You Don’t Score Wine? You’re Full of Crap
Okay, now that you’re here reading this, hear me out. I used the title, “You Don’t Score Wine? You’re Full of Crap” because of all the posts that denounce the practice of scoring wine. They range from “Wine Scores are Full of Shit,” “Points Are Pointless,” “Hype and Illusion” and my favorite “Robert Parker Must Die” (okay I made that last one up). Everyone seems to be on this never ending cycle of crapping on the 100 point, 5 point, 12 point, 2 stems up scale, that rarely do I see anyone talking about the benefits and reasons WHY it is so popular.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way:
- Scoring wine is partially subjective and imprecise. We’re talking about a sensory experience. What you like is different than what I like…yeah, yeah I get that. My 92 might be your 94…big deal. We’re also talking a little science here. Acid, balance, varietal characteristics all play into the documentable repeatable part of wine scoring. Wine is an agricultural product. It’s obvious when you get a flawed peach. You don’t hear anyone saying, “How can you call that peach bad…some people like under-ripe crunchy peaches.” Well, they might, but it’s not how a peach is supposed to be.
- A score will not dictate if you will like or dislike a wine. Just because Ebert and Roeper give a movie two thumbs up, does that mean you’re going to love it? Hell no, but it might give you an indication if all the critics are giving it two thumbs, five reels, four stars, or whatever rating they’re using. Face it, we’re not talking three selections of rum or even 10-20 selections of beer, we’re talking hundreds and sometimes thousands of different wine bottles at different price points staring at consumers in a mocking, snooty tone. A score offers a starting point.
- It is human nature to score and rate. We rate everything from football (with a draft day scorecard) to hot dogs. We make decision on hotels bookings (show me only 4 star rated hotels) to restaurants (needs to have a Zagat rating of 25 or higher). At our house we rate the dinners on a five star rating. If a new recipe doesn’t get 4 or 5 stars, it doesn’t get made again. Life’s too short to eat a 3 star meal.
- The 100 point scale is flawed. Partially subjective sensory experiences like movies, art, food and wine don’t lend themselves to a precision based scale like 100 points. While I appreciate the fact that Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, Wine & Spirits, and International Wine Cellar can taste through thousands of wines that I will never try, there is no discernable difference between 88 and 89 points (or 99 and 100 points). Do I look through their list and make mental notes of high scoring wines that fit my budget and preferences…you bet (as I’m sure most subscribers do)! BUT, I would never spend more than $50 on a wine that I didn’t have at least some personal experience with (previous vintage, personal referral, tasting room sample) regardless of the score. Granted, this is my stance…many of you may have different thresholds.
There Is Value In Those Numbers
With all of its controversy and flaws, I think there is some tangible value in wine ratings. You may be a rating naysayer but I guarantee you, everyone is a wine critic. You’re drinking a great bottle of Riesling from Finger Lakes and it pairs perfectly with your lemon chicken and scallop pasta. You rave about it the next day at work. At its most basic you have a rating system of don’t like, meh, like, love (a four point scale). Sometimes that co-worker goes the extra step and says, “Oh man, sounds like a great bottle of wine. On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate it?” Boom, you just became a wine reviewer with a full blown 10 point scale.
Wine Scores Have Made Wine Better
Stick with me here…if Consumer Reports didn’t provide detailed ratings and reviews on cars that held automakers accountable for quality and reliability, do you think Detroit (Japan and Germany) would really go the extra mile to blow you away with fit and finish and long lasting parts? Auto makers are held to a higher standard by the court of public opinion and formal reviews. The same holds true for wine. For 30 years, the power of review was held by a few. These traditional “Booze Lit Crit” as Tony Greenberg calls them could make or break a wine, winery and an entire vintage with the powerful stroke of their quill. In the world of the internet, hundreds of wine bloggers and thousands of consumers pass judgment (cast reviews) on a wine in 140 character tweets or 300 word reviews. The aggregation of this information on sites like Cellar Tracker, Cork’d or Snooth provide a valuable resource of information to consumers. If information and knowledge is power then traditional print Bruce Banner has been transformed into the Incredible Hulk through the internet. This power (along with more modern wine making practices) has caused the quality of wine to improve. Look on the shelves, there is a whole hell of a lot less Boones Farm and Carlo Rossi Jug Wine than there used to be.
Wine Scores Act As a Guide
The majority of people don’t analyze wine like writers / bloggers do. They couldn’t tell a cassis from a cranberry and tannin is something you do at the beach. My guess is that 80% of wine drinkers, even those that consider themselves regular drinkers are just looking for something that tastes good, fits their style, goes with their food and is in their budget (often times the label makes the decision).
- Case Study #1: I recently went on a shopping trip with two people that drink wine on a pretty regular basis (2-4 bottles per week). As we walked around this little eclectic wine shop in East Portland, I watched them pick up bottles and look at the cards, “Wow, 92 points Wine Spectator.” “Oh, honey look at this one, the staff here rates it a top pick, and it’s only $18.” What I noticed from this shopping adventure was that the couple sought out red wine, was okay venturing to the wild side of Nebbiolo and Granache, but was more comfortable having the score as a guide to make a decision. It told them, someone else with more wine tasting experience than them, tasted this wine and thought it was a 9 out of 10.
- Case Study #2: I asked people on my Facebook page about wine scores and buying decisions. The non-scientific results of 20+ comments were pretty mixed from, “I know what I like” to “It helps when picking a new wine.” While not for everyone, a rating system acts as a referral and source of trust when navigating the sea of selection.
Scores should act as a guide or a baseline as one reviewers experience with the wine. I think consumers are smart enough to make that connection in the same way that they don’t blindly spend $20-30 on a movie date just because it got good reviews. They analyze the plot, the actors, and length; then they compare that with the mood they are in. If they are really on the fence, they may check a few more reviews before making their decision. Before dropping $30 on a night of entertainment with wine, smart consumers are going to do their homework. They’ll check the score and read the tasting notes on the card. “Deep muscular flavors of sour berry, earth, black tea, and leather,” may not be their thing but, “Bright red berry flavors with hints of pie filling and a smooth velvet finish that lingers for eternity,” could be right up their alley.
Moreover, wine information shouldn’t come from only one source. Wine as the province of one solitary palate is a sham, no matter how skilled and experienced that palate. Why? Because palates are different. Some like salt and some like sugar. (Doug Frost; Points are Pointless)
Wine Ratings Aren’t Going Anywhere, Deal With It
As I mentioned earlier, it is human nature to evaluate, rate and pass judgment on things. Those who do so with experience and consistency (see Consumer Reports or Wine Enthusiast) end up being trusted resources for information and decision making. Do you go to Consumer Reports when looking at buying your next brand of ice cream? Neither do it, but obviously enough people cared for them to review it in the July 2010 issue. When it comes to wine, I’m a fan of 5-10 point scales, letter grades, and things customers understand (I’d buy it, I’d drink it if someone else was paying, I’ll skip it ~ Atlanta Wine Guy)
The most effective wine reviews must contain ALL the pertinent information to help in making an informed buying decision. Wine reviews that leave out important facts like alcohol percentages are potentially misleading the consumer on how the wine will pair with food. I also feel that tasting notes are king. So what if that Syrah scores 97 points. If I’m not a fan of powerfully extracted, big cherry, spicy wine, I’m not going to like it. The score gives an impression paired with the experience; the tasting note describes the sensory encounter with the wine. A great example of this in the blog world is Steve Paulo from Notes from the Cellar.
In a comment on Tom Wark’s Fermentation, Charlie Olken writes, “The writing, the ability to describe wine in a way that someone else tasting that wine will agree is, in fact, of great value.”
You can express your frustration and disdain for the 100 point system all day long. Chances are you’ll see the removal of the three-tier system before the dismantling of the 100 point system.
My Advice To Consumers
- Seek out several reviewers that you can trust. Over time you’ll find people who have similar likes and dislikes with text you can relate to.
- Drink more wine. You will learn so much by drinking a variety of wine. Be sure to take notes on what you like and don’t like about your experiences (be careful…if you do that long enough and it ends up on the computer, they’ll call you a blogger).
- Use scores as a guide if you need them, otherwise drink what you like.
For the rest of you, don’t tell me that my points are pointless or that my rating scale is full of shit. If you say you don’t score wine, I think you’re full of crap.
Tags: Wine Score
40 comments on “You Don’t Score Wine? You’re Full of Crap”
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I sort of like the peach analogy, but some people like red (ripe) papaya, and some like green (crunchy and, well, green) papaya. They’re both sold and marketed that way, so I can’t necessarily say it works. However, the point that certain things are supposed to be a certain way is valid. If as “cheesecake” tastes like beef stew, it is flawed. Maybe that’s an even worse metaphor.
I may be unpopular (as a “maverick” wine blogger) in my opinion, but I think a frame of reference is good. However, I don’t think shelf-talkers are honest. They are a marketing gimmick; many list a different vintage, and many have scores that have completely unknown and untrustworthy providence (93 points! -suburbanwino.com). I like descriptors better in this case, but only if they make sense. 99.9999999% of folks buying wine don’t know what a Liberian breadfruit blossom smells like. Just say “apples”. People can relate.
Unfortunately, I disagree with you saying, “A score will not dictate if you will like or dislike a wine.” No, you may not like the wine, but the score will often lead you to buying the wine, and then when you don’t like it, you may think, “well, I’m supposed to like this because the experts do. What’s wrong with me? I must not like wine. I’ll stay away from it and stick to beer.” That’s not progress from the evangelical side of vino.
Both you (Clive) and Joe hit on a solid point about people second guessing themselves. How often has someone gone to a movie that received high scores and came back and said “I was supposed to like this movie because the experts like it, I guess I should just stick to TV.” I think consumers are smart enought to know that a rating carries a degree of subjectivity and it is one man (or magazine’s) opinion. Some of that problem comes into play because of the 100 point scale. By nature it conveys a sense of perfect analysis.
Agree with you both, clear talking points are crucial. I’m surprised, Joe, that you’ve never smelled a Liberian BreadFruit Blossom. Clean crisp stuff…smells like apple 😉
So would both of you agree, that you’re guilty of “scoring” wine, whether formally or informally? I whink we all do it with every wine, regardless of our rating scale. As, “so called experts” we’re often asked our opinion on said wine too.
Thanks for stopping by. I really hope we get some good dialogue here.
You make some undeniable points Josh. I was a little surprised by your choice of analogy and the finish with “that’s what a peach is supposed to taste like.” The homogenization of wines via the major wine rating systems is what bothers me most. I have heard winemakers say “This is going to be a 95 point wine. As opposed to this wine is beautiful people are going to love it.”
I do think wine ratings are important to the success of a region. So my beloved WA wines have benefited overall from the high scores by Quilceda Creek, Betz, DeLille and recently Columbia Crest and the attention that comes along with that. I like variety and variance in wine, that’s part of it’s beauty and not just varietal to varietal but also the styles of winemaking within one grape. I feel like the major wine rating systems have moved us away from variance and toward a “like this” direction.
I agree with Joe’s above point about people second guessing their palates because of a score that a wine they don’t particularly like got. I think describing the wine in a review is vital, this should tell people whether or not they might like the wine, a number is a clif notes version, a kind of laziness. Like books on tape or instant noodles. Wine shouldn’t be a “rushed” purchase, its about enjoying the experience, not abbreviation.
It’s so funny you posted this today, or whatever day it is… I can hardly tell. I just wrote a review last night and I didn’t score it. I have on all of my previous reviews, but I was thinking to myself that the point score or letter grade I assign to my opinion isn’t doing anyone any good.
I decided instead to either “recommend” it or say if I like it/dislike it instead.
Now I’m totally conflicted. I feel like I’m writing to Dear Abby or Anne Landers of wine blogging, but Josh, what should I do?! 😉
oh and Joe, I would totally respect a 93 Point Rating from suburbanwino.com over any other rating scale, Enthusiast/Spectator? bah! They have nothing on you
Dear Confused Scorer,
Do what feels right to you, but you already scored the wine with your “recommend” or “like/dislike” piece. Your previous rating scale (The Paulo Method – kinda sounds like a form of birth control, eh) just told people how much, or little you liked it. You aren’t making a statement of absolute truth about the wine, in my opinion, you did a fine job of just saying how it is. If you make a dish on Thursday night that for some reason doesn’t turn out…you give a “rating” and say, it was horrible, it was all right and I probably wont make it again. Then there are the times you say, my wife ended up licking the plate clean like a lap dog getting her last meal. All of those are ratings (just maybe not numerical). They also help me decide if I want to make that recipe or not.
B+, 4/5, 92 Points to you!
I you just saved me a trip to the shrink.
For the record, as a scoring skeptic, I have always said that ratings are meaningless, not that they were pointless. I will admit that my position is pretty much Don Quixote stuff, and that the system is here to stay. Sure, we all try to sort our wines into some kind of bucket, whether “I like/don’t like” or “92 pts”, but I think that there are certain implications inherent in the buckets that we use. The 100 point scale definitely implies a scientific value to something that cannot be quantified to that degree.
I tend to side with Clive in my concerns about the effects of these ratings. While I think most would have to agree that the overall quality of wine has been improved during the scoring era, but I think that there has been a compressor effect on wine. We have raised the valleys, but I think that some of the peaks have also been lowered. Homogenization is not our friend, and I think that’s what we have been steadily moving towards. Joe’s point about second guessing is also valid, and I don’t share your faith in the consumer to recognize this. Wine and movies are totally different things. People recognize that everyone has different tastes in movies, but they often don’t with wine. Everyone watches movies, and has a background to tell what they are more likely to enjoy. The same is not true for wine, and the people who depend most heavily on scores are probably those with the least familiarity with it. A first time wine buyer is likely to look for the bottle with the 90+ rating, and when they hate it they are more likely to just say, “wine isn’t for me.”
Anyway, all of that aside, you know that I respect your position on this, and I have no problem with people who choose to use ratings. I understand their usefulness, I just choose not to employ them on my blog. You have done a great job of stating the argument for scoring, and I think this post will get some great discussion going. I think this is an issue where there isn’t necessarily a right or a wrong view, everyone just has to make up their own mind on the question. This post is going to help a lot of people think through the whole issue.
Thanks for taking the time to compose a well thought out and educated response. I think we can all agree that the 100 point system has flaws, for many reasons, but one being that scientific element of it.
I can see your point on the movie piece. We tend to know the styles of movie we like while novice wine drinkers have yet to even reach that level. How about a more close comparison with food. Granted we still have our taste preferences for food, but when a new high price restaurant opens and only receives mild reviews…I certainly think twice about going. If it receives good reviews and I go and don’t enjoy the place…I don’t feel insecure. Maybe I have more faith in people that they aren’t so damn insecure
You recently reviewed a wine that you gave a good rating. You may not have assigned it a number but you did “score” it for your readers…with your language.
“This is one of the most interesting desert wines that I’ve tasted, and at an extremely reasonable price. I would absolutely buy this wine again, and would certainly recommend it to anyone who is able to get their hands on it.”
I would infer from your review that your experience with the wine comes in at 90-92 points or a 4/5 in my rating system. Whether you put it down on paper / or PC you are still scoring wine.
Thanks again for your comment.
BParkerChuck uses the 100 pt system, Thomson Vineyards uses the scale of 1-4 and the “I like it or I don’t” methodology. I think the latter two have an advantage over the first because it forces an individual to go one way or the other. Too many people nowadays are middle of the road because they’re afraid to take a chance or make a stand.
I like what you did in the post, you took a stance, picked a side if you will. When winemakers stop saying “This wine is going to get 92 points” and start taking a stand, I’ll stop hammering on selling more wine.
As user generated content becomes more and more mainstream, no 92 point score is going to get me to buy anything. But trusted sources (weather that’s a personal friend who has great taste in wine or a blogger who I’ve followed and agreed with some of their feedback on several of their wines) will ultimately become the new “rating system”
Frankly, as a consumer I am very tired of hearing a tasting room staff, winemaker or otherwise quote the score. And for the next 120 days I will not buy a wine if the people selling it DT2 quote the score. That’s my personal stand. No matter how much I salivate and love what I’m tasting!
That is quite a stance to take. Good luck and hold true. The like it / don’t like it method is great. I think your 1-4 probably provides more insight because there are wines you “like -3 ” and there are wines you “really really like -4”
Don’t be too harsh on those tasting room gals (they’re usually gals, right), they’re just spewing what they’ve been told. You are an educated wine buyer who knows her palate. The other 70-80% of people in the room are just learning. That 92 point score may mean nothing to them, but it does give them a baseline.
Well, I guess I am full of shit and my eyes aren’t even brown! Seriously, I do not rate wines. I_do_not_rate_wines. Do I think you are full of shit because you do? No, but I would like to see more wine bloggers rate their wines upon blind tasting.
I have very mixed feelings about the point system and those mixed feelings have come from actually working with the point system from a retail standpoint. Work in a tasting room for almost 8 years like I have and you will see very much how the score will dictate how people buy wine or not. And my experience comes from working at two of the best wineries in WA State – L’Ecole and Forgeron Cellars.
Wine consumers need to know that the WE and the WS does not go to each winery and say, “Pretty please, send me your wines.” A winemaker has to be proactive if they want some points. There are actually self-proclaimed wine aficionados (only in their minds) who will avoid visiting wineries unless the wineries have over 95 point wines. What does that tell us? They do not trust their own palate and are just trophy wine buyers? And typically some of the same people (aka Cherry Pickers) of that thinking won’t even taste the wine, they will just buy it because of the score. Sure, the bottom line it is good for the cash register, but you’re still left with kind of a cold feeling that your wine is being wasted on someone who wouldn’t know the difference between a good wine and a mediocre.
Then the opposite – most winemakers and/or tasting room managers would prefer to have a wine given 88 any day than a 89. “What’s wrong with the 89? Wasn’t it good enough to get a 90?” 89 scores are the kiss of death and it’s tedious to have to explain constantly to the Cherry Pickers why it is still a very good wine, but in their minds, not_good_enough. Can their palates really distinguish between the difference of an extra point? Of course not.
Will I use the point system and have I used the point system to make my sales? Of course and I will continue. Again, it is the best tool we have at this time, but as we are using the points, I also think it is our responsibility as retailers, wine writers and bloggers to encourage wine consumers to think beyond the score and learn to trust their own palate.
Catie – I know you use and have used and probably will use scores to help sell wine in your new tasting room. They obviously have a marketing power. Do you think they are just marketing muscle or do they really help the average consumer establish baselines and make decisions?
You say you don’t “rate” wine – I really enjoyed your recent Malbec piece (yes, I do read your stuff) I like how you explained the nose, the mouth feel and even provided food pairing options. I think this is awesome for consumers. BUT you did rate the wine…
“The wine filled my mouth with inky black liquid. It was supple and full of dark brambleberries, ripe cherries, plums and espresso with notes of milk chocolate. It was really quite a lucscious wine. The tannins were visible, but didn’t get in the way of the fruit. There is a reason why it received a Double Gold at the 2010 Seattle Wine Awards.”
Your statement of agreement with the double gold is a rating.
I still stand by my premise that we all rate wine in some way or another.
Thanks again and good luck with the wine shop. I can’t wait to come by and have you sell me a 97 point wine 😉
So are you against scores or only scores given by professionals…?
The reason I am asking is because we’re creating an application for the iPad in these days that’ll make it possible for all guests at wine tasting rooms to rate the wines they’re tasting, and send these ratings to themselves on email. You can follow my link if you want to read up more on it …
I believe that due to facebook, twitter and such, it’s now more about personal experience. In such a regard I agree with you on your Robert Parker ‘quotes’. Though I think Robert can live in symbiosis with personal tastings, maybe …?
Though one thing’s for sure, I’d much more trust my friend if I had access to his ratings than any other ratings. Today everything is word by mouth …
Let me clarify. I do not rate wines. But I will use the points from WS, WE, WA, etc as sales tools, if I have to.
Many good thoughts on this thread already. Josh, I think this topic as you wrote in your post is blurring the lines a little on a couple of things. If we each “score” our wine experience, in whatever way we might do it, doesn’t necessarily validate (or invalidate) scoring by the big pubs as a practice.
As you already mentioned, as human beings, we need ways to express our experiences, likes/dislikes, etc… and certainly providing some kind of rating or scale has helped our species quickly do that without performing detailed and time-consuming analyses. In today’s world, we want to consume information and make-decisions as fast as possible, especially in America. Unfortunately, that has made us somewhat like lemmings.
My distaste for scores is specific to those who buy wine solely based on WS, WA, RP and whatever the shelf-talker states (Joe mentioned this above). These are the same people that I try to have a wine conversation with and all they can tell me is that “this wine scored a 97.” It’s like having a conversation with Nigel in Spinal Tap about the amplifier… “but, this one goes to eleven.”
Now, if over time they have discovered that their palates are right in line with Parker’s and they always like the wines he picks, then by all means, that’s an easy way to buy wines you know you are going to like. But, I believe the wine consumer is limiting themselves if they only choose wines by points, unless they make lots of money and only care about status and possessing wines no one else will ever be able to get their hands on.
Secondly, I don’t think the Consumer Reports comparison works. When I look for a car or an appliance using CR, there is a list of attributes, features and components that are compared together in a list or grid. Additionally, in most cases these features are measured much more objectively based on tests CR has established. This is not the case for wine when all the consumer sees is a number. I don’t know for certain, but I am pretty sure Steve Heimoff is not using the same objective tasting sheet that RP uses. Outside of the basics of whether the wine is obviously flawed, corked or not varietally correct, the rest is COMPLETELY subjective. I don’t read movie critics either because very early on in life I found I would enjoy movies that the critics killed… maybe subconsciously this has caused my distaste on this front too? 😉
Yes, I score wine. I have done it with just words, with complex tasting sheets with 30+ attributes, and with just a simple 3, 4 or 5 point scale for fun. Most of these cases were for my own education to improve my personal sensory evaluation of a wine, but I liken this to CR where I was specifically sharpening my skills to identify specific attributes and making apples-to-apples comparisons (i.e. scientifically). I did not care about the final number nor did I publish it expecting people to abide by it and buy the wine. We score wines at our wine club parties so we can identify which wine attendees liked the most. In most cases there is never a clear winner, which supports my claim that a high score by RP or SH may not unequivocally equal the best wine FOR YOU.
Yes, they are here to stay and I can live with that, but I don’t have to blindly use them. As said above I think aggregate input from trusted sources will continue to complement or maybe even replace scores and systems like CT will help bring this aggregated feedback together for easy consumption by the general public.
Thanks for stirring the debate… it’s always good to see everyone’s opinions.
Ed, totally agree with not blindly following scores. Wine rock gods like you don’t need a score to tell you what you’ll like and don’t like…but be honest…doesn’t a $25 95 point score wine generate a little bit of curiousity for you?
Regarding consumer reports, how about when they review something subjective like Ice Cream (as linked in the post). I may not have the same taste alignments as their panel BUT, I have to admit as a lover of ice cream, I would be very inclined to try their highest rated yummy goodness.
My point in the post, as it looks like people are understanding, is that there are benefits to having scores. Granted, most seem to have strong dislike for the 100 point system, but this overall bashing of wine ratings is a little over the top.
More succinctly put if you’ve got a review with an easy to understand description, all the necessary facts (price, ABV, grapes, etc) and a rating, you’ve got something that can work as a guide to help people learn, make buying decisions, and explore. Staring blankly at a wall of 200 wines can be daunting (I remember it like it was yesterday). I was thankful for the starting point and then have learned from there.
Thanks for your input, Ed.
Let me also quickly comment on your statement about improving quality. Yes, I think you right on about the improvement of quality due to this practice. However, I agree with Ben that we have plateau’d in that regard and heading toward (if not already there) homogeneity because of it, which is not good in my opinion.
Thanks Josh. But, but, but – I do not SCORE wine as your blog title suggests. I do not put numbers on wines. My telling about the lusciousness of a wine is not putting a score on it. Let’s see here, do ball teams win by saying, “they’re uniform colors were prettier so they win the game.” Ha! No, ball teams win according to numbers – scores.
Actually, now we can discuss something that I elimated from my previous post – medals, like I discussed in my blog about the Malbec receiving a Double Gold. Call me old fashion, “Hello Old Fashion,” but I actually prefer to use medals as a way to market instead of the points. Medals give a much broader range of power and doesn’t limit the wine to a point.
Hello, Old Fashion Catie – You’re still the hippest cat in Walla Walla in my book. You may not have SCORED the wine with a specific point, but you did rate it. A rating of 95 points or double gold, either way it’s a score.
I would agree with you on medals. While they can be overdone too, I’d rather go with bronze, silver gold, double gold. I really appreciate the blind tastings done with large tasting panel format. You get an aggregate of experiences that bring forth a more appreciable rating that is not so granular. IMO double gold means would equate to a 4+ or 5 in my rating scale. If it fits my price range and wheelhouse of wines…bam, you have yourself a winner!
I like your stance. I never have been much into ratings, and was shocked at how many wineries ask if you read WS “a trade magazine”, as I just played tourist in Napa last wknd, and was asked that question in 2 out of wineries. Honestly, maybe it’s one of these weird “Millennial things”, but I feel like no one I know reads WS, let alone highlights point ratings and reviews. Shelf-talkers are a whole other game, and I like how Bob Dwyer from WWP called out that many shelf talkers are factually inaccurate, or leave off who the points were given by.
And although i agree with you. Let’s talk tongue!
*The tongue is the strongest muscle in the body (per Sq inch)
*It is a part of the body that can be custom mapped by a MW
*There is a claim that we all have a 4th taste sense for “Savory”
*Another claim that we can actually taste with the bottom of our tongue.
How much do we really know about our tongues? And how can we create a metric for the world on such an uninterpretable tool? I’d actually be more comforted if we had a machine that told us viscosity, tannin ppm, acidity, sugar, abv, and the classic info. From that we can probably deduce a range of mouthfeel. That’s one idea.
I just don’t get how we can all expect to know that an apple tastes like an apple. I think it is important to follow someone’s ratings, that share a commonality in wine preference and palatial findings.
So YES agreed – we need some metric for how wine can be promoted and sold to someone that has no idea what cassis and dust on the mid-palate means. But I also think we need to take ratings for what they are, a mere suggestion of what some person on some random day thought about this wine/ And i think there should be an Asterik denoting all ratings “The wine in this bottle has most likely changed flavor profiles from the time of the rating below, rating date: __/__/____.
Anyway, liked your stance, and mostly agree. But reality is, we all got different palates, and different glassware, and serve wine in different temperatures – all of which will throw off any scale or rating we apply to a wine, but think we can improve on our metrics.
PS: You really rate every meal at home!? That is awesome!
Andrew – To clarify we rate every NEW recipe at home. All three of us have to give it 4 stars to go in the save box.
I had no idea you were so into tongue…wow! Those are some pretty interesting tips on the tongue. I like your idea of an actual measurable machine. There are definitely stats that can be pulled out of every bottle of wine. The tannin PPM stat would be a valuable one. Could add an acid ratio based on tannin too. All very helpful with food pairing and aging.
Thanks for adding some very valuable insight and information to this conversation.
The truth about ratings is it is bullshit. From all angles, it is crap.
1 – Parker doesn’t blind taste and him and Dr. J hand out 90+ scores like they were candy. Not to mention the whole recent 100* debacle in Bordeaux. I also have word from a wine maker that he made the same wine for two different private labels and both were scored differently, one being in the low 90s and the other in the mid 80s. Only difference was which importer label was on each.
2 – The tasting notes matter most, but the points are where the damage is done. So I agree with Mr. Olken’s point (and for the record, he’s a great reviewer that hardly anyone knows…he is my second favorite). I will never believe someone can distinguish between a 90 or 91 point wine…or a 87 and an 86…and 89, we used to call that the kiss of death…for me at least, they were always slow sellers. Here is an example of where the tasting note sounds fine enough “Juicy and easy-going, with cherry, vanilla and spice flavors. Drink now.”, but I’d never publish it was 83 points.
3 – Lack of context. I don’t drink 30 – 40 – 100 – ??? wines in a day and score them. I drink them with food. Yes, I do attend large events and talk about the wines I taste at them. When I was a retail buyer, these events were really more for fun than anything else.
4 – Yeah, I “rate” wines with a category system. If I could start all over again, I’d go to a 3 point system. 1) I love it and would buy it again. 2) I would drink it on your dime. 3) Pass
5 – At least one (I think there have been several) have proven that consumers will like a wine more if they are told it has a higher score, even when in reality it had a crappy score. The power of suggestion is something people continue to doubt, but yet the advertising industry is worth what, $100 billion a year?
6 – I worked in retail. Crappy scores are out there, but they never (okay, I know of a couple of incidents) get put up. 75 points on a $50 wine ain’t going to get you a lot of sales. The 94 and 92 it got from two other sources, will.
7 – Be leary of shelf talkers, unless you know the store verifies them personally. I had trouble with one of the larger distributors here in GA who would give me falsified shelf talkers. It was my policy that no shelf talker ever got put up except by me. They could give me theirs, but I always verified it and then put it in my own format. I know a few stores who do this. My favorite shelf talkers are the ones written by the staff in the store. Pity they are so rare. I also recently ran across a shelf talker that talked about the 90 points WS score the wine got…in 1999!!!! Current vintage is 2006 and yes, in tiny letters at the bottom of the ST, it did say the review was for the 1999 vintage. It was the worst example of deceptive marketing I’ve ever seen and it made me throw up in my mouth a little.
Stepping down off my soapbox.
P.S. Shouldn’t the copyright say 2010?
Kevin, you’re very passionate about this topic. First off – I disagree about ratings being bullshit from ALL angles. I will agree (and did in the post) that the 100 point system is flawed (reasons already stated many times in the comments). However, we all rate wine and pass along our opinion. It provides a service. Put 100 wine drinkers in a score and a good percentage will make decisions based on the store shelf talker or a marketing shelf talker. Totally agree with your last point about being leary. Deceptive marketing of any kind deserves punishment and public berating.
Most of your arguments were against the 100 point scale. How do you feel about a 8 point scale like mine (1, 2, 3-, 3, 3+, 4, 4+, 5) or a letter scale like Steve Paulo or medals mentioned by Catie? 100 points is too precise, how about the more broad ratings? Doesn’t the wine virgin at least deserve some sort of insight into what they’re getting when they drop $25 on that special date wine. Wouldn’t seeing 4/5 from DrinkNectar.com provide a little more comfort that it was going to be good (assuming they knew who the hell I was)?
You have drank enough wine to know what you like. Most people haven’t. Here is an example. You love bubbles. I trust your bubble knowledge. When I’m in the market for a nice bottle of bubbles I’m going to come to you. I’ll take your recommendation, which is a form of a rating, and make my decision.
Really appreciate the thoughful comment and the copyright should at least say 2009 when I started…
I’ll admit it, I enjoy seeing how wines score. Especially ones that I’ve bought or liked. I’ve bought wines that I’ve tasted at the wineries, and then saw a good score on the wine and patted myself on the back for my decision. I’m not too proud to admit that a good score can validate my pre-existing opinion or create a new interest. It’s not the be all end all, but it influences me. I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t. Nice post Josh.
Matt, thanks for your honesty! I think it’s human nature. I do that same thing with wines I review. When I’m finishing up the post I like to go to Cellar Tracker and Corkd to see what other reviews come in at. Most of the time we’re all in the same ballpark.
I give this post a 92.
I think scores are becoming less relevant. They still move the market, but the next wave of winemakers are giving less of a sh*t about them. I’ve got a post coming up this week wrapping up a video roundtable discussion I had with some of Napa’s next-gen winemakers, and we touch on the scores topic specifically in Part 1. Sorry, not meaning to “link whore” with this comment but I think the videos will indeed factor into the overall discussion on the scores topic and will be relevant here. Or at least I hope!
Joe, as wine blogger supreme ruler of the universe winner, you can link here all you want! I can’t wait to see the dialogue in that video. They think they’re less relevant until they see a 95pt score move their product out the door faster than anything else.
I look forward to your new post on the subject
So you want a winery to weigh in? I can’t wait for the guy who comes after the Wine Advocate. The next step in evolution who rates wines on a 1,000 point scale. Because hey, if 100 points are useful, just imagine how awesome 1,000 will be.
All kidding aside, I think you’ve got some really good points. There are as many instances of wines getting better because of scores as there are wines getting worse because they’re catering to critics.
I guess the opions I just expressed don’t really relate to being a winemaker though. As a winemaker, I have only had glancing thoughts about how critics will perceive my wines. Most of those are retrospective. Like, “oh maybe I should have gone with that other weakass blend just to please all those critical pansies from xxxxx-land” and then I immediately laugh and think oh “Bleep xxxxx-land.”
Awesome! Thanks, Ryan. Your comment went to spam for a while there, sorry about that. It seems that a lot of wine makers (probably of big companies or those desparate to get started) are making wines to appeal to the potential score. Glad to see you stick to your guns.
I don’t think we’ll ever go to the 1000 point score, however.
There are tons of 94-100pt wines sitting on shelves and in warehouses right now. High scores and glowing reviews have never meant less.
When scores really moved the market, the bottom plonk got better, but the top got lowered too- People had to score to sell even if that meant doing what was not in wine’s best interest.
Here is an interesting post on the decline of wine quality since the 100pt scale. http://bit.ly/7JJSz8
Hardy, Rick Asltey, really, “never gonna give you up” – Is that the best you got!
I got the privilege to sit between to very prominent and influential wine makers recently just as they were discussing this topic. Both felt that the wine rating system was bogus and one even went as far to say he liked wines that were rated an 84 by one guy better than the 94’s . The other commented that one guy came to his winery for 10 minutes, rated the wine, took no notes and left! How can you rate 12 wines on a 100 point scale in 10 minutes, and then post in a major national magazine?
I appreciate it more when the wines are described by style, taste / flavors, and smell…It helps me more in the end on what I would eat with it and who I would serve it too.
Check out this system: http://www.wset.co.uk/documents/acsat2010.pdf
Cheryl – I would agree with them that the 100 point rating scale is bogus (flawed). There shouldn’t be such a scientific, quantifiable number tied to something so subjective. I love that you had the opportunity to hear from the winemakers and it’s very disappointing to hear of a critic coming through in a whirlwind to provide such an absolute decry of judgement (it’s bull crap)!
Thanks for the link resource! Saved it as a favorite!
Timely topic Josh!
You’ve covered the topic really well. I haven’t included scoring in my wine reviews for the many reasons already mentioned. In addition, at times I’ve thought it possibly discriminated and possibly discouraged folks from buying wine from small boutique wineries that haven’t yet had the opportunity to be blessed by a legitimate wine score.
With all that said I was at a party this last weekend. The host had a very nice selection of wine and of course by the end of the party conversation centered on wine and this persons choice of wine. Come to find out this particular wine enthusiasts wine purchasing decisions were solely based on score.
Being a person who enjoys the risk and rewards of ignoring a wine score was somewhat surprised by this persons logic behind a wine purchase. But On the other hand it did give me a healthy respect for the score and it affirmed the understanding that despite a persons wine experience a little guidance and a bit of hand holding is what the score serves up to those with so much wine and so little time;-)
Thanks for the post ~ Cheers!
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Scoring wine is good—that is—if everyone is doing it. Recently I shared a bottle of wine with friends and all 5 of us scored it. I gave it a 94.3!! But the other scores were: 89.2, 92.2, 96.0, and 88.1. ( http://www.napawapa.com/wines/view/JIjw/2010-Dominio-del-Plata-Malbec-BenMarco#wine=JIjw ) A couple of us thought it was stellar. Everyone else thought it was just good. The average was 92.0.
I would take the average score from a handful of my friends over Robert Parkers opinion every time!