So Mike D. got me thinking, and I would like to pose this theoretical question to the wine berserkers, all enthusiastic original thinkers:
I have lived through the RP score revolution when I was in the wine biz selling 82 Bordeaux en primeur. Parker’s 100 points revolutionized wine buying as we knew it. Before then, people spoke to their wine merchants and auctioneers (people with lots of tasting experience and personal knowledge of the customer’s tastes) to make buying decisions. Mr. Parker took the knowledge of customer preferences out of the equation because his scores were absolute…82 Mouton was 100 points because Mr. Parker was the only one speaking the 100 point language at the time with authority, and it didn’t matter what style the individual customers preferred.
Now we have evolved, with many more talented wine writers and infinite bloggers/tasting note writers, etc. contributing to the knowledge base. Question: Where do we go from here? How do we determine the true level of quality of a wine?
Of course, that is not always possible, especially since so many wines in short supply need to be purchased as pre-arrivals. So, all you can do is try to find those writers/critics whose palate you are most in tune with. It is not in theory a bad thing to have some sort of ranking system so that a writer can express his degree of enthusiasm for a wine, but overall I believe that the scores do more harm than good. Their use assumes that someone tasting the wines #1) can distinguish from barrel or early upon bottling a 92 from a 93 from a 94 and therefore indicates an incredible degree of precision that I doubt exists, and #2) can predict with a great deal of accuracy and reliability how that wine will age (since that is how most wine buyers are using those scores). Since many wine writers are tasting an incredible number of wines in a day, hundreds, day after day, maybe allotting a full 60 seconds to each one (!) before assigning these precise scores, and since most of those writers do not go back and publicly reassess those evaluations at any time in the lifetime of the wine, we have a whole system based upon an evaluation methodology so different than how any of us actually drink and evaluate wines over an evening, yet performed with a proclaimed high degree of precision and no accountability. And this system drives the market!
I am not saying that those early evaluations are not knowledgeable and useful…just that the scoring system, though perhaps useful initially, has become a bit of a monster.
Robert, a very nice reply and Fred, thank you for continuing this discussion. Where I go from here (pronoun intentional) is to continue listening to others and their narrative, where their dialogue about what they may have tasted with it and how it may have fared after some level of aeration, perhaps after 2-3 days. All of these data sets are worthy to me, not what numeric score they assigned to it.
Unfortunately, where we go from here is more of the same, as the world has become too large and within what Robert Parker tried to evolve, many have become too reliant on it. What we can do here in our wine community is advance the tasting and sharing paradigm to a new place, to fill this forum, fill Cellrtracker with TNs, expressions of experience about what’s in the bottle. In doing that, for those who want to use that new paradigm to gain some meaning and reference, you can individually make a choice to dilute the influence of the few who have such an impact on the industry.
I truly hope one day that the point system can be called “dead”. It won’t but I will do my own part to ensure I don’t prolong its impact.
Alan, congratulations, as we have elected to rate your post 89 points. While we appreciate your thoughtful and smart approach to the topic, and we hope that you can understand that 89 is good, it’s not as good as 92, which may mean you will have to sell less wine and your 89 point award will render the buying public wondering if they should pursue your wine when others have been awarded a fine 92 point score. We hope you have a better go at the idea next vintage.
I personally like Ray T’s system - Killer, Staggering, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor or something similar. The problem that has evolved with the 100 point system is the no mans land of the ratings below 90. RP’s wines that he rated 85 - 89 were still very good wines but now they are dead to a retailer. Wineries that are dependent on his blessings every year are screwed when an “89” is bestowed upon them.
I think the market is ripe for a major transformation but have no idea what that new system is.
I understand and respect the perspective of the “point haters”, but I don’t share it.
My take is that points are merely a convenient communication mechanism (or convention, if you will) designed to add some sort of “scaling” nuance to a wine description.
The descriptors that I take away from my notes and those of others (color, aromas, red fruit/black fruit, balance, structure, aftertaste, ageability) for various segments of wine tend to be similar, common, repetitive.
I use points on my own CT notes as a reference to myself. There are other conventions that I guess I could adopt to remind myself of the “scale” of the sensory experience … “I liked this wine.” “I really liked this wine.” I really, really, liked this wine" … and so on. Or I could use Ray T’s convention - but that is a lot of words.
The 100 - point scale works fine for me. Are there dangers to over-reliance on this tool? Of course. Is there a problem with perceived “over-precision”? Undoubtedly. You have to use caution with any tool. But points have utility for me.
Here’s one of the few instances where Frank and I disagree about wine I find a score (of some kind) to be extremely informative in understanding the impact a wine had on any particular taster. That may not be as valuable as reading written, descriptive notes, but it has real value nonetheless. I suspect Frank comes at this from the perspective of a desire to lessen the impact of points alone on the wine industry, prices, availability, etc. (though maybe he just hates points, haven’t talked about it with him). I agree with all those goals, but personally am not bothered by the score chasing that goes on. At this point in my wine evolution (even after a couple of decades let’s call it “intermediate” relative to everything there is to know about wine around the world), I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t need much help from critics (a little in Burgundy still helps), and there are almost no wines I buy routinely that are affected by scores.
But back to scores: every time we drink more than one wine at the same time, there is a natural human instinct to judge the wines, and prefer one over the other. “Scoring” a wine is nothing more than giving voice to that preference. Does the 100-point scale make sense? of course not, no one can prefer or judge wines to that level of accuracy, and even if they could the preferences would change on a daily basis, influenced by a myriad of factors. But surely a 5 point scale is not unreasonable? Or maybe a 20 point scale? Which is effectively what the 100 point scale is. If you want to substitute words for numbers (poor, adequate, good, great, outstanding), that’s fine, it’s still a score
Here is an example of a wine note that doesn’t require points:
•2007 Copain Syrah James Berry Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (7/16/2011)
8 months since the last bottle, as at that point then this was the wine that was in my Top 3 for all of 2010. It has proven time and time again to be a bottle that truly thrilled me, with me gushing long tasting notes to ensure I chronicled how much the wine truly moved me. Fast forward to today, some additional bottle time since and also for this particular note, I opened the wine last night, about 24 hours ago. For this note, paired with a pasta red sauce. Shows quite dark, as expected. I have to say that some of the aromatics have softened into the wine some over the last several months. Shows some some of the pounded rock note, what many of the 2007 Copain syrahs have showed me, a note that makes all of them unique and terrific. I’m really searching for the hint of heat I mentioned last time, maybe just a little but it’s not much (listed alc of 14.2%). What makes this wine sing is the palate, which still shows some nice structure around the edges, which as the wine warms up starts to buffer into the finish. Black raspberry, licorice, some mineral. As the wine finished, an intense piush of blue fruit with some black shadings but this is mostly just pure blue, with stone fruit pit (much like I get many times with the Pisoni estate plot called Susan’s Hill which is just an hour north of James Berry). Long finish with licorice, deep blue and black fruit, mineral, chalk and bitter chocolate, like a high percent dark, along with some refreshing acid. If anything, this wine has become more rugged in the last year, losing some of the flamboyance and shifting into something more mature, dare say refined, even more impressive…better but for now different reasons. No real sweetness, no overt olive or menthol. What’s the drink window now? 2013-2016, I’d say, although you can drink it now knowing it’s got some grip. Tree-mend-us.
Most of us don’t have the vocabulary or the time to write a note this good, but it is indeed sufficient, as is. For most of us, though, I’d argue that points have utility.
I use letter grades; same basic idea (broad bands, less purported precision). It’s also more intuitively useful to me - perhaps it’s time grading, but I “feel” a B vs. a B+ more than an 87 v. 89. (Note that I account for point inflation; a B wine is perfectly acceptable, if not interesting, whereas an 84 point wine may not be.)
Of course, WHO is doing the scoring is still the critical point. If it’s Robert Parker giving a high score to a CdP, it’s pretty certain I won’t care for that wine, because it’s likely to be way over the top. If it’s Allen Meadows giving a Burgundy a high score, there’s a better chance of that being meaningful (though I would argue that every single reviewer falls prey to rewarding bigger wines with higher scores, at least to some extent). That’s why, in the end, there is no substitute for personal experience with individual producers, coming to understand what types of wines each producer creates in different vintages, and forming personal preferences based on that knowledge. Frankly, I would argue that anyone who has spent significant time exploring wine and participating in a wine forum such as this should have progressed to a point where they are past the need for scores to guide them along their path. But I know that’s not true of everyone, perhaps even a majority.
Agree that in order for a score to have value, you must understand who is wielding this tool and the context (wine type). If it’s Alan scoring Copain syrah, for example, I know how to interpret.
I’m drawing a bead on AG. If he were to score a CA pinot that I hadn’t tasted, I would be able to approximate a translation to my palate. (One of the reasons that I’m delighted with AG is I can closely relate to his likes/dislikes and how he communicates his preferences).
This translation process becomes more difficult if we all use our own language (100 pt., 20 pt., Ray T, the binary system, etc.).
Take out that top 3 part, and this note is much less useful. So basically this note substitutes ranking for grading. If you take out this info you’re hiding things that the taster himself finds useful to know and think about.
I occasionally assign scores to wines I drink for my own personal reference, and I do find some value in certain critics’ scores, but I don’t care for the extreme impact that the 100 point and sub-90 point scores have on the wine market. There are no perfect wines…only perfect bottles. There are also thousands of sub-90 point wines from all over the world worth their price tag.
Most agree that the 100 pt scale is really, at best, a 20 pt scale when it comes to drinkable wine. Furthermore, I would suggest that 1 point increments are too granular when you consider all the variables that come into play when consuming a particular bottle. All this in mind, I think I’ll try using a 5 tier scale for wines that have some value to me.
1 = 98-100
2 = 95-97
3 = 92-94
4 = 89-91
5 = 85-88