|The Wine Scoring Dilemma |
by ©LeDomduVin 2020
My Wine Scoring Way
The Wine Scoring Dilemma
Who still believes in wine scores? You do?
Personally, I'm sitting on the fence. I'm not necessarily against it, but I'm not necessarily for it either.
And, this post comes "très à propos" (very appropriately, if you prefer), as all the Wine Critics and Wine Magazines are releasing their BEST OF and/or TOP 100 Wines of the Year 2020 (1).
I'm on the fence because, first of all, tasting wine is very subjective.
And, secondly: Wine is alive! This means that wine continuously changes and evolves while ageing in the bottle and even reacts to its immediate surroundings and storage conditions.
Like any living being, amongst other things, a wine goes through phases and can rapidly change in terms of aspect, aromas/flavours and taste, depending on:
- The intrinsic quality of the wine itself (if it is a bad wine to start with, it usually won't get better),
- The age and the intrinsic potential of ageing (some wines are not meant or not able to age well),
- The quality of the vintage, of course (not all vintages are good or able to age well),
- The vineyard management and the vinification process (it all starts in the vineyards, then in the cellar, if wrong decisions are made, they will always affect the quality of the wine, one way or another),
- The quality of the winemaker too (sorry to say, but some winemakers are quite bad, and they don't even seem to be aware of it, or simply have bad taste or maybe they never try the wine they make?), (...it is a bit harsh, I know, but it is true, some winemakers/producers never fail to make bad wines, year in, year out... to the point that you've lowered your expectation so much, that the day you taste a good wine from them, it is like a miracle... and the worst part is that some them are quite expensive and therefore disappointing for the price... but, I won't name any..),
- The storage temperature and overall conditions (too hot, too cold, too humid, not well-ventilated enough, mouldy, etc..),
- The service temperature (too hot or too cold) and conditions (dirty decanter, wrong glasses, etc...),
- But also the outside temperature (too cold or too hot?),
- And the overall climate conditions in general (rain, storms, etc..),
- And last but not least, the tasting conditions and the potentially influential factors coming to play during the tasting
- Will the wine get the same score if tasted at a public tasting, an office or at the winery/chateau itself?
- How about if the owner, producer or winemaker is a friend? Etc...
And, if you want to go even further, as everything on this earth is, one way or another, influenced by, affected by, and/or even related to various forces and energies here on earth (but also by/with those influenced or directly emanating from the moon, the sun, the other planets of our solar system and even, to a certain extent, the cosmos), we could even say that, as per the lunar calendar (organic/biodynamic), better consider tasting and drinking wine on "Flower" and "Fruit" days, rather than on "Root" or "Leaf" days.
That's already a lot of reasons and factors that may alter and/or influence the subjectivity and objectivity of the taster (i.e. the Wine Critic, Press, Oenologists, etc...) and the "genuity" of the given score, isn't it?
Therefore, it is essential to put things back into context and understand that "scores" only represent the olfaction and tasting bud's primary reaction of a particular individual (i.e. the taster: Wine Critic, Press, etc..) to a particular wine, tasted within particular conditions, on a very particular day, and with all the possible potentially influential factors imaginable.
That is a bit reductive, but it sums up the situation quite well.
Fortunately, the Wine Critic or Journalist's experience and palate's skills and accuracy come to play a major role in this equation. To a certain extent, they moderate these influences and "usually" ensure that the score/rating given to a tasted wine is genuine and representative, not attributed due to these potentially influential factors.
Yet, always remember that the dependability of a wine scoring system rests on those who set, moderate, and give the scores to the wines (i.e., Wine Critic, Press, etc..).
And, even the most accurate and skilful Wine Critic (or any experienced wine professional tasting and scoring wine, for that matter, including me) is vulnerable when faced with, affected by or influenced by any of these factors. It is a very human condition. Our mind is not as rigid, impermeable and impartial as the CPU of a computer, a robot or artificial intelligence.
It is true. You have to admit it. It is always more difficult to taste and give low or bad scores to the wine of a property or a winemaker you've loved or even known and "tested" for years. Or worst, the wine of a friend, colleague, old acquaintance, family, or anyone else you've shared memorable moments with. More especially if the wine reveals great features.
On the contrary, if/when the wine is not as good as it could have been or should have been (depending on the vintage, the history of the wine or even the brand) and many other reasons, then hesitation and indecision will come to knock on the wall of your brain, interrogating and questioning your mind and senses. And no matter how genuine and well-intentioned you wanted to be, and despite all your self-discipline and rigorous methodology, you might still give that half a point or even a point more to that wine...
Because, in certain conditions and circumstances, it is difficult to separate things, measure the euphoria, control the joy, and prevent or attenuate the infatuation while trying to maintain the needed and necessary detachment and neutrality to remain impartial and keep your integrity.
More especially when you taste a wine that shines with all the energy and passion a winemaker has placed in it. Even more, especially if you are acquainted with or know that specific producer/winemaker and/or have loved his/her wine(s) for years.
It is difficult to badly score or write about wine made by your friend or a winemaker (you know and like his/her wines), especially when the wine is good, great or even brilliant, or worst, if, on the contrary, the wine is not that good, without arousing suspicion of collusion with others. Hence the reason for being as impartial as you can be and keeping your integrity as much as possible, remain neutral and distant to erase the assumptions and interpretations of others.
But God only knows how difficult it is, as not only taste, relationship, acquaintance or friendship, come to play in this equation, price too. This means that wines of high pedigree and price always influence or even command high scores (in most press and wine critics' minds).
Although the price of a wine is usually/normally/supposedly directly related to the quality (the greater the quality, the higher the price) and/or the quantity (the lower the production, the higher the price), always remember that great wine doesn't have to be necessarily expensive. High price does not always make the wine either. I will not give any examples or names, but I know a lot of expensive wines that are not as great as they should be to command such a high price.
And that said, even if Wine Critics or Press know all of the above "All too well", it seems their ratings cannot help but be influenced by the price somehow (I guess it is part of the game). Meaning that it is rare to see an expensive wine get a bad or low rating. While in my opinion, it should get a low or bad rating if it is bad or not up to the quality or reflects the price it commands. And the same goes for renowned high-end Châteaux/producers/brands.
Consequently, I will say, "Choose the Wine Critic or Journalist that you want to follow" well and preferably select the one (or the few) who you feel are "genuine" (as per your point of view) and that you can trust, and maybe have a comparable or similar palate and taste as yours.
For example, when I was working in NYC in the early 2000s, my boss was a Robert Parker Jr "groupie" (he was a man, but still...), while my director was more a James Suckling follower, and personally, I had already figured out that my palate and way of scoring was closer and more similar to Stephen Tanzer with its International Wine Cellar's wine rating system on a 70-100 point quality scale.
That said, I never understood and still don't understand the point of rating below 88pts? - or at the most below 85 pts - as it does not serve anyone to rate a wine that low. If below 85pts, it might be better not to score the wine and let people make their own opinion.
As I always say:
"When a wine is bad, the wine is bad! No matter the pedigree, history, classification, rank or price! Better not to score it than tarnish its reputation. It does not serve anyone." - LeDomduVin
How about the "En Primeur" tasting?
|LeDomduVin's 5-Star Wine Rating Scale |
by ©LeDomduVin 2020
My own wine-scoring way
And that is the reason why I'm on the fence with scoring wine, wine scoring and wine scores in general, and also why, long ago, as a young Sommelier and Wine Buyer, I had to develop and use my own wine scoring way: a personal wine rating scale more adapted and suited to my wine buyer's needs, and to be used for big tastings and events mainly.
Therefore, please understand "my way of scoring" is a "Wine Buyer Scoring Scale" rather than a "Wine Critic or Journalist's Scoring Scale". I use it to quickly assess a wine's intrinsic qualities without spending too much time tasting it or dissecting every detail of it. It allows me to make quick buying decisions during a tasting.
It is a 5-star rating scale that I can easily understand and that is solely based on my taste bud's immediate reaction. I had to develop it, especially for big tastings and events, to be able to focus only on the good wines, go fast and differentiate my ratings from the other rating systems to prevent their influence on my buying decisions (which was critical when I was a wine buyer for restaurants and retails back in the days, and even till these days).
Meaning that I usually approach all wine tastings the same way: with essential knowledge and information about the region(s) and vintage(s) to be tasted. And, eventually, about the featured wines to be tasted too (if I saw the list prior to going to the tasting or if the list was provided at the beginning of the tasting), but not necessarily, as I usually prefer to go to a tasting with a clear head, uncluttered of unnecessary thoughts or ratings/scores that I could possibly have seen or known about some of the wines.
So, I created my own custom "5-Star Wine Rating Scale" scoring method and adopted this tasting approach to assessing the wines as they are and for what they are. Assess their respective intrinsic qualities, as well as their quality/price ratio, the most simply and efficiently I could possibly put it, with a "Wine Buyer" minded attitude and mannerism (meaning not like a "Wine Critic" or a journalist):
0 - NO (I dislike it, won't buy it, next !!!)
1 - OK (I don't dislike it, but I'm not a fan either, probably won't buy it unless the price is low)
2 - MAYBE (It is interesting but may present flaws or angularities, I may buy it if the price is good)
3 - LIKE IT (I will buy it, especially if the price is good)
4 - LIKE IT A LOT (I definitely need to buy it, especially if I can get a discount for 10 cases or more)
5 - LOVE IT (A must-have! How many cases can I buy? When can I have the wine? )
As you can notice, on any five-star scale, regardless of the bottom rating, 3 stars are often the lowest positive rating, and it is the same on my scale too. Though judging on a purely mathematical basis, 2.5 stars should be the dividing line between good and bad on a 0-5 scale, but I skipped the 1/2 (half star) to make it easier and went straight to the upper point. After all, I created that 5-Star Wine Rating scale to prevent having to bother with too many details and make fast wine-buying decisions, so no half-star!
Prior to going into more detail about my "own way of scoring", complemented with my "LeDomduVin's Tasting 5-Star Wine Rating Scale" Table explanation in the paragraphs further below, I would like to come back and extend my thoughts a little more, on the "Wine Scoring" and "Wine Scores" Dilemma.
|The Wine Critic Tasting Notes Paradox |
by © LeDomduVin 2018
The Wine Scoring and Wine Scores Dilemma
Like most wine buyers, over my nearly 30 years career in wine, I was forced to adapt and adopt many different ways of scoring wines and rating scales depending on the critics, journalists, magazines and websites I was reading or following (e.g. 3 stars, 5 stars, 10 points, 20 and/or 100 points scales).
I had to do it to compare my personal tasting notes and descriptions with those from the "professionals" but also in order to comprehend and read through their scores and the lines of their tasting notes, which can be pretty confusing sometimes.
By "reading through the lines and the scores" (of the Wine Critics and Journalists), I mean trying to understand what differentiates an "88" from a "90", or even a "92, or a "94" from a "98" in THEIR language and way of scoring. And trust me on this, it is not always an easy task!
More especially if, like me, you prefer descriptive and detailed wine-tasting notes/descriptions that have a meaning and clearly indicate that difference, which is far from always being the case, depending on the wine critic.
Some of them only give short and undescriptive tasting notes/descriptions that are fairly similar or sometimes nearly identical, yet with different scores, making it really difficult to understand why there is such a difference in scores.
Let's take, for example, a very confusing situation where the respective descriptions of two different wines (from the same appellation, same grape varieties and same vintage) are almost the same, or sometimes even identical, but somehow generate two drastically different scores.
The following is a great example. I wrote it and put it into an illustration for a previous post (2) (see also my illustration above), but I'm re-using it as it is perfect to illustrate that kind of situation:
"Black fruit, good acidity, polished texture, good structure and balance, long persistent finish" - 89
"Black fruit, refreshing, smooth texture, combining structure and balance, long-lasting finish" - 96
Do you see what I mean? It is definitely not easy to understand why one commands an "89" and the other a "96" while the descriptions are so very similar, isn't it? I think you get my point.
Consequently, that is why, in my opinion, "wine scoring" and "wine scores" have always been a huge dilemma (for me and most people I know in the industry).
Moreover, what to choose? Which scale? 100 or 20-point scale? (or even a 10-point scale back a long time ago...). And beside points, what else? 3- or 5-Star scale? Or even a 3- or 5-Wine-Glasses scale?
Depending on which side of the globe you're on, rating scales are different and their understanding and meaning too. Sometimes what could or should seem to be logical isn't! And it is very frustrating!
However, as if it wasn't complicated enough already with the various scales to choose from, the other question is: Who to follow?
Just to name a few, and there are so many more... It is a dilemma, isn't it? (At least, it is to me...)
This is a dilemma, even more so, as, nowadays, thousands of professionals and non-professionals (who could eventually be added to the above list) are now surfing the growing wave of wine vloggers and wine influencers on social media, posting thousands of wine descriptions, pictures and even streaming media and live videos everywhere on Social Media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tik-Tok and even LinkedIn now, and surely on all the other social media and networks I do not know, or I'm not registered with).
Thus, it is more fun and interactive now, isn't it?... Sure!
Yet, it makes it even more difficult to choose who to follow and who to listen to now.
Yet again, surprisingly, and it is an excellent surprise (like most wine bloggers, like me, at the beginning of "blogging" back 10-15 years ago), nowadays, Wine Influencers speak with their guts and passion for what they like and love. They do NOT use any rating or scoring scale.
They just use their own words to translate and transcribe what they have in their minds to convey a passionate and animated message to the world, free of "too-short-to-mean-anything" descriptions and "often-incomprehensible-and-weirdly-attributed" scores. And I looooooooooove it!!! I find it soooo refreshing!
Just to name a few among some of my favourites that I have been following on Instagram (some more recently than others) (mostly French Wine-Influencers, sorry)
- Margot Ducancel at https://www.instagram.com/rougeauxlevres/?hl=en
- Leila Wine Lover at https://www.instagram.com/leila_winelover/
- Gabrielle Vizzavona at https://www.instagram.com/gabriellevizzavona/?hl=en
- Allison Uncorked at https://www.instagram.com/allisonuncorked/?hl=en
- Alex Anderson at https://www.instagram.com/wine.with.alexx/?hl=en
- Andrea Zigrossi at https://www.instagram.com/trotterwine/?hl=en
- Emmanuel Delmas at https://www.instagram.com/emmanueldelmas/
- Nicolas De Rouyn at https://www.instagram.com/nicolasderouyn/
- Fabien Lainé at https://www.instagram.com/creativefabien/
- Laurent le conteur du vin at https://www.instagram.com/les_vins_du_capitaine/?hl=en
You can also browse the Feedspot Top 200 Wine Instagram Influencers most followed in 2020 to see if some of the people you follow made a list.
So, although I just wrote all the above and could still talk about this fascinating subject for hours, I have already long debated and detailed the subjects of "Scoring Wines" and "Wine Scores" in two of my previous posts, here and here. Therefore, I did not want necessarily to write another post about it. So, why did I?
What prompted me to write today's post?
So, what prompted me to write today's post (about "wine scoring", "wine scores" and "wine critics"), was the reaction of a friend who, a few days after the tasting of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB) Bordeaux 2017 Vintage, in Hong Kong (November 25th), asked me to send him a list of the wines from this tasting with "scores".
As I was trying to finish my previous post on that specific UGCB Bordeaux 2017 Vintage tasting (read it here), I told him that as soon as I finish the post, I will send him the link, so he can see and read about the wines I liked/loved from the tasting, based on the various pictures and tasting notes included in the post.
But, he replied (to me):
"I thought you would give me (or even put) your scores out of 100pts on your post, on your blog, but it is probably too divisive, although I don't know, maybe you can still express yourself and put up the scores without the Chateaux having griefs against you".
To which I replied (answer edited for this post):
"I usually never rate on a 100-point scale. More especially during big wine tastings or events. I just use my own rating scale and put stars when I taste: 3 Stars (I like), 4 Stars (I like it a lot) and 5 Stars (I love it), based on the quality of the wine first, and I also try to take into consideration the "quality/price" ratio when I award stars while tasting. Other than that, I'm only writing tasting notes (which I find more interesting and more descriptive than rating the wines anyway). However, I'll try to convert my stars to try to rate the wines on a 100-point scale, for you, based on what I wrote during the tasting, then send it to you. Yet, I probably won't put those ratings out of 100pts on my blog, so as to not receive any criticisms or comments from the properties." (FYI: I do not put my stars on my posts on my blog either, for the record).
To which, I immediately added:
"I developed this method while working in the US, in New York, when I was a buyer for wine & spirits retail stores. So, it's a wine buyer's method, not a wine critic rating scale system. During tastings, there is usually no time to assess the lesser wines (not to say "mediocre" or "bad"), so, if not good enough, no star and I move on to the next one. As for the ones I gave 1 and/or 2 stars, I usually revisit them at the end of the tasting to be sure (and if I have time too). After re-tasting them, unless I made a mistake, the 1-star wines end up being discarded from my selection. And the 2-stars wines are kept only if the quality/price ratio is interesting, but still only remain considered as "Ok" (instead of "Maybe"), and probably won't be bought. They often end up being discarded too."
My Scoring Way (suite): the conversion from my 5-star to 100-point and 20-point scales
LeDomduVin's Wine Rating Scales Comparison Table
|Wine Rating Scales Comparison Table |
by ©LeDomduVin 2020
- spend less time on the bad wines and focus on the best wines
- make a quick and accurate first selection of the best-tasted wines based on my first impression and immediate reaction to the wine's intrinsic taste, characteristics, character and style
- not be influenced by and effortlessly differentiate my scores from the others (tasters, including wine critics/wine magazines and media in general)
- and, thus, make my final selection and buying decision quickly and efficiently based
- on the intrinsic quality of the wine according to its place and terroir of origin (appellation, region, geography, topography, local climate, etc..), its rank, grape variety(ies), the quality of the vintage, etc..., first,
- then, based on its quality/price ratio (if or when I know the cost price and/or the estimated average market retail price).
What does that mean concretely?
LeDomduVin's 5-Star Wine Rating Scale for Tastings and Events
|LeDomduVin Tasting 5-Star Wine Rating Scale |
by ©LeDomduVin 2020