Kevin Costner and the Nature of Wine Ratings
How do I know this? I know it because I believe that Keven Costner's "Waterworld" is fine art.
I also know this because the Wall Street Journal recently reminded us that the results and reliability of wine competitions and professional wine ratings are sketchy at best, particularly when subjected to statistical analysis. But what's significant about all this is not that the Capitalist's Bible has deemed it time to present this point of view, but rather that it is likely that within a decade the power of the professional reviewer will be diminished significantly in favor of consumer reviews.
The conjecture that meta reviews of wines driven by collected and collated consumer ratings will play a more and more important role in consumer purchasing patterns isn't new. In my mind, the only questions is whose collections of reviews and ratings will carry the most weight. In the end it doesn't matter if CellarTracker, Snooth or some other consumer review aggregation site comes out ahead, unless you are CellarTracker, Snooth or some other consumer review aggregation site. What matters is that the same unreliable assessment of wine that is currently delivered by single wine reviewers or wine rating panels will be replaced by equally unreliable assessments made by consumers.
All ratings and reviews, no matter who or what generates them, are unreliable if what you seek is definition and definitive assessment of quality. We know this is unreliable because I believe Kevin Costner's "Waterworld" is fine art.
Still, I recognize that there is a strong desire among the well-schooled wine professionals, the avid wine lover and the average wine drinker to get a little help in navigating through the thousands of wine they are able to purchase. How does one use any rating or review vehicle, particularly one that depends on numbers when numbers like 94 or 86 are incredibly inaccurate, to help them assess the relative quality of wine? How do you do this when it's a well known fact that I think Kevin Costner's "Waterworld" is fine art?
My suggestion to those who want to use numbers to help guide them is to put the numbers in the broader context that most review and rating platforms themselves provide.
Take the Wine Spectator for example. If you read its own explanation of its numbered ratings you find that despite the fact that each wine is given a single numbered rating, that number falls into a category which is given its own general description:
So, if you see that the Wine Spectator rates a wine 89 points, your best bet at understanding what that means is to recognize that this 89 point wine is no better or worse than a wine the magazine rates 85 points. Both are "Very Good".
Robert Parker, Jr. does the same thing at the Wine Advocate, where he explains what his numbers mean:
80-89=Above Average to Very good
You'll find that nearly every recognized wine rating vehicle gives similarly broad definitions for a range of scores, indicating that even these Exactness-mongers understand the validity of my assessment that Kevin Costner's "Waterworld" is fine art.