How Much Do Scores on Wines Matter?

winedrinkingSome people are downright vitriolic in their disdain for scores being assigned to wines.

“You wouldn’t assign a score to a painting, would you?” is a common refrain. “Or to a piece of music?”

Painters and musicians engage in forms of artwork, and I would argue that so do winemakers.

So I’m agreeing with those dislike scores for wine, right?

Wrong.

In all the years I’ve been associated with Vinesse — which is all but the first year of the company — scores have been assigned to the wines featured in the various clubs, Cyber Circle collections, and wines sold on the Vinesse website.

We utilize the standard 90-point system that Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and others use. Why? Because it’s based on a grading system that a vast majority of us grew up with in school. It’s easy to understand.

The reason some don’t like the system applied to wine is that it is somewhat more arbitrary than the grades we got in school. You either got a math question right or you didn’t; you either identified a noun as a noun or you didn’t. With wine, there’s a lot more gray area in assigning numbers.

Complicating matters for folks on my side of the argument is that each person “experiences” a given wine uniquely. This is especially true when it comes to the perceived flavors, because everyone’s palate is unique.

Using a 100-point system, there are several ways for a judge — that would be anyone assessing the wine — to arrive at a final number.

Some start at 80 and award “bonus points” for things such as color, complexity of the aroma, mouthfeel, the mix of flavors and the finish. They’ll also ask themselves whether the wine is a poor, good or great example of the variety (presuming it’s a single-variety wine).

I’ve seen some judges start at 90 and both award bonus points for certain outstanding traits and deduct points for perceived imperfections.

Over my three decades of judging wines, I’ve come to three conclusions regarding scores:

  1. I believe we’re better off with them than without them. If nothing else, they provide a starting point of differentiation among wines of the same variety.
  2. I believe the scores of tasting panels are more reliable than those of individual reviewers, simply because four or five educated palates are better than one.
  3. Once you find a tasting panel or individual reviewer with whom you seem to agree more often than not, stick with them. It likely means your palate is similar to theirs, and that should be true with virtually every type of wine.

Me? I’ve been putting my trust in the palates of the Vinesse tasting panel for more than 20 years.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

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