The Numbers Game

For many years, wine critic Robert Parker (a.k.a. “The Wine Advocate”) and Wine Spectator magazine have used a 100-point system to rate wines.

And for better or worse, those ratings have influenced sales—particularly the ratings bestowed by Parker. It got to the point where some vintners began trying to make their wines in what became known as “the Parker style” in order to garner a higher score and be able to raise prices.

Obviously, there is danger in one or two points-oriented critics having so much power that they can actually influence winemaking styles, retail prices and sales.

Now, there’s an effort being made to deflate the influence of Parker, the Spectator and a few other critics who rate wines by the numbers. Organizers have created a “manifesto” that calls for the demise of the 100-point rating system.

A number of winery owners, critics and others have signed the manifesto, although I seriously doubt whether Parker or the Spectator will be swayed. After all, they remain two of the most widely read sources of wine criticism on the planet; they must be doing something right.

You can read all about the points battle here.

My opinion? Well, here at Vinesse, we’ve been using our own 100-point system for well over a decade. Why do we use it?

Simple: It’s simple.

Virtually all of us attended schools where a 100-point system was used for grading. 90-100 points brought us an A, 80-89 a B, 70-79 a C, 60-69 a D, and lower than 60 an F. And while much of that grading was completely objective—an answer to a quiz question was either right or wrong—we also experienced a good deal of subjective grading, particularly in English class.

My feeling is there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a little subjectivity when it comes to grading anything. We are human beings with brains, and those brains enable us to think. When we think, we can form opinions. You may not agree with my opinion, but you may gain something from hearing it. Just as I may benefit from hearing yours.

So, through the years, restaurant, travel and movie critics have accompanied their assessments with a selected number of stars, and many wine critics have embraced numerical rating systems—the most common being the 100-point and 20-point systems.

One thing we’ve found over time is that newcomers to wine—who have always made up a significant portion of our clubs’ membership—aren’t always comfortable with the language of wine.

That’s why we use a combination of ratings and descriptive words and phrases to help paint as accurate a picture as possible about a given wine’s aromas, flavors and best food companions.

Some will embrace the verbiage. Others will go strictly by the numbers. Many will utilize both as they subsequently make their own appraisals.

In the end, wine criticism remains a very individual, very subjective thing—whether one uses strictly words, or a combination of words and numbers.

Take away one of those tools, and you’re robbing the wine-drinking public of information that a good many of them may find valuable.

Thus, I will not be signing that manifesto.

What do you think? Are wine ratings obsolete? Do they influence your wine purchasing decisions? Share your opinions and observations in the comment box below.

Posted in Editor's Journal
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