Wine Points Critics: Please…At Least Make a Case

Makeacase Trying to make a compelling philosophical case against using 100 points to rate a wine is like trying to make a case against answering the question: Do I or do I not like this wine?

Yet within the world of wine media, we are talking about the 100 Point system…again. Why?

You know why? Because people who are affected by published scores don’t like the fact that people seem to follow the people who give out 100 Point scores. At the moment the primary group of people who don’t like that people like scores are those behind ScoreRevoluition.com.

The top wine publications in America, in order of single issue sales and subscriptions, are, I think:

The Wine Spectator
The Wine Enthusiast
Wines & Spirits
The Wine Advocate

They all use the 100 Point rating system and they all provide a description of the wine along with the score. None of them claim that their score and description is objective, nor do they claim any reader must agree with their score and description.

Anyone who has a beef with these critics and their system of reviewing wines has a beef with subjective evaluation and criticism, two thing that have been applied to every artistic or craft endeavor since a neanderthal first scribbled over a cave-mate’s wall drawing.

I’m now going to critique the contents of a press release the folks at ScoreRevolution.com issued in which they describe their efforts and the momentum their cause is gaining. I’m going to critique the contents of this press reease from ScoreRevolution.com because while I don’t believe it’s a bad thing to issue press releases, I do think it’s important that their content be reasonable.

“Assigning a number to the taste of a wine should be (but unfortunately is not always) seen as one person’s opinion, and opinions are as varied as those giving them.”
First, no one assigns only a number to a wine, let alone only to its “taste”. Second, no one who has ever applied a score to a wine has ever suggested it represents anything other than their own opinion (or that of a tasting panel). ScoreRevolution.com  is attempting (and doing it poorly) to suggest that scores issued by critics are meant to be seen as objective and applicable to all tasters. As I said, this is never done and ScoreRevolution does a poor job at even attempting to suggest this. Yet they try any way.

“An equally alarming thought is that winemakers are being pushed to make a more international style wine. They are changing their farming and winemaking techniques in order to achieve a higher score. We believe this is wrong.”
“Equally Alarming” to what? That a winemaker is pushed to do anything does not mean they must respond. If winemakers are “changing their farming and winemaking techniques” to achieve a higher score isn’t this a matter of making a style of wine they believe will be most welcomed not only by critics, but by consumers? That aside, this is believed by the folks at ScoreRevolution to be “wrong”. Why is this wrong? Is it morally wrong? Ethically wrong?

“Scores should not be used to buy or sell wine. Our goal is to create transparency among buyers and sellers and to encourage people to find wines based on writings and by word of mouth”
Why is word of mouth a better way of “finding wines”? What if you read Wine & Spirits Magazine and find that you too seem to like the wines Wine & Spirits rate 90 Points or 92 Points or 98 Points. What’s the problem with looking forward to their next 95 point wine? Is such anticipation immoral? Unethical?

“The power of scores is limiting the discovery of numerous grower wines, encouraging formula wines, and even influencing the creation of brand icons and inflated pricing.”
Is it a function of the Internet Age or has it always been that some people believe that by simply stating a proposition they think they’ve made their case? How are scores limiting the discovery of “grower wines”? Can you make a case to back up this proposition? I know a number of “grower wines” that have been rated highly on the 100 Point scale that have led to their discovery by people who had never heard of them before? Please make your case for your statement. What’s wrong with the creation of “brand icons” that result from people who buy wines that are recommended with the 100 Point Scale and a review and that they discover they like? Please, make your case.

“Of course we love wine critics,” Christophe Hedges says. “We want people to read about wine and to ask the sommeliers and those behind the counters at retail shops for guidance. What we’re asking is that people go deeper than a score.”
No 100 Point Score is issued without an accompanying written review, description and evaluation? How deep do you want the critic and the buyer to go? Do you want critics to write and buyers to read a certain number of words to describe a wine scored 89 points in order to deliver some sort of authority? How many? 205 words? 355 words? What’s sufficient? When people read a score in a journal, they also are given a review. If they choose not to read it, that’s the readers problem, not the reviewers.
“We must look at wine from a geographical context, and not a comparative context,” Hedges says. “Wine is about place and about preserving authenticity of original historical styles. It can’t be zipped up into a number any more than a painting by Cezanne can. Wine is about romance and individuality.”
Why must wine be “geographical” in context? Can’t it simply for some be yummy without having to worry about terroir? Why must “original historic styles” be preserved? How far back must we go in looking for authenticity of historic styles? 10 Years? 50 Years? 500 years? And for the record, wine can CLEARLY be “zipped up into a number”. Watch: In my view, White Zinfandel made by Barefoot Cellars ranks 92 points on a 100 point scale relative to other White Zinfandels because I think it is a better example of this style of wine than most others. See…It can be done. Finally, while wine can be about “romance and individuality” for some, it need not be about that in order to be good and enjoyable and anyone who thinks that the “romance and individuality” must always create the context for understanding wine needs to get out of their head and walk into a drug store where huge amounts of $5 jug wines are sold to people who enjoy them.
So there it is. One of the most condescending and poorly conceived cases against the 100 Point rating scale and rating wine in general that I’ve ever read.
If you are going to make a case against the 100 Point Rating System or any wine rating system, you need to MAKE THE CASE. Not just offer propositions. Clearly the 100 Point rating system is appreciated by a whole lot of people. However, mischaracterizing the intent of those using it and dismissing entirely its utility is not the way to go about making a semblance of a case.
I await, as I have for quite some time, for anyone to make a compelling case against the 100 Point Scoring system that can’t be applied equally to the casual evaluation of wine by any individual who cares to tell someone else what they think of the wine.

74 Responses

  1. Phil - August 5, 2011

    To me the biggest problem with the 100 point system is the use of it, making absolute comparisons across tastings and across time so that 94>93>92, etc. when it is blazing obvious that those are all within a margin of error of each other.
    A far more honest system would acknowledge the error, and make an attempt to find out what the error is so they can tell people, rather than say this wine is better than this other one, even though they were tasted months apart, because it got a 90 and the other got an 89. How much money is gained or lost due to that one point I’m not sure, but given all of the 90+ promotions done by retailers, I’m sure it’s not insignificant. The reality is that those two wines are the same, score-wise.
    How much of revisiting tastings is really, “wow this wine is better than last time/worse than last time” and how much is just all of the variables lining up slightly differently to produce a slightly different result? Yet people make purchasing decisions and wines are marketed on these one or two point differences. 90 +-2 or 88-92 would be much more honest and accurate. But people love false exactness and you’d have a version of the prisoner’s dilemma with all the scoregivers, so I’m not going to hold my breath.

  2. David - August 5, 2011

    You touched on the most important problem with scoring systems for wine. You said “White Zinfandel made by Barefoot Cellars ranks 92 points on a 100 point scale relative to other White Zinfandels because I think it is a better example of this style of wine than most others.” Most consumers don’t look at points within this framework of varietal comparisons and most retailers don’t market points this way either. Instead the vast majority of wine buyers will simply see a higher score for a “lesser” varietal such as White Zinfandel compared to a lower score for a varietal that requires more investment to make, and has more complexity such as a Cabernet Sauvignon and will be led to believe that the White Zinfandel is intrisically a better wine. We in the wine trade certainly understand the differences but this is usually lost in translation for your average wine consumer.
    The other problem with wine scoring is that the wine is tasted among a flight of other wines. Of course this is necessary as it is critical to evaluate a wine alongside its peers but the wines selected to be tasted with that wine invariably affect the overall result. If there is a decent wine tasted with mediocre bottlings or different styled wines of the same varietal, it will usually stand out to the reviewer and subsequently will receive an inflated score. The opposite is certainly true as well.
    Lastly, the most glaring issue comes to cellaring potential. Wines that have a track record of aging well for the most part don’t wow judges when they are tasted young usually will recieve a lower score since they tend to be a bit more closed and tannic. However wines that are very high in alcohol and have overly extracted fruit tend to score higher since they are very “showy” when young yet many of these wines never age gracefully. This is obviously a subjective point and perhaps it supports your argument in a way since most buyers don’t cellar their wines very long so they probably prefer the in your face style of these high scoring wines. However, it is an inherent flaw in the scoring system in that it does not take into account the longevity potential of a wine. When it comes to Bordeaux varietals and other age-worthy wines, which usually command the highest prices, ageability is the true measure of a wine’s quality. This is missed with a simple point measuring system.

  3. AnaVieiraPinto - August 5, 2011

    Dear Tom
    Well, you already know a bit of my thoughts!:)
    As a winemaker, I just would like to comment on the “alarming thought” part.
    Distribution does pay a lot of attention to the wine ratings. So, if you make a great wine (you gave it 98 points yourself!) and then you see it getting low points, you’ll be invited by your clients to make a wine that will reach the so sought 90+ points. It doesn’t mean your wine is not that good – it simply means the people who rated it have a different opinion from you. The alarming thing is that clients don’t interpret it that way, and you will loose market because they’ll reach out for other wines!
    Yes, you can stand against the pushing. But unless you have the means to survive a sinking sales period (only a minority of producers can do that), you are forced to “go with the flow”…
    The problem of changing, is that if the market suddenly turns away to a new direction (sometimes, the one you had before!) you’re “out of tune” again. And in the meanwhile, costumers never really appreciated your wines with an open mind, because ratings (and the market) influenced their approach.
    You very rightfully say “(…)no one who has ever applied a score to a wine has ever suggested it represents anything other than their own opinion (or that of a tasting panel)(…)”. But out here, many people (I would almost dare to say most) see them as something absolute. In this case, I have to agree with the “scorevolutionists” :)
    PS: “original historic styles” should be preserved because most times they’re the result of efforts made during centuries (or decades), that slowly improved and personalised the wines of a certain region. Are we committing sacrilege if we improve them? Of course not! But I think it’s wrong to simply throw them all away just because the market is calling for something too different.
    PPS: As a context information, I have to add that I’m Portuguese, and my main experience is with the Portuguese and European market.
    Cheers!!!

  4. Charlie Olken - August 5, 2011

    Everyone who is against scores has an obligation, which they all fail to meet, to suggest a more workable, consumer-desired system. It is one thing to point out the problems with the way the retail market interprets scores, but it is quite another to suggest that scores should be abandoned because of it without so much as a hint of what would follow.
    Consumers call the tune here. Not the wineries and not the writers. It is patent nonsense for the so-called “score revolutionists”, led by a winery who used to seek out scores as zealously as any other, to say “off with their heads”. It is fun and cute, but it is also stupid beyond words.
    What will follow? How should comparative tastings of hundreds of wines be then explained to the people who pay for those tastings? What is being called for here is not pro-consumer. It is anti-competitive. It is “don’t criticize me” even though I charge mega-bucks for my overripe Cabernet.
    I respect any opinion that makes the least bit of sense. I welcome it. But this “score revolutionist” nonsense is nothing more than self-seving, anti-consumer rhetoric being dressed up in a phony pseudo-intellectual rant. But a rant that tears down consumer rights without so much as suggesting a smidgeon of an alternative.

  5. Matt - August 5, 2011

    “None of them claim that their score and description is objective”
    I think part of the issue (from the consumer perspective at least) is that our experience with numbers is that they are objective. Thinking of school – if you have a 100 question multiple-choice test, if you get a 98, it means you got 2 wrong, a 96 is 4 wrong, etc – the number is directly calculated from a set of criteria. For something that’s more subjective, such as a term paper, it was usually letters – A, AB, B. Blood pressure, miles on a car – when you see a number, it’s usually something objective. Letters, stars, thumbs up – that’s a tip-off that there’s some subjectiveness to the ranking.
    And from my personal experience, I KNOW the scores are subjective, and yet I’m drawn in to a wine that’s a 90 and away from one that’s an 89. I have to fight it and actually read the descriptions :-).

  6. Tom Wark - August 5, 2011

    Matt:
    Writers can’t and should not be held responsible for those that can’t figure out that a score and a written review is a single person’s subjective experience.

  7. nick - August 5, 2011

    Summarizing the above posts –
    Wine scoring is bad because people are idiots.

  8. Tom Wark - August 5, 2011

    David:
    That some consumers don’t take the time to look at both the score and the written review that comes with a critique of a wine is an indictment of the consumer, not the system of critiquing.
    The issue of which wines are tasted alongside each other is an issue that applies to each and every type of wine scoring system. And if a reviewer can’t sit in front of 15 zinfandels and evaluate the quality of those 15 zins on their own merits, regardless of the character of the wines that sit next to each other in the tasting then they probably shouldn’t be tasting and reviewing wine.
    The issue of perceiving the ability of a wine to age and factoring that into a review is an issue having to do with the sensibilities of the review, not a problem with the system they use to relate their experience with a wine.

  9. AnaVieiraPinto - August 5, 2011

    Maybe if some wine descriptions were more accessible, consumers would pay less attention to the score…

  10. Christophe Hedges - August 5, 2011

    I am really lazy today, but this is what I wrote on Palate Press. By the way, are you, C. Olken, and Hiemoff all really good friends? And, who is the authoritative voice of the CA wine industry?
    I mean this with respect, because I can see it as a tempting ideology to go down as CA most witty/famous wine critic. Its almost like trying to get a 100 point score.
    Ladies and Gentlemen, (I am half French, so forgive my English writing skills – I know three languages poorly)
    Wow, what a discussion! Very impressive intellectual stimulations. Philosophy is great. I sometimes wish I could take all bloggers to Greece, dress them up in white robes, and discuss late into the night on all topics wine, food and culture. That would be much more fun than typing relentlessly on a QWERTY keyboard
    Yes, I actually agree with all your viewpoints. All of them. Because they all have context.
    Hiemoff has context, Wark has context, 1Winedude has it, Robert Parker has it, Blake has it (and admits it) so on and so on. Wonderful folks. Because of this contextualization, I can’t argue your defenses. We can only agree to disagree.
    The future of scores will be decided by the trade and the consumers. Blake made a great point: We don’t have that many signers. But its the quality of the signers that have importance, not the quantity. Their only may be 400 people who have signed, as well as 90ish companies, but how many of them can reach a mass populace? Could be a lot. We will wait and see.
    The goal is not to destroy the system…really. It is to invoke the discussion of this system. (I am saying this again, this is my context) And, by that sort of thinking, things might change. The scorevolution is just a title for the debate. I noticed that many of you are arguing about the subjective. That is not correct. The argument has nothing to do about the subjective nature of critical review. It only has to do with the symbol, objective. Do you objectify men and women too? I say this because their are many analogies with wine style and human style.
    It would be impossible for Boo, or I, or Kermit Lynch, or Rajat Parr, or Jim Clendendon, or Randal Grahm, or even all the 400+ trade people, to tear down the walls of an established, and, profitable system for judging a wines quality. We don’t expect it in the near future, but we can expect an enlightenment renaissance to take shape. I will tell you that I have no idea what or when that will happen. But the start is easy to recognize, as this is it- 60 comments on his site, 40 on that site. Impressive to say the least.
    Lastly: Remember this- It is not an attack on the critic, just the symbol (saying this again)
    I will dine with Blake Gray when I am in SF next time, and I am sure he and I will have a great time. That way, I can become more than just an “occasional” friend. You made me look like the naughty neighbor next door. huh.
    Will Hedges Family Estate forever be known as just another angry winery? No. But i can say this: we tried, because we believed. I didn’t choose this industry. I was born into it. I have much to lose. But sometimes, life needs to be really lived, and that means challenging the norm if you question that norm.
    I am not a rockstar winemaker ( I have short hair and a mustache..ok, Freddy Mercury, but that’s rare) , or some famed consultant, or even some trendy Gen X bad boy wine dude with inky juice in massive bottles. I have a vineyard with my wife and I sell the wine of my family. I am a father of two, with a wife, two cats (somewhere in the vineyard), and a couple of friends. Just a normal guy, but i don’t watch sports…my mother is French.
    I look forward to meeting some of you, and maybe, you can taste my new grower project with Jerome Legras, of Legras and Haas in Chouilly, France. We can toast to terroir, scores, no scores, but most of all, humanity.
    With Respect,
    Christophe Hedges

  11. Tom Wark - August 5, 2011

    Ana,
    That sounds fair.
    What would be an example of a “more accessible” wine description and what is an example of an “inaccessible” wine description?

  12. Patrick - August 5, 2011

    Wow. A lot of wine writers are really fuming about Scorevolution’s attack on the 100-point scale. I think that the vehemence of the writers’ response indicates that Scorevolution is onto something. Come on, writers, fess up: One reason why you love scores is because they make your life easier and they make you more quotable. That’s 2 reasons.

  13. Tom Wark - August 5, 2011

    Patrick:
    It’s a mistake to assume that a robust response to a “movement” is an indication that the ideas behind the movement are sound.
    As to making life easier, if a description of the wine accompanies a score, which it always does, isn’t the addition of a score just more work than if they were only writing a description, as the anti-100Point folks seem to prefer. At the least, it’s a bit more work.
    The addition of the score is also additional information. Finally, I’m looking for a reason why making oneself more quotable is a bad thing that needs to be fessed up to.

  14. Erin McGrath - August 5, 2011

    I am so tired of this subject. Pardon the pun but it’s pointless.
    (That was also great alliteration.)
    I work in retail and consumers refer to scores, not ‘notes of cassis and cigar box’ to see if a wine is worth the cost. That, to me is what it ultimately boils down to for 99% of the wine-buying public — “Is this wine worth $XX? Well, Parker rated it 94 points! It must be good!” I think more accessible descriptors in reviews would make little difference. A consumer is spending money, which is a big deal these days, so it’s GOT to be worth it.
    Just my 2 cents. Or points.

  15. Tom Wark - August 5, 2011

    Erin,
    Again, this boils down to consumer proclivities and not a critique of the 100 point system or any system for that matter.
    Unless you only one wine or are able to taste every wine before you buy (and the former is more likely than the latter) then you are correct in suggesting that value is a big deal. Review can certainly help, whether they include descriptions, scores or—most often—both.

  16. AnaVieiraPinto - August 5, 2011

    TY :)
    Communication is putting in to words what’s on our mind, in a way that the receiver can understand what are we thinking. So: if we use a language too complicated, the receiver won’t get the message… I feel that way, so many times, when I read wine reviews. By talking to consumers, I found out they often feel the same too.
    I’ve just randomly browsed several sites and a couple of books with wine reviews. Here are some interesting expressions I found:
    -meaty
    -with tension
    -inky, pepper-coated attack
    -against the flood
    -cloudy
    -plenty of precision
    -bergamot (never tasted, never found this fruit)
    Can anyone – except the reviewer – understand what is the meaning of these expressions? For me – and for most of the consumers – these are “non accessible” descriptions :)
    A good example of an accessible description would be today’s “Wine of the Day” review in eRobertParker.com (by Jay Miller). At least I can relate with most of the describers, and I feel I can explain them to a newbie consumer.

  17. Tom Wark - August 5, 2011

    Ana,
    It’s hard to disagree that written descriptions that aren’t too obscure are probably better for the reader.
    The only caveat I’d offer is understanding who is reading what. Some reviews are written with very experienced wine drinkers and “wine readers” in mind. In this case I think words that might be difficult to understand by the average $5 a bottle drinker may be quite understandable to the well above average drinker.

  18. AnaVieiraPinto - August 5, 2011

    It’s my belief a good wine description should be easy to understand to anyone. If not immediately, then with a minimum effort.

  19. Charlie Olken - August 5, 2011

    I would have more respect for Christophe Hedges if he actually read the words that I write in Connoisseurs’ Guide. His silly dismissal of scores as if they were the object and not the additive to wine writing is borne of lack of information.
    How can my 75-150 word descriptions of hundreds of wines per month be dismissed if the score attached is but two key strokes out of the hundreds that go into each review? You know not where you speak, Mr. Hedges.
    And, Mr. Hedges, until you and Bill Tisherman and Randall Grahm can come up with a better way to communicate completely with wine consumers (the millions of them who subscribe to the various wine publications), then you are just whistling in the dark.
    Rating systems exist because they are notational guidepost to the content of the critical evaluation of the wines. Let’s hear you suggest what the future will bring instead of hurling generic brickbats at what the most successful wine rating system yet invented.
    And by the way, the vociferousness of my response is occasioned by the idiocacy of having wineries trying to tell consumers how they should get their wine guidance. That is like the fox telling the farmer how to guard the henhouse.

  20. Charlie Olken - August 5, 2011

    Note to Ana Vierra Pinto–
    There is plenty of good and thoughtful winewriting in this world. To be sure, there is also some that is not so good.
    But most of the established publications got to that state by the quality of their thinking and analysis and thus by the quality of the resulting writing.
    If descriptions of 40-60 words in the Wine Enthusiast or 75-150 in Connoisseurs’ Guide are not sufficiently descriptive of the hundreds of wines that we review, than please suggest what would be. And, please, just because some writers belong to the “prismatic luminescence” school of wine writing does not mean that we all do.

  21. AnaVieiraPinto - August 5, 2011

    Dear Mr Olken
    I agree with you about the winewriting.
    And there are great people describing wines in a way that you really get the idea, and that’s great.
    The problem is not that reviews are not sufficiently descriptive. The problem is that many people can’t relate to the describing language. They read those reviews, and at the end they are blank. And that’s very frustrating. I know it from my own experience (and I know for a fact I’m not a bad taster).
    I lost count of how many costumers came to me, with an embarrassed look, saying “I like wine, but I don’t know nothing about it”. Just because they couldn’t taste any of the three kind of berries someone told them the wine had.
    Thank you fo your attention :)
    PS: I’m a winemaker/wine poducer from Portugal

  22. AnaVieiraPinto - August 5, 2011

    Loved your “prismatic luminescence” expression ;)

  23. Christophe Hedges - August 5, 2011

    Mr. Olken,
    I understand your anger. It’s warranted. I’m 33, your probably 63. Two ways of looking at wine, yes, but is either wrong, no. As I pointed out, your context is different than mine. You or I won’t decided the future, the people will. I have related and found sympathy with the trade (excluding CA wine Bloggers for some reason), not the consumer. Perhaps the trade will respect the movement and the consumer will not. It does not matter, because like I said, this discussion is the revolution.
    Does that mean I won? NO. But it does mean that something in critiquing wine is being challenged.
    I propose a challenge to you: Get everyone of your peers together, create a Manifesto for Scores, and let us see who signs it. That would be interesting.
    Till then my good man, it will be up to our wits to decide our pride.
    Christophe Hedges –
    And yes: I agree with you – our wines are crappy, from a crappy winery. You have that freedom in my book to say such intelligent statements. As for you, well, you will continue to be an authoritarian in CA Wine.
    I look forward to an enlightening future around this topic-

  24. Charlie Olken - August 5, 2011

    Christophe–
    Just for the record, I have not tasted your wines recently, but when I was reviewing them positively and subsequently visited the winery, I don’t remember anyone saying, “hey, you, your ratings were wrong, wrong-headed or out of touch with reality”.
    I may or may not be a California authority, but neither I nor anyone else who writes about CA wine (and by the way, I write about WA and OR wines with equal enthusiasm and independence) is an authoritarian. We operate with a great deal more humility than those who would tell the world that they are right and everyone else is wrong.

  25. Tom Wark - August 5, 2011

    “Perhaps the trade will respect the movement and the consumer will not. It does not matter, because like I said, this discussion is the revolution.”
    Christophe: For the record, we’ve been having this revolution now for about 25 years.

  26. Christophe Hedges - August 5, 2011

    Mr. Wark-
    I missed it. I was only 8 25 yrs ago. At least now, what we all spoke about behind closed closet doors, is out in the open.

  27. Tom Wark - August 5, 2011

    Christophe:
    Because you missed it, here is 25 year old article written by Howard Goldberg of the NY Times discussing wine rating and the 100 Point system. (By the way, Howard still writes for the NY Times on occasion).
    http://www.nytimes.com/1987/10/14/garden/wine-talk-963387.html
    It’s been out of the closet for some time.

  28. Rolando - August 5, 2011

    I think that wines must be geographical expression of the soil and weather of its vintage. And every year we cannot have same wine, because every year is different each other. So, I can have 92/100 points last year and 85/100 this one: do it means that this year my wine is not so good like the last one? It’s different, all that. So, there is nothing of erroneous in the 100 points system, but I think it has become more important than it really is.

  29. Christophe Hedges - August 5, 2011

    Excellent. I will post this link on our FB site tomorrow. Question:
    If its been out for some time, then why was his article not influential? Or maybe it was. No matter, I appreciate the link. This is perfect!
    Thank you-

  30. Charlie Olken - August 5, 2011

    Christophe–
    You will find the answer in the words about the wine, not in the points. People follow good writing. It is the writing that needs to be examined. The points, or stars, or puffs or chopsticks or any other symbolic notation that comes along as a notational shorthand does not and cannot substitute for the quality of the analysis and the clarity and helpfulness of the writing.
    “Points” is not your enemy, Christophe. Bad writing is.

  31. Bob R. - August 5, 2011

    “if a description of the wine accompanies a score, which it always does”
    No, it does not. Or maybe you haven’t seen those tags attached to wines in shops.

  32. Leslie - August 5, 2011

    Yes! Thank you, you hit at the heart of my issues with the ‘manifesto’. Well said.

  33. Mike Willison - August 5, 2011

    Dear Charlie & Tom-
    I, for one, do not care for the 100 point system, generally. It gets turned into gospel by retailers and, subsequently, their customers. You know this whether it is your intention or not. Your assertion that most numerical values come attached to a written review not only suggests that you also very much value the power of words to whatever degree (Charlie arguing the massive power of words above, for example), but that you are playing the hand of the physicist that develops particle accelerators for a defense contractor called Heinous Endeavors in the hope that they will use them for good, rather than evil. This is in spite of the fact that both of you, and many of the score-advocates, are excellent if not elite writers.
    Even more disturbing is the idea that because we don’t like the idea of scores that we should have some suggestion for a fix. We don’t, really. What we know for sure is that scoring is imperfect. Will there ever be a 100 point Cru Beaujolais, or a Zweigelt? Should there be? Is Cabernet a better varietal than Pinot Noir and, if so, should there ever be a 100 point Pinot Noir? (yes, I know there have been many). To Tom’s point, should there be categorical perfection like the 100 point White Zinfandel? Not to get all flag-wavy on anyone, as that is not my thing, but when we set about changing the rules for the colonies- way back when- what we knew is that we didn’t like the system in place and we wanted to change it. Our general motto was the old, “no taxation without representation” bit. We figured the solution out over a long and excruciating couple of hard-fought years and ugly debates. Even when we won our independence it took another 11 years to write the rules out and we have been changing it ever since.
    What is ultimately important here may actually make the 100 point system even stronger, if defenders such as yourselves can make a really strong case for its value other than, “what else you got.” People rely on the 100 point system when buying wine. It is our hard earned money and we will not easily part with it. If a wise looking man with a good suit and a clean manicured beard tells me to buy, I consider it. When the fellow bagging my groceries says, “oh, that is some poetic terroir,” I sniff for the vagaries of marijuana use. Is is just the patina of authority that gets attention or the number at the head of the review? I’ve met some highly knowledgable sommeliers and wine folk that look pretty rough, but have the goods. Will that fly in Peoria? I recognize that most of you have more arrows in your quiver than this, and appreciate it. It is time to pull the bow back and let fly, as one great phalanx.
    For the other side, expect more of what you’ve seen: A rag-tag bunch of ineloquent, poorly dressed upstarts that haven’t quite figured out how to play nice in the sandbox yet. The tactics will be guerilla, maybe even dirty. Defend yourselves but listen to what they have to say even if it doesn’t conform to the Chicago Manual of Style, grating and sophomoric as it may seem. Understand that there is passion at the heart of it and, you know this, that can be a bit sloppy.
    What there is to appreciate and applaud about Scorerevolution is that someone cares enough to consider the evaluation process from another angle. So you don’t care about geography, tradition (5, 10, 50 or 100 years, whatever), or the blatherings of one lone winery crying at the wind; at least you can appreciate the notion that someone is scratching their head and asking the question, “is this the best way to do this?”
    At least I hope you can.

  34. Tom Wark - August 6, 2011

    Bob,
    The wine shops might not always include the written description, but that description was indeed originally included with the point score.

  35. Charlie Olken - August 6, 2011

    Mike–
    Very well-written and thought-provoking overall.
    Confusing as to the sentence “So you don’t care about geography, tradition, etc, etc….”. I certainly hope you do not mean those words literally because they are false as applied to most experienced writers. Please explain.
    The blatherings (your word, not mine) of Christophe Hedges has nothing to do with asking a question. He is not asking questions. He is seeking the end of the 100-point system.
    And while you may not think that it is incumbent on folks to suggest “what next” in wine criticism, I would suggest to you that the failure to do so is to argue for anarchy, to argue for no standards. You make this very point yourself when you suggest that the question is “Is this the best way?”
    If the 100-point system is not the best way, and no one is arguing that it is perfect, just that it is widely accepted, valued and the “lingua franca” of wine reviews for very large pool of wine drinkers and thus rates ahead of whatever is in second place at this moment, then something else must be better. What is it?
    Seeking the end of something is not a question. It is an action. It has purpose and looks for a result. There is nothing about the “score destructionists” that is the least bit open-minded. Otherwise, we would be debating options rather than the “my way or the highway” choice that is offered.
    Finally, Mike, I appreciate the tone of your discussion. You have tried to frame this discussion as a question. Please ask the “score destructionist” to join you. I can tell you without much hesitation that the minute there is a better, more complete way to discuss wines than words and ratings, I and my writing brethren will adopt it. But short of that, we are not going to abandon the consumers who vote with their readership and read our words and our ratings.
    In any event, it is not the 100-point system that the “destructionists” need to address. It is the existence of any form of rating hierarchy. Even Palate Press uses a four-level system of ratings. If that kind of system had been found superior, it would have been slayed the 100-point system ages ago because it was the rating system in use in many of the wine publications before the 100-point system gained popularity.

  36. Jim - August 6, 2011

    One fallacy I see in the Scorevolution press release I find particularly troubling. The suggestion that the 100-point rating-and-tasting-note system limits exposure to “grower wines” (by which I assume they mean smaller producers)is absurd. I suspect the need for this sort of rating system for wine reviews lies in the fact that so many wines from producers big and small, from all around the world, are now available in the U.S market. In a smaller market each producer gets more space, but there is just a helluva lot of wine out there. If you choose to use a system that is less succinct than the score-and-tasting note, you’re going to be limited in the amount of wine you can write about. Small producers, lesser-known regions/styles would fall by the editorial wayside, as publications focus on wines most readily available to readers by virtue of their greater production/distribution.
    On a side note, at some levels small wineries and lesser-known regions are already suffering in today’s publishing environment. The wall between advertising and editorial is eroding at more and more magazines, particularly on the trade side. Regions or producers who contribute to a magazine’s revenue by advertising are much more likely to appear on the editorial side as well, and smaller players are less able to buy that exposure. At least if a magazine tastes all submissions blind and publishes the scores and descriptions this other egregious practice is avoided to some degree.

  37. randy pitts - August 6, 2011

    I find it interesting that the folks who have the MOST to lose with the degradation of the point system are the one’s most offended by and resistant to this new wine revolution. It’s the Irrelevant becoming publicly so.

  38. Charlie Olken - August 6, 2011

    Randy–
    Here’s the deal. People subscribe to wine publications to acquire knowledge beyond that which they get from tasting, drinking, talking to their neighbors. Some of that knowledge comes in the form of guidance to the thousands of choices in the market place.
    One could do away with the 100-point system and there still would be influenctial voices. That is never going to change. There were influential voices in wine decades ago. The two most popular rating systems in vogue then were the hedoinstic (not Davis) 20-point system and the four or five tier system.
    When a critic like Bob Finigan rated a wine as excellent, it became an instant favorite. Dan Berger today uses a four tier system.
    Wine is a relatively small universe compared to cars, hotels, vacuum cleaners, restaurants. Each of those universes is benefitted by critical evaluations of the available choices, and each of those evaluations comes with some form of symbolic notation–usually a numeric score.
    Your conclusion that the existing critics are becoming irrelevant is directly belied by the sheer numbers of wine lovers who subscribe to those publications. And the notion that rating systems are irrelevant is wishful thinking bordering on the absurd when viewed in the context of the world beyond wine.

  39. Charlie Olken - August 6, 2011

    Randy–
    Ever hear of Zagat? Ever take a look at Snooth or Cellar Tracker? Ever read Consumer Reports? Ever look at the restaurant reviews in the SF Chron?
    All come with some form of symbolic notation that accompanies the words provided. Rather than the world moving away from points, symbols and rating hierarchies, it is moving further and further in that direction.

  40. Charlie Olken - August 6, 2011

    Randy–
    Ever hear of Zagat? Ever take a look at Snooth or Cellar Tracker? Ever read Consumer Reports? Ever look at the restaurant reviews in the SF Chron?
    All come with some form of symbolic notation that accompanies the words provided. Rather than the world moving away from points, symbols and rating hierarchies, it is moving further and further in that direction.

  41. Tom Wark - August 6, 2011

    Randy,
    I tend to look at things like you do. When I look to figure out something I tend to follow the money or ask who’s ox is being gored. But what I can’t figure out is where you have followed the money to nor can I identify the ox you see being gored.

  42. Tom Wark - August 6, 2011

    Mike Willson:
    I enjoyed reading your comment. But I think I’m only going to take issue with your initial remark that seems to form the basis for everything else:
    YOU WROTE:
    “I, for one, do not care for the 100 point system, generally. It gets turned into gospel by retailers and, subsequently, their customers.”
    You are wrong about this. And in being wrong I think you are too willing to dismiss the possession of commonsense by wine drinkers that notice and take account of the the 100 Point system.
    First, I’d ask what you mean by “Gospel”, but I understand your position. I think you mean to say that consumers see a wine rated 95 points and conclude it is a better wine than all those that did not get 95 points.
    Isn’t it possible that consumers see the 95 Point score and say to themselves, “Someone things this wine is really good because 95 Points is a good score?”
    I think this is exactly what they think. Furthermore, I’m struggling to figure out what’s wrong with this conclusion. It seems perfectly correct to me.
    But, what if the consumer does conclude that the 95 Point score they see on a wine really does mean for them that it is better than any other wine that scores below 95 Points? What’s wrong with this conclusion. Do you really believe that this consumer will take the step of never being satisfied with another, lower scoring wine ever again? There is also the possibility, the strong one, that this same consumer will have their mind changed when they taste the wine and conclude, “Fuck, this wine isn’t all that!”
    There is also the possibility, a strong one, that the consumer, while believing the 95 point wine is better than the 94 point wine, still isn’t willing to pay the price for the wine in the same way that when they buy a diamond ring for their hope-to-be-wife that they will not purchase the perfect clarity and perfect cut $25,000 ring and instead opt for the lesser clarity and lesser cut ring that costs $10,000. In the same way, a consumer might choose to buy the domestic proscuitto at $10/lb instead of the proscuitto di Parma at $20/lb.
    The robotic qualities you seem to be assigning to the consumer when they confront a score strikes me as a little too calculated to be reality.
    Finally, I didn’t say I don’t care about terroir or tradition. I only suggested they need not be the paramount character in a wine for that wine to be perfectly enjoyable, even a revelation to the drinker.

  43. Mike Willison - August 6, 2011

    Thank you both for the very thoughtful and thought provoking responses. It is a credit to you both, and everyone that has posted really, that this discussion is so lively.
    Charlie, the bit you mentioned about geography was meant for Tom, based on something he said in the original post, and he addressed it and clarified it. Sorry for crossing the streams a bit there.
    Tom, I believe in exactly what you believe regarding the consumer’s ability to react to scores, buy or not buy, and make an assessment generally, but I believe it skews the other way. Maybe I am cynic, or have lost some faith in Man’s ability to rise above the bleating kind and yell, “Fuck, this wine isn’t all that!” I’d love to hear that more often. However, I believe that many wine consumers, especially those that chase the big-ticket boys as kind of a show-off hobby, wouldn’t know a crap wine if they were bathing in it. It was purported to be excellent, it cost enough to justify the resume, and by god it will be delicious.
    To many people, the number IS the thing, nothing more. I doubt many consumers could identify their favorite columnist in WS (kind of reminds me of the fellas that would buy Playboy “for the articles”- which have been quite good at times, so I’ve heard) but could easily tell you what the last three vintages of _________ __________ have scored, how many they have in their cellar and how they got on the allocation list over nine holes at Torrey Pines.
    I’d argue its less about robotic instinct but more about human instinct. Some people just won’t pull over and ask for directions. They would circle aimlessly through the dark city rather than suffer the embarrassment of having to ask how to get somewhere. I totally agree with your metaphor regarding the diamond and delicious pig bits, but I still think people buy Porches because they feel like they are getting old. Many of the high scoring wines are just prizes to prove they have already been there, done that.
    I realize that just because some people are boring and predictable doesn’t make the 100 point system the culpable devil. It is, however, kind of an enabler; nudging the consumer along with just enough information to keep them coming back for more.
    The people that get it, that understand the system as a guide, see it exactly as you suggest: that, “someone thinks this wine is darn good. Maybe I will too? If I can afford it, maybe I’ll pull the trigger.” I guess the best question I would ask you all is how to get the consumers to responsibly use the system rather than flinging numbers around willy-nilly? Maybe we don’t see the same behaviors? Maybe I’ve had it with the rat race and I should just go live in a quaint fishing village where no one has ever heard of Sassicaia?
    Finally, your last comment is the most wonderful of them all. Touche. I believe almost any wine can be someone’s perfect wine if the right situation presents itself.

  44. Charlie Olken - August 7, 2011

    Frank Prial, when he was the NYT wine columnist, remarked “I know when I see a wine rated at 87 points that the taster liked it a little better than a wine rated at 86″.
    Mike, before we had 100-points, we had other systems and other voices, and those voices, when they would rate wines at the top of the heap with ratings of Excellent or 19.5 points were also mindlessly bought up by those who would mindlessly buy up the “hot wine of the day”.
    You hit the nail squarely on the head with your remark “how do (we) get the consumers to responsibly use the system”. That comment is where the Score Destructionists ought to focus. The system is not flawed, although far from perfect. It is the abuse and misuse of the system, or of any system, that distorts the meaning of my words or those of Parker/Galloni or Laube/Fish or Heimoff and Co.
    Thanks again for a most thoughtful discussion. I hope folks like Christopne Hedges is listening. There is plenty of room for reasoned debate and discussion, but it is hard to have that kind of dialogue with folks who have taken extreme positions before the dialogue has even begun.

  45. Ana Vieira Pinto - August 8, 2011

    Dear Mr Willison
    You said “I believe almost any wine can be someone’s perfect wine if the right situation presents itself.”
    Yes, you’re kind of right (I say “kind of” because there are people with really bad taste who would say certain mediocre wine is wonderful). Anyway: personal taste is as diverse as wine.
    The point is: consumers should be opened to the chance their score might me different from the reviewer score. But many times that’s not what happens. When a consumer initially disagrees with a 90+ score, or considers a less than 90 points a 90+ wine for him, he tends to think his appreciation must be wrong. Specially when people around him tell him: “You don’t agree with this or that reviewer? You can’t be serious!” (this already happened to me!). At a certain point, he feels unsure. So, he ends up relying in the ratings, and putting his impressions aside. This, I think is wrong. Hence, I agree with your idea.
    PS: Yes, this has become a very interesting discussion! Cheers to you all!!!

  46. Ana Vieira Pinto - August 8, 2011

    Anyone knows if there is any kind of “Good Practice Principles for Wine Rating”?

  47. David Hance - August 8, 2011

    Mathematics (and the use of numbers in general) appears objective, even when used by those who make no secret of the fact that they are being subjective. The use of numbers is often used to create an illusion of rigorous thinking and systems, because numbers are used this way in many fields of human endeavor. There are so many numbers in our daily news, and so many of them are used in ways that are too general and no applicable to the real issue at hand.
    Those who use numbers in ways unsupported by objective data know that they are doing so to add a veneer of legitimacy to their opinions. This can so easily slip into sloppiness and aggrandizement rather than a useful ranking tool. Whatever one thinks of Enologix, at least Leo McCloskey’s numbers are based on something like an objective system.
    Something more than, “I’ll give it a 10, you can dance to it.”
    So long as the 100 point system exists in wine criticism, in its current form, I’ll continue to use scores the way most wine business people do:
    1. Ignore scores below about 87;
    2. Wave about scores of 90+ to attract buyers’ attention in a noisy world, because I’m too lazy or not clever enough on that given day, or with that given wine, to figure out other ways to get buyers’ attention.

  48. Charlotte G. - August 8, 2011

    Here’s what one consumer likes in a wine review: Descriptors that are tastes/aromas I know; a sense of whether the wine is light, medium or big in overall profile; alcohol level; whether it’s best with food or just fine as a sipper; an estimated drinking window and some assessment of overall quality that doesn’t have to be a number.
    Here are a couple of non-professional reviews from CellarTracker that I think mostly fit the bill:
    “Personally, I love this style of syrah. Blackberry, sandlewood, some perfume, bacon fat, and a little core of black cherry. Nice lean fruit. Great acidity dances with black cherry skins and incense on the palate. Sweet tannins and good length.”
    “Transparent ruby red. The nose shows off floral/perfumed aromatics and ripe strawberry. Full bodied with plenty of red fruit, but it takes a back seat to the massive structure right now. I’ve tasted through some 2008 Oregon and this is the best example of the need for long term aging. Air and/or food are needed for this right now. Otherwise, let them sleep.”
    Because I’m a serious consumer (300-bottle cellar) with some specific preferences, I tend to gravitate to particular wine reviewers like I gravitate to particular movie reviewers. I know how to interpret what they say relative to my taste. (My cellar is heavy on Washington/Oregon because I’ve visited a lot of winemakers and growing areas there, but I also have good representation from France, Spain, Italy and Germany plus odd bottles from other countries/states. Exactly 5 bottles from California and 6 from Australia.)
    And because I’m a serious consumer, I’m also interested in terroir, wine blogs, information about winemakers and winemaking and discussions like this one.
    Most people aren’t like that. Their completely reasonable expectation is to be able to easily pick up an enjoyable bottle at the grocery or corner wine store. They expect there to be a one-to-one relationship between cost and quality. And they’re going to rely on the shelf notes, even if the notes are for a different vintage than the bottle they’re looking at.
    For that reason, I understand Christophe Hedges’ concern, but I think he’s doomed to fail in changing the system because distributors and retailers rely on those shelf notes to move wine to casual customers. Is that an entirely accurate way to shop? No. But the three-word blurbs looted from movie critics’ reviews you see in movie ads aren’t either and we all manage to survive it.
    Is this really an either/or argument? High-production, broadly distributed wine is going to rely on scores and shelf cards and is going to be made in a taste profile that the casual wine drinker can predict, which does not have to mean mediocre. There’s not actually anything wrong with that. Wine is a consumer product, after all, and this is the mass market end of the business.
    More serious consumers are going to buy wine from more specialized venues, including wine specialty stores, direct from wineries and online retailers. They’re not going to care as much about scores, except possibly at the more expensive end.
    Getting that casual customer more interested is really the challenge and one that transcends the debate over the 100-point scale.

  49. Tom Wark - August 8, 2011

    David:
    You make one of the best cases against using the 100 point system that I’ve read of late.
    However, I think there are a couple problems with your case.
    1. You write “The use of numbers is often used to create an illusion of rigorous thinking and systems, because numbers are used this way in many fields of human endeavor.” While I think you are correct some sense, I would argue that many of the top magazines that use the 100 point system along with tasting notes do indeed employ “rigorous” thinking in evaluating a wine and assigning a score and a description, yet no matter how rigorous, they are not insisting that their score and description is the final word on this wine.
    2. You write, “Those who use numbers in ways unsupported by objective data know that they are doing so to add a veneer of legitimacy to their opinions. This can so easily slip into sloppiness and aggrandizement rather than a useful ranking tool.”
    Numbers have been used regulatory to expose ideas that are subjective. Further, the idea that adding a number to a description of a wine adds a “veneer of legitimacy” suggests that without this number any given wine critic does not have any legitimacy or at least not enough to be important. I would disagree with this. Any number of wine publications and wine critics have earned a cache of legitimacy through a variety of means, including their obvious knowledge, their educational work, their aid to wine drinkers, and through the audience they’ve built, all without the help of numbers.

  50. Steven Washuta - August 8, 2011

    Look no further than Bordeaux vs Burgundy: it seems every year, especially the last two, more and more Bordeaux are being scored 100 (or 98-100*). I’ve never seen in any major publication a Burgundy score even above a 96 – I don’t read them daily so forgive me if I missed one.
    I’d still rather drink a Grand Cru Burg any day over one of these “perfect” Bordeaux wines – the Burgundy represents a piece of land which has been known for hundreds of years to produce superior wine. The Bordeaux in most cases represents modern winemaking and financial backing with their prices perfectly correlated to their en premeur ratings. Not that there’s no terroir in Bordeaux, but its role is secondary.
    I’m not saying there’s no place for a wine such as that – I’m sure many are delicious, but its the slight imperfections in Burgundy which provide charm. Perhaps 100 point wines just represent clean, boring wines with no personality – if so I have no interest in drinking one.

  51. James Hendon - August 8, 2011

    Hi all. Fascinating enlightning discussion, but the solution has been presented to us already. Since there is such a proliferation of product choices available, we must go with Ron Washam’s One Million Point Scale!

  52. Thadeus V. Beelzebub - August 8, 2011

    My biggest problem is that it isn’t a 100 point scale, as nobody utilizes the entire range of available scores. Call it what it really is – a 30, 40 or 50 point scale. The relative difference between points in a 30 point scale and a 100 point scale is huge and if reviewers would conceptualize this, they might be able to defend the difference between a 90 point wine and an 89 point wine. The way that the system is currently used can’t easily account for margins of error in scores. Everyone who understands statistics knows that a scale is really only meaningful if the entire range is used. The devil is in the details.

  53. Dave Brookes - August 8, 2011

    Maybe the 100 pont system is the commercialisation of wine critiqing?
    Both words and numbers are reductive and subjective….it’s just that words don’t put an absolute value at the end of it all so are probably” the lesser of the two evils.
    In the end the consumer makes the choice which they prefer….I would like to think that wine writers would try to increase the readers knowledge and enhance their love and interest for wine, rather than jot down the same old descriptors and burp up a score at the end of it.

  54. JB - August 8, 2011

    hmmm … speaking of phoney pseudo-intellectual rants…

  55. Charlie Olken - August 9, 2011

    Note to Dave Brookes–
    What makes you think that wine writers do not try to increase their readers’ knowledge? Do you think that those essays that precede tasting notes are not discussions of context? I may not always agree with Laube or Bonne or Parker, but every one of them writes comments that provide context. And so do I.
    None of the major critics provides only scores. And the comment “same old descriptions” makes no sense. Every description is derived directly from the wine and is not derivative of the past. How else can a description speak to body, tannins, acidity, intensity, varietal precision, reflections of terroir and the rest of the items upon which most tasting notes are built. Sure, not every tasting note is a lengthy essay. Can you imagine reading six hundred reviews in Parker every two months if each wine were given half a page?
    The 100-point system is far from perfect. So are words. The idea is ultimately to communicate to the readers so that they can make independent judgments about what they want to try. Some folks buy blindly but most of the interested wine-buying public are not mindless lemmings. It is at the point of suggesting that you are right and the world is wrong that the so-called Manifesto makes everyone into true believers or heretics. Sorry, but we do not need that.

  56. 1WineDude - August 9, 2011

    “I await, as I have for quite some time, for anyone to make a compelling case against the 100 Point Scoring system that can’t be applied equally to the casual evaluation of wine by any individual who cares to tell someone else what they think of the wine.”
    Tom – this is because logically this case *doesn’t exist*. By virtue of even making that comparison, you are suggesting that the 100 point system is no different than a casual evaluation, which ironically is a case against it, if you assume that even very well-educated, logical consumers often themselves assume that a number assigned to a wine at retail is an objective assessment that was reached by an expert. We all know that the objective part can be seriously debated, but that doesn’t stop people from making that assumption; and the retail data studies of the last few years absolutely backs up that this is how we think as consumers.
    So if I were you I wouldn’t be holding my breath for finding a water-tight argument for or against the system; there is no water-tight argument for or against it.

  57. Steve - August 9, 2011

    “Anyone who has a beef with these critics and their system of reviewing wines has a beef with subjective evaluation and criticism, two thing that have been applied to every artistic or craft endeavor since a neanderthal first scribbled over a cave-mate’s wall drawing.”
    Seriously? Can you name another field where the most well-known critical entities all employ a 100 point scale, the same scale, or even a scale at all?
    If you’re trying to pick somebody else apart, you’ve got to do better than a flimsy generality like that. What’s happened to you, Tom?

  58. Tom Wark - August 9, 2011

    Hi Steve…
    What’s happened to me? Clearly I’ve gone round the bend…
    However, to answer your question: Food, Movies, Music, Marijuana…just to begin with.
    However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that wine is just like any other consumer product, but makes the mistake of employing rating systems unlike other products.
    Consider something: the number of different products available in the “Wine Category” dwarfs that of nearly any other consumer product category.
    Rating these wines is not unthoughtful response to this kind of diversity of products.

  59. Steve - August 9, 2011

    There you go again, Tom (cue: Ronnie Reagan head wag). . .
    More broad generalizations. Food? Yeah, the Food Network, Bon Appetit, Epicurious all rate food?
    Movies? This is closer but the rating scales differ.
    Music? No.
    Pot? Maybe if they’re modeling themselves after wine.
    I agree that there is more vastly choice in wine than other consumer products. But now you’re considering wine a consumer product and not an aesthetic object.
    Given this diversity, why the hegemony of 100 point systems?
    Why not adopt the defacto 5 star system of consumer goods?

  60. Charlie Olken - August 9, 2011

    “Why not adopt the defacto 5 star system of consumer goods”?
    It really does not matter what rating system one uses. Ratings are ratings.
    I have been publishing Connoisseurs’ Guide for over three decades. We started with a five-tier system, but, as the number of wines increased, we soon realized that five tiers was too limiting. Wines at the cusp were differentiated by margins that were far too wide for the differences in the wines and there was no way that our words could make up for the perceived differences. Now, instead we are able to use four additional tiers within our old rating classes (our top rating, for example, now runs 95 to 98 points: the second to the top runs 91 to 94; the middle range of scores and wines that we recommend runs 87 to 90, etc) and the differences between those tiers is correspondingly, and appropriately I might add, less substantial.
    In point of fact, the system is much more fair to the wines. Now, 90 points in one point different from 91. Under our old sytem, the tiers had an equivalent change of about four points and a wine in the third tier simply did not seem to be recommended.
    So, that is the first reason–because the 100-point sytem allowed us to give ratings that more accurately reflected our impressions.
    But there is a second reason and it is equally important. The marketplace began to accept 100-points as the desired rating system. It was easily understood and it put reviewers on a relatively even playing field so that buyers could look across reviewing platforms and make more easy comparisons.
    To be sure, the system is not used exactly the same everywhere. In my publication, Connoisseurs’ Guide, there are no scores of 99 and 100 points. It is a silly little bit of conceit on our parts, but we like to think that better wines will show up next week or next year. Still, the bottom line is that our readers wanted us to use the 100-point system because it became the de facto lingua franca of wine reviews. Four or five tier reviews simply are no longer as desired by the public.
    If other consumer products were so numerous in choice and has so many opinions being shared nationally, there might be a reason for all reviews of cars or soap or flat screen TVs to be evaluated by a more universally accepted rating system. Wine is unique in that regard–it has tens of thousands of data points, and the buying public prefers a greater level of differentiation than it can get with four or five tiers.
    The so-called Score Revolution is absolutely anti-consumer in that regard. It wants consumers to get less information than they want and tells them they are fools for wanting the information that they are reading by the millions.
    It’s OK for you to want like whatever system or non-system of ratings or rankings you like, but it is also OK for the public to prefer something else and for the critics to choose to offer that which the public prefers. If the public preferred the ten chopsticks system, you can bet that we would use that system.

  61. Gregg Burke - August 9, 2011

    Hey Tom,
    Just wanted to way in as a person who signed the Score Revolution pledge. The 100 point system has become bastardized and is only a 10 point system. Critics more than anyone I think would like to see people read the words they wrote rather then just going by the shorthand of a score. I own a small wine shop and I do not use points at all, for the simple reason that as the owner I can not afford to hand over my authority to a critic. The customer has to trust me, not a number. As for wines being minipulated to fit a style I blame the winemakers for that and my advice stop chasing scores. I have always contended that critcs are just fountains of opinion and we all know that opinions are like A**holes, everyone has one and they all stink.

  62. Gregg Burke - August 10, 2011

    I meant weigh in not way. End of a long day sorry about that.

  63. Randy Caparoso - August 10, 2011

    I read some of the thread while making a cross country trip and will throw in my two cents a little belatedly. What’s not mentioned is the basic fact that 100 point scores — at least from my perspective — are just plain silly.
    Now, I believe there’s room for silliness for everything in this world; but I happen to like fine wines, and have made a living on them for over 30 years — so I don’t particularly like silliness. Especially when it comes to our more serious wines. To me, it’s like taking a book (like a novel by Hemingway, Cervantes or Pynchon) or a piece of art (like paintings Monet, Manet or Picasso) and giving one a 98, another a 94 and the third a 90. Now that would be just plain silly, wouldn’t it, because we all know they’re all good, and that assigning numbers would be arbitrary, and that subjectivity is an intrinsic part of the appreciation.
    The “issue” with 100 point scores is not so much the assumption of subjectivity as the inference that they represent some type of objectivity that is permanent and everlasting. Thus, a 100 point Ringling Shiraz will always be remembered as a 100 point wine, with all the marketing of ramifications of such. A 90 point Tempier Bandol always remains “a 90 point wine,” despite the fact that it is *not* a lesser wine — just a different wine, from a different place, appreciated from different quality perspectives.
    Not to mention the fact that even the most experienced and descriminating wine lover knows that a wine that tastes like 100 points one day may be just ho-hum or even disenchanting the following week or next year, or if tasted under different circumstances. If the reality of wine appreciation is that numbers mean little, why defend them?
    That’s the ultimate silliness of the 100 point system: it does no good to unsuspecting consumers who taste a high scoring wine and find they don’t like it. The assumption is that there’s something wrong with them, not the wine. Especially those consumers who have the money to purchase, say, a Ringling Shiraz but who might not be aware that he/she might find a Domaine Tempier more appealing, just as you may like a Pynchon better than a Hemingway. That’s why 100 point scores aren’t used for works of art at higher levels of quality, and that’s why they shouldn’t be used for our better wines.
    Finally, Mr. Wark, it is a bit disengenuous to imply that it’s only those who are “affected” by scores who are “against” it. I’m wine professional, not a wine producer, and one of many who could never abide by the point systems because they are intrinsically inane, and do as much harm as good for consumers. No, I won’t sign the “manifesto” because I think that’s silly, too. The great wines of the world — for all their terroir, vintage and artisan related nuances — are too good a thing to be bandied about with either rhetoric or absurd quantifications.

  64. Tom Wark - August 10, 2011

    Randy,
    How are you?
    It seems to me that if you can understand that wine criticism, including the 100 points scores along with their written reviews, are subjective, then the claim that they for always and ever mark a wine as a number is inherently false, at least in your world.
    If you can understand that a wine ranked 95 points is a subjective measurement of the wine, why can’t others understand this?
    Finally, I don’t think wine is like a Monet nor like a a book. That’s art. Wine is craft.

  65. Tish - August 11, 2011

    Finally caught up with this thread. It proves, if nothing else, that the 100-point scale is by nowhere near as accepted as it once was. We will look back one day and see it for what it is/was: another system of consumer guidance. Its replacement is not yet clear, but it is inevitable, and likely driven by a combination of technology (someday, most every wine will have a QR code) and common sense (the best advice comes from a human you trust and can interact with, not a critic who can only offer static review/score).
    Before that happens, though, we are going to have to work through a stage of common-sense realization that the 100-point scale is simply not one system. It is all over the place in terms of format, standards, criteria, etc., and thereby devalued. There is no 100point scale; there are many. If you want to talk about WS or RP, fine and dandy. But shouldn’t that be confined to the pages and websites of those magazines? I think there is widespread agreement that the stripping of numbers from the context of their original reviews is perhaps the worst and most disingenuous manifestation of “the” 100-pt scale. Let’s send the scores back to their natural habitat.

  66. PaulG - August 11, 2011

    In my first book “Washington Wines & Wineries” I pointed out all the foibles of the 100 point system as it is used (and sometimes abused) and I proposed a rather complex redesign, keeping the 100 point score but assigning different values to different categories and expanding the “good” scores to range from 50 on up to a perfect 100 (only one winery got the perfect 100, and it was carefully explained why).
    Guess what? The wineries hated it! The trade ignored it. Some readers applauded it but I think most felt it was too much trouble. So in the second edition I went to the simplest possible 5-star rating system.
    That said, I rate wines for Wine Enthusiast and use the standard 100 point scale. Some commenters hate the magazine and take every opportunity to dump on it and those who write for it; so be it. The Wine Enthusiast cuts off ratings at 80 (not 85) as a courtesy to consumers. Let’s face it – who wants to read about a 75 point wine? Anyway, this post makes a lot of important points regarding how people on the street who are actually selling wine must face certain realities. The newbie bloggers can scream foul all they like, but the bottom line, as always, is the bottom line. My two cents.

  67. 1WineDude - August 12, 2011

    Tom – gotta disagree with you on some of your responses to Randy:
    “It seems to me that if you can understand that wine criticism, including the 100 points scores along with their written reviews, are subjective, then the claim that they for always and ever mark a wine as a number is inherently false, at least in your world.”
    – Ratings do, in fact, stick with wines forever in the marketplace. Well, not forever, but a VERY long time because of the long tail of wine products in the market. Also, almost NO ONE goes back to revise scores, and if they do they are almost never republished or replaced at retail.
    “If you can understand that a wine ranked 95 points is a subjective measurement of the wine, why can’t others understand this?”
    – Randy is long-time wine pro. Most people aren’t. It’s not that they are stupid, it’s that they don’t usually have the time, energy or inclination to dig into those details, Tom. I don’t think Randy means that these people are incapable, just that we can’t reasonably expect most people who interact with scores to know this stuff.
    “Finally, I don’t think wine is like a Monet nor like a a book. That’s art. Wine is craft.”
    – Eiffel bridges are crafted and functional – are they not art? Most wine is more akin to manufactured food products. The finest wines of the world do, however, have the potential for artistic expression to deny that is to, in a small way, kind of demean the crafts of winemaking and grapegrowing.

  68. Ana Vieira Pinto - August 17, 2011

    Adding more wood to the fire ;)
    An interesting discussion I found on wine reviews and their utility: http://winediarist.com/build-a-better-tasting-note/

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