How to Embrace Wine Ratings and Calm Your Nerves Too

It always makes me very happy when I can help someone overcome their fears, anxieties or concerns. So, I’m happy today since I’m able to aid Ms. Katie Finn, who is upset about wine scores and ratings (and apparently by Robert Parker, Jr. too:

“Every time someone tells me that wine XYZ got 98 points, or that Chateau Crème de la Crème got a disappointing 87, I start twitching, and my insides get hot. There are so many things about the point scale that bother me, but the No. 1 thorn in my side is the notion that I am supposed to care about that number. There is a pervasive idea that we should respect a system that reduces wine to nothing more than a high school science project graded by a potentially burnt-out expert who may or may not be distracted with thoughts of their long-overdue Hawaiian vacation.”

No one should have to twitch in public nor have their insides burning.

Katie, here’s the thing. It’s not the number you are supposed to care about. It’s the opinion of the person who is assigning the number and who, though you don’t mention it, almost always accompanies that number with a description of the wine and explanation of why they like it. That number…think of it as just a bit more information to add to the written description.

Oh, and don’t buy into those folks who inevitably counter this explanation with, “but no one reads the review”. Understand, that’s an issue the consumer of the information has. It’s not a problem for the writer/critic/reviewer who graciously provided even more information about their assessment of the wine beyond the score.

Oh, and as for that “burnt out expert” who might be distracted by thoughts of a vacation, you might want to rethink that concern. It’s just as easy to assume, for example, that the author of simplistic, derivative “think piece” about wine published in a third-rate rag by a “certified” sommelier was written in an unfortunate fit of envy and should be ignored.

But back to the scary score thing. I think you do actually appreciate the value of score given to a wine. Consider what you wrote in your think piece for the Coachella Valley Independent:

“The only benefit I’ve ever found in such ridiculousness (a big score for a wine by Robert Parker) is that if Parker gave it a big score, I knew I’d hate it. My wallet and I are very grateful for that, because the other pitfall is, of course, that as soon as a wine reaches Wine Spectator/Wine Advocate stardom, not only does that wine immediately sell out; you are guaranteed to see that wine double in price, if you ever see it again.”

See, there is value in the score. In your case, it informed you that you’ll likely not enjoy the wine based on your understanding of the rating and who gave the number. It’s no different than the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people who will never have reason to trust a rant in the CV Independent, yet who have read and trusted Robert Parker for decades and who, upon seeing his big score Parker gave the wine, that they are likely to adore the wine. Isn’t that great!!

Also, Katie, you can overcome your affliction of twitchiness if you don’t take such a pedantic view of scores and rantings. I’m referring to this: “Points give consumers the false idea that there is such a thing as a “perfect” wine: 100 points awarded for being flawless!”

Think about the film critics who give a movie five out of five stars. Or think about the denizens of the Amazon comment sections who give a blender 5 out of 5 stars. They aren’t saying the film or the blender is “perfect”. They are saying that they really, really like that blender. In fact, they like just about more than any other blender of its type. It’s not an attempt to say that this wine is objectively perfect. And here’s the other thing: consumers of blenders and of wine aren’t stupid. They know that the reviewer is offering an opinion; an assessment. They know that the score isn’t an objective measure of a wine that must be adopted by all people at all times in all places.

So, there we go, Katie. I’m happy to help…even someone with 15 long years of experience in the wine industry who hosts private wine tastings. I know…presumptuous. But at least I didn’t diss the palate, accomplishments and abilities of someone who for nearly 40 years has been instrumental in guiding thousands of people through the wine world and who is recognized as one of the most accomplished wine educators and writers in the world.



5 Responses

  1. Tom Orsat - May 16, 2018

    There is no perfect wine. The notion that a certain wine is “perfect” is only that of the palate that belongs to that person tasting it. So to him or her…its perfect. If the person is a fan of over the top 15% alc Zins, and that’s what they’re tasting, it very well could be perfect…TO THEM!! I use the rating system as a guide, not the numbers, but the person doing the review. If you know their taste in wine, then you have a possibly good idea of how close the wine might come to you liking. Remember, numbers are really only meaningful in money and the IRS, who has no idea of a persons personalty, likes or dislikes. The same applies to rating a wine.

  2. Bill McIver - May 16, 2018

    TO THEM, I say, find yourself a retail shop keeper, tell him/her what you like in a wine and your wine budget. They will find what fits your taste and budget because they want you to become a regular customer.

  3. Tom Wark - May 16, 2018

    Bill….Sage Advice

  4. Samantha Duga - May 16, 2018

    Amen Bill.

  5. Helene - May 17, 2018

    Hmmm…interesting. Most of us, whether professionals or consumers, have reviewers with whom we agree (or not), actually. One of the reasons that the best regional, national or international competitions have PANELS of experts is to arrive at something resembling a consensus. At the best Competitions, Concours, whatever, the Panel system usually gets to a correct medal/score. Sometimes each of us may be off the wall, but during a little discussion we can often work out where the wine should be rated. Why are you so obsessed with precise numbers? Exact numbers are a joke, anyway. How does one differentiate between 87 and 88? But at least each wine with that score should have achieved a very high Silver Medal, at least in Europe. Ditto for 16 out of 20.

    A more International perspective from one who judges on at least three continents every year?

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