Thursday, October 1, 2009

My opinion regarding the wine rating 100 points score system

My opinion regarding 

the wine rating 100 points score system

Here is a long comment (edited and enhanced with more thoughts for this post) that I posted on Tom Wark's blog regarding his post about the 100 points score system. 

Hi Tom, 

In response to your post about the 100 point score system, here is my opinion. 

I've been a Sommelier, Wine Director and more especially a Wine Buyer for the past 17 years for restaurants, wine retail stores and private customers, and all I can say is that customers like this system because it guides them and give them easy direction regarding which wines to buy or not to buy, but I personally do not care about it. 

Where I used to work before as a wine buyer, it used to be our only focus: buying wines with a score above 90 at all cost. It was very important for my ex-boss who believes in the scoring system, but I didn't really care. 

Of course, it helped us selling a vast amount of bottles, but I didn't necessarily always agree with the scores. In fact, in many cases, I didn't agree at all and was even wondering how good was the palate of the person who gave certain ratings and scores, depending on the wine critic and/or the magazine. 

Now, I work as a wine buyer in a store where my boss is like me, he doesn't care about the scores. Our main focus is to taste every day and dissect, evaluate and analyze each wine that we taste to be able to offer the best, most interesting and most intriguing, most varietally correct wines from smaller, less marketed and more "Terroir" oriented producers from all around the world. 

You're a blogger and you like wine, so you'll know what I'm talking about. 

Tasting notes and descriptions are essential, yet they only correspond to one palate that shouldn't be trusted blindly. And scores only correspond to a personal yet approximative estimation of the quality of the wine (that also depends on the mood you were in and the conditions, circumstances and also to a certain extent from the people around during the tasting, on that particular day). Meaning that the same person tasting the wine a few days later in totally different conditions may score the wine differently, for various reasons. 

Moreover, we all know that wine tasting is very subjective. Even moreover, we can all agree that sometimes it is very difficult to differentiate the reason why a critic gives an 85pts to one wine and a 90pts (or more) to a similar wine from the same region and grape varietal, when reading the (ultra) short wine descriptions in certain magazines (that I will not be named), and the descriptions aren't so different after all and don't say much about the difference between the two (or really why the 2nd one is better than the 1st one)... 

I have always found that very fascinating: similar description notes but totally different score... go figure. For me, this is bullshit! 

Unless you really try to compare both wines and define why they are different and more especially explain clearly why one deserves a better score than the other one, then writing similar notes for a totally different score is bullshit! 

Most magazines just describe the overall taste in a few vague sentences that, in most cases, aren't sufficient enough to really have a complete overview of the described wine. 

There are three schools of wine people in the market: 
  1. People who only read the numbers (whether it is the price or the score, or both); 
  2. People who read the tasting notes and/or the descriptions, but don't really care about numbers or pay less attention to them; 
  3. People who diversify their sources of information and are interested to learn more about wine and prefer experiencing and judge by themselves, rather than follow scores blindly and be too influenced by the wine critics and the winepress in general. 
Don't get me wrong, after all, people can do as they please, that's their choice. I just think that sometimes, 100pts score system is a bit unfair and somewhat dated (even if nowadays, it seems that everyone is adopting it). 

In the 70s and the 80s up to the mid-90s, it was surely the best way to discover and learn about wine without having to try it or spend the money for it (except for the magazine itself). People were less educated about wine than we are now, and needed guidance. There were also fewer wine schools, programs and tastings. And if we talk about the American market, there were much fewer wines to choose from, as not as many wines were imported to the US back then, and certain brands were the benchmarks of their appellation and nobody questioned it because nobody knew better.

In 2009, the world has changed. There are much more wines, producers, wineries, wine schools, wine programs, wine blogs and websites dedicated to wines than ever before. And people are much more educated about the subject than they ever were before. People are facing much more choice as much more wines are imported in the US, and from all around the world now, compared to mostly Europe before.  

The wine information networks via the internet. It is free, full of info and descriptions about most of the wines from all around the world. Wine bloggers and wine websites, like you and me, have flourished and blossomed on the net over the last 5-10 years, and more and more people are writing about wine (and food, etc). Giving their opinions and guidance about which wines they liked (or disliked), where to buy it, at what price, from which importer or distributor, where and when they tasted it. 

In short, these people (including me) do exactly what people like Robert Parker Jr., Wine Spectator, Decanter, La Revue du Vin de France, Stephen Tanzer, (etc..) used to do and continue to do...but with more conviction and passion, and somewhat fewer influences (IMO), as they mostly speak or write without any business-minded or money interests. 

Customers don't have to follow the voice of only one or two persons anymore, they can choose what they want to read and make their own judgment about the described and desired wine from hundreds of websites (including the winery websites in many cases). Moreover, winery websites, Bloggers, Facebookers, Twitters, and other articles (press or not) are usually more thorough and less critical than the wine magazines and wine press in general (certainly due to the fact that most websites and blogs (etc..) mainly write about the wines they liked and barely not about the wines they disliked). 

Somehow, it is true, how can we (and what gives us the right to) score a wine which took months to achieve, many people time, stress, passion and skill (and money), to just destroy it with a ridiculous score that will hurt not only the image and reputation of the winemaker, the producer and the winery but will also affect the current and future sales of the wines? 

In my opinion, wine tasting is very subjective, so if you don't like a wine, do not write about it or do not score it. There are enough misery and bad things in this world, so better write-only or mostly about good and positive things. Write about what you like, it is more constructive for everyone.  

Also, as the grandson of a winemaker, I genuinely think that Wine is part of a culture, an "Art de Vivre" and pleasure in life, like food and s...(you get the picture). It is happiness in a bottle, which shouldn't suffer from mediocre revues and scores. 

At the end of the day, a good winemaker will always be good no matter what, good year - bad year, as a good wine buyer with a good palate will always be a good wine buyer. Only your palate should be the judge of the quality of the wines you taste, buy and drink. 

Descriptions should help you and guide you, not influence you or impose you an opinion (especially if it is a bad one), and remember, as I said earlier, that a score (the good one, but more especially the bad ones) only reflects the personal yet approximative estimation of the quality of the wine, depending on many variables, and always controllable factors, including the mood you were in and the conditions of the tasting that day). 

I'm open to your comments...


LeDom du Vin (a.k.a. LeDomduVin a.k.a. Dominique Noel) 


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