subscribe: Posts | Comments      Facebook      Email Steve

More analysis of point scores

33 comments

The thing about point scoring that makes some people so angry (more on this later) is that they say it represents a form of mathematical or epistemological certainty, of which something as subjective as the enjoyment of  wine is incapable.

They have a point, if you assume that numbers in wine reviewing are used in the same way as in mathematics. However, when we critics–me, anyway–use numbers in wine reviewing, these numbers are employed in a different way. In math, numbers are nouns–treated as if they were real objects or concepts, corresponding to absolute equivalents in the Universe. In wine reviewing, however, numbers are used adjectively.

People use numbers adjectively all the time. “She’s a perfect ten,” a man will remark of a beautiful woman. “We’re number one!” fans of a sports team will chant. The Occupy people speak of “the 99 percent.” A political junkie will say a candidate’s odds of winning an election are “fifty-fifty.” Thomas Edison said “Genius is 2 percent inspiration and 98 percent perspiration.” Someone will says he’s “90 percent certain” of something. Running late for an appointment, a woman will call her friend and say she’ll be there “in thirty minutes.”

In none of these cases is the number in question meant to be taken literally or precisely. The speakers are speaking figuratively, trying to get a point across through the use of metaphor. In other words, these numbers are not nouns, referring to real entities in the world, the way, say, the number “32 degrees F” represents the freezing point of water. They’re adjectives, meant to communicate the approximation of a state of being that cannot be better or more accurately described. The person doing the communicating hopes and assumes that the person to whom he is communicating understands this metaphorical use of numbers. When he says he’s “90 percent certain” of something, he doesn’t expect to be grilled as to why he’s not 89 percent certain or 91 percent certain. He’s doing the best he can to express the quality of his belief, and he expects the other person to interpret it the way he means it.

That’s how I use numbers. If I rate something 94 points, I mean it’s around 94 points, meaning (I’m quoting from Wine Enthusiast guidelines): A classic wine. Truly superb. Highly refined. Superb harmony and balance. Great complexity. Great finesse and refinement. Memorable.

Could the 94 be a 92 or a 96 on another occasion? Certainly. I’ve been straightforward about that on my blog ever since I started writing it in 2008. The score can vary due to any number of reasons, bottle variation chief among them. Any critic who claims otherwise is in a state of denial, or simply fibbing. As I’ve said repeatedly, a wine review is that particular critic’s impression of that particular wine at that particular moment in time.

I don’t see what’s so difficult to accept about that. I think consumers get it. At the extreme are those critics of point scores who are so driven (consciously or not) by psychological factors, they fly into an ideological fury. It’s impossible to have a conversation with them, as it always is with ideologues, so I no longer try. But I do welcome legitimate conversations with people who are genuinely curious how my numbers come about. I hope this post has begun to explain it. Let me know, please, if you’d like more on this tomorrow, or if it’s getting stale.

  1. Steve,

    Please articulate and elaborate the details of your evaluation and scoring system that defines:

    “A classic wine”. (what are the specific criteria for a wine to receive this?)
    Superb”. (based on?… and vis-a-vis “Great” or “Decent”)
    “Highly refined”. (how do you arrive at this as opposed to “fairly refined” – please articulate using specific and concrete words)
    “Superb harmony and balance”. (vs “modest harmony and balance”?}
    “Great complexity”. (how is this different from “good complexity” or “modest complexity”? What criteria do you apply to each wine to make this differentiation?)
    “Great finesse and refinement”. How do you differentiate this from “Medium finesse and refinement” – again, please articulate.
    Memorable. – sorry, but this one is too subjective.

    When you sit down, think it out and set some guidelines then the 94 will not be an “around” and it will be reliably and reproducibly (ie every time, not an 89 on another occasion) different from a 92 and a 96.

    Set down some criteria. Articulate them. Stick to them. Adjust if needed to make a more consistent, reliable and reproducible system and keep with it.

    To change your words a bit:

    “I don’t see what’s so difficult to accept about that this can be done. I think consumers would get it and benefit from it.”

  2. Adam Japko says:

    It’s interesting to think of music in this context, Steve. Songs are not rated by numbers, and it is fair to think of songs and styles of music being as subjective an area as wine appreciation. Of course there is no variability like bottle variability once a track is laid down, but there is variability in listener mood. The Billboard 100 seemed to be the place that consumers and trade accepted number rankings in the music industry, but that was a reflection of plays or listens (can’t recall exactly). Sounds like an impossible path though for wine….sell thru and conception leading to non subjective numerical ranks? Guess we are stuck with reliance on critics’ numerical ranks, and don’t think that’s so bad anyway. As a consumer, just need to pick a critical palate you can mostly relate to.

  3. The approach isn’t a problem, Steve. I think the issue is that numbers used in the way that you describe don’t jive with how numbers are used 99.9% of the time by everyone else in the world. People assume that numbers have mathematical precision. And so they naturally will assume that a 96 point wine reviewed by Critic A is better than a 92 point wine reviewed by Critic B – and for their tastes, that could be totally wrong. But they will make that assumption – they have, and do, and merchants the world over exploit it.

    As you know, the system I use is a bit “fuzzier” but still has its problems. I’m finding that I am getting less and less enamored with ratings in general, & fear that they poison my thinking in terms of having to separate out enjoyment of wine with friends from trying to also critically “grade” the wine in my mind. I wouldn’t be using ratings at all if the 1WD readers didn’t request them and then vote “yes” to me using them.

    So the dilemma is that people want and need ratings, but the ratings are inherently flawed (and I’d argue numerical ratings have more flaws than non-numeric alternatives, specifically because they imply precision in the minds of consumers, even if that precision isn’t meant to be there, etc.). Nothing is perfect, but unless consumers seek education on how those ratings work – or better ratings alternatives are developed – then the biz as a whole will continue to have those ratings abused and consumers will continue to view wine rating as part guru, part snobbery, part BS, etc. (not saying it is those things, just that the perception is out there).

    I’m enjoying the discussion on this, so my vote is that you keep it going.

    Cheers!

  4. Carlos Toledo says:

    I work currently as a wine professional (though from a minor league compared to the people i read or follow here).

    I believe the discussion whether wines points are worth something or not would cease to exist if wine critics showed some type of guide they follow when applying the points. There’s a script, something that says “10 or 12 seconds of finish in the mouth, that’s worth 4 out of 5 possible points”.

    or more “aroma and taste ALMOST matches perfectly the grape in the bottle, that’s 4 out of 5 possible points”. And so on.
    You inspect the visual part of the wine, score it. Then you go on to the aroma (we call nose) and score it. Last you play with it in the mouth and score again.

    That type of rating can prove (hypothetically) that a 89 points wine can taste much better than a 94 one, all depends on the flaws the better rated wine has. I for one love long long looooooong finish above everything else. This could have a greater weight on my scale.

    But it still drives me insane when customers only look at the RP on the label….

  5. Ron McFarland says:

    Steve

    I admire your efforts to be part of this wider conversation and would like to encourage another direction for everyone to consider.

    Everyone can see that greatness follows significant disruption to an industry or process. Just look at how we connect with our music or what our mobile phones do for us.

    Rather than engage in a “I am right – you are wrong” (this is a book title by Edward de Bono)discussion why not explore how the wine industry can evolve new thinking to encourage consumers to go exploring new regions – new retailers & sommeliers or trust their own palate and accept the fact that from time to time they are going to purchase a few duds.

    Points are a real crutch that consumers do not know they are leaning on and keeping them in a nice cozy & confined box of wine exploration.

    Maybe you would benefit from leaving your comfort zone and start exploring the extended world of wine and writing about those experiences. Call it a lateral thinking exercise.

  6. Steve, if a score of 94 is “around” 94, then just use the WORD that Wine Enthusiasts uses to generalize that quality level. And, fyi, 94 points is not considered classic on WE’s rating explanation. Maybe you should double check with what scores actually mean to WE…

    Classic 98—100: The pinnacle of quality.
    Superb 94—97: Highly recommended.
    Excellent 90—93: Highly recommended.
    Very Good 87—89: Often good value; well recommended.
    Good 83—86: Suitable for everyday consumption; often good value.
    Acceptable 80—82: Can be employed in casual, less-critical circumstances.

  7. 1WineDude, as you said, “I wouldn’t be using ratings at all if the 1WD readers didn’t request them.” However, they do. If you’re uncomfortable with your ratings, you’re free to stop using them–but then your readers would be unhappy. It’s the same with my readers. They like the 100 point system. I write for them, not for myself. So why would I disappoint them? And it’s not as if I myself don’t like the 100 point system. I like it and am comfortable with it. So just like you said: “Nothing is perfect.” Why can’t we all just get along?

  8. If points are a real crutch for consumers then why not work on something that will give them real, reliable meaning and root the awarding of points (for, aroma, flavors, texture, body, finish separately and then the overall score) ins some concrete criteria.

    Anything else is just arbitrary.

  9. I was a professor for many years, and I see similarities between rating wines and grading essay tests. As Steve points out, rating wine is an imprecise exercise. It’s not lab testing with a spectrometer, which has far greater hopes of exactitude, and which folks like SUAMW seem to hope for. In university grading and wine rating, the evaluative number summarizes a myriad of impressions. The standards are not absolute, but with introspection we can make them clear enough so that they will be useful. Yes keep the discussion going, please.

  10. Patrick.
    I am not talking about inflexible standards, but I am asking for SOME standards and criteria.
    I want to see those applied before the final score is determined.
    Every publication says what their final score means.
    Nobody spells out how they arrive at that score.

    Have you ever tried to devise and apply a reliable system for rating wine?

    How did it look?
    What was the benchmark of quality? How much you liked the wine? Or was it typicity (varietal and regional)?
    How many wines did you try it with?
    What were you results?

    Despite the scene in Dead Poets Society, one CAN evaluate poetry (or prose) against some set of criteria and standards.

    I am, time and time again, reminded that people from a liberal arts background have trouble with this concept. Then, they attend a sensory evaluation seminar led by someone who actually knows what they’re talking about and they’re told that they’re *wrong* (gasp!) for the first time in their life…

    Wine is wine. It has physical properties that humans can detect and interpret – either in the context of their preferences (which is what I think Steve and other reviewers are doing) or against some benchmark – I prefer regional and varietal typicity.

    A number can reflect how much a wine: 1) reflects the DNA of the grapes used, 2) reflects the growing region, 3) shows a deft hand of a winemaker to 4) to achieve that to a degree of complexity, balance and finesse, and 5) to what degree it does that.

  11. BTW, my rating scale is not perfect, but at least it tries:

    http://tinyurl.com/6lvvhxq

  12. I believe it is obvious, or should be, that wine scores are a crutch. If we all had the time, money, and expertise to go navigating the massive world of wine on our own, perhaps scores would be moot. But as it is, the general consumer needs a crutch to give them the confidence to part with that hard earned dollar in exchange for something that they can reasonably expect to enjoy. That is why we come to trust this or that professional to give us their honest opinion of a wine so we can have some sort of benchmark to make purchasing decisions upon. Whether a critic uses numbers or shapes or Greek letters to describe the wines they rate is irrelevant as long as the consumer feels like something meaningful has been communicated. The 100 point system appeals to the consumer, I believe, because there is some degree of uniformity from critic to critic. A 94 rated wine means the critic gave it a thumbs up, no matter who the critic was. Now, Heimoff’s 94 wine might be totally different than a Galloni 94, but therein lies an opportunity for the consumer to find a critic he/she feels is more aligned with their own preferences. I really don’t think that the critic-consumer relationship is the problem here. I think the anti-score proponents are more upset with the way scores are touted in marketing materials and tasting rooms and wine shops. I wholeheartedly agree that it is sickening to be inundated with scores that make me feel like I should love or hate a wine before I have even tried it. But the fact is, as long as there is a demand for numerical scores (and I think it is safe to say there will be for the foreseeable future) there will be critics to fill the demand. So why blame the critic for filling this need?

  13. I would like to explore a little more the Wine Dude’s line of reasoning. Point scoring in wine is usually explained in terms of the test scores we all got used to in school. But is that a fair comparison?

    In the college test score scenario, you are asked a bunch of questions and you get so many right and so many wrong and based on the results you get a score and a grade. If the question is such that you have to write a few paragraphs in a Blue Book you may get full or partial score based on specific criteria that your answer either touched on or missed. When you look at the scoring which is noted in your answer, you understand exactly what you were penalized for missing or credited for observing.

    Similarly at the university we learned to taste wine and assign points on the basis of a similar regimen. You had an ideal or a standard in mind to which you were judging the product. You look at individual aspects of the wine, its appearance, aroma, flavor, taste and assigned points for what was there and took off points for what was missing from that ideal. In the end there was a score and it was possible for another person to look at you score sheet, to go back and understand exactly what aspects of the wine you gave or took off points. And there were reasons in the notes about the wine, a reason given for each addition or deduction that led to the final score.

    But this is not the way it is done by many critics. When you, Steve, say, “A classic wine. Truly superb. Highly refined. Superb harmony and balance. Great complexity. Great finesse and refinement. Memorable.” Did you look at the wine? I assume you did, so what about it’s appearance did you like or dislike? How many points did that aspect contribute to the score? Same with aroma. Did you smell the wine? I can’t tell by your comments. Did it get points or lose points for its aroma? What did it smell like? By your comments it seems you tasted the wine, but was it high or low in acidity? High or low in alcohol? How many points did you give to it’s taste and why? What points do you give for finesse? If it has finesse, but no complexity how many points do I lose for that? So, the wine is memorable, just how many points did “memorable” get me? Of course, in order to understand a mathematical score, the wine has to be tasted and documented in a mathematical fashion. And we know it isn’t.

    The critic’s reader is probably satisfied with just the score and superlatives. The critic is happy just giving a score and superlatives. (Otherwise, he would be put on the spot, and called out frequently by the winemaker on specifics.)

    But the information about how a score was determined is important to the winemaker. When your wine is judged good or bad, you want to know what you did right or what you did wrong. When your boss gets on your back about a bad score, you want to be able to say, “Okay, you taste this. Do you think its tannins are rough? Do you think the color is lousy? Do you think it smells too much of oak?” Instead, the winemaker is faced with something he cannot defend, because the criticism is vague, non-mathematical, and subjective.

  14. Thanks for responding, SUAMW. I think we agree about quite a lot. For example, we agree that there should be “SOME standards and criteria.” I went and looked at your rating system, and I like it very much. It’s very clear.

    Yes I have tried to develop & apply a reliable system for rating wine for my own use. I use it at CellarTracker, where I have posted about 160 reviews as VeniceCalif. And yes I have attended various sensory evaluation seminars, most recently at UC Davis, the Advanced course led by John Beuchenstein. And yes I learned a lot.

    And Yes I am in the liberal arts, and Yes I do believe that poetry can be evaluated against some set of criteria and standards. They are just not absolute standards, because different people use different standards. I think we agree about that. And I actually do this for a living, as I write books about art. Assuming that because I’m in the liberal arts, that I’m going to “have trouble with this concept” is a stretch on your part.

    Enough self-defense, now on to your point which is very good: Do we evaluate based on our own prefs or on typicity? Most of the time I use typicity, but sometimes excellent wines come along that don’t fit the typical norms. Being in the art business, I tend to look out for that kind of thing. I find using typicity all the time to be too limiting.

    I salute your rating system, and I look forward to continuing this discussion.

  15. The only information wine scores give us is an ordinal ranking of wines preferred by a particular critic. If Steve gives Wine A a 94 and Wine B a 92, all we can conclude from that is that Steve on this particular occasion likes A a bit more than B. That is not a lot of information but is not irrelevant if you trust the palate of the critic. If critics would tell us why Wine B fell short of Wine A by providing projectible criteria, we would be much better informed and the scores would be more meaningful. But in general critics don’t provide that information.

    The question is why not? Is it simply to keep tasting notes brief or do they rely on intuition rather than criteria to make judgments? Art and music critics, at least the thoughtful ones, are able to say something useful about how they arrive at their judgments. Why not wine critics?

  16. Dear Edible Arts, you ask why critics don’t provide more information. Speaking for myself, keep in mind that my scores are accompanied by text. Nobody ever mentions that. All they do is criticize the scores. And I don’t have 500 words to explain everything in detail. It’s more like 40-50 words. I work on those descriptions very carefully. People who follow my reviews know how to read inbetween the lines and make lots of inferences based on a few words, e.g. “somewhat sweet,” “direct,” etc.

  17. I would like to make some observations on this debate. I believe the debate can be broken down to two issues:

    (1) Scoring based on preferences vs. typicity

    (2) Scoring based on a “salad bowl” or “melting pot” approach.

    Allow me to explain #2. In a salad bowl, the individual ingredients are distinct and identifiable. Conversely, in a melting pot the individual ingredients are present but not readily identifiable.

    SUAMW clearly prefers the salad bowl approach. I imagine a Zagat-like scoring system, with Food/Décor/Service/Cost replaced by Aroma/Flavor/Texture/Body/Finish, based on typicity will make him happy.

    Peter T summed up my thoughts on this subject for the most part. Whether it is Parker, Miller, Tanzer, Raynolds, Meadows, Heimoff, or Laub, I have come to understand their reviews and scores in the context of my preferences. This allows me to make an informed decision/educated guess whether I may or may not like something.

    This brings up a point I don’t believe has been mentioned yet. A score without a corresponding review is useless. With most reviewers/critics taking a melting pot approach, separating the numerical score from the corresponding review removes all context from the numerical score. Would including reviews with the score in selling/marketing placate the critics?

    [An aside, I wish someone would invent an app that would allow me to pull up reviews & score simply by taking a picture of the label. Any takers? I offer the idea freely.]

  18. Steve,

    Your descriptions are more helpful than most and do come across as carefully written. But they are (typically) descriptions of the wine, not necessarily of the score. I think critics of wine scores are often puzzled by the relationship between the tasting notes and the score because it isn’t explictly addressed. Of course, space and time constraints may make it impossible to explain the score. The limitations may inhere in the genre.

  19. Eidble Arts, if someone can’t relate one of my scores with the accompanying review, then that person is beyond my help. They don’t need a more detailed explanation, they need to take a class in remedial English.

  20. Steve,
    You are totally right. This is really a stupid debate that I am tired of listening to and reading. I work in retail and nearly 90% or more of my customers understand wine ratings. We,the writers are the only ones that get some sort of thrill out of beating this dead horse. Parker, Galloni, Tanzer, 1Winedude, yourself and I all have your own preferences, and our scores or grade reflects that. I think numerical scores give a broader range of preference and are easier for the reader to grasp. The A,B,C,D method is o.k. but very narrow in it’s expression of the true feeling of how the reviewer feels. When I feel a wine is a total waste of money, a score of 68 really hits it home for the reader.
    Of course, every writer should write a descriptor giving a reason as to why they rate a wine the way they do. This is the most valuable information for the reader. Scores will always be there and we should use them responsibly. Shame on a retailer who abuses them. And, shame on a consumer that simply buys a wine for a score… I think they are few and far between.

  21. Really, it is a five or six point scale when you think about it – any score below 90 is pretty much ignored by consumers and scores of 95 and above are few and far between.
    Accordingly, I continue to propound adoption of decimalization! Alphabet bias is so unfair to those wines beginning with “D” or later and awarded 90s or 91s …

  22. Next Post Please : )

  23. To Brian M:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45928511/ns/technology_and_science-science/#.Tw24ioFjEhx

    “In our culture, and in most cultures, we teach our kids to discriminate sounds and colors, we work really hard at that,” said Hildegarde Heymann, a sensory scientist at the University of California, Davis. “We very rarely tell kids what things taste and smell like — we may tell them it tastes good or tastes bad.”

    “I may tell you this is really yummy, it tastes just like my grandma’s apple pie; (but) my grandma may have used cinnamon and your grandma may have used cardamom and they are totally different apple pies, but we don’t go into that. We don’t teach people to pay attention to their noses,” she said.

    The point is not to identify and rattle off a bunch of descriptors – which is what a term like “Salad bowl” seems to imply. The point is that 1) if you can’t identify the variety(ies) then how can you tell a) if the wine is a good quality example, and b) where it’s from. Furthermore, being able to discern and identify sensory components allows one to infer much about not only the wine in the glass at that moment, but also the grapes used, the growing conditions and decisions, production as well as longevity and food pairing possibilities.

  24. Excellent perspective on this issue. Makes sense to me. Thanks for putting the issue to rest :-)

  25. Randy Caparoso says:

    Very dubious “analysis,” Steve. Just because people have a tendency to rate others as a “10,” or “9″ or “5,” it doesn’t mean it’s in any way an accurate assessment of their fellow man. Obviously, it isn’t, and so is associating aesthetically pleasing wines with numerical scores…

    Two wrongs have never made a right, and the longer we all persist in this method of conveying quality, the longer we keep consumers’ grasp of quality twisted. It’s a disservice that we all need to grow out of…

  26. Randy, I don’t know what else to say about point scores. It’s all been said. Thanks.

  27. “When he says he’s ’90 percent certain’ of something, he doesn’t expect to be grilled as to why he’s not 89 percent certain or 91 percent certain.”

    I love that analogy.

    I never understand why people get so upset about the 100-point system. Even proponents of the system will agree that wine cannot be defined by a number. Using that as a base of an “argument against” is therefore futile; especially since all professional wine reviews are accompanied with text. If you don’t like the numbers, read the text; if you don’t like the text, find a new publication.

    The 100-point system has several benefits. Mainly it is a quick way to take on a recommendation from a professional wine critic. This can be very helpful in (a) selecting a wine from a vast array of choices, (b) aligning one’s palate with a particular critic, which has obvious benefits such as practically being able to taste a wine before purchase, and (c) being introduced to a new wine that you may have never heard of (e.g. I see a 96 point Zinfandel at a nice price from a new winery, maybe I order a few bottles and give them a shot). I use the 100-point system as a guide. Do I always agree with the ratnigs? Of course not. But I would rather go by recommendation than just randomly selecting a bottle with no clue what’s in it.

    The drawbacks?
    Some people only buy 98-100 point wines, and force themselves to like every single one of those wines because they don’t know any better. I have a cure for this, and it’s a simple one — blind tastings… they make a person honest and they are extremely educational. If someone is afraid to do this, well they just don’t trust their own palate.
    Some people stop buying wines they like just because they receive some lower ratings. This, too, is ridiculous.

    In both of these cases, the consumer is working with the point system incorrectly.

    To sum up:
    (1) Relax. This shouldn’t be upsetting to anyone.
    (2) Using the point system as a guide can be very helpful; if that’s not enough, read the text that always accompanies the score.
    (3) Have your own opinion. Don’t rely on critics to define what you personally like.

    I know this is obvious, and maybe I haven’t said much, but holy geez do people get way too worked up about this!! It’s wine for crying out loud. It’s too great of a hobby to get one’s self all worked up. Enjoy it, discuss it, savor it, remember it, appreciate it.

  28. Ron Saikowski says:

    I veiw scores as that person’s perceptions of a wine, not necessarily my perceptions. However, wine scores can tell you if a wine is flawed or not. If it gets a score of 84 or better, then I might purchase that wine with the understanding there are no flaws. Anything in the 84 to 100 (84 is arbitrary) is considered to be a wine to try since it should not have flaws.

  29. Colin Heinrich says:

    Steve, I’m with you right up to the point where you say “I think consumers get it.” Few consumers get it, most consumers see scores as handed down from Moses as the word of god(s). Few wine writers (yourself excluded, thank you for that) do anything to dispel that myth, and in fact most wine writers, however they can without being grossly obvious, encourage consumers to think that way because it helps the wine writer in maintaining power and their livelihood. Just one of the many problems with wine scoring. OUR job is to EDUCATE consumers about scores and drive home the idea that a wine is “around 94″ not that it IS 94 as gospel. Keep up the good work.

  30. Hi Steve,
    I think one of the main issues with point scores (at least for me, and probably to the general public too), is that every wine critic (and there´s lots of them), has his own way of coming up with scores…
    You can see it by the comments on this page: ” when I rate wines”, “the system I use”, “my system is a bit fuzzier”, etc etc…
    This makes it confusing and frustrating to both consumer and producers.
    In many cases, I´ve seen wine critics just give a number based on how much they liked a wine, without any structure to their analysis. I learned to rate or grade a wine based on the 20 point judging scale, where there are certain parameters evaluated and each parameter gets points deducted if the wine is not correct for that parameter. Overall, if the there are no points deducted, the wine gets a good score. My main issue with some wine critics is that instead of following a more structured way of “grading” a wine, they just give a score based solely on how the wine tasted or made them feel on a certain day.

  31. Gregg Burke says:

    Steve I commend you on your honesty on this topic. There are just too many variables for the 100 point system to be used by single tasters. Scores from single tasters should not be considered. I do not mean this as an attack. I just think tasting panels are the only way to standardize and legitamize the system.

  32. Tone Kelly says:

    I would like to bring up some very old history to remind everyone what it was like BEFORE numerical scores. Back in the 60′s and early 1970s wine reviews were dominate by the British and their style of wine writing was very vague and imprecise. Such terms as “this is a heroic wine” or “good lunch claret” were commonly used. Robert Parker brought several concepts to his publication
    1. More descriptive commentary
    2. A conclusion if the wine was excellent, good, poor, etc.
    3. A numerical score as a shorthand to express both the conclusion and what he felt the wine was on an overall basis

    We shouldn’t overlook that today’s reviews are much more descriptive than they ever were in the 1960′s. That said the retailer has trained consumers to look for scores over 90. Even if we went to a 20 point scale or a 5 star rating scale, the retail industry would adopt this and they would prominently post 4 and 5 star wines and the 1-3 star wines would be the new under 90 no man’s land wines.

    For better or worse some sort of a scale will be used by retailers. It is a short hand. People like shorthands in their lives as it aids them in buying decisions for low cost wines. In my own wine reviews I often but not always give a score. Yet when I go back later to see if I would buy the wine I find that I gravitate to the notes and not the numerical score.

  33. Rick Schofield says:

    “A good lunch claret” IS more helpful than “85 Wine Advocate.” The former means a medium-bodied, not too-high-in-alcohol, red that is Good (inferring what you should expect to pay as well). It also connotes the taste, as wines from places with AOC laws all have a certain style.

    “85 points” could be any competently made red that Parker feels is not a dense, full-bodied, blockbuster. Could be Spanish, Californian, Slovenian, etc.

    As far as more description than ever: More is not always better. Writers compete to coin new adjectives, use hyperbole, and increase the amount of descriptors. Furthermore, most people don’t recognize the same descriptors. When I say strawberry, someone else says cherry. And I’ve never even smelled Acacia, Cardamom, Broom, or Jackfruit.

    One critic’s 94 is another man’s 84. And those marks are not “around” each other. It’s like reading your horoscope from two different newspapers.

    To help the buyer, just say “Excellent, Very good, Good, or Fair FOR IT’S CATEGORY or FOR ITS PRICE.” or Gold, Silver, Bronze. (No need to print reviews worse than that, of course).

    Moreover, a helpful* and basic paragraph is best but if one needs shorthand, then a Word is better than a Number.

    Lastly, consumers don’t get it. They will choose a Joe Blow 5 star or 93pts over a Joe Blow 4 star or 88pts, every time.

    They’ll even choose a 92 over a 90 if the price is the same … unless they are smart enough to interact with the retailer or sommelier … in which case the seller would find out what kind of taste preference the buyer has, or how long the buyer intends to cellar the wine, or what kind of sauce the chicken comes with, etc.

    The seller will also explain that many of his wines were not reviewed in the media (and why) and that writers all have to make a living and they often have ulterior motives – they can’t just alienate all the producers.

    Meanwhile, to get repeat clients, the store or restaurant, must recommend the right wine to different customers at the right time, and at the right price. For that, Joe Blow’s numbers are not necessary.

    The typical professional Wine Buyer tastes far more wines per year than the typical writer (published or blogger) so they have a better handle on what’s available, comparatively, in their market.

    Regarding low cost wines, the difference between a shorthand 86 and an 88 is even more meaningless considering the stakes. For two different $70 Volnay 1er crus, even I would think twice about the 86 pointer assuming the two wine scores were written by the same critic at the same time. But for me even in that case, I generally go with the reputation or style of the producer.

    Rick Schofield
    Port Ewen, NY

    PS: For me, a helpful paragraph is not about colors and scents. It is about Body – light, medium or full, Sugar impression, Acid level, Tannin impression, new Oak level, Alcohol level, and maybe a good word to sum up like “Excellent,” or “Heroic.”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Research-Grade Wine Evaluation « notes from the winemaker - [...] I type this, over on Twitter, Dr. Vino, Steve!, and lord knows where else, folks are rehashing—with considerable vitriol—arguments …
  2. David J. Duman: The Peculiar Defenses of the 100 Point Wine Rating System - Start Catering | Start Catering - [...] Chronicle Wine Editor Jon Bonné and freelance writer and Wine Enthusiast West Coast Editor Steve Heimoff. Both of these …
  3. The Truth About Wine Scores « Edible Arts - [...] scores. Here are a number of important wine blogs that took up the issue this week. (Here, here, here, …

Leave a Reply

*

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

Categories

Archives