Wine Ratings and the Nature of 1+1=2
In a recent article on the Huffington Post, importer, distributor and writer David Duman attempted to refute those who take time to defend the 100 point rating system. Among the things he focused upon was what he called the "It's Not Objective Fallacy".
Duman claims that those defenders of the 100 point system who assert that a numerical rating that comes along with a review of the wine is a subjective claim are wrong and they in fact ARE implying objectivity with their number score. Duman writes:
"While perhaps theoretically true [that the number is a subjective evaluation of the wine], in practice there is of course an implied objectivity in any quantitative rating system: that, within that system, a wine receiving more points (or stars, or hats or whatever) is of course better than a wine with fewer."
To this I need to remind Mr. Duman that anyone who doesn't understand the difference between "1+1=2" and "I Believe" has bigger problems than tryng to figure out the 100 Point wine rating system.
When a writer offers a written review of the wine and attaches a "91" point rating to that review it can ONLY be a subjective measure for the simple and obvious reason that there is no agreed upon and unalterable criteria for evaluating pleasure, let alone wine. The 91 points (along with the review) is one person's (or a panel's) view of the wine. The fact that I might have a different view of that wine that does nothing to alter the substance or nature of the wine in question proves sine dubio that the score is a subjective evaluation of the wine.
There is nothing objective and no implication of objectivity when saying, "Wine X is 5 points better than Wine Y". All you have is a personal evaluation of the wine. Whether one uses numbers, stars, thumbs or even just words to describe their evaluation, that evaluation is subjective, not objective, and any wine writer who has also used equal, plus and minus signs in their lives understands this because they understand the difference between "objective" and "subjective".
The fact is, a review of a wine that states, "This Cabernet is the best I have tasted this year" is little different than placing a 95 point score next to a wine. It's merely that a different set of vocabulary has been used to describe the writer's experience with the wine.
There may in fact be solid arguments to be made against using the 100 point rating system. However, the idea that this system implies objectivity is not one of them.
Finally, Duman asserts that the application of the 100 point rating by consumers also indicates the scores' implied objectivity. We know this, he says, because wines with higher scores are in greater demand and cost more. He explains:
"The critic can protest all he wants that that [implied objectivity] might not be his intention, but as any student of Post-Modernism would tell you, the writer's intention has nothing to do with it and we can only assess value in its application."
Putting Derrida and Foucault aside, I think it's fair to say that the consumer, in creating more demand for a high scoring wine, is simply taking the subjective advice of a critic. They believe the critic when they assert through a score and review that Wine X is better than Wine Y and act on that belief. It is a reaction no different than a moviegoer running out to see a film that they read Roger Ebert loved, despite the fact that Leonard Maltin said the movie stunk. I can tell you from experience that a Roger Ebert-endorsed film does not guarantee I will like it, despite the fact that I ran out and saw it. I can furthermore tell you that despite having bought wines because they got high scores, it turned out I did not like them. I did not question my personal evaluation of the wine any more than I questioned my personal evaluation of the movie just because a critic I admire liked the film. Put another way, I defied any pretense to objectivity in the critics review.
Demand for high scoring wines do not prove consumers view those scores as objective. It proves they view them as reliable evaluations. There is a difference so large as to require those who think otherwise to go back and study the meaning of "1 + 1 = 2".
Mr. Duman and those who also believe there is a problem of implied objectivity with the 100 point system need to go back to the drawing board and rework their formula.