My Musings on Wine Scores
Hello all! First of all let me apologize for going AWOL the last two months. Work, Home, and MW studies have all been crazy busy as it is for anyone during the holidays. I hope in this new year I will be able to put up more weekly posts.
As always if you have any suggestions as to what to write about I’d love to hear them!
For my first post of the new year I’d like to make a comment on a subject that is equally loved and hated by most winemakers… Wine Scores.
I’m not going to be one of those people that says the scores don’t matter. They absolutely do. They matter because consumers place so much emphasis on them. I think the conversation becomes confusing when people begin to blame the critics (most of all Robert Parker) rather than the consumers themselves for their importance. Scores don’t have power because Parker or Laube or some other critic says they do. Scores have power because the consumers purchasing wine have given them power.
Let’s face it, we all know how grades worked in school. The higher the grade, the better you were doing. It was something that we’ve all grown up with here in the US and I’d be willing to assume that other countries have the same or similar structures as well. It’s a simple system because we all knew that 100 is the best and anything below that was flawed at some level. All Parker did when he developed the 100 pt scale was to capitalize on this already ingrained scale that exists in all of our minds.
For wine, the scale was an easy to understand way to simplify quality for the consumer. ”Quality” is open to debate as it tends to be the highest quality in the mind of that particular critic. It seems for the most part that scores below 92 or 93 are relatively objective. Most people can probably tell the quality difference between an 85 and a 91 point wine. However, once the score goes above 93 or 94 it becomes more subjective to the environment, wines surrounding it, and the whims of the reviewer. The feelings of the moment if you will.
This is where the debate enters. It seems that this subjectivity is the biggest objection to the wine score system. The problem is that the score is an opinion. This is precisely what the consumers are asking the critic to give; their opinion. Movie reviewers, food writers, and art critics are all asked for the same thing however it seems that the opinions of wine critics for some reason are more hotly debated. Maybe I’m just not privy to the other industries’s debates but I know I’ve gone to see movies that the critics were less than kind to and I’ve been thoroughly entertained. I didn’t think less of the critic but just assumed that the movie was not to their taste. Therefore, the question must be asked, why are wine industry folks so hard on wine critics just because the critic’s opinion may differ from their own?
As to the 100 point scale, wine consumers have chosen how they prefer to have these opinions delivered and like it or not that vehicle is currently the 100 point scale. As I said before, it’s easy to understand. With a product like wine, which has been shrouded in mystery and elitism for so long, easy was probably extremely refreshing for people who just wanted to find some good wine. Robert Parker is successful not only because he had an opinion but because he delivered that opinion in such a way that wine consumers could understand it. Thus, the 100 point scale is here to stay. Debating it’s merits may prove entertaining for writers and avid wine lovers alike adding fuel to fires and burning up blogs. However, since the average wine drinker likes it, the debate is ultimately futile because the masses have spoken.
Like most winemakers I know, I am alternately elated and dismayed at wine scores. It’s the most fantastic feeling to have one’s hard work recognized by a good or even great score. I am still struggling with the fact that I can toil tirelessly, through harvest, aging, blending, and endless hours of worry over what will make the best wines only to have all that work distilled down to a two digit number at the end. It’s a love/hate relationship. I’m willing to go along with it because the consumers want it and because there is a delicious sense of anticipation from the moment you know your wine has been sent off to the moment that you receive your score. It’s the possibilities that are exciting. The chance to possibly, one day turn that two digit number into the coveted three.