Changing the Wine World One Badge at a Time

Can the 100 point system be overthrown? In a recent post, “You Don’t Score Wine? You’re Full of Crap,” we debated the fact that most people, whether through points, grades, stars, glasses, or even the basic like don’t like system, score wines. It is clear that the 100 point system is severely flawed and should be executed, BUT it is also clear that it is firmly in place and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. There are a few factors that contribute to the 100 point dominance:

  • Those who use it continue to hold the most influence. People like Robert Parker, Steven Tanzer and The Wine Enthusiast crew wield a great deal of wine power and until their publications become obsolete or they change, we’ll continue to see the scores.
  • Wineries and PR firms perpetuate the problem. Don’t believe me, go into any tasting room and you’ll probably hear someone behind the bar say, “This wine received 92pts in the lasts Wine Enthusiast magazine.” When wineries move away from this as a marketing tool the 100 point score will go the way of the dodo.
  • 100 point score is identifiable. Customers, especially those who are confused by wine (which is the majority of people), can identify with the rating system. Actually, any rating system whether it is A-F or 1-5 or 1-10 can be related to fairly quickly.

Is a Wine Scoring Revolution Coming?

Recently a group of bloggers have launched an effort to buck the traditions. A new wine badge system attempts to knock down the dominance of the 100 point scale. Is their attempt a mere pebble against the wall or is it the stone that could take Goliath down? Are these renegade mavericks onto something new or will we find the system floating in the river, another victim of the 100 point mafia?

Paul Mabray of VinTank says the badge system lets you “create a category for a wine that you believe in and assign a badge to it, explain the criteria openly and transparently, and only give those wines that you appreciate fit that category a badge.  Simple, elegant, but more importantly a TRUE representation of the quality you admire in the categories you create.  A wine fits or it doesn’t.” Badge ratings have currently been employed by Ward Kadel (DrXeNo), Mark de Vere (MdV MW), and more recently Steve Paulo (Notes from the Cellar). Steve currently has 9 badges while the other two writers have implemented 5.

The Pros

First off let me just say, kudos to the idea and the effort to change the way consumers think about wine. While wine is complex and can have several layers of aroma, flavor and texture, it is not a science deserving of being critiqued on 100 point scale. The visual indicators created by this trail blazing group of bloggers serve as a stamp of approval for their readers. Each of these writers has developed what Mark de Vere calls “taste tribes.” These are people who know like and trust the author and have aligned themselves with their likes/dislikes. Implementing badges for your taste tribe seems to be a strong alternative to numerical scores. The badge conveys a wine category along with a recommendation from the reviewer.

The Challenge

Several challenges present themselves when launching an attack on the status quo. For me, the badge system has potential but needs to keep the following in mind to be the new sheriff in town.

  • Identity – As I mentioned earlier people can easily and quickly related to a score. 4/5 is better than 3+/5. Two thumbs up are better than one thumb up. In order to have relevance to readers beyond your taste tribe the badge image needs to register. Ward Kadel’s “Awesome” badge is a good example of this. Awesome is identifiable and recognizable. Ward likes that wine and it is worthy of trying. Identity challenges arise with badges like “New World” or “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Brunello.” The image without the context of the description isn’t as easily identifiable by the customer. Badge users should keep identity in mind when creating their category and image.
  • Consistency – A tandem to identity is consistency. With 3 reviewers using badges there are 19 images representing about a dozen different categories. The 100 point system solidified its place by being a consistent product. While 93 points from Parker may be different than 93 points from Robert Dwyer (Wellesley Wine Press) there is still a consistency that the consumer can relate to. Badges could take greater hold if more standard categories and images took hold…but that would go against the grain of individuality that bloggers love so much.
  • Marketing – PR firms love marketing hooks. Scores / awards can become a lazy way to sell wine, but they can help establish a baseline to a confused consumer. 93 pts holds some weight when correctly displayed on a shelf talker. For badges to be successful at unseating the 100 point scale they need to be easily transferred to the marketing world. Right now, it’s easy for a marketer to put, “91 Points Steven Tanzer, December 2009.” How would this look? “Ward Kadel gives this the New World badge.”Steve Paulo’s badge, “Legit Juice,” has some good marketing potential. IF (and that’s a big if) PR people took the time to use a well crafted identifiable badge image on a shelf tracker or promo piece, that would carry some marketing muscle.
  • Influence – The fourth challenge in front of badges ruling the world is influence. This won’t happen overnight and will gain momentum as the first three items are worked out. Brands like Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, and Wine & Spirits carry a lot of influence. While it may be true that the wine blogging world has more readership than these three traditional media pieces, the trouble is that it is divided over 1000 different portals. I applaud the early adopters mentioned in this article. In order for a tipping point to occur several influencers, including 1WineDude, Dr. Vino, Vinography, and more would have to jump on board.

The revolution is beginning. The warriors are starting to don their armor. Personally, I think it’s a good direction to head and a worthwhile road to travel down. I would consider implementing badges on DrinkNectar but would want to do some market research first. I’ve recently implemented a visual indicator for my scoring system. It gives more clarity to 3/5 or 4+/5. I think it provides more visual awareness to a wine rating, but I haven’t done any voice of customer surveys. Another barrier for me is design. I’m not a graphic whiz. If I created a badge, it would probably end up being cheese fest.

What do customers want to see? I’ve seen pro and con comments from the blogging world but in the end, these badges are for consumers to help make better informed buying decisions. I encourage you to take some time to research what’s happening on the sites mentioned here. Leave them your feedback or leave some feedback here.

Do wine badges have the potential to overthrow the 100 point scoring system?

Referenced Articles


Owner of Nectar Tasting Room in Spokane, WA. (@nectarwine) Publisher of Spokane Wine Magazine (@spowinemag), author, speaker, consultant and internet marketer with Nectar Media (@nectarmedia)

40 comments on “Changing the Wine World One Badge at a Time

  1. Tony Ambrosini

    I have been against the 100-point system and I like this concept.

    I think consumers need to make their own decisions without leaning on the crutch that is wine scores from people (who do have great palates, let’s give them some credit), who have different tastes and preferences than the consumer might have.

    Keeping it simple and visual would be the way to go; it could easily get out of control if there are hundreds of badges (i.e. what would be the difference between “awesome” and say, “amazing?”).

    “Value,” “Everyday,” “Better than Everyday,” “Exceptional,” and “Life-Changing” could be the big five (with better marketing terms, perhaps) with an accompanying appropriate image.

    Nice work…I enjoyed reading.

    1. drinknectar

      Tony – thanks for sharing your feedback.

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    I wish them luck with the badge system – trying something new is what it is all about. I am a defender of the 100 point system in conjuction with the tasting note. Personally I try to add the price of the wine and whether I would rebuy it or not into the tasting note.

    There are times when my tasting notes may make a reader believe the wine is more than it is simpl because there ay be a component to the wine I love but if I follow with a score-say 86 points and a rebuy – then the 86 points can convey that there are weakness to this wine and if I add “rebuy” then that conveys for the price this worth getting.

    Like mentioned identity is a key – so the badge says “Awesome” now I have to find out what awesome means to that reviewer- My son says awesome when Spidermans head falls off his action figure.

    1. drinknectar

      Kahuna – I enjoy your tasting notes. It helps me better appreciate the wine from your perspective. Price, ABV, enclosure type are all important things to have in a review as well. Identity is a key. You adding that rebuy to an 86 point wine tells your readers that the wine wasn’t bad it just may have been singularly focused without layers.

      I hope the badge system gains some traction and refines itself in the coming months.


  4. Joshua S Sweeney

    ” Each of these writers has developed what Mark de Vere calls “taste tribes.””

    To play devil’s advocate, and I noticed this sort of approached on Steve’s post regarding this topic, don’t RP, WS, Wellesley Wine Press et al already have “taste tribes”? The people who put the most stock into each individual’s (or group’s) scores are the ones who find their scores to consistently deliver the experience they respect. I just don’t see this experiment as opening up the industry to consumers so much as directly catering to groups dissatisfied with the 100 point system.

    The problem persists with these badges as well; maybe Ward or Steve feels a wine is deserving of the “awesome” badge, but a consumer who buys it based on that recommendation wouldn’t. Without the context, there’s an equal amount of reliance on someone else’s opinion.

    I’m all for alternatives, but I maintain that context and discussion is more important than anything that can be summed up in a score or a couple of words.

    1. drinknectar

      Josh – yes the taste tribes of RP, WS, etc extensive and they hold a great deal of influence. It is possible that a group of bloggers could begin to gain some market share there. You raise an interesting point about catering to a group of people dissatisfied with the 100 point score. I wonder really how large that group is. If there was such an uproar over it, would it be coming back to the rag mags in the way of subscriptions?

      The problem with any arbitrary number or badge is the context is often left behind. I don’t just want to know that RP gave a wine 94 points, I want to read how it tasted, smelled and felt. Same is true with the Legit Juice badge. I want to know how Steve felt about the wine in context.

      Good stuff, my friend!

  5. Joshua S Sweeney

    Sorry, in Steve’s post’s COMMENTS. Not trying to put words in Steve’s mouth :)

  6. Joshua S Sweeney


    One thing I wonder is how many people who complain about the 100 point scores still subscribe to WS et al.

    To be honest, I do believe the system will change, though not nearly as quickly as people hope. There’s a staggering amount of people out there (my parents included) who would rather read a magazine containing hundreds of wine scores and recommendations rather than scour Google for blogs (though Facebook is helping to incorporate them into the online discussion). As the tech savvy generations replace the old-school generations, THAT’S when I believe thigns will change.

    Actually… as a suggestion to people trying to change the status quo, why not start a Facebook movement? Create a page, spread it amongst yourselves, maybe do some Facebook advertising if necessary. Reach out to the people outside of the echo chamber. It’s really the best way to reach people who don’t read your blog.

  7. Tamara Belgard

    Fascinating discussion. As for making a badge, no cheese allowed. Hire a designer or ask a friend who’s a designer, I’m sure you know at least one in your circle and you could work some sort of exchange. I found it interesting how you pointed out wineries perpetuating the score “issue” by promoting them in their tasting rooms. Yes, it’s true, I’ve made a million of these sales sheets in my winery career. Ultimately, it’s kind of a chicken and egg discussion, but I’m secretly hoping they all get fried.

  8. Ed Thralls

    Josh, I am with you in that I want to know the context with the evaluation of a wine or I want to make that distinction myself, which I why I don’t rely solely on scores and don’t really like them.

    However, as already pointed out above, these badges don’t do much more in helping with that context. As a matter of fact, many of them, at first glance, seem almost too broad to distinguish anything really helpful. Yet, I like this idea of “taste tribes” and certainly describes the groups of folks to gravitate towards a certain influencer based on their likes/dislikes. I guess that’s how it always will be, so how these influencers want to express their level of like/dislike to their masses is up to them. A badge is new, refreshing and for visual people like me, attractive in most cases as opposed to boring, dull numbers.

    1. drinknectar

      Ed, I like your thoughts on this. It really is up to the blogger to decide how they convey their opinion about a wine that relates best to their taste tribe. Some of the badges that have currently been created have good appeal and some marketing potential. I think the idea is in its infancy and with some massaging and promoting, could catch on. As far as replacing the established system…well…the jury will decide.


  9. Paul Mabray

    Thanks for the great post Josh. To answer and change it up a bit, the badges are predominantly a WEB based recommendation engine. We are not anti-100 pt system but pro-consumer education and badges provide that much needed mechanism to help consumers. I agree that standardization will help (you can see Steve and Mark’s badges to be more standardized) but the KEY behind making sure adoption occurs is two-fold; distribution and usage. Most publications do not allow you to use their scores tied to their brand causing friction. Their distribution is mostly retailers for the magazine but online distribution for their scoring system is not allowed so many people create work-arounds. The Badges are FREE for use by anyone as long as they credit the reviewer.

    Distribution is the key. The badges are attached at the product level to the wines and anyone can tap into them through’s API and extract them. KAPOW!

    In terms of understanding, that is the gift of the web. Mousing over the badge or hyper-linking it back to the explanation will allow consumers to get a better sense of that badges representation of the product. Will they someday translate to off-line. We hope so and the format of a sticker emulates the gold/silver/bronze medal stickers that have worked so well in the past for many, many brands. The methodology is tried and true, the spin is new however.

    For etailers, this is a MUCH needed merchandising tool. Since we produce 250K wines annually and only 30-40K get professionally scored, there is a huge vacuum of wines needing accolades. You can see how even a few badges create a much needed vehicle for helping consumers understand wines that don’t have scores from major publications.

    We love this notion on so many levels but the understanding of a new concept that people subscribe to “taste tribes” is IMHO revolutionary. We find people who’s palates and taste preferences we admire and it can help consumers safely explore new wines that fit the badge profile of their ‘tribes.”

    Viva la revolution!

  10. Rick Bakas

    This concept might just work! Consumers like simplicity, even if the badges are quantifiable, they might see adoption.

    Time will tell. At least it’s a fresh way to categorize wines, especially for wine bloggers who need a new way to rate or judge wines.

  11. Joe

    Rick et al,

    I don’t think the badges will simplify things, unless (as Paul noted) there is standardization.

    Therein lies another issue: If I was to use someone else’s badges, that would have to mean that my tastes and nuances align closely with the creator’s. Unfortunately, as wine is so subjective (thus one of the many problems with point systems), then I would want to create my own badges.

    I love the thought process behind it; I think if enough bloggers could agree on a group of badges, they could make some waves…until someone complains about how the badges are too restricting to describe the “art” that is wine.

    Definitely an interesting step in some sort of direction :)

  12. Paul Mabray

    I don’t think it needs uniformity at all. Standardization breaks the pattern from “taste tribes”. The notion of standardization is unnecessary conformity that doesn’t leverage the specialness of the reviewer, their taste tribe, and doesn’t add the specialness. Let me give you an example of retailer’s merchandising efforts that acts like a badge:’s picks
    Staff favorites
    Best deals

    How many retailers have different variations of this . . . Uniformity is not necessary, distribution is. Make your own badges, explain them, let your tribe make decisions based on those recommendations.

  13. ryan

    For the past 6 years of blogging about wine this line “The revolution is beginning.” has been uttered countless times in relation to points and the 100pt monster. This is another incarnation of what has come before. I’m all for it, being a anti-points person myself, but I think it’s going to take more than a few bloggers doing this to really make a change.

    Awards have always given golds, silvers, bronzes, and other markings, all badges in their own rights, and they have the advantage in some cases(IWC) of tasting thousands of wines. That has it’s problems, but it builds an “aura” of credibility, which will take a blogger tasting a lot more wine to get to.

    In the end though anything that gets the Parker Points out the door the better. They are a crutch of lazy importers and retailers which are holding the consumer hostage to their influence.

  14. Ben Simons

    I really like the idea, and I think a lot of the value depends on how you approach the question. I think Paul’s explanation about the idea being based around tasting tribes lends the most value to the badges. It seems like there could still be an avenue for some aggregate badge information, without compromising the tasting tribes concept, although I’m still mulling this over in my head.

    I also think that the value as an online merchandising tool is huge. These badges make an attractive display, very eye catching. They could also serve to increase the profile of the bloggers producing them, as the distribution among etailers expanded.

    Overall, I love the concept, and think that there is a lot of potential for evolution.

  15. Robert Dwyer

    The badges I’ve seen so far look awesome and I really think they work well for concisely summing up an opinion of a wine. The categories themselves are brilliant and when I saw them first it was an “a ha” moment. Like “yeah- there’s a category of wines I can think of straight away that fit that description”.

    I’ve gone with the 100 point scale on my blog mostly for a reason you point out Josh- consistency. Wine blogging is a hobby for me and I’ll never come close to tasting as many wines as the pros. That being the case, I’m frequently sharing a rating that’s relative to what WS or WA thought. I do this because it’s the way I talk with my friends in real life about wine. We sit around the table or over E-mail and say “Hey, did you see that 06 Hall Cab got 94 from Spectator and it’s only $30? What did you think of it?”

    That’s one of the reasons I like scores. It gives you an easy way to convey what you thought of a wine relative to someone else.

    And like @bparkerchuk says- without scores you have no #thunder. Just kidding! 😉

    Great thoughtful discussion here Josh.

  16. Kevin Glowacki

    You can’t have standardization of taste, it just doesn’t work.

    You can have a uniform set of badges that are simple (I like it and would buy it, I like it but think it is over priced, I don’t like it) which everyone could use, then someone could aggregate the results and that would be something a little different.

    “4 out of 5 bloggers gave this…”

  17. Steve Raye

    I’m reminded of the old industry saw is that if a wine got a Wine Advocate rating of >90 points you can’t buy it, and <90 points you can't sell it.

    The bottom line is that most consumers need the crutch…someone or something to validate and guide their selections. Rating numbers are accepted by consumers and the trade, and given the fact that most consumers DON'T consult staff when browsing in a store, the only info they really have access to is what's on the label (usually so generic as to be worse than useless) and what the shelf talker says. And it's simply easier for a store to use WS, WA, or WE ratings for a cleaner consistent shelf look.

    The biggest issue I have is that there's no rigor to the rating systems. Lisening to Gary V the other day debating whether to give a wine an 88 or 89 made me realize it's just a guess at a number, not constructed from any quantitative system. So at the end of the day a rating is nothing more or less than a general observation on "I liked (or didn't like) this wine, this much compared to others I've tasted"

    I attended a seminar by Paul Pacult at Tales of the Cocktail in NOLA a couple of weeks ago and was very impressed with the system he uses for spirits…it makes a very subjective evaluation a lot more objective in a rigorous and consistently defined system.

    Their Ultimate-Beverage Challenge is a very progressive attempt to bring some discipline to the issue. I'm not clear on the specific system he uses for wine, but if its anything like the one they're using for spirits, it's worth your time to check it out.

    In fact, I'll give Paul a call and see if he'd be willing to share their evaluation instrument for wines with us.

  18. Mark Goldberger

    Interesting premise, but the fact of the matter is regardless of the scoring system, it is human nature to rate and classify. Moreover, pundits and bloggers can decry all they want about the democratization of wine reviews, but the simple fact of the matter is, experts offer guidance and benchmarks.

    I don’t care what Joe in Missouri thinks of Lafite-Rothschild. If I’m going to shell out $1,000 bottle, I want to know what RP, WS, IWC, etc… think, for the same reason I wouldn’t buy a television just because my neighbor rated it highly and put a badge on it.

    I think Winston Churchill said it best when he said, “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.” The same holds true in wine. Popular opinion says White Zin, Yellowtail and Hearty Red Burgundy should all score highly or else get badges of “Most Popular” and “Best Seller!,” when clearly, they hardly qualify as wine. The debate is fine, but expert opinions and rankings are necessary to avoid wine anarchy.

    (FYI, I’m in my 20’s, I use social media daily, I’m an unabashed liberal democrat, and I still feel that way!)

    1. drinknectar

      Mark – I agree, regardless of the “system” people will tend to score and want scored wine.

      However, I could care less what RP, WS, IWC thinks about wine X, even Lafite-Rothschild. If my friend, Joe in Missouri, tried it and gave me a general description and said it was definitely worth the money…AND I could afford it…I’d give it a whirl. Several factors come in to play and one of them is influence/trust. RP/WS/IWS doesn’t have influence over me, but they might over someone else… Joe – in Georgia (in my case), he has influence over me and thus…has earned my trust.

      Opinion does matter…informed and experienced opinions does hold greater weight, but being an expert does not

      Thanks for your comment.

  19. Mark Fish

    I think Mark Goldberger made some goodl points. But whether it’s a Badge, Stars or 100 point scale, the systems are all just variations on a theme. A scale is a scale is a scale. In the end, to call one better than the other is specious. The real point of coming up with these “improved” systems is to see if the fulcrum of power can be shifted.

  20. 1WineDude

    Great post – 98++** for sure!!!

    As the slacker among the badge-peeps (next week we may have mine finalized…), I’d like to offer a slightly different view on this.

    I won’t be “rating” a wine with my badges.

    In order to get a badge, the wine will need to meet certain criteria – some subjective of course but all of which I will lay out on the blog in the near future. The idea for me is this:

    If I give a wine an A- or a B+, does that tell you much aside from my view of its quality? Not really.

    If I categorize a wine as “Elegant” or “Sexy” does that tell you much? It does – it tells you which wine to try if you want to impress someone, or in the latter case if you want to get lucky on a hot date.

    So, by giving a badge to wines that meet some kind of minimum standard, I’m hopefully telling people a bit more about that wine without them having to read the entire post or review or whatever (unless they are curious and want to do that).

    I see no conflict between the badges and scores of any kind. I see them primarily as complimentary. Mine are gonna be full of awesomeness and will totally rock it, but that’s beside the point :-).

    1. drinknectar

      Steve…I expected more from you as a leader into this venture…but then again…maybe not :)

  21. Morgan McColum

    I don’t disagree that the point system is frustrating to some degree. I’m no wine expert and don’t pretend to be. But as a restaurant owner, the point system gives me a place to start when looking to change up my wine list. Because I carry a relatively small selection of wines (right now we have 11 whites, 1 blush, and 12 reds), I use the ratings to narrow my search. If I want to shake up my list and am looking for a different Merlot, I can go to either Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast, and narrow my search by region, price, and other factors. This is extremely helpful to me. I know it’s not the end all/be all, but it makes for a really good starting point, and it does influence my decisions. Am I missing some good wines because Parker doesn’t like them or maybe he hates the vintner? I don’t know…maybe. But for people like me who use the ratings on a regular basis, they do serve their purpose. Come up with a better system that makes my job easier and I will be all for it!

    1. drinknectar

      Morgan, that is an interesting point. Have you ever thought of following a different “taste tribe” in a local or regional wine blogger? How do you feel a “badge” system would help you in your situation?

  22. Morgan McColum

    I don’t know that a badge system would. It would, for me, be more valuable if there were a conglomerative site where people with a degree of expertise (so, who gets to say who has expertise and how does one determine that?) can “vote for” or “score” or “rate” wine so that I can have more than five or six palates to rely on. Let’s face it, there are so many amazing wines out there (and real stinkers as well) that it’s hard for consumers to make decisions without someone to help them filter.

    In my case, my customers expect me to be the filter, and since I am not a wine expert, I rely on those who are to help me make good choices for my customers. Do I ever add a wine to the list solely on someone’s word that it’s great without tasting it first? Never! I know my customers and I know their palates. They are mostly your average wine consumer, although I have a few on both ends of the spectrum (that’s why I have to carry a white zinfandel…I held out for two years and finally gave in to demand [no offense to any white zinfandel lovers out there!–it may just be my personal prejudice]). I also have a handful that are very sophisticated drinkers. They expect me to carry things that they, too, will appreciate. I try to carry something for everyone, but today’s wine consumer can be hard to please, particularly in this economy. They want a great pinot noir, but they want you to carry it by the glass and they want it to be $6.50 or less for a 6 oz. pour. Impossible, obviously. I gave in for awhile and cheapened my wine list, but was not proud of it and have gone back to my original stance, which is that I will not put food or wine on the table that I’m not proud of, and I’m glad I did it, but my wine sales have definitely slowed. It’s hard to sell a unfamiliar Italian to the average consumer…it’s a battle I fight constantly–customer education. I gave up on my bottle-only list because they just didn’t turn much, and inventory is money in this business. It was also due to the fact that people want to be able to taste an unfamiliar wine, if you’re recommending it, before they commit to a purchase. I don’t know that I’d want to buy a wine I wasn’t familiar with…I have done that many times at restaurants and have been sorry that I wasted money on a bottle I don’t like that the server recommmended. And as far as bottle-only sales, it didn’t matter that I sold Spring Valley Vineyards Uriah for a fraction of what other restaurants were charging…your average person simply isn’t buying $50+ bottles of wine these days. They just want to go out to dinner, buy a nice glass of fairly inexpensive wine, and forget their troubles for an hour or so.

    But back to the subject, because of my schedule, I only follow a few wine bloggers, because it helps me to stay in the loop, but I don’t have time to follow a dozen. Would I like their input in an easy to understand, pooled fashion? Absolutely! When there are so incredibly many wineries and wines out there, you have to have some authority to help you filter, the more input from a multitude of good palates the better. Just the selection at my local grocery store now would be mind-bending for most of your average wine consumers.

  23. 1WineDude

    I like your badges too, Steve.

    All 47 of them.


  24. Kathy

    Morgan makes a lot of good points from the restaurant side.
    One additional point is that a restaurateur is entirely dependent on her or his distributor(s). While a lot of wines are reviewed in California (and a lot of wine bloggers are on West or East Coast) this can put a “civilian,” as a friend calls herself, and restaurateurs, even small retailers, in a real bind, depending on where they live (think Missouri, Utah, Kentucky, Pennsylvania).
    I think Paul mentioned there are around 250,000 labels floating around here or there in the US. And, he said, something like 40,000-50,000 are reviewed (in a year?).
    Yes, a distributor can get ANY wine that has been TTB’d and ABC-approved ( depending on state) provided there isn’t a lock on competition (at which point Morgan can go to distributor who has the exclusive). And she can even order a potential import and work with the producer to get TTB’d & ABC’d eventually – provided the distributor will take it.
    But, in reality, no distributor is going to get Morgan a wine she wants if it is very hard to find – or even not very hard to find but not on the current list. So, I can see her use of the 100-pointers because the distributor usually has the points as part of the pitch.
    IMHIPO, as I think and type, the distributor is the nut to crack if you want badges and tribes to become part of the mix. Creating a product – badge/tribe – without an outlet (distribution) is not a particularly profitable exercise.
    So, it is probably worth throwing geography (where the badge expert or tribe is – creating trust in availability of wine) into the mix if it is to be of real use.
    And, if you can crack that nut, be ready to accept the Nobel Prize (original intention was to reward the greatest contribution to society).

  25. Tone Kelly

    I wonder how many of us remember what it was like prior to 1978. In that era we had NO rating scales. The trade journals were dominated by British reviewers and a few others. Everything pretty much received a good to fine review. There was almost no way to compare wine reviews because each review was orthogonal to the others.

    Rating scale took off because the average wine buyer didn’t have time to dive into the subtle nuances of each reviewer. For better or worse, the scales are likely to be with us for a long time. Until all wine buyers/drinkers are sophisticated about wines there will always be a need for a scale – whether it be a 5 pt, 20 pt or 100 pt scale.

  26. Ward Kadel - @drXeNo

    Hi Folks,

    Great article Josh and thanks so much for covering this new concept and sparking so much convo. I think it’s pretty funny that this post has wayyy more comments than my own that introduced my WKBadges. 😉
    Just to clarify something, my badges are not “reviews” or just a visual version of a number. Every wine that I review either in my blog and/or on my WineLog ( has full tasting notes, which are the most important pieces of information that I try to provide about the wine. As Joe nicely put it, these do distill some of the more interesting wines reviews into an easy to understand badge, that is all. If a wine gets a KeeperWK badge, well, I mean it’s quite good and should be laid down for awhile. But that doesn’t supercede the tasting notes that back up *why* I think that is so. Cheers!

    And Steve, I like all of your many pages of badges, too!

  27. Tish

    I’m with Paul Mabray on this. Attempts at standardization — followed by unchecked imitation — got us into current situation of too many numbers. In practice, the only #s that matter = RP and WS, but even their influence is waning (starting back when Parker’s Advocate reviewers raised ethics eyebrows and especially now that James Suckling has left WS).

    People are beginning to realize that ratings are inescapably (and only) OPINIONS. Key to wine enjoyment these days is getting recommendations from people (not necessarily critics) whose opinions are in sync with your own personal taste. Period. (Joe in MIssouri is valid!) And, practically speaking, the best place to gauge that synchrocnicity is in a retail store, where you can actually act on the advice.

    I think your concept is fascinating, but real change is going to have to start at retail level, with retailers asserting their authority as tastemakers. First step in this process is for them to stop worshipping RP and WS. It’s happening, but will take time. And if some prominent retailers get into the badge system you’re developing, that can only help.

    As for Steve Raye’s point about the Ultimate Bev competitions, I took a close look at that system for article I did on medals in this month’s Bevergae Media. ( ) My take: they are ten years too late to try to put some actual valifity, consistency and integrity in the judging syste; and mby going with 100-pt scale they simply make their results look like lots of other numbers.

    You deserve a lot of credit for trying to get away from the #s. The anti-rating sentiment is growing, and badges should continue to be part of the conversation.

  28. Morgan McColum

    The only problem I see with getting retailers to become “tastemakers” is that they, like me, get their wine from distributors (in the state of Wa, maybe that differs elsewhere). The reason I don’t necessarily take a distributor’s word on what wines are fantastic is that they are given sales incentives, and they may be pushing a wine on you because if they make X number of placements, they get a bonus. Now, I have several reps that I deal with whose tastes I trust, but they have steered me wrong from time to time, and that’s why I must taste before I buy (I’d be curious how many of those mis-steers were incentivized. Now, if a retailer is given additional incentives to carry a wine and push sales, are we getting an unbiased opinion? I don’t get incentives, but I don’t know if that’s allowed or happens in larger retail outlets. And I’ve pursued distributors who carry a particular wine or brand that I want to stock, and they have made me “prove” my worth to them to get the wine I want by buying other wines from them I don’t necessarily want to establish a history with them. Needless to say, I don’t do business with these distributors anymore.

  29. Kathy

    Morgan, thanks for expanding on the problems/issues. I don’t think most civilians are aware of the constraints you have.
    So, I guess the question is whether you would use badges and to the badgistes how would they becomes easily available for her?

    1. drinknectar

      Great conversation about the retail barrier. As one commenter said, this is a key point in adoption. I think the ability for a restaurant / store to subscribe to a taste tribe requires more time and effort. With a magazine you get hundreds / if not thousands of reviews from just about every region you can think of. They become the centralized resource by default of volume.


  30. Jane

    It’ll be intersting to see where this goes. Those who have moved to adopt the badges are taking a huge risk in alienating themselves from their target audiences. I mean, there’s a reason why you wrote only one paragraph on the Pro’s, but four on the Challenge…

    Maybe all consumers need is to look beyond the numbers. As Winethropology said today, “The critiquing world needs to attribute more than just numbers to a wine. Clearly a monolithic representation of anything qualitative is unfair at best, but more realistically, useless. That’s why it’s so important to actually read reviews written by someone whose perspective you share or value – and not just go by the numbers.”


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