Imagining a world without wine critics or scores
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.