have a critic give me his thoughts about the flavors he tasted, mouth-feel, balance, etc. rather than look at an arbitrary number.

    As you have written in the past, most of your reviews are less than 100 characters long. Give me that, not an A.D.D. synopsis in two or three digits. I’m reasonably intelligent and a well-crafted, well-written review will tell me what I want to know. As has been noticed in many tastings, the reviewers will come up with the nearly identical tasting notes, but due to personal preferences give it wildly different point ratings. Some people like the smell of barnyard and leather in a wine, some don’t. It doesn’t make one right or the other wrong. What it does show is personal bias when assigning a point value.

  20. This argument will never be settled. Wine scoring systems (puffs, stars, 10-, 20-, or 100-points) have not been relegated to the dustbin of history because a large enough fraction of wine consumers (and marketers) find they have worth and are useful. This fact alone renders the argument over assigning points moot. And it does not appear that a defined methodology for assigning points matters to the consumer. Personally, I agree with Morton that the assignment of points is “a misapplication of a research tool” – in private and with little prompting I may even grow fairly militant about it. But I have found it, um… counterproductive to have that discussion with consumers that are comfortable with scores.

  21. Greetings Steve!

    Just thought I’d chime in quickly here; I find myself so often quoting from your reviews of our wines that I think it would probably be borderline hypocritical of me to challenge any methodology you choose to deploy, so if it’s the 100-pointer for you, than by all means go!


    Christopher Watkins
    Tasting Room Manager
    RIDGE Vineyards/Monte Bello

  22. uh, a bunch of comments were added while I was composing mine (between serving customers). The end of Tom’s comment reminds me that there are only 10 kinds of people in the world – those who understand binary and those who don’t.

  23. Tom, my dream job [as a wine critic] would be to review 2-3 wines a day, being able to watch them change in the glass, drink them with different foods, and then write 500 word essays on each, with history, vintage assessments, and my evaluations. But guess what? Nobody will pay me to do that! Crazy, huh? So instead, I do 12-15 wines a day. Not that I’m complaining, though…

  24. Arthur writes: “Your scale has all the indications of a hedonic, preference-based system. Case in point: your use of “ravishing” and “experience”.
    Yes, wine is a consumable meant to be enjoyed. However, enjoyment is personal – and scores based on this will vary on the cohort you put together for a panel tasting.”

    And Morton writes: “If, instead, you want to find out how much people like a wine you use a hedonistic system. This is where you tell someone how much you like a wine maybe in ten steps from “the wine is awful” to “the wine is wonderful”…. True, you can assign numbers from one to ten and statistically analyze a hedonistic system, but you really don’t need any more than ten levels of pain to pleasure.”

    Yes, call it hedonic or hedonistic, we (our wine club) definitely do seek to determine where a wine falls on the pain/pleasure continuum and we use 10 pts (or 5 pts. with .5 designations allowed). We are only interested in the likeability quotient (coupled with price which makes it a marketability quotient for those who don’t only buy on reputation and making statements), and not how well the wine captures the characteristics of some terroir a la ~Appellation American~ or the ideal of a grape variety once fermented.

    It’s also necessary, as I wrote, to have a larger group do the tasting and to make it a taste-off. The most famous in these here parts are ~The Vintners Club~ monthly tastings, which go all the way back to 1971, in which 12 respected wines of a certain type are tasted blind and then ranked (1st, 2nd,12th) and rated (using the UC Davis 20 pt. system).
    Here’s one example:

    We do a “poor man’s version” attempting to assemble a “super core” consumer group of folks who drink wine with meals and represent when aggregated 10.5% of the drinking age Americans who account for 82% of wine purchased.

    Admitedly, most wines are left off such assessments, and mags like WE don’t have the luxury of such cherry or even random picking.

  25. Addendum: Here’s the same line up of 2002 Cabs, but scrutinized by members and guests of The Vintners Club in San Francisco rather than Bordeaux. Interesting to note that Rocca Family scored a first place in both mini competitions, and the top four wines were the same though slightly scrambled.

  26. So much of this conversation misses the obvious. Points are not a substitution for words, they are simply another means of expression. Used by themselves, they do have meaning to the user. People who rely on points think they understand what those points mean.

    That said, no amount of points in any system ever invented, no number of stars or half stars or puffs (and by the way, those are NOT puffs in Connoisseurs’ Guide, they are stars–although that is a discussion for another time) tells us anything about the wine except how much the taster or publication liked the wine relative to others.

    It is not rocket science–or any kind of science or misapplication of science–to expect a wine I rate at 87 to be a little bit better for my palate than a wine I rate at 86.

    You do not need a scientific formula for how I got there. You need to know what the range means. And frankly, folks, you do actually know approximately what most of the critics mean by 90 points–and you even know that BevMo points have a certain meaning and that Parker points have a certain meaning and the CGCW points have a certain meaning. Those meanings are in gradations of liking or not liking and they are not mysterious even when they are applied somewhat differently by me than they are by someone else.

    However, if one wants to know what a wine tastes like, as opposed to how much someone likes it, then reading the words is required. And when writers do not provide words, they are essentially saying that character does not matter–only my own personal preference matters.

    I have never stopped to count the number of characters in the average review in Connoisseurs’ Guide. It does not really matter. What matters is whether the review provides a clear picture of the wine to my readers. And if the words accomplish that end, then what in the world is wrong with adding a form of symbolic notation that adds an extra dimension to my words? The words are the first and foremost means of communication. If they were not, I would not be spending so much time struggling with them.

    I do not taste 120 wines in a couple of hours, assign a point scale, publish and go off to the ball game instead of working like crazy to communicate with my readers. I taste, Steve tastes in small flights of blinded wines and I take lots of notes.

    If you really want to know what I think about the taste of a wine, you have to read my words. That is why this discussion about points is so out in left field. It ignores the basic truth. Points are not a substitute for words. They are simply an extension of the discussion about the wine, a bit of value added, another means of expression, a system of symbolic notation that is used and appreciated by the folks who read wine criticism because it enhances their understanding of my opinion.

  27. Setting aside all the arguments about what a score means/implies/accounts for, in the end, it’s simply a number that accompanies the wine, much like the price that (supposedly) reflects its quality. The reason why critics put scores in their reviews is because they believe (rightly) that people need them. They need them when they’re reading about a wine, and they need them at the point of purchase.

    I would argue that most people, when presented with a paragraph of tasting notes and a score, are going to look at the score first and then decide if the review is worth reading. Would you bother reading a review of a wine with a dreadful score? Didn’t think so.

    I would also argue that a high score on an unfamiliar label/varietal/appellation might intrigue a reader enough to spend time with the actual review. In this instance, (high) scores have the effect of broadening a drinker’s horizons, instead of narrowing them as the naysayers fear.

  28. We all love, and are passionate about wine… that is why we are here posting on this subject. But the average wine consumer is not here and that represents 99.99% of the wine drinking population.

    When you are deciding what movie to watch this weekend, do you look at a list of every movie playing then read every review and decide? Probably not. You look at the ‘thumbs up’ and ‘thumbs down’ or other quick rating to decide because you are not passionate about movies to spend time posting about them. Those 99% of wine consumers do the same with wine. They don’t have the time, nor passion we have.

    Scores help the wine consumer to both narrow and widen their choice of wines. If a consumer wants to try a new varietal, German Riesling as an example, then you want the consumer to try the best German Riesling within their budget and that is what WineBlueBook does. We take the score and compare to the street price to show the best values along with the so-so values and terrible ones too.

    WineBlueBook isn’t for those of you posting here, the wine experts. It is written for the wine consumer that walks into a wine shop and wants to know what wines are values and what wines are not. Is $90 for a 90 rated Burgundy a value? What about $58 for a West Coast Cab, $47 for a Bordeaux, $50 for a Pinot Noir or $19 for a Sauvignon Blanc? Nope… those are just the average cost for each of those wines.

  29. Charlie, it goes without saying for me that descriptors are the best source of information about a wine. But then we can get into issues of the variability of how different writers use the same words. And I don’t mean calling ‘strawberry’ ‘raspberry’. At a more simpler level, there is no clear and consistent way of describing things like “intense” or “note” (I have my own system that seems to work well).
    But the issue here IS the points. So many publications use points and so many consumers rely on them.
    If this is the reality, then the discussion of points is valid.
    Points are as meaningful as the criteria used to generate them.
    When there are no predetermined criteria, the points are nothing more than an indication of personal preference.
    What a disservice to the wine culture it is to not try to find a way to communicate the wine and instead communicate your own enjoyment of it. How disingenuous it is then, to shrug off the suggestion that one engaging in this method is not dictating taste.

  30. Of course, I’m pleased with Neil’s approach and glad he’s gotten the last word in this thread. Better yet (though it would be quite labor intensive) would do what the “tomatometer” does–providing links back to the critic’s full write-up to provide the information that Charlie argues for. Just as with the awarding of stars by different movie critics, different numbers mean different levels of quality to different critics.

    Another methodology would follow a variation of what does: aggregate thumbs up/thumbs down (=fresh/rotten tomatoes) assessments, and showing the percentage of thumbs up, e.g. “Transformer” received only 20% favorable, while “Up” got 97% favorable out of 195+ reviews by “respected” critics, those who belong to film critic societies and write for newspapers or magazines (no bloggers). So set some threshold for determining not just favorable, but very good or excellent. If pts are given, use 90 pts. along the lines of what Eric writes above.

    This was done, I think, for the major wine competitions: Riverside, Dallas, Indianapolis, New World, LA, etc. allowing one to determine which wines got the highest % of golds.

  31. Arthur–

    In the search for truth, the blind man is king–or something like that. Maybe I should leave weird references to Ron Washam.

    But, here is the truth–the indisputable truth that even Tom Merle and Morton Leslie will have to accept.

    My words are my impressions of the wine on many levels. No need to describe all the evaluative processes and considerations. If we are all professionals, we know how to taste wine. And my words do a very good job of stating my views. I would invite you to actually read my words of description because they are primary to any understanding of the wine that I wish to convey. They also give a pretty good indication of how much I like an individual wine. When I add points to that description, I am also saying, as precisely as I can, how much I liked that wine relative to others and relative to some scale of quality that exists in my head.

    That is the truth. Like it or not, that is the truth.

    Discussing points is also valid. I have no problem discussing points. I have a giant problem with the nonsense that gets thrown at virtually any system of symbolic notation. Every single criticism in those discussions–and discussions is often a kind word–because assassinations might be more apt–fails to recognize that words are imperfect. What does superb mean? How good is stupendous? Is lovely better or worse than superb or stupendous. One man’s “good” is another man’s “average”. Where does likeable fit into this word game?

    The reason why systems of symbolic notation exist, and this is another truth, is that words are imperfect and systems of symbolic notation, whether points or stars or puffs (there is that word again) or chopsticks, are simply other means of communication. Assassinating a means of communication is, at least to me, an absurdity. Understanding its limits, using it for its best purposes and ignoring it for purposes that it was not intended is what is required of all means of communication, including symbolic notation.

    And trying to suggest that there needs to be science behind numbers or any symbol is nothing more than another attempt at assassination. Hedonistic evaluation is based on feelings, impressions, reactions of the soul, not on science. This is wine for goodness sake, not rocket science, product labelling (I bet that my points are more reliable than alcohol indicatiions on wine labels–but I digress), batting averages, Gallup polling, radar guns on cop cars.

    So, Arthur, I admire any search for the truth. I hope you will join me in defining the limits of numbers and the limits of words. We may never know the whole truth, but it is lot more simple and less nefarious than it is being made out to be. In my humble opinion, of course.

  32. And since we are all here… How about this approach to ‘scoring’ wine… When drinking with friends instead of asking “what score do you give this wine” I usually ask “What do you think is a fair price for this wine?”. If the person says $30 and the bottle is $20 well that is a good value to that person. Thoughts?

  33. Charlie

    Here is even a bigger truth:

    We all write about wine and we all want to gain from the process financially – so all of us have a stake in protecting process and brand (thought I think you go to far with the word “assassination”) – but in the process we forget one very key thing:

    It’s not about US or our impressions/enjoyment of the wine. It’s about the *reader/consumer*. It’s serving them by communicating about the wine that is supposed to be our goal.

    That is why scores – whatever scale you use – should be based in some tangible criteria and why flowery, poetic prose belongs in coffee house recitals not in consumer goods evaluation.

  34. (make that “too far”)

  35. On this subject, not even the thought of slouching last after 30some responses is deterring..

    If it is so that it is exclusively the 100-point system that needs defending, that isn’t right, (as it is really no different from the Brit 20-scale, 5-star-scale, 6-face-dicetoss-why-Norway?-scale, etc) because it is the actual ‘scoring’ that hurts the brain. I believe the damage was done once it became legitimate to assign a ‘judgement number’ to a wine, while the idea is (still, thankfully) ridiculous if applied to a painting, piece of music, book, even a dish of food. Where were the loud opponents then?

    I think it’s important to be clear on the consumer basis of the concept. There would never have been any scoring if wine was inexpensive and very widely available, and there weren’t so damn many. Since a fine wine purchase will represent an element of financial risk, scoring has become the chief tool of the consumer consultant. The market as it is today demands this tool. Leading ‘scorers’ supply intertia to retail who move products, and the wheel turns. It won’t change until someone invents another more popular way of trading wine.

    That, however, doesn’t make it right at all. The number is still an insult to the wine. Finite, 2-dimensional, its caluclation process riddled with subjective and random factors (mood, health, temperatures, atmospheric pressure, root-day? and so on) someone we look up to can concoct a figure (and sincerely agonize plenty), but the importance some of us consumers assign it is motivated by the same juvenile impulse that forges little boys into avid collectors. We desire systemic order, to understand and arrange into structure that which we really can’t. That is how I feel about it, maybe very few would agree.

    I’ve come to think only one ‘scale’ is worth its salt, Émile Peynaud’s 4 categories, simply sorting plonk, the acceptable, the great and the sublime. Too bad it’s useless for the wine trade.

  36. Tobias, Peynaud seems to be of mixed minds when it comes to scoring systems. I have carefully read his chapter on “Tasting Techniques” in “The Taste of Wine.” Here is his summation on numerical scoring: “…in order to award a wine an overall mark, do not think directly of a numerical value but give it a verbal assessment first; the numerical score will follow automatically within the chosen scale.” That’s pretty much how I rate and review.

  37. Ah yes… there is a reliable and consistent way to utilize a ranking/rating system: like a message from a deity, the score will come to you.

  38. You know Steve, you could have saved us all a lot of angst if you had quoted that passage from Peynaud in the first place. Wine criticism should be about the words, not the numbers.

    There are very legitimate complaints about the use of numbers in the absence of words, of course. We all agree on that topic. But, the use of numbers within a useful and explanatory context is very hard to criticize, it seems to me.

  39. What makes so useful is its linking to major movie critics around the country, as I noted above, but also its use of Web 2.0 interactivity. So those on the Internet can read David Denby of The New Yorker without subscribing, and then comment on his review. 12 movie goers responded to Denby’s put down of ~Transformers~. Each reviewer has a quote lifted from their larger article: “The movie rages on for a hundred and fifty minutes and then just stops, pausing for the next sequel…” Cute. Most of the commenters offered their own version of rage, but some engaged in fairly civil dialogue among themselves: social media at its best. will shortly launch its own version to allow for more member exchanges.

    I was disappointed to see that Wine Blue Book, it seems, will take the average of as few as two critics, hardly the Wisdom of Crowds. And you aren’t told how many reviews produced a given number. Eric should really set a higher minimum, and if he could find the resources link to those reviews for certain wines.

  40. Tom,

    WineBlueBook relies on professional critics, not consumers, for scores.

    We have the ability to show how many scores the wine received, but balancing ease of use vs more data is a factor. When we publish varietal specific issues, the standard deviation (agree/disagree factor) is surprisingly low showing the critics usually score within a point or two.

    In our March subscriber survey we asked if WBB should include a wine that has only received one score and the majority of subscribers voted for two or more scores per wine. If we were to wait until a wine was scored by 3 or more, the number of wines per issue would shrink substantially and would take months to appear in an issue.

  41. Wine Blue Book–

    This raises a giant flag for me. Are you not just relying on the work, the time, the professional expertise of others and contributing nothing yourself? You got Parker, Schildknecht, Miller, Tanzer and his crew, the Spectator and its crew, the Enthusiast and its crew and everyone else–millions of dollars of talent, time and money spent buying wine, tasting it and writing about it. What do you add?

    At least a consumer grouping like Zagat is a voluntary effort. Is this not a blatant ripoff of others professional hard work?

  42. Charlie,

    Similar to wine shops, restaurants and others who use scores and copy from the various sources you mention above, WineBlueBook uses only the scores (not copy) and aggregates them to determine the average and then uses retail street prices to determine value.

  43. From the standpoint of the consumer and the wineries that pull a high composite score, WBB is adding a lot. The millions of dollars spent by the critics is being compensated in various ways. But the critiques are now in the public domain to be done with however one wishes short of copyright infringement. Are you saying that using a particular number generated by a wine reviewer to combine with others to arrive at an average score is theft? I sure don’t think so. He’s doing what any dedicated consumer could do and charging a slight amount for compiling public information.

  44. Tom–

    Of course its theft. He is not a dedicated consumer by your very example. He is taking the work of others and charging for it. He calls himself Blue Book, yet Kelly Blue Book is original work. There is no orignial work here yet he charges for it.

    There are a couple of reasons why he has not put us all out of business. The first is that numbers by themselves are a farce and a fiction. They say nothing about the character of the wine, and the way in which Monnen’s publishes them diminshes the wine to non-existence. Have you been reading the comments here?

    And all of that which he copies is copyrighted–every single bit of it. It is not in the public domain. People are entitled to use it by permission–not by theft and certainly not for re-publication.

  45. Charlie: I think you’d have a hard time getting others to agree with your sweeping definition of theft. Now if someone used your number and published it without attribution that would be theft. Aggregators like Google that publish large sections of works without permission may be crossing over the line. But folding a number into a larger group of numbers to arrive at an average number which shows up in a $25/year newsletter…Don’t think so.

    Neil: if you have the ability to show how many scores went into the average score I would hope you would to do that. I want to know that only one or two “experts” did the scoring vs. 8 to 10. The latter has much more significance (for us pro number yahoos).

  46. Tom, I would never call you a yahoo. A google maybe, but never a yahoo.

  47. Charlie: I have read all four of your posts in this thread and am disappointed by your sloppy reasoning — you being a dedicated blogger and all. Go back and read what you’ve written and you will see a host of contradictions that, for me, demonstrate why so many wine bloggers will never gain serious traction in the broad consumer marketplace. (Here I am referring to Tom Wark’s smoking-hot State of Wine Blogging post from the other day:

    In your first post, Charlie, you complain that ”no amount of points in any system ever invented . . . tells us anything about the wine except how much the taster or publication liked the wine relative to others.

    Charlie, for the vast majority of consumers, that’s ALL they care to know.

    (same post) “If one wants to know what a wine tastes like, as opposed to how much someone likes it, then reading the words is required.”

    Charlie, those who do care, read. Those who don’t, don’t. You needn’t be threatened by people who just want to shop, not study.

    (same post again) “Points are not a substitute for words. They are simply an extension of the discussion about the wine, a bit of value added, another means of expression, a system of symbolic notation.”

    Charlie, no one’s arguing with you. So why the rant? Points have their own utility. You kinda sorta seem to accept it. Then, in your final post, you serve up this gem: “numbers by themselves are a farce and a fiction.”

    I think everyone who has contributed to this thread knows the opposite to be true. Scores, points, puffs, stars – these are the shorthand that is required in a crowded marketplace. Doesn’t matter if it’s wine, cell phones or mattresses, shoppers need shorthand.

    Wine score aren’t going away anytime soon. Consumers need them because there is an overwhelming number of wine labels and virtually no wine brands. (You can observe this truth by simply comparing the body language of shoppers in the cereal aisle to those in the wine aisle.)

    Scores are helpful to consumers. Prices are necessary. Wine Blue Book’s Q(quality)-P(price)-R(relationship) model simply illustrates the relationship between the two so consumers can pursue the most bang-for-their-buck.

    Not everyone shops for Value all the time. (Sadly, value-shoppers will never know the pleasures of d’Yquem.) But for those who do, the usefulness of WBB is clear.

  48. Steve, I don’t know if it is right or wrong, but your aversion to 100s, 99s, 98s, brings to mind my Qualitative Analysis Chem Prof at U of Ill, 45 yrs ago. Why do I remember him? Because on my final exam which i studied like a fiend for, knew my stuff cold, and then walked dejectedly out of the exam hall, knowing full well i had just flunked that puppy. Few days later when scores were posted, there i was…17…total score on a 100 pt exam. Beside the number was my letter grade: C-

    When i asked Dr(forgot his name, but not his person) how i got a C- with a 17 on my final, he grinned and said, he used a bell shaped curve and my 17 was middle of the class. The point, tho obscure, was he didn’t ever give any 90s, 80s, 70s, and rarely any 60s. His exams were unfathomable, and you had to get used to getting a 23 on an exam where you really knew the material. In summary, if someone doesn’t give 100s to 97s, that is just judgemental, and subjective. I don’t particularly agree with that sentiment, but i don’t agree with WS jacked up ratings either. There probably is a mid ground somewhere, but the fact you made the statement above makes me appreciate those 96s to 88s all the more. You probably have posted this before, long before i started following you; but it was helpful for me to know how you view a 97 or higher. It certainly explains your rating system more clearly. This post was valuable if for no other reason than to better know what your 96 or thereabouts, really means.

    Honestly, when i read your reviews, i, like others above, am much more interested in the text than the score. What I have learned since following you is that your descriptions are very rarely off. The numerical ratings are more subjective, but taken in context to the text, usually seem pretty darn close to the mark. In your defense of no high numbers, I probably have never tasted a 100 point wine, nor a 99er either. I have had some “put out the lights” great wines at my grandma’s bakery in Bordeaux, but never knew what they were because they were all bought twice weekly from barrel samples and brot home in 20 liter jugs. I suspect i probably won’t ever taste a 100 pointer. But that doesn’t mean i won’t keep trying.

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