Wine Ratings: Who Loves Them…Who Doesn’t?
Anyone who doubts the power of numerical wine ratings, particularly the 100 Point system, just isn’t living in the same world as me. Let me explain what I, a wine marketer, see when I look at numerical ratings:
1. The opportunity to become an overnight success with a single rating from the right reviewer
2. The opportunity to have my entire brand dismissed with a single wrathing from the wrong reviewer.
3. The chance to sell out 1000s of cases of wine on the back of one good rating and little marketing.
4. An enormous incentive to make a wine that mimics those that get high ratings.
5. The most powerful sales tool in the history of winemaking, more important even than the quality of the wine.
In our recent "Tough Wine Questions" survey here at Fermentation I asked three questions about numerical wine rating. In the first question I wanted to know what people thought of the utility of wine ratings in terms of choosing a wine. The responses were split down the middle with 51% saying they are helpful in choosing a wine and 49% saying they are of no use.
What’s really interesting is what happens when we examine those who thought them useless. These people are 1) far more likely to believe numerical ratings are HURTING the wine industry, more likely to believe numerical ratings promote "sameness" in wine styles and…importantly…much more likely to work in or around the wine industry.
It may be that by being in the wine industry you are more likely to have been affected in some way by a bad review and this taints your view of the utility and effect of numerical wine ratings. But I think there might be more to it than that.
WHY THE INDUSTRY IS SKEPTICAL OF RATINGS
First, it’s likely that if you are in the industry or around wine a lot or drink a lot of wine you simply don’t need reviews to help you find a wine. Maybe you even resent their ubiquity. I also am convinced there is a genuine concern that numerical wine ratings are promoting greater sameness of style among wines from various terroirs and varietals. When we asked if numerical wine ratings promote "sameness" in wine 78% of respondents said yes. Of those who find ratings of no use in choosing a wine, 85% said it promotes sameness. It’s no surprise that those who said ratings promote sameness in wine styles were more likely to say the wine industry was hurt by ratings.
As with the issue of high alcohols in wine there appears to be a concern INSIDE the wine industry over the utility and effect of numerical wine ratings. Of those who identified themselves as not being in the wine industry, they were much more likely to think ratings were helpful in choosing a wine and that ratings made wine more accessible.
I don’t think there is any question that numerical wine ratings make wine more accessible to more people. Folks that just want a good wine stare up at a shelf of over 50 cabernets, 50 chards and hundreds of other wines all on the same shelf. Which to buy? That 90 point Pinot must be good.
I"LL KEEP USING RATINGS
Will the skepticism of the industry filter down to the buying public? Not in my lifetime. What’s more, I’ll continue to use numerical wine ratings to help promote the wines of Wark Communications clients, even though I’m one of those folks who think they hurt the creativity and diversity in the wine industry. Not using these scores would simply be letting my clients down given their huge potential to gain customers from them.