What is it about scores that makes some people so CRAZEEE!?!?
I was struck by this remark in yesterday’s St. Helena Star newspaper: “You gotta stop chasing the scores. The younger generation doesn’t even know who (Robert) Parker Jr. is.” That was by a fellow named Glen Knight, described as domestic wine buyer for an L.A. store, The Wine House. Knight made the remark at a Napa Valley Grapegrowers event, in Calistoga.
“Chasing the scores” has become a phrase of abject scorn. It’s used by pundits to finger-wag wineries who endeavor to get high scores from a cadre of critics who use the 100-point system to rate wine, as well as consumers who use those scores to make buying decisions. There’s an arch tone of condemnation to it, as though anyone who believes in point scores is consigned to Hell.
Well, I’m here to defend the score-chasers against the evil-doers who attack them!
Google “chasing the scores” and you’ll come upon a rogue’s gallery of derison. Here’s Jamie Goode lecturing people on chasing the scores, which he calls chasing the points: “I had some merchants breathlessly quoting Parker scores to encourage me to bite. Worse still, some were quoting Wine Spectator scores—a similar 100 point scale (derivative), but with less consistency and authority than Parker. Uuugh!”
In the N.Y. Times, David Darlington, author of the best book ever written on Zinfandel, equates “chasing the Score” [capital letter from him] with “the dark side.”
A writer for the Burlington Free Press bashes “score-chasing formulaic wines.”
A Salt Lake City writer says that “number-chasing score-whores and wineries crafting their wines to attain higher scores [are] alarming.”
My bbff (best blogging friend forever) Joe Roberts refers to “classified Bordelais growths [that] are chasing the bombastic, high-point-scoring (and therefore high-price-demanding) style” (although he suggests this may be related to climate change).
An M.S (all rise) was quoted in the Houston Chronicle lambasting “trophy hunters [who are] chasing Parker scores and the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 List. I hate that!”
The blogger Arete Wines refers to Kermit Lynch in arguing that “the way we view wine…needs to change from chasing scores to truly enjoying and understanding wine,” as if Kermit Lynch doesn’t pour lavish praise on every wine he (and his staff) write about in his sales-oriented newsletter.
The rock god Maynard James Keenan says about his wines, in an interview about his movie, Blood Into Wine, “[W]e’re not chasing scores” (despite that fact that he had both me and Jim Suckling — two score mavens if ever there were any — in the movie).
A commenter on Dr. Vino’s blog got off this Ben Franklinesque aphorism: “A man who would score wine would score women, and deserves neither.”
Whores! Dark side! Women! Hatred! Uuugh! What’s going on?
Look, I’ve said myself that scores can be crutches. But what is it about them that makes so many people go so crazy? I’m not sure, without getting into psychopathological concepts of sublimation and projection, but what I am sure about is that scores are helpful to both wineries and consumers. Let me explain.
Consumers obviously like scores. They’ve proven time and time again that they use them to help decide what to buy, of the gazillions of choices out there. You therefore can’t argue that scores aren’t beneficial to the consumer. The consumer is asking for guidance, and scores are one way of providing it.
Wineries, too, benefit from “chasing scores,” if that’s how you care to explain a behavior that’s actually much more complicated than it might sound by that derogatory label. Consider that a winemaker determines that a good score by Steve Heimoff can help move her Sauvignon Blanc, which hasn’t been doing all that well. So she studies Steve’s ratings and reviews, and learns that he likes a dry, fruity Sauv Blanc with refreshing acidity. It may have a touch of gooseberry or grass, but Steve detests too much cat pee, and will slash a wine accordingly. So the winemaker makes the necessary adjustments, and the next year, I give the wine 92 points and it sells out. The winemaker has not only improved the quality of her Sauvignon Blanc, she’s helped her company’s bottom line and — most importantly of all — she’s given the consumer a better wine.
What’s wrong with that?
I wouldn’t call this sort of thing “chasing scores.” Instead, the winemaker realizes that, sometimes, she gets a cellar palate in which she can’t really taste her wine objectively, which is to say, in the context of the full range of its competitors. I probably taste more wine than most working winemakers, so why wouldn’t they turn to me to find out what’s in the mainstream and what isn’t? You can call this “chasing the scores,” but that’s a very prejudiced, even jaundiced way of looking at it. As for the “younger generation” not even knowing who Parker is, that may well be true; it certainly doesn’t bother me. But I will guarantee you that the younger generation is going to be making their wine-buying decisions by scores, same way the older generation does. It won’t be the only basis on which they make their choices, no more than it is now. But it will be one of them, and one of the more important.