Sigh… Here we go. Again.
It seems the 100 point wine rating scale debate – and its subsequent delineation of ivory-tower criticism vs. crowd-sourced wine recommendations – has once again reared its ugly head, though since it’s a zombie topic that’s never quite dead, it doesn’t have to raise its moaning, rotting head very far to push itself back into the wine geek consciousness.
We begin with an article by my friend Jonathan Cristaldi, itself a reprise and update of a piece that was first penned and published in 2013, in which Jonathan discusses the relevance of the 100 point wine rating scale his future view of wine recommendations:
The future of wine ratings is a future of recommendations, not points or scores, from socially active wine enthusiasts and industry professionals who cultivate their own following and hold court over a sphere of influence. Experience and education imbues the passionate wine enthusiast with the kind of knowledge and confidence to entertain and communicate what is complex about wine, what is fun about wine–socially active oenophiles who post photos of labels and talk about wine in the vernacular will emerge as the collective voice for wine drinkers of the future. More and more people will learn of wine’s complexities through social engagement. Friends and confidants (trade and non-trade) will replace the lone critic and his bully pulpit. Wine drinkers will realize the power and worth of a discerning palate because of the value their friends place on such expectations.
This spurred a rebuttal by another friend of mine, Steve Heimoff, formerly of Wine Enthusiast, via his blog:
Proof? There is none. “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride,” the old nursery rhyme tells us. Merely wishing that individual critics will fade away, in favor of crowd-sourced opinions spread via social media, is the biggest wish-fantasy around. When Cristaldi tells us that “Friends and confidants will replace the lone wine critic,” he has absolutely no proof; no evidence supports it, except anecdotally; and even if the Baby Boomer critics, like Parker, are retiring or dying off, there is no reason to think that their places will not be taken by Millennials who just might be the future Parkers and Tanzers and Gallonis and Laubes and Wongs and, yes, Heimoffs.
Ok, folks, I cannot resist chiming in on this, so here goes…
Now, I admire both Steve and Jonathan, and I’ve nothing against either of their well-articulated stances on these topics. What I am unable to figure out, however, is this:
WHY THE F*CK ARE WE STILL DEBATING THE MERITS OF THE 100 POINT SCALE AND WHETHER OR NOT TRADITIONAL WINE CRITICISM INFLUENCE IS WANING?
I, for one, would now be happy to move on with all of this – as I will explain in a moment, what we think of the debate matters very little in the grand scheme of wine recommendations. The bottom line is that we’re already past the point of having to accept the fact that the mechanics of product recommendations have changed, and well past the point where we need to be making room for employing multiple methods to support giving wine consumers what they want, when they want it.
First off, if you want to live and die by the rating/badge/score/puffs/star/whatever, as a wine brand or importer or retailer, that’s your business. Some people find it useful, some don’t (I am in the latter camp), and overall almost no one outside of the wine geek kingdom gives a sh*t. People buy cars based on Car & Driver reviews, others based on online reviews and/or recommendations from friends; I don’t see religiously-flared debates erupting over that. There is no debate, the influx of alternatives to the 100 point scale have already appeared, and the traditional scale will never have to not contend with alternatives.
There is no debate; it’s already happened.
Of course, I am not going to sit here and write that the Robert Parkers of the world have no influence; that’s patently absurd. It is not at all absurd, however, to state that the Parkers of the wine world are having less influence overall – spurred by the same changes that make aggregated Amazon crowd-sourced reviews so relevant and helpful, for example – and that ivory-tower recommendations will now have to make room for other methods. This is particularly apt when we consider that Parker himself has basically said the same thing regarding his own level of influence.
The debates on whether or not change is happening need to die, because it’s already happened.
Most of the debates on the relative impacts of those changes are 1) esoteric, 2)academic, and 3) unnecessary in that in today’s economy the What doesn’t matter so much, provided its quality is up to snuff; the How matters quite a bit, however. We are in the age in which we as consumers expect to be able to consume content – including wine reviews, folks – instantaneously, and presented in the style, manner, format, voice, etc. that is most meaningful and helpful to us personally. When we don’t get what we want, when we want it, and how we want it, as consumers we go ballistic and scream “crappy customer service!!!!” and then move on to the next option.
So… points, waning influence, to whom we should or shouldn’t listen… these are all important topics… but only to us wine geeks. Meanwhile, consumers are out there happily making wine buying decisions using whatever magazine / rating / blog / wine retailer / social media channel / mobile app/ etc. they deem a best fit for their personal shopping style.
And from what I can see, we simply do not require any more proof that trend is in full swing.