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My reply to “The Manifesto”

60 comments

Give credit to Facebook for today’s blog. I went to my status page and found a post from Darek Trowbridge. He wrote:

“I like this manifesto! Terroir and complexity are not part of the 100 point rating system so why continue with it? But the Score Revolution doesn’t address the next way of rating wines without it. I like the way Dan Berger does it with only printing wines that make two categories: Exceptional and Highly Recommended.”

And then he provided a link to the manifesto:

Now, Darek is the young owner/winemaker of Old World Winery, whom I recently met in the Russian River Valley, where he helped me with an upcoming Wine Enthusiast article. He calls his winery “Old World” because he’s pretty anti-interventionist and what you would call a terroir guy, which is, I guess, why he’s so high on the manifesto.

Before I deal with the manifesto, I want first to complain about anonymity in social media. I cannot find the creator’s name on the manifesto’s website. Maybe it’s there someplace, buried deep in the links, but I tried my best, and no luck. Nor can I find a creator’s name on the manifesto’s Facebook page, which is called ScoREVOLTution, with the emphasis on the word “revolt.” The company overview describes it as “A movement against quantifying the subjective experience of drinking wine” and the mission is “To bring down the 100 point system.” But, once again, there’s no way to identify who’s behind this thing. Hello, creator of ScoREVOLTution and The Manifesto, are you out there? Call me at 1-800-PERFECT100.

(Darek, are you the manifesto man? Because your signature is the first on it, like John Hancock’s on the Declaration of Independence.)

Okay, got that out of my system. Now it’s onto the manifesto itself. Read it; it’s not very long. It’s a plea for terroir and then an attack on the 100 point system, which the author calls “a clumsy and useless tool…a static symbol [and] completely ineffective when applied to a dynamic, evolving and multifaceted produce.”

Readers, if you’re expecting a steveheimoff.com jeremiad, complete with thundering insults and the hurling of lightning bolts from on high, you’ll be disappointed. I’ve always allowed for the fact that the 100 point system is not without faults. I blogged about this 1-1/2 years ago, here and here and numerous times since. Here’s the email I sent Darek in reply to his Facebook post:

Hey Darek my man,

If the 100 point system is such an abomination, then howcum you send me wine!!!???

I would just say that in our complicated world, there are many ways to write about wine. This is because the millions of people who read about wine prefer different approaches. Some of them like a very brief, capsule description, with a score or some other visual icon (puffs, stars, etc.) Some of them prefer a longer, more educated discourse. Some people actually write entire books on single wines. There’s no right or wrong, just individual approaches.

I don’t think any approach is evil or “useless.” Whenever we wine writers write about wine, in whatever fashion we do it, it increases people’s awareness of, and respect for, wine. And that’s the point, isn’t it?

I said that respectfully, because I like Darek a lot, and I “get” where the knockers of the 100 point system are coming from. In another incarnation, I might be one of them. (And by the way, I gave Darek’s wines pretty good scores!)

But I really believe what I told Darek: the millions of people who read about wine prefer different approaches. I don’t see what’s so hard to understand about that. It seems to me the same crowd that lambastes the 100 point system and praises terroir also hates wines from big wine companies like Gallo or Bronco. They’re entitled to drink or not drink whatever they want, but big wine companies introduce wine drinkers to affordable wines, they keep growers going through tough times, and they conduct or fund research that’s applicable even to high-end producers. So we should quit the class-based antagonism toward them.

I like the fact that the manifesto people, whoever they are, feel so passionate about the topic. It forces a good debate and makes those of us who support the 100 point system explain ourselves. As an old karate fighter, I have no problem defending myself, or to signing my name to what I write. I just wish the manifesto author would do the same.

  1. Steve, couldn’t agree more. While I am not a proponent of the 100-pt system, it does have use and value to a (large) segment of consumers. Each rating system is salient to its intended audience. The next step for the wine industry, which may not be to the critics’ benefit, is raising consumers’ knowledge to the point that they can make purchase decisions without the aid of the critic’s advice. You don’t see too many scores for Budweiser, Miller or Coor’s but those consumers know what they like,buy with confidence and buy a lot.

    Going back to your previous post, unfortunately, the AVA system does little to help achieve this goal. Perhaps this is why many consumers are more comfortable buying French, Italian or Spanish wines. A little bit of knowledge goes along way with those regions, but the same cannot be said about American wine regions.

  2. I thought I knew who the creator of the Manifesto was when I signed it, but he turned out to be just another signer and the newest signers are listed first! I decided not to sign up Old World Winery because it appeared to require never sending wine for reviews which is an ultimatum that I don’t truthfully think will help me succeed in the wine business.

    But personally I love the discussion it brings and I agree with Steve on wondering who’s behind the curtain! I don’t necessarily care about ending the 100 point system so much as adding new value to it as it exists now or creating an additional “wine tasting genre”. I’m not really sure how characteristics like Terroir and Complexity fit into the 100 point system currently and maybe it’s as simple as Peter Cargassachi said on my Facebook post: “know which critics have similar palates to you”!

  3. Darek, of course Peter C. is right–he always is! But seriously, when I look at my highest scores, they are almost entirely wines of “terroir” as you put it (single vineyard, or very accomplished blends). And it goes without saying (I think) that my highest scoring wines are complex. Don’t forget, there’s always a verbal description accompanying the score, even though people may not read it.

  4. The author of the Manifesto is not important. It is not meant to the voice of one single author, rather the voice of every single person who signs it. We all have a equal voice in the scorevolution.

  5. 100% in agreement with you here, Steve (that would be a 100-point score). As I said in my reply to Darek’s post on FB, I see the idea behind the manifesto as a way to reach that niche of consumers who have also become un-enamored of the 100-point worldview. I think it would be a mistake to ignore one for the other, even if our artisanal wines with great sense of place and vintage never get scored “fairly.” Whatever “fairly” means.

  6. OK. For those who do not like having a scoring system for wine from which consumers may or may not make decisions on how to spend their hard earned $$$, what do you propose next? No scoring at school sports? No grading system in schools? (LOL)

    Perhaps some folks would like it if all wines were priced the same across the board and labled Red Wine From California or White wine from France with no other info except the alc.

    Any system of reviewing wine is really a heads up for the potential consumer. The reputation of the reviewer and the medium which he/she uses is, over time proven to be effective more or less, depending on THAT reputation. Will there be and have there been gray areas and mistakes? Yes. Any system made by imperfect persons will have some inherent probable imperfections.

    Without the magazine reviews and the blogs with there rating systems consumers would have a much limited amout of information when making choices. Those would be, if available, the wines website, POS, word of mouth and the person/persons in the wine shops and restautants selling wine. Personally I would not trust most servers in restaurants to give me an unbiased description of each item on their menus, let alone their wine lists. (Unless a person has a really good relationship with that server) The same would apply to store attendants.

    I have tasted really good wine that I have never seen reviewed at all and also tasted rated wine that was really mediocre.
    Consumers need help, honest help.
    nO SCoRe tO the sCoRlesS ManIFestO.

  7. In response to gdfo’s comment. Your last few lines in your post proved the point exactly. You said you’ve tasted really good wine that has never been reviewed and had rated wines that were mediocre. How is this flawed system suppose to help consumers when you yourself just admitted that rated wines can be mediocre. Consumers need to learn how to trust and develop their own tastes otherwise they may continue to be disappointed by wines that have been “rated” by people who already have a biased opinion of the wines from the start, because nobody rates wines blind. Many consumers buy wine blind having never tried it before so why then should they trust a critic who didn’t enter into the experience the same way BLIND!

  8. I agree with Eric that in general I’m highly skeptical of the claims of blind tasting by many publications. I’ll go ahead and state that I know for a fact the Advocate’s Washington reviewer does not taste blind, as I’ve witnessed him tasting wines at a winery in front of the winemaker. However good a critic may be at being unbiased, wine is a culmination of many experiences, and the atmosphere in which it is tasted will make a difference in how the wine is perceived (not to mention the food tasted with it).

    There is still a use for wine scores – the manifesto is implying that any sort of wine rating system should be done away with, but even being in the industry I still have a hard time deciding between 40 different German Rieslings of which I’m not that familiar with, and if I haven’t read about one of them somewhere or been recommended to one by somebody I listen to, what else is there to go by besides scores? This is where sommelliers are useful but obviously we don’t have access to them at all times.

    Also, I think the 100 point scale has been unfairly targeted, as there are plenty of other rating systems in use which are equal in concept. The 100 point system is intuitive because we grow up with many things in life on a 100 point scale. I once read a critic’s badmouthing of the 100 point scale, saying the difference between a 93 and a 94 is too small and therefore not significant, but then he goes on to use the 20 point scale and rate wines at 17.5+/20.

    Yes, in an ideal world there would be no need for wine ratings, as consumers would be able to try enough on their own and have enough knowledge on thousands of producers to be able to make their own choices, but that is never going to happen and critics will always be an important part of the wine world. It doesn’t keep a few of us from dreaming, though.

  9. The 100 pt. scoring system is rather like democracy — it’s a terrible way to run things, until you compare it to every other system on the planet.

    In the real world, where consumers are staring blank-eyed at a “wall O’ Wine” with no clue as to what to buy, the shelf talkers and the scores are at least sign posts along the way. Even better would be a well-informed guide who knows the way, has been there and can interpret for the wine traveler. Sometimes that person is the sales person on the floor, sometimes it’s the writer in an article that they’ve read — but 90%+ of the customers I see day in and day out need help.

    Unless these nameless cowards want to get into the trenches and help fight the battle “mano a bottle” with the consumer, I don’t want to hear from them until they have a better solution that works IN THE REAL WORLD!

  10. As I read it, the Manifesto clearly states that wines should be discussed and even reviewed, just not scored. I’m all for reading other people’s *opinions* about wine but I am seriously troubled by the glut of homogenous, oaky, high-alcohol wines that are the result of winemakers chasing the coveted 100 points. Wine is, or should be, complex, subtle, and even cerebral. Why try to dumb it down? Especially since the irony is that the scoring system that’s supposed to “help” comsumers only reinforces the mistaken belief that only “experts” understand wine and makes consumers less able to discern for themselves.

  11. I give Eric’s post at 1:55pm, 98 points. Really, I’m 98 points on that. I remember reading something like that about a year ago. It was amazing! [inside media joke]

    I think the 100pt scoring system actually has the reverse affect for consumers. It doesn’t seem to built confidence in ones own palate. It’s like getting driving directions from Google maps and then finding a quicker route on your own. A large percentage of consumers DO use scores as a barometer of quality, not a reference. They hear about these “experts” and believe that if critic X gave this wine a 95, well by golly, they should like it too.

    One of the most liberating feelings in the discovery of wine, is that the scores really mean nothing. In the end, it is only YOUR palate that matters.

    Steve, love the new look!

  12. wow, nice strong feelings here. couple of points:

    – not sure if the intent of the Manifesto was to be “anonymous” (hence the sign up list.) kind of hard to label anyone a coward when their name is listed on the site. granted the actual creator isn’t listed but i think that’s simply looking for something to focus on as a negative point.

    – a while back there was a a solid blog discussion where you could tell many industry professionals were chiming in and each tended to land on a “we need to do better for the consumer”. i believe the reaction to the scoring system is that it is unfounded most times (and infinitely subjective) but as some have pointed out it is up to the producers to proselytize as genuinely as possible. producers need to educate and inform which takes time & energy. conversely scores are easy as others do the work for them.

    – the natural reaction of any producer trying the time & energy approach but getting drowned out by larger players “leaning” on the scoring system is to push back. the manifesto is one of these pushes but there are others. go to a tasting event and listen to winemakers talk to people they see as being truly interested. they never say “this is a 94 and therefore it rocks.” they say that to passive people but not to possible converts. to them they explain the full experience.

    i’ll leave before i get too long winded. i’m sure someone will tell me how everything above is foolish. and kudos to them for having an opinion as well.

  13. Stephan, not foolish at all. But I disagree that I was just looking for something negative when I complained about the lack of authorship from the manifesto. I believe very strongly that people who write these kinds of things should identify themselves. How do we know the author’s possible agenda, unless we know who he/she is?

  14. Jeff V., agree that some consumers use scores as crutches. But that’s because, at this point in their lives, they need crutches. You wouldn’t want to take a crutch away from somebody who benefits from it, would you?

  15. Sherman, amen!

  16. Steven W., you raise a good point. At Wine Enthusiast, our 100 point system is actually a 20 point system, since nothing under 80 is ever made public. Therefore, the difference between any two adjacent numbers is actually 5%. Your example of the critic who uses a 20 point scale and then includes half points is a riot!

  17. Um… like to make a small point. While I am on record as believing – strongly – that each person experiences wine uniquely, I take issue with the idea that wine evaluation is purely subjective and therefore of no value.

    I think I speak for all winemakers here when I say that in my professional capacity I am perfectly capable of making an accurate and valid assessment of a wine’s quality and qualities. It’s sort of a job requirement.

  18. Eric, like I said earlier, I just can’t agree that the author is not important. He or she is! Why would that person not identify himself? What has he got to hide? Maybe it’s because I’m fundamentally a reporter, but I am skeptical to the point of suspicious of unsigned manifestos like this.

  19. GREG BUZZELL says:

    Scores are just a way for the big companies to sell wine that they may not otherwise. The true way it should be done is for customers to try new things by learning where they are from. A consumer should get to know different vineyards and what kind of quality fruit comes from there. If you go by the scoring system you would almost never pay attention to the importance of this, but rather just what someone else thinks you should like.

  20. It may or may not be argued that the 100 point system has created a winemaking for scores attitude among many wineries. It has become a little obvious which wine styles will score in the 90+ catagory and this has made the scoring system a little boring and repetitive. As a wine drinker and winemaker I strive to taste wines and make wines that reflect the terroir from which they were made, which is not to say winemaker’s can’t have a little fun. When wines are manufactured for a high score some of the romance and poetry of a profession and lifestyle that goes back thousands of years gets lost. That being said, how do we educate and get consumers to drink what they like and bring wine back to what it should be, a drink meant to be appreciated, respected and shared among friends and family around a bountiful table of food.

  21. As much as I dislike the way critics determine and use numbers to express wine quality, I would not sign that manifesto. While I have always liked Charlie’s poofs, numerical scoring has its place with both the critic and the winemaker.

    You find the appropriate use of scoring most often with winemakers and wine researchers. When so used, particularly when several expert palates are focused on specific, well defined attributes and are using specific rules for assigning scores; it can be extremely useful. What makes a score particularly useful is that it allows for statistical analysis to judge the validity of the tasting results. If a winemaker is evaluating a new yeast, a change in process, barrel manufacturers, rating vineyards, or just monitoring his/her inventory on a regular basis there is a place for scoring.

    It is a difficult task to use numbers to indicate qualitative and quantitative measurements of aromas and flavors and their interactions. Whether it is a 10, 20 or a 100 point system you need scales of measurement appropriate to the many characteristics of wine. These scales and methods need to be tangible and objective, not intangible and subjective. While one might be able to easily give harmony in a wine an individual and objective score, relating that score to scores for appearance, aroma, bouquet, structure, typicity, and overall impression, then expressing those together as an overall quality judgement that is a fraction of an ideal standard is quite difficult. (It was hard enough writing that last sentence.) The task is particularly difficult, if you want that number to be objective and reproducible from one wine to the next and you want everyone to know how you derived the number.

    This is where the disconnect occurs. The problem isn’t so much the score, it’s understanding the points. The winemaker wants to know how the critic got to the score in detail. The average reader/consumer doesn’t think or care to ask.

    No wonder the critic makes little attempt to do this, the critic works for the reader. Tasting is hard work and given the task of tasting several thousand wines a year, it is easy to skip the relatively tedious steps of following an exacting tasting regimen and recording and accounting for how a numerical score was derived. That is why the critic thinks that telling the reader “an outstanding wine is 95 points and above” constitutes an explanation of their scoring. And to the reader that is probably enough of an explanation. But not for everyone.

    It doesn’t need to be this way. A laptop with a touchscreen and/or speech recognition (or a sexy stenographer) with a dedicated tasting application can change this. These tools can make tasting and detailed scoring and reporting easier than the status quo. If the critic were willing to let their tasting detail be transparent, they could show a reader (or a pissed-off winemaker) exactly how the number was derived (assuming it was based on a real tasting system and regimen.) This detail doesn’t need to be a central thing in wine criticism, the words are important too. But actually understanding the scoring would really clear the air with disappointed winemaker and provide a useful learning tool to the enthusiast. Most of all, it would establish credibility for the critic and their scoring system to manifesto writers.

  22. Steve – Certainly, I think that any responsible wine lover SHOULD kick the crutches out from underneath people who are enslaved by the scores. Whenever I heard a friend, stranger, or acquaintance say “this wine got a 93 points” I cringe. But, these are teachable moments. I just ask them why they like it? Most of the time, they haven’t even tried it. It’s important to remind people that wine is about moments, not scores.

    At your wine loving core, Steve, I imagine that you want people to discover, purchase, and enjoy wines based on their own palate and personal experience. Isn’t it much more rewarding as Steve Heimoff the wine lover to turn people on to a wine by sharing it amongst friends or just recommending a wine to someone and not by quoting your own scores? This is not to say I am anti-scores, they do serve a function. I just feel they should be of less importance than they currently are. I’m sure that you are well aware of the market implications of this system.

    So, what is the perfect system? That’s easy, it’s the personal discovery of wine through tasting, tasting, tasting, and tasting. Your palate SHOULD change, this is one of the rewards of wine.

  23. Christophe Hedges says:

    Steve and all,

    The author is not important. The understanding of wine is what is at stake. I believe in critics. Hedges would not be the company it is without the words of the critic. However, it is the number that destroys those precious words. That is what I read in this manifesto. The number objectifies the subjective. Why let the written word of the professional dissolve into a superficial symbol.

    Critics: go back to what you always wanted to be….a poet of the subjective painting of terroir. Write about this, don’t dumb it down with a number. Understand that it’s your words that have meaning.

    Steve, i know you can do this. You have the markings of a poet on your arm. That artwork is unquantifiable, because it has authenticity.

    love,
    God save the queen,

    Christophe

  24. Any system of review ultimately comes down to levels of quality assigned by the reviewer. There may be more transparent ways of describing how the level of quality was assigned than Steve Heimoff’s or my 60 to 150 words, but my guess is that we would then have arguments from anonymous sources about how much weight should or should not be put on terroir, varietal precision, balance, depth, complexity, ageworthiness, usefulness with food and a whole host of other real and subjective standards. AUTHENTICITY, anybody?

    So, when I hear that some anomymous person has posted a manifesto about Terroir and then uses it to rant about the 100-point system, and when I hear that Dan Berger’s two or three or four tier system depending on whether one accepts that Berger has rankings below “I Love It”, and “I Love It A Little Less” as if he never met a wine he did not like (Dan does not make that claim–others who misunderstand his system do in effect), then I begin to wonder if there is anything the least bit useful in the manifesto.

    As for Terroir, it is an interesting but artificial measure of wine quality. The adequate or even brilliant capture of terroir, absent balance, depth, beauty, complexity tells nothing about the overall quality of the wine in question. Wine is a complex product and no single aspect of it, not even balance, trumps every other factor by such a large margin that it becomes the major focus of any evaluation.

    God save the queen? God save the wine world from yet another round of false prophets.

  25. I do not think that most consumers are interested in becoming professional wine experts/critics. I think they want to learn how to enjoy wine in a knowledgble way. Some of you may cringe when you hear some one mention a high score, do you also cringe when someone drinks ‘blush wines’? What about cringing when some uninformed person drink junk? Do you cringe then?

    At one point in your life you did not know much about wine and now you do, so give the people who are still learning the advantages that you had. At this point, right now, more people in the world have more access to good wine and good information on that wine than any other time in history. In some cities and states the wine market is flooded with wine. People buy wine they know and some wine they have heard about or read about. They look at price and value for that price. If a numerical rating helps someone, that is good. If the person does not like a highly rated wine after they buy it, they won’t buy it again. They know that the point system is an indicator of someone elses opinion and not handed down from a lighting bolt and carved in stone.

    I do agree with Steve that the author of the ‘manifesto’ should have added his signature as a mark of sincerity and to stand up for the belief written. With out a signature, to me, it is just a rant.

  26. I don’t think the average wine consumer wants to be a critic or wine professional, the point is, do we want the average consumer purchasing wine based on an arbitrary (to their palate) score? Isn’t the quickest path to wine knowledge YOUR OWN likes/dislikes?

    No, I don’t cringe and ‘blush wine’ consumers. I’m pretty sure my grandma extended her life by drinking it. Interestingly, I’ve never heard a blush wine drinker talk about scores. They drink it because they like it. This is progress. As is someone drinking something that I may not like. That is the beauty of wine. One persons ‘junk’, is another persons ‘treasure’. Or todays ‘treasure’ is tomorrows ‘junk’. This is why the ‘score’ does more to intimidate the consumer than help them.

    How do we know that the author of the Manifesto hasn’t signed it?

  27. Jeff V., the problem with your argument is that the average wine consumer cannot taste everything out there, so they depend on authorities to suggest to them what to buy. I don’t see any problem with that. When I am choosing a movie to see, I usually look up the reviews. Ditto for going to a restaurant. I admit to needing help making these decisions, and I’m glad that there are experts out there who study this stuff and offer their advice, often for free. As for the author of the manifesto, I have no idea whether he or she has signed in or not. Whoever it is, he/she should come forward and say, Here I am.

  28. Always glad to hear from Charlie Olken. I think that the anonymity of the manifesto will ultimately make it meaningless. Every movement needs a leader.

  29. Christophe, thank you. You ignore some critical things, namely, that my job requires me to work the 100 point system. That should be reason enough for you to forgive me, if in fact you think anything at all of my talents. Beyond that, I have attempted for years and in thousands of words to defend the 100 point system. It is what it is, neither perfect nor satanic. As far as poetry is concerned, I am able to do that in my books, in this blog, in articles I am privileged to write for Wine Enthusiast, and in my remarks when I am speaking before audiences.

  30. Jeff V., of course I want people to make up their own minds. I also wish that billionaires would pay their fair share of taxes and that we had universal healthcare in the U.S. But we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world of compromises. There is no perfect system. But I believe in my heart that the modest job I do with the 100 point system is positive, and contributes to the appreciation and consumption of wine in America and possibly abroad.

  31. Morton, you say “it is easy to skip the relatively tedious steps of…accounting for how a numerical score was derived.” I cannot do this, obviously, in a short word review. But I have opened myself to the public, via my blog, to demands of why and how I account for my scores. I am happy to explain anything, to anybody, at any time, if they care to ask.

  32. Sarah, I can speak only for myself, but this myth that 90-plus wines are deliberately made in a manufactured style is something I don’t agree with. I am appreciative of dry, minerally, terroir-driven wines made with minimal intervention. My scores show that. As for how we get consumers to drink what they like, I think we’ll need another century for that. America is a young wine-drinking country, not an old one like France, Spain or Italy, and people are naturally unsure of themselves.

  33. Jeff – “…do we want the average consumer purchasing wine based on an arbitrary (to their palate) score?” Who’s this “we”? Your assertion that “…the ‘score’ does more to intimidate the consumer than help them…” is demonstrably false. Indeed there may be some small fraction of consumers who are confused or intimidated by scores. So what? Clearly there is also a small fraction of consumers who are offended by the emphasis on scores. The reality is that the majority of people who read wine reviews at all understand scores in one way or another. Who are “we” to say their understanding is wrong?

    As a wine producer I can say that wine scoring is a minor irritant – not an existential threat. Scores don’t influence my winemaking. So some winemakers choose to exercise their craft to get scores. Hate on that all you want – I imagine they could not care less so long as they can sell all the wine they make.

  34. Rich Williams says:

    “I like the fact that the manifesto people, whoever they are, feel so passionate about the topic.”

    Ditto. One of the great things about the business of wine. And I’m sure that the debate (dogmatic discourse?) also helps some wine enthusiasts enjoy their wine even more–just like ninety-x point scores sometimes do. Someone will surely read the manifesto, sign it, then pop the cork on a lovingly crafted yet un(der) rated single vineyard something or other and love it even more than they did the night before. And that’s awesome.

    What’s even better? That I’m typing this at a wine bar sipping my VA-heavy but still entertaining l’er cru burgundy (there’s terroir under that flaw BTW) while two people are talking about quality to price ratios next to me. After I’m finished I’ll ask them if the math undermined their experience…

    In addition to being a nice catalyst for debate, the manifesto is also a nice use of social networking/media. Particularly nice leverage of the ongoing coverage of the great rift (as I’ve heard it described) between sugar lovin’ commercial yeast pitchin’ blenders and acid lovin’ feral yeast guidin’ single vineyardites. :-) And it created another nice interest to target via facebook advertising for some savvy marketing type. Someone better jump in before the cost per click gets too high. Not suggesting that was the purpose here, but nicely done nonetheless.

    I’m looking forward to more from the author, though I’m firmly in the “it doesn’t matter who wrote it camp.” And while it should be easy enough to figure out (it is the interweb after all), I’d rather see a great unveiling.

  35. Steve, certainly your contributions to the wine world go without saying. My point was to the greater affect of tasting a wine and purchasing vs. purchasing based on a score. And no, people can’t taste every wine. Most publications don’t.

    Yes, I understand that the scoring system is here to stay.

    Mr. Kelly, First, You are right, poor use of the word “we”. Second, I guess I have more confidence in the consumer to purchase based on their taste instead of a score. See my ‘blush wines’ comment. Plus, some of the top selling wines are rarely scored, right?

  36. I view wine scores almost like training wheels when you learn to ride a bike, they serve a purpose but at some point you have to take them off and crash a few times otherwise you never learn anything. Going back to the crutch statement, I believe that we do need to take there crutches away, crutches, training wheels, or whatever you want to call them, every individuals palate is different, different from critics, different from wine makers, and just plain different, if we don’t let the public explore wines for themselves then they will never truly develop there palates full potential. Its like throwing somebody in the deep end to teach them how to swim, harsh yes, but effective. I don’t envision scores going away anytime soon, but if we can teach consumers to trust there own judgement without having to demean a wine by giving it some stupid score I’m personally all for that. Scores serve as a tool for the novice wine maker who is a little jittery about there wine purchases beyond that I believe that the institute of appointing a score based on a 100 point scale (which is really more like a 20 point scale) should fade away.

  37. I like Sarah’s question: “how do we educate and get consumers to drink what they like and bring wine back to what it should be, a drink is meant to be appreciated, respected and shared among friends and family around a bountiful table of food”, and Steve’s reply: “America is a young wine-drinking country, not an old one like France, Spain or Italy, and people are naturally unsure of themselves”. Living in Italy for three months I experinced the rural people often drinking fairly cheap local unrated varietals at a “celebratory” dinner table (it felt like a celebration).

    In the US we’re moving fast and we don’t necessarily have that strong local food and wine connection and need a wine recommendation in a hurry to go with the lamb we just ordered (OK so no-one is eating lamb anymore, I do!). I feel like I honor, as Sarah puts it, “the romance and poetry of a profession and lifestyle that goes back thousands of years” yet many aren’t seeking that message. How do they find this message (whether it’s on purpose or by accident)? Only at events like the SF MOMA exhibit, movements like Slow Food, Farmers Markets, Long Fun Dinners with friends, and, yes, through those wine/food/lifestyle writers who wax it.

  38. Darek–

    How do you account for the many rating functionaries in Italy? They do not, obviously, have much meaning to folks who drink “fairly cheap local” wine.

    The Gambero Rosso, however, was written in Italian, long before it got translated into English for the few thousand copies it sells all over the world in our language.

    Wine ultimately is a meal-time, family gathering beverage and the drinkers of those wines do experience the wines directly and on their own. If they like the wine, whether purchased because they read Steve or me or Laube or Parker or anybody else, or because they saw a shelftaker in Safeway or BevMo quoting a source they have never heard of, they will, I would hope buy the wine again and learn something by tasting it. After all, that is how almost all of us got our early wine educations.

    Any rating system, no matter whether it contains some form of symbolic notation or not, relies on words. Word images are what is conveyed to the reader ultimately. One could attemtpt to write several hundred reviews of Zinfandel, for example, without any symbolic notation, but the readers would then get terribly bored and walkaway because there are not words enough to make slight differentiations in perceived quality.

    To me, the biggest challenge is for anybody–you, me, the local winemerchant–to find the best way possible to describe a wine for those who would buy it. At some level, there is a value judgment that is more than just implied. It is found in the very words that are on the page, on the screen, spoken to the buyer. When reviewers of hundreds of wines at a time offer their views, the system of symbolic notation does not take the place of the words, of the sentiments, of the understanding of the wine. All it does is add a symbol. And the symbol is first of all, only as good as the maker of the symbol, and, for the readers, also only as valuable as the words allow it to be.

    PS. Thanks for coming by to say hello at the Sonoma County Wine Library on Thursday night.

  39. Rich, well if I succeeded at nothing else, I’ve given the manifesto plenty of publicity!

  40. IMHO, scores are not the issue. The real problem, as Morton has attentively argued, is that “[w]hether it is a 10, 20 or a 100 point system you need scales of measurement appropriate to the many characteristics of wine. These scales and methods need to be tangible and objective, not intangible and subjective”. I also agree with John Kelly’s affirmation that he’s “perfectly capable of making an accurate and valid assessment of a wine’s quality and qualities”.
    Wine’s attributes (alcohol, acids, phenolics, flaws…) can be reliably evaluated by professional tasters; and its properties (grape’s geographic origin/designation, yields, winemaking practices, elévage…) are definitely objective. Hence, a reducionist tasting note (derived from a quantitative scorecard, based on a simple and reliable algorithm) addressing each of the aforementioned factors separately, can be fairly precise.
    Unfortunately, due to self-reinforcing (i.e. positive feedbacks) lock-in mechanisms, wine reviews these days are generally trivial holistic assessments, followed by a couple of flavor descriptors and a (subjective) score.

  41. Hey Charlie it was good to meet you at the Wine Library event as well! We could have done a panel on this subject including Michelle Anna Jordan, that would have been timely!

    My Italian comment comes from my experience living there, daily wine was purchased based on the local grape because there is a strong emotional commitment to the local grape, kinda like in Arkansas where they have Cynthiana and in Missouri they have the same grape but you better not call it Cynthiana, it’s Norton in Missouri.

    The challenge you speak of: “to find the best way possible to describe a wine for those who would buy it” is exactly what Steve’s post here is distilling for me. Rather than eliminate let’s include, include more on the topic of Terroir when we examine a wine. I know it’s an elusive and subjective subject without a concrete cause and effect (of where flavors are derived) but I think the semantics regarding Terroir are in their infancy and the more time we allow for it the better we’ll be at describing it.

  42. I think the reviews are beneficial for wineries and consumers.

    My complaint is how wines are reviewed. Do all reviewers treat and handle every wine the same? Was it tasted in a lineup of 200 other wines or did the reviewer spend 2 hours with the winemaker at their winery? Is the winemaker his friend? Does the reviewer have a positive or negative opinion about the region they’re reviewing? Was the wine tasted blind or not? There are many variables.

    When you talk to most consumers they believe all wines are given the same attention. As a winery I can tell you for certain that they’re not.
    These things make a difference in reviews.

  43. Eric stated the belief that we should “…take there [sic] crutches away…” You would take away somebody’s crutches *before* they are ready to move on under their own power and volition? What would be the result of that action — they would fall flat on their face! Not a positive way to reinforce a good experience with wine.

    I would love for everyone here who has chimed in with their opinion of what *should* be done to, with and for the customer to actually spend some time in a customer service environment. Since we’re talking wine here, make it in a bottle shop and make it during this time of the year (one of the craziest times of the entire year).

    Try to help multiple customers at the same time, all with differing needs and wants (different things, BTW); try to have an in-depth conversation with a fellow wine-geek about nuance, while talking to a floundering newbie looking for “that perfect gift” for the “wine snob” in their life (her choice of words, not mine); make sure the shelves are fully stocked; pay attention to the sales rep who just walked in with a “great deal on a terrific little wine” – well, you get the idea, right?

    Sales aids are an adjunct to the professional in the store — at times, they do help the harried customer who doesn’t have 45 minutes to hear a discussion about the finer points of red blends, or Horse Heaven Hills vs. Red Mountain.

    We need to balance the Ideal against the Real World — and the short-hand signposts that are shelf talkers with scores are just that. Bottom line is that the customer is taken care of, a sale is made and someone gets a little further along the wine trail.

  44. Dave Corey, I think all reviewers should be held to the same standards of scrutiny as I have been, through the people who comment on this blog. I’ve been as transparent as I can possibly be, which is more than I can say for some very famous critics whose names will go unmentioned but I think you know who I’m talking about!

  45. Dave–

    You have struck a nerve with me–in the most positive way. I love the notion that you are talking about reviewing standards. There has been plenty of debate about that topic here and elsewhere, and the world now knows who tastes blind and who does not. Who tastes at the wineries and who does not. Who tastes limited numbers of wines in peer to peer tastings and who tastes tens and tens and hundreds of wines in one sitting. Who knows what is in a tasting down to the price, variety, provenance of the wines and who knows only enough to provide framework of context and thus uses their own tasting acumen to supply the rest. Who retastes wines on a regular basis and who does not.

    We all know those things because some reviewers are transparent about their tasting methods and because others have been unmasked either for bad practice or for not practicing what they preach.

    And, Dave, because we know all those things, it is then up to the cognescenti to support those whose practices meet their standards and to not support those who do not. The more we talk about standards here, in tasting rooms, in retail stores, in our tasting groups everywhere, the more knowledge of right and wrong practice we spread. It does not even matter that we do not agree precisely on right and wrong practice because we do not all have the same needs or expectations.

    The kind of scrutiny that goes on here amd elsewhere helps us all understand the issues at stake and to make informed decisions.

  46. Dear Steve:

    We sincerely applaud your willingness to invoke this discussion. Thank you. The discussion is the Scorevolution.

    In due time,

    The Author of the Manifesto

  47. The mystery man slowly reveals himself! Sort of a digital strip tease.

  48. Steve – Scores over 95 are so rare and scores 85 or less get so little attention, that in reality we’re looking at a 10-point scale. That’s why I’m all for decimalization! Let’s eliminate alphabet bias in the score listing. 1/100ths point scale anyone?
    The scores must be subjective – often the elements of a wine combine to achieve harmony and balance that can’t be expressed on a tick-a-box score sheet. Reputation of the critic does carry some weight; that Castle Rock Mendocino Pinot Noir wouldn’t be sitting on the shelf at $9.99 after receiving 95(!) points if it weren’t for the little asterisk (* California State Fair).
    I pretty much agree with what Sherman has posted. The fact is that as long as the public wants scores, somebody is going to pump them out.
    How to cure the public of the score addiction and still support a highly-fragmented dynamic wine market? I wish I knew. Until then, I’ll keep submitting samples to your colleagues, hoping for a leg-up. The fact remains that scores sell wine, and even a vin de terroir can receive a decent score from time to time.

  49. Todd, indeed a vin de terroir (your words) can get a great score. I love it when that happens.

  50. Johnny Appleseed says:

    Steve states….”But seriously, when I look at my highest scores, they are almost entirely wines of “terroir” as you put it (single vineyard, or very accomplished blends).

    Am I the only one out there that thinks that the vast majority of “Single Vineyard” wines are very, very disappointing. At least the ones I’ve found from the US.

    To me, when I see “Single Vineyard” I think…ok these guys love this spot of land (great for them) but this isn’t going to be a complete wine. And I can only fathom that it is out of some romantic emotion that so many wine critics swoon over these wines. Would you swoon over certain recipes that limit their ingredients? No, because the chef would be limiting himself, his creativity and in most cases shortchanging the customer. Complexity, layers and nuance are what make great recipes and great wines.

    No doubt there are certainly a few great SV wines out there…but they are in the minority.

    As for the overall theme of this article, the 100 point system isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon. The 100 point system is a great tool to sell wines..but it is a ridiculous system when you put it to the microscope, we all know it and eventually the public will become more educated on wines and they’ll know it too. That day is coming soon.

    Until then…Enjoy those 100 point single vineyards!

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  1. I’VE GOT 100 POINTS IN MY POCKET, WANNA SEE? (TOSSING MY TWO CENTS INTO THE CESSPOOL TO SEE WHO GOES IN AFTER IT) « UNDER THE GRAPE TREE - [...] to keep up with the Joneses, I was surfing other wine blogs and happened upon Steve Heimoff’s latest, regarding …

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