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Defending point scores–again!

69 comments

Gotta weigh in on this one. Scores are under attack, yet again, and so SuperScore Man–that’s me, kids–has to fly to the rescue of the poor, beleaguered wine score.

Go ahead, read the link. It’s a short article. You’ve heard the arguments before: wine is too complicated to reduce to a score, a number. It’s about history, romance, authenticity. There’s even an organization, scorevolution, with its own website, where you can take the pledge not to use scores to sell or buy wine. I didn’t count the signatures but there seem to be a few hundred. I didn’t recognize most of the signers, but I do know a few of them.

Rod Smith. A great writer. Rod’s been anti-score forever. In fact, he’s not only anti-score, he’s anti-wine reviewing, period. He likes to write long articles and books about wine, and that’s just fine. I do, too.

Kermit Lynch. He’s the famous Berkeley wine merchant and importer. Kermit doesn’t use scores, but his newsletter–one of the most entertaining in the English language–certainly doesn’t shy away from hype. Here’s a made-up typical one: “I’ve tasted a lot of Sancerres in my 30 years, but this is the greatest ever.” That’s kind of like a 100 point score, don’t you think? And then sometimes Kermit’s newsletter will say something like, “Won’t set the world on fire, but it’s great on typicité and price,” which is more or less an 86. So the emperor’s house is made of glass, I’m afraid.

Clay Mauritson, Darek Trowbridge and Randall Grahm. Three winemakers. So why the heck are they sending me their wines for review if they don’t like scores? It makes me feel bad in particular to put Darek on this list because he’s a cool guy and I really like him. Ditto for Steven Washuta, Darek’s A.W. Guys: make up your minds. Love you all, but don’t be sending me your wines for review if you’re anti-score!

Rajat Parr. Well, what can I say? He doesn’t like high alcohol wines (except when they’re in a paper bag), he doesn’t like scores, end of story.

Jonathan Nossiter. I love this one. He’s the guy who directed “Mondovino,” the worst. movie. ever, a cheap, dishonest insult to the people, like the Staglins, who kindly agreed to be in it. Nossiter discredited himself forever with that bag of slime.

Okay, that was the fun part. Let’s get serious. The Manifesto says “The power of scores is limiting the discovery of numerous grower wines, encouraging formula wines, and even influencing the creation of brand icons and inflated pricing scenarios.”

Break it down.

- limiting the discovery of numerous grower wines

I suppose this means that the public is not buying small, lesser known brands, and prefers instead to buy well-known brands that get good scores: Beringer, Chateau St. Jean, Robert Mondavi, Sutter Home, things like that. But what does that have to do with scores? It’s always been true that consumers stick to trusted name brands. That’s why advertising exists. Any small family that gets into the wine business knows, or should know, what it’s up against. So don’t blame the scoring system because little wineries have a tough time. If you need to blame someone, blame distributors. Besides, speaking for myself, I review small brands all the time. I’ve given great scores to Darek Trowbridge (Old World Winery), Clay Mauritson and Randall Grahm. So this charge is bogus.

- encouraging formula wines

There’s some truth to the accusation that there’s a certain style of winemaking by which all wines of a particular variety taste similar. But I wouldn’t exaggerate this. It’s said that the Bordeaux communes used to be less similar to each other than they are today, so that there was a real difference between, say, a tannic, hard St.-Estephe and a rich Margaux. But since nobody alive today ever tasted wines from 100 years ago, we don’t know that for sure. Here in California, wines may have been more differentiated 50 years ago, but a lot of the reason for that was because they were flawed and underripe. Today, there are very few flawed wines and most everything is ripe; and ripeness does make things taste fruity-similar. But you know what? I’d rather drink a ripe wine than an unripe one.

- influencing the creation of brand icons and inflated pricing scenarios

If I had the slightest idea what this sentence means, I’d be able to respond to it. True, it has the form of an English language statement, with nouns and verbs, but it sounds like something Lewis Carroll wrote. But let me try anyway. “Brand icons” are, I suppose, things like Harlan or Araujo. Now, I’m the first to admit there are a lot of knockoff Harlans and Araujos. We live in a free country. Anybody who’s rich enough can start a new brand and hope to compete with Harlan. But I would say that, rather than the scoring system encouraging the creation of these wannabe brands, it (the scoring system) is the consumer’s best protector against being hoodwinked. We scoring critics are the first to taste these new brands, which makes us the police who protect you, the buying public, from buying a $125 bottle of mediocrity. That means we’’ve got the consumers back when it comes to “inflated pricing scenarios.” And besides, it is patently false historic nonsense that the scoring system has led to inflated pricing. The Manifesto people can borrow my old copy of Eddie Penning-Rowsell’s The Wines of Bordeaux to understand how the chateaux have been inflating their prices for 200 years. That’s even older than Parker!

So you see, this screed against scoring is just the latest silliness. I’m not saying that the 100 point system was handed down by God to Moses, who then gave it to Parker. No. Every system of wine reviewing and writing has its limitations. But the scoring system–whether it’s 10, 20, 100 points or puffs or icons, which are just another visual representation of rankings–is here to stay, for the simplest of reasons: it performs a useful function.

  1. Very nice article. I agree, and in fact I go much farther. At Wineguider, which is written for normal, non-wine-obssessed people who just want to know what they should try (and what to avoid), each wine is either recommended, or not.

    This leaves no wiggle room to hide behind a medium, noncommittal score. Scores, I believe, are just complicated codes from which readers are trying to decipher the bottom line: “Does the writer think this wine is good? Or not?” Though it’s much harder to write, I feel that all reviews should score wine this way, by either saying “buy it” or “don’t buy it.” In fact, I believe they MUST do it this way, if they are to be useful to normal, non-expert, non-connoisseur readers. That is because reviews are for readers, not for wineries. And the reader wants to know just two things: “What does this wine taste like, in general?” and, more importantly, “Does the reviewer think I should buy this wine?”

  2. Like many things I believe in balance and appropriateness of use. Interesting thing I’ve noticed over the years is many wine tourists/consumers will often elect their wineries to visit based on a single wine that scored very high. I would suggest a very high percentage of the time, that tasting room is not pouring that wine; either because they are sold out, or simply doesn’t need to.

    I’ve consumed high scored wines in the past and found that I do not favor all of them. They were balanced, well structured, but if you like cheddar on your burger and not blue cheese, the score alone will not do it for you.

    I do believe that scores have a value when used appropriately. Consumers should be considering more than minimizing it to just the score. Sea Smoke Pinot Noir with its big meaty (667/777) clones have received some deserved high scores. Great wine, and I buy them. I really like are the silky smoother 10 Am version of Pinot Noir (115). How about oak vs. steel Chardonnay? Some appreciate both, some prefer one over the other.

    In these instances I feel it is important for the consumer to do a little more homework from my perspective. They should know what they like and don’t like.

    Do the scores have value? You bet! Are they used appropriately by all? I do not believe so. I’ve read scores, but I also check out more details of what is written about the wine. To me, written descriptors are equally important and should be discussed just as much as the number associated. I thought Joshua followed after Moses? :-) Sorry for my winded response to simply say, yes I agree!

  3. Shawn, thanks!

  4. Wineguider, I couldn’t agree more. Thanks.

  5. I just will never know the difference between an 89pt wine and a 90pt wine (Except one sells much faster)

  6. I think this is run by Hedges Family Estates, who also did the somewhat odd tattoo contents last year ( http://www.1winedude.com/index.php/2010/08/10/tattoo-you-hate-points-get-some-body-art/ ).

    As you know, I’m personally not a fan of scoring wine with exact numbers, but I’m also not a fan of destroying them outright (nor am I a fan of AVA tattoo contests, I suppose!).

  7. TomHill says:

    “- encouraging formula wines”

    Well, Steve…LeoMcCloskey/Enologix has a formula and it seems to work. At least, according to his claims. Fortunately, not everyone uses his services.
    Looking forward to your review of DavidDarlington’s new book.
    Tom

  8. Thanks for putting up a great fight Steve, cheers! :)

  9. “Rajat Parr. Well, what can I say? He doesn’t like high alcohol wines (except when they’re in a paper bag), he doesn’t like scores, end of story.”

    OUCH!!

    First, the 100 Point System is at best a 20 point system.

    Second, if you can’t can’t deliver a score that ranks a wine on a 20 point scale while accompanying it with a written review, all of which accurately reflects your own subjective judgements, then you should back away from the spittoon.

    Third, if you are so influenced by the a score on a page that you can’t bring yourself to drink wines of “lesser numbers”, then you don’t deserve the review that comes with the score.

    Fourth, if you think the discovery of “grower wines”, in this age of easy logistics, the explosive growth of brands world wide, and with the huge increase in import/export, is being limited then you are just writing for the sake of watching letters appear rather than to suggest truth.

    I say bring on the scores (100 Point, 20 point, 5 point, etc.) and give me a nice short review next to it.

  10. As one who works both sides of the table (Wine broker, wine buyer + Sommelier) I hear and see all sides of this discussion. Your point about “better wine thru marketing” is most likely the truest statement of all. If (Mr/Mrs/Ms) Consumer takes the time to decide that Parker’s palate is the same as theirs then the points have value. More often though I see the sheep following along vintage after vintage (quite blindly) based on brand recognition / reputation. Old world (IMHO) values sense of place. New World (USA) values the hand of the winemaker. Overall my gut tells me that love or hate scores they are here to stay and if used properly can have value. Aligning a reviewer to ones personal palate is the challenge and most consumers are not really willing to “stay the course” with a particular reviewer’s palate over a serious period of time to determine what works best for them. WE/WS/WA all have different tasters and thus different theories as to what makes up a certain score.
    When I buy for my accounts, I have to realize what a bad/good/great wine is versus what I personally like. Score-chasers will always be score-chasers. Personal commentary about a particular wine from a source that you trust has far greater value than a number.

  11. The 100 point scale will eventually go away, just as wine competition medals are fading in significance. We haven’t always had scores for wine, and it therefore makes sense to me that we won’t always have scores for wines.

    As long as there is diversity in wine, however, I expect we will have recommendations, from experts and neophytes. Just as with movie, theater, restaurant and book reviewers (and any other type of reviewer), I’ll align myself with those reviewers with whom I most often agree when I’m looking for something I’ll like. I’ll look to those reviewers with whom I most often disagree when I want to broaden my view.

    Overall, I think scorevolution.com is rather fun and effective marketing in support of Hedges’ House of Independent Producers wine brand.

  12. Steve, I tend to be one of those who actually like the scoring systems. I don’t have the luxury of tasting 600+ wines a year. I’m comfortable buying wines w/out initial scores of producers based on my past experiences, labels that have historically been very consistent over the years. If I want to buy a new wine w/out first trying (futures for ex), I would like some feedback from a variety of critics. I might not buy a wine based on one score (Parker for ex) but if a wine has for example 3 reviews all relatively in the same ball park, then that gives me a little more confidence in buying something that I might not have otherwise bought before. I will never buy a $100 plus without a rating. Just my preference.

  13. Patrick says:

    Drinking wine is more like having sex than like looking at an art work. By that I mean, the sensory and sensuous elements in wine drinking outweigh the intellectual ones. We don’t “rationally evaluate” wines, we either fall for them or we don’t, and with introspection we can figure out the reasons later. Tell me, Steve, How close is that to your method of evaluating wines? If it’s at all close, your defense of number scores is puzzling.

  14. The winemakers sign as individuals because they believe in the movement. They do not sign up their wineries because they still submit. They have to in order to feed their families. It’s so much easier to sell wine-right now-with a score. And the bottom line is family will always be more important than wine and terroir. Maybe one day, they can focus less on a score and more on making a wine that they love to drink. That would be a great day.

  15. carey kienitz says:

    I give this post 79 points.

  16. Steve,

    I don’t always agree with what you have to say, but I love the way you say it. Keep up the good work.

    The Parr dig almost made me fall out of my chair – what that in reference to the Siduri Switcheroo?

  17. Steve,

    I don’t always agree with what you have to say, but I love the way you say it. Keep up the good work.

    The Parr dig almost made me fall out of my chair – what that in reference to the Siduri Switcheroo?

  18. I would absolutely love to see someone who is unbiased tackle this and have a discussion on it. Steve you obviously are biased on this because the revolution is putting your lively hood into question, but not as much as you think. Scorevolution loves wine critics, but as I have said before 100 points totally overshadows the poetic words that are put in much smaller lettering next to it. And as for the comment about under ripe wines well that comes down to opinion. Its my opinion that a lot of CA wines especially in napa are starting to taste similar, this may not be a bad thing if you like high alcohol fruit bombs, but for those of us looking for more subtle nuances in our wine this just flat out sucks. So in short i say long live the wine writer but let them do their job without destroying their own words with a silly number. Long Live Scorevolution!

  19. Sean: yes.

  20. Blaming point scores is like shooting the messenger when he brings bad news. Scores are merely numerical models that attempt to describe reality in a simplistic, superficial way.
    The schwerpunkt is: the actual tasting-note/review format does not provide enough information (that is intrinsically valid for every consumer) to support the decision-making process.

  21. John: the difference between and 89 point wine and a 90 point wine is 1 point.

  22. Steve, Your criticism or you might call it “debunking” of Kermit Lynch’s eschewing of scores is flawed. You are not playing fair by the rules of logical argument. You state: Kermit doesn’t use scores. Yet he does use language about wine. You describe his language as descriptive, romantic and at times hyperbolic. (Which is certainly fair.) You conclude that he’s basically talking in code using scores. You’ve set up a modality where one cannot describe wine enthusiastically or with hyperbole without basing this off of scores. Yet you’ve failed to establish that, it’s simply assumed in this debunking.

  23. I’d like to add in a pitch for consumer-based reviews…I’m a big fan (and frequent user) of CellarTracker (Eric LeVine’s site) which captures consumer reviews…most use a 100-pt scale there, and like every other reviewer, scores need to assessed “in context”. While we don’t know the trends of individual consumers (unlike pro reviewers, who tend to basis low or high), the collective scores – and more importantly, the comments – are, to me as a consumer, more valuable than professional reviews alone. CellarTracker is gaining critical mass, having doubled in the past 18 months, and the more it is used, the better. Key will be for Eric/Administrators to ensure the integrity of reviews, as a evil entity could come in and skew things for ulterior motives. But I find most reviews/summaries to be spot on.

    The other piece you’re all missing – and this comes from my consumer-products background – is that consumers NEED/WANT some sort of comparative measure. Same as Consumer Reports on dishwashers, Motor Trend on cars, etc. Purists can fight the tape all they want, but Joe Consumer keeps asking for scores to demystify the incredibly complex array of choices in front of them daily. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that…

    My two cents…

    My two cents…

  24. Steve, this reads to me as almost a bit nasty… wow. We’re not starting fights or pointing fingers. Just encouraging folks to find other ways to discover wines. Before I was in this biz, I would walk into a retail shop, ignore the clerk, and look for the cheapest, highest scoring wine. I promise you that’s how most of the novice wine drinkers of the world think! The movement is an effort to show the people that scores are an opinion, not law.
    -Boo, Hedges Family Estate

  25. Steve Ritchie says:

    Great, thought-provoking post. I can see the frustration that many in the biz have with the shallowness and somewhat monolithic nature of the “points only” approach, but I think the problem is less with the number, which can be a very helpful “bottom line,” than it is with the often poor writing that accompanies it. Giving you credit where it’s due, your reviews come across as much clearer than most, but when I have to sift through babble, I end up relying on the score and my recollection of the reviewer’s palate to make sense of it all. Man, would I enjoy more reviews where the reviewer just speaks his/her mind in English.

  26. scoREVOLution is not a threat to your livelihood, merely a call for change – I for one still want wine magazines with knowledgeable and compelling discussion about not only the world of wine, but specific wines as well. I’m not dumb and neither are most consumers, we don’t need a number, we want information, lots of it.

    Secondly, the tone of your post is downright rude, to insult people for believing in something and publicly committing to it is unprofessional and doesn’t help your case.

    Thirdly, your logic is flawed. A once in 30 year Sancerre is not a 100 point wine, its something not be missed, probably for a large variety of reasons, which may or may not interest you depending on your taste in wine. I’d rather have his opinion expressed in language with its nuance and subtlety.

    Rajat Parr and alcohol? You’ve never been surprised by a blind tasting? You’ve never been pushed to think more about something because of your reaction to a tasting? Tell me, does Wine Enthusiast taste double-blind? Do you conduct multiple tastings on the same wines and guarantee a consistent score?

    Lastly, the Staglins embarrassed themselves, that’s not Nossiter’s fault.

  27. Steve, You wouldnt be so defensive if you didnt believe there lies some truth in what your proponents are saying. Scores are the most arbitrary thing in the wine business next to “hands-on” winemaking. But heck, we all love scores and the excitement that comes with it. You should see the egos floating around in Paso now. Your friday top tens are the way to go! No number just a damn good recommendation is what we consumers need.

  28. “Drinking wine is more like having sex than like looking at an art work. By that I mean, the sensory and sensuous elements in wine drinking outweigh the intellectual ones.”

    Patrick,
    Guess I would quibble w/ this one a bit. I like to think one’s appreciation of a wine is based on both the sensual and the intellectual component. And their proportions vary w/ the wine. For a Beauj or a rose, the intellectual component in near zero. For a 30 yr old Cab or a 20 yr old Syrah, than the intellectual component usually outweighs the sensual content.
    My take, anyway.
    Tom

  29. J. Tobias Beard says:

    The problem with point scores is the inherent and total disconnect between numbers and tastes. By their nature, numbers are objective. Taste, as we all know, is not. Critics who use point scores are making the claim (whether explicitly like Mr. Parker or implicitly) to be making a scientific measurement of a wine’s quality. The model is of a thermometer measuring heat. Take a sip, measure, give a reading. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Critics who think that their mouths are finely tuned instruments to measure a wine’s quality are fooling themselves. Numbers are quantitative in nature, words are qualitative. “100” tells me nothing about a wine until I translate it into the word “perfect”.

  30. It is ironic that the diversity in wine that this movement (in theory) supports, is precisely the reason why consumers are faced with the tyranny of choice (someone suggested that there are probably a million product lines in the world). Which in turn is commercially impossible to sustain and operate, without guidance and expression of preference from 3rd parties.

    Expression of preference is explicitly or implicitly a score. Given that no wine merchant or restaurant stock all 1 million product lines, they are also implicitly scoring wines. In the complete absence of wine media, power merely shifts to the merchant and sommelier.

    The argument that wine consumers never needed points in say France (AC system? 1855 Classification?) or in the UK (the merchants were the filter), is as you can see, in the broadest definition of “points”, not strictly accurate either.

    Perhaps this is not supposed to be intellectually consistent, and merely a thinly disguised attempt to shift the power base. For that is all we are discussing.

    Or cynically, as observed by a few commentators, a marketing exercise?

  31. J. Tobias, I would argue that a point score from a critic doesn’t pretend to be an objective measurement, like temperature. It merely represents how highly (or lowly) the critic thought of the wine.

  32. Tom – what’s with the hating on Beaujolais? There are some great examples that are worthy of being on the same table as much more “prestigious” wines – actually I’d drink a Beaujolais over a Napa cab most days.

    Steve – I must remain transparent and tell you that my roommate was behind starting the score revolution which made me one of the first signers.

    I will admit to using scores for buying decisions occasionally – when faced with a wall of one region’s wines whose producers I’m not very familiar with there’s not much else to go by. I’m sure most consumers find themselves in this situation almost everytime they buy, or they just drink KJ Chard on a nightly basis.

    The most annoying aspect of scores to me is how retailers use them. I’ve been following the evolution of Cinderella Wine and Lot 18 since the beginning – it’s obvious scores sell, so they’ve begun to refer to wines as “95 pt syrah” or such; when in reality it’s a syrah which was given the score of 95 by one critic. Wine is subject to time, storage conditions, the food it’s consumed with, and the atmosphere it’s consumed in, as well as the mood of the consumer. I wish we could start appreciating all the amazing qualities of the beverage rather than focusing on what we should like as consumers and how to achieve high scores as producers.

    Maybe California needs some sort of Burgundian vineyard rating system, because I feel much better about buying a premier cru Meursault than a 95 pt Napa cab. It will be an expression of land and time, not a “who cares about the source of the fruit, we use the best barrels” kind of wine. (not saying all Napa cabs are such)

  33. Christophe Hedges says:

    Steve,

    Keep up the posts, your strengthening the movement.

    Love,
    Christophe

  34. J. Tobias Beard says:

    Tai-Ran, No one is saying that wine should not be evaluated, or that customers should not have guides to help them choose. The point is that number scores are not the best way to do that. I work in a retail wine store and was a wine critic for 2 years. I spend every day helping customers make choices without using scores. The problem is that numbers are an arbitrary and misleading method to evaluate wine. They imply a precision that just isn’t there.

    Steve, yes, a point score reflects what a critic thinks about a wine, but so does a hyperbolic description. I think you’re wrong if you feel that giving a point score doesn’t imply scientific accuracy. Certainly Mr. Parker has always spoken exactly as if his palate was a carefully calibrated measuring device. What else are you saying if you taste a wine and say “That’s an 89, not a 90″? It leads people to accept the idea that wine quality is a binary proposition. It takes people away from the idea that wine is to be explored, understood, seen in context, etc. Imagine if people used a number score to evaluate art? Is Guernica a 100? If I point to a Rothko and tell you it’s an 86 does that help you understand it?

    It’s true that points make buying wine easier for consumers, but it doesn’t make it better. I understand how they would be a natural fit for grocery stores or corporate wine warehouses, but they are anathema to how I understand and enjoy wine.

  35. I agree with you Steve…scores are important, but only in the context of the tasting note and both the skill / consistency / honesty and how well your palate matches with the reviewer. I simply do not have the time to personally taste every wine I am interested in … thus, I “contract” with WE and WS (subscription) to do this for me. SInce retailers are ultimately biased (they are trying to sell you wine)– I think that all of them that sign on this website should offer every one of the wines in their shop for tasting so the consumer can make an informed decision prior to purchase. Since of course, this cannot be done, scores and tasting notes will remain important

  36. Steve, I agree scores are one of many good tools for talking about a wines qualities or lack thereof. However, I would argue that there has simply been an over-emphasis on them at all levels of the wine trade&world. Can we really reduce the experience of a wine to a two digit number? Scores are a useful short-hand for helping to understand wine, but they should not be portrayed as the be all and end all of evaluating wine. As shawn says we (the wine media & trade) should be encouraging people to go beyond the score but so often aren’t.

  37. We’re setting up a scientific experiment to test the rival merits of wine scores and reviews. Please check out our plan at:

    https://eszencia.co.uk/keep-in-touch/blogs/

    and let us know what you think.

  38. I think if there is one thing wine scores do NOT do, it is help people understand wine.The more you understand wine, what you like, what you don’t like, the less you need scores to choose wine.

  39. steve, people (including cowboy Chris(tophe) and the Scorevolution gang) are throwing you nuggets here. we don’t need wine “police,” but the wine world does need a new “policy,” where consumers fully understand how subjective and transient scoring is, and that, as all are saying, there’s so much more to a wine than a score. dare to be the first who steps out and makes changes in the “old school wine school” and you will become a hero. if there’s anyone who has the persuasive qualities and heart to do this, it’s you. make it a new day in wine! vive le vin!

  40. Wow – you really got everyone going this time Steve! I’ve been away for some time working on a project for Better Wine Guide in which I blind tasted, rated, and wrote tasting notes for about 2000 wines in the course of 65 flights. All wines retailed for under $25 per bottle and are considered ‘grocery store’ wines (most were CA wines). Why was this done to begin with?

    The company’s research showed that of the 300 million + cases sold in the US last year, over 90% sells for under $25. No critics have rated most of these wines, usually deemed to be unworthy of critical attention, yet these are the wines America buys. Most consumers don’t want to spend the time or money to learn about wine at the level that most of us here have, so poetic words, clever tasting notes, and romance about wine isn’t going to mean a thing. Last but not least, consumers make wine selections based on what the label looks like, which is certainly not a reliable indicator of what’s in the bottle. Using the label criterion is possibly due to the fact that no other information was available.

    Personally, if I’m buying classified Bordeaux, I want to have some people I trust weigh in, so I’ll check in with Suckling, Parker and Tanzer. For CA I’ll check in with Steve and . . . well, that’s about it, Meadows for Burgundy and so on. I have tons of resources to check before I buy fine wine but the average consumer has very little (although more attention is beginning to pop up in the under $25 segment).

    How can anyone think that scores are bad for people that bought millions of cases of wine last year? Scores are not the same thing as pointing a 9mm at someone’s head and demanding, “Buy the bottle or else the dame gets it!” Consumers are indeed smart and if they end up trying wines based on a critic’s score or notes and subsequently don’t like the wine, the consumer stops using that critic as a point of reference. It’s so easy to understand that.

    The point about wines from some regions tasting similar is undeniable but scores don’t create this issue, winemakers do, or rather the corporations that employ them. Steve is exactly right that the problem lies with distribution. A smaller producer is not able to produce consistent and high revenue for the distributor and thus has major challenges getting on store shelves. Distributors have created the market for, and promulgate, mass market wines. Follow the money.

    This project was a huge effort for me and I really learned a lot about our country’s wine buyers. My biggest challenge was to write short, accessible tasting notes without ‘dumbing down’. Ultimately if consumers don’t agree with my assessment of these wines, I will not survive long as a critic but vilifying wine scores is not going to get smaller producers into retailers. Right now a strong price/value ratio is a winemaker’s best shot.

    David Boyer
    classof1855.com

  41. Dear David Boyer, “No critics have rated most of these wines, usually deemed to be unworthy of critical attention, yet these are the wines America buys.” Not so! Wine Enthusiast routinely tastes these kinds of wines, as well as the usual cult suspects.

  42. Mr. Kropf weighs in with an enigmatic Cheshire cat’s grin.

  43. Thankfully, scores are becoming less important as the wine-drinking public is overall becoming more confident in their buying. I can see that eventually, scores will be completely ignored. I’ve noticed, as a wholesaler, that points are not taken as seriously as they used to be. I think that this is due, at least in part, to the overall higher quality of wines…too many high scores render the whole system less useful. Points have always appeared to be like a political sound bite anyway…a quickly digestible bit of information so that the consumer doesn’t have to spend much effort to decide something, but in the process, gets a skewed view of that information.

  44. These scoring arguments drive me crazy. They offer no solution to the perceived problem!

    Sure, the sheep follow the scores with insufficient appreciation of the subtleties etc. So what’s the fix? Leave the sheep to wander around the field unguided?

    No, make them read the narrative reviews — aw, baloney! At least they can understand a score (if not the subtleties between an 89 and a 90) — trying to decipher the blather that clogs wine reviews is not something I’d wish on a poor ordinary drinker. (Robert Parker once described a flavor note in a wine he was reviewing as “white tobacco.” White tobacco — what the heck does that taste like? How is *that* helping anyone shopping for wine?)

    The language in most wine reviews is useless to most wine drinkers. The flavors described are unfamiliar – there are often an improbable number of flavors, leaving the ordinary mortal wondering what the heck the reviewer was drinking.

    Buyers grab onto scores because they think they understand them, at least. It’s not their fault the scores aren’t as helpful a guide as they think. And let’s face reality: Eliminating scores will *not* encourage ordinary drinkers to boldly strike out into new unscored territory and discover new wines, new makers, new flavors — they will retreat to brand names, and how will that benefit anyone?

    If we’re going to argue about scores, let’s argue about how wines are reviewed overall — and figure out how to review wines not just for the upper-crust among us with wine cellars, but also for the expanding population of new wine enthusiasts….

  45. As a consumer, I appreciate having a number score to help in choosing a wine that I am unfamilliar with. A little write up to go with it helps.
    Having said that, I rarely buy wines that are unknown to me either by previous experience or reputation garnered from several wine blogs.

    If we eliminate subjective scoring, we are left with labeling and packaging. Which can be very deceptive.

    I would like to suggest that when a winery sends thier wine to five different reviewers, I want to see all five scores and an average rating of the combined scores. Kind of like an Olympic Ice skating competition.

    While a governmental agency ranking might be helpful in selecting beef, I think it would be bad for the wine industry and consumers.

  46. Disadvantaged (wine-ignorant and/or financially challenged) people buy wine based on price. Lazy people buy wine based on scores or medals. But wine aficionados are true adventurers in the vast landscape of the wine world. They revel in the adventure, the rewards, and sometimes the disappointments of wine exploration. These folks routinely buy wine for the education of it, and the enjoyment of it can be secondary. We all know and patronize the four-star restaurants of the world because we know that we’ll (usually) get a great meal (accompanied by a large price-tag, but that’s the price we’re willing to pay for that experience). But what about all the terrific meals available in the little out-of-the-way, local diners and the food-trucks parked along city curbs or alongside dirt roads in the country that we’ll miss if we spend all our time dining in the posh joints? The same question applies to wines. Think of all the gems we’ll miss if we buy only “four-star” wines. I want to venture out to the “wine-trucks” parked along city curbs and on country roads and see what the wine world has to offer. I want to make my own evaluation of the quality of the wine I try. I routinely buy wine that has never been rated just because it has never been rated. It’s virgin territory, free of rater abuse. I encourage all wine aficionados to explore the world of wine on their own, free of the bias of raters. I’m not against raters, as you can see. Live and let live. I merely encourage the non-disadvantaged and the non-lazy to ignore them.

  47. Let’s see, the Petty Sair Post got 0 comments. The Hugh Johnson post yesterday got 10. Time to pull out the tried and proven…48 rose to the bait, including me… and counting. I am impressed.

    I do think, however, that this topic should now be put to rest, just like should the silliness of a Constitutional Amendment to Balance the Budget which is pulled out every now and then, when some politico gets desperate.

    However, I’m not holding my breath on either.

  48. If this world within here does ot see this as a shameless plug, then allow me to add a thought. The point score system does at least start somewhere. it adds cumulative points until it reaches a total, which, if disected, would show you the strengths and weaknesses perceived in any given wine. It therefore delivers a reference point without explaining what makes it fit into a group. The consumer wants the best for its dollar and so leaps of course, to the best “in” group it can join. No one wants to be in the 88s. Way too lame right?
    Well, if that system was turned inside out, so that the judging criteria was transparent, so that the consumer could build their own case on the wine, then that lover of wine would understand more of what is liked and disliked. That is the basis of the new site, http://www.thewinearray.com.
    If we could all rate the parts separately, perhaps that 88 you passed on would be my 100 pointer.
    There is power in self awareness. Please check it out. It is not advertisement driven or critical, just as the winemaker describes and the tasters break it down.
    Good drinking

  49. Hello Morton, I am aware that this topic results in lots of comments. However that is not why I post. I am fully aware that some of my topics will result in few comments. That doesn’t stop me. I post depending on what I’m thinking about any given day. I could care less how many comments I get. Thank you for your comment.

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  1. Wine as a Backdrop | Catavino - [...] intense debate has been brewing on various blogs across the internet that condem, or support, the “points” system. For …
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