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Imagining a world without wine critics or scores

23 comments

Following yet another violent attack on the “bondage to rating systems” and so-called critics trying to “enhance their self-image as experts,” the U.S. Congress passed, and the President signed, legislation outlawing the 100-point system as well as “adjectival diarrhea” of the type that pollutes wine reviews.

From now on, in the President’s words, “No numbers, letters, puffs or symbols of any kind will be tolerated in wine reviews, nor will hifalutin phrases nobody can understand. They are un-American and have no place in our society.” However, numbers may still be applied to beer reviews.

Within hours after the new law went into effect, some well-known wine writers committed suicide. The first was Robert Parker, who received the news on his iPhone while at the top of Chateau Latour’s famous tower, from which he jumped to his death. Later that day, Wine Spectator’s James Laube was found slumped over a bottle of Marcassin. He allegedly left a note saying that “Life isn’t worth living if I can never give another 100-point rating to an undrinkable wine.”

Wine Enthusiast’s California reviewer, Steve Heimoff, told reporters that he had considered suicide but rejected it. “I’ve reinvented myself before and I can do it again,” he said, adding that he was considering a new career “in Cirque du Soleil, if they’ll have me, or possibly as a politician.”

Passage of the new law caused consternation in the infamous “Wall of Wine” aisles of major supermarkets. Mrs. Penny Waddlesworth, of Port St. Lucie, Florida, was weeping in the local Piggly-Wiggly. “I don’t know how to make a selection without an expert score to guide me,” she said, adding that her husband’s boss was coming to dinner “and I don’t want to embarrass myself by choosing a bad wine.”

Penrose P. Puffington, Ph.D., a clinical psychiatrist from Los Angeles who specializes in addiction and depression, said it is likely that psychotherapists will see an uptick in clients frustrated by their inability to choose wines. “It’s like suddenly taking heroin away from an addict. Millions of consumers have effectively been thrown into critical ‘cold turkey.’”

Roger Addlesworth, a spokesperson for Safeway, said the food chain giant was considering hiring temporary “wine buddies” to advise confused shoppers. Wilfred Wong, the eTasting Director at Beverages, & More!, said that the chain would respect the new law and stop using numerical ratings. “But our lawyers have advised us that the phrase ‘numbers, letters, puffs or symbols of any kind’ does not necessarily preclude subtle hints [that] alert customers to our real feelings about the wines we sell.” Wong refused to speculate about what those “subtle hints” might be.

Others celebrated the new law, stating it will enable bad wines to finally be able to compete with good ones. Elwood Nadir, the owner/winemaker at Beauty Ridge Vineyards, in Arkansas’s Cummingsworth Valley, noted that his wines had never scored above 62 points in the Wine Spectator. “That was really bad for business, but now that there are no more scores, we hope to be able to give Chateau Lafite a run for the money.” Nadir has engaged a top public relations firm to create a press kit, and also recently hired a Director of Social Media to reach out to Millennials and create “buzz.” “I don’t think those kids ever cared much for scores anyway,” he said.

He may be right. Arthur Azimuth, a media analyst for the Wine Institute who advises the San Francisco-based wine organization’s clients on how to Twitter and use Facebook, said that Millennials see scores “as so 20th century. The 100-point system was for your father, if not your grandfather. Young people today are all about peer advice and recommendations from friends.”

Napa Valley’s cult winemakers, however, are not amused. Said one, who did not wish to be identified due to the sensitivity of the subject, “We’ve depended on Parker-Spectator 95-plus scores for years to justify our $250 a bottle price. This new law is biased against me and people like me.” The winemaker said he is talking with some of his cult winery colleagues about challenging the law before the U.S. Supreme Court. “Our lawyers have advised us we have a good case,” he said.

A spokesman for the American Bar Association, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said that the new law, like all laws, will be good for lawyers. “Whatever happens, lawyers end up the winners. I would give  this new law 100 points,” he said, smiling.

  1. Although suicide seems to be an overreaction, its your story :) You make a good point: wine ratings have a value and as such the world is better off with them than without. While some critics of ratings may favor their elimination, the appropriate criticism of ratings is one that provides a realistic understanding of their authority, accuracy, relativity and encourages consumers to pursue alternative means of researching which wines to buy in conjuction with ratings.

    Cheers!

  2. Purely and simply brilliant.

    I’d give it a 95 +

    It’s got a good rhythm and you can dance to it.

    ;-)

  3. Just knowing that you can ring up the likes of someone like Arthur Azimuth at the venerable Wine Institute and get quotes like the above is almost intimidating. Now and then you put something down and I come away from it with a real sense of appreciation that we have this access to your dementia. Love it.

  4. Go Steve! Some lively satire is so refreshing at this time of year!

  5. As in all satire, there’s a lot of truth in there Steve. Of course, it’s left to you–the author–to figure out where ;)

  6. First blog post I have read today and I am sure it will be the best. Nice to start the day off with a laugh.

    I see Parker as more of a Blackberry users though :)

  7. I love the irony! :)

  8. I refuse to let this new law get me down. No more puffs and points? No sweat. Here is my new rating scale.

    –Supercalerifficexpealidocious
    –BFD
    –Not so BFD
    –Better than pissant
    –Pissant
    –A dog’s lunch

  9. Alex Stuempfig says:

    I would give your article a 107 on the “Intergalactic Wine Snob” scale. Coming from an Importer point of view I would have to say that ratings now are the single most important piece of information for a wine. Sometimes I like to rate everything on a daily basis: shower – 99 points (leave to imagination), drive to work – 69 points (moderate to heavy traffic), job today…33 points (boss is on my case), steak at dinner – 85 points (asked for rare got medium rare+), child – 88 points (threw a temper tantrum and didnt eat his veggies), wife – 100 points (we had sex tonight). So by no means would I think that ratings are absurd or skewed or unnecessary. How else would mindless and thoughtless consumers purchase something without some form of marketing?

  10. Very funny Steve…as always.

    However, i still think that applying ratings to wine is a mistake. It’s akin to the Kennel Club’s breed standards for dogs or Beauty Contests. A select group of experts in the field determine the ideal traits that a dog (substitute wine or woman) should exhibit. Breeders (producers or parents) then attempt to match this standard through various means. The result is that breeds (wines or young women) all start to look (taste) the same. Eventually, this introspective breeding (production or preening) program is taken too far as we lose sight of what’s really important – that beauty is in the eye (or taste buds) of the beholder and that variety is the spice of life.

    I applaud the President’s new law but am ashamed that he had to step in. Surely, common sense should have prevailed long before such intervention was required. But then, beauty pageants still exist and the lives of many pure bred dogs continue to deteriorate. So, I guess I should not be surprised.

  11. Alex,

    Yours is even better than Steve’s–especially the “mindless and thoughtless consumers” part. Do you think certain people will get the sarcasm???

  12. Paul in Boca says:

    Not that it matters, but Mrs. Penny Waddlesworth, of Port St. Lucie, Florida, would not be shopping at Piggly Wiggly, since that grocery chain is located in the Panhandle area (think the barrel of the gun that is the shape of my state). Publix would be a the more likely store to find Ms Waddlesworth. Steve, did you fact checkers most recently work on a book called “Going Rogue”? )

  13. Paul in Boca says:

    that should be your fact checkers!

  14. I only wish you were writing the truth Steve…

    This was at least some of the most entertaining string of words I’ve read in some months.

    Can you put this story in film form?

    The fact of the matter is, THE 100-POINT system is caving in on itself as we write. Good Riddence!!!

  15. Too bad you’ve made your money from the very system you’re coming around to dislike. Don’t worry steve, us young one’s will be around for many, many years to remind you and all the other number givers what silliness you’ve spawned…

  16. Joe Gargiulo says:

    Steve, I started reading with some skepticism, but you had me laughing by paragraph three. Nicely done.

  17. Hahaha, great post! Anarchy in the wine world!

  18. Great article. I always love it when the anti-rating crowd puts something like this in print, “Consumers should try a lot of wines and find out what they like.” Thanks yoda, sage advice that is. As people learn more, of course they get weaned off the advice of others, but the trial and error method leads to a lot of failures and most consumers don’t like costly mistakes.

    Also, I don’t think people really think through what a world without ratings would possibly lead to. Would we see an uptick in proven brands (notice I didn’t say wineries) like KJ and Clos? I don’t distribute those guys and I have nothing against them besides the fact they are industry leaders (and most people would say emblematic of sameness), but I fear people would just turn to what they know and recognize. As a small distributor that represents a lot of small wineries, we rely on any support we can get to sell wine and sometimes that means ratings. We have a lot of cool (i.e. esoteric) wines that when placed on the shelf and wine lists will not pull through without a solid score.

  19. Carlos Toledo says:

    How about this: A world without lawyers as well?

    Ditch the scores, let’s go for letters. A+, A, A- down to F

    Where i happen to live now, far from the US and A (sic), there’s a revolt against numbers and scores. I believe it’ll be short-lived.

    Follow the money, always follow the money.

  20. Carlos, letters would just be a 13 point scoring system.

  21. Michael McLean says:

    Thank you for keeping my secret fantasy alive!!!

  22. The initial bouquet is of roses, but the mid palate of suicide is slightly off-putting. Nevertheless, the overall impression is of a clever bomb with some overly ripe sarcasm. But I’m unsure if this is high brow or low brow – as the reference to Wilfred Wong makes me think it’s an everyman example of blandness. However, the finish satisfies and leaves me with a slight feeling of contentment if not alcoholic haze… Please note, however, that this is a surprise taste – references alluding to wine critics potentially beoming politicians is doing a diservice to wine critics but may be somewhat appealing if you like politicians…

  23. Let’s just give our wines to our pets to evaluate, if they like it, they sit up and ask for more. If the are ho-hum, they lie down on their stomachs. If they hate the stuff, you will need to get the miracle cleaner out. Wouldn’t this be much better than what we have now?

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