The Lazy Abuse of Wine Scores: A Glimpse Into One Producer’s Market Struggles (and a Glimmer of Hope)

Vinted on January 5, 2011 binned in best of, commentary, going pro, on the road

No matter how far one travels in the wine world, there is no respite from the rampant abuse of the 100-point wine rating system.

The harsh reality of this fact was driven home to me while visiting the (relatively new, at least when it comes to their modern table wines) Cima Corgo producer Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo during my recent sojourn to Portuguese wine country (while the vineyards have been long-standing and the location making wine since the mid 1700s, the modern winery was built in April 2003).

Quinta Nova’s rather long name is the odd result of a merger of sorts; from the QuintaNova.com website:

“The name ‘Quinta Nova’ (meaning new farm) was the name given to the new Quinta after the two Quintas were joined together. Nossa Senhora do Carmo is the patron saint of the seventeenth century chapel on the margin of the Douro River. In this particularly dangerous bend of the river, the crew of the Rabelo boats would stop at the chapel to beg protection from their patron saint before carrying on down the river.”

In their efforts to get their table wines a bit of market share outside of their Portuguese home base, it seems that Quinta Nova could use some assistance from their canonized namesake – because the abuse of the 100 point system, which has led to what have to be some of the laziest business practices in modern history, is making their journey into the world wine market a treacherous one indeed

During my visit to Quinta Nova’s stunning estate (you can sleep there, by the way, and you’d have fewer places with a better view to wake up to), I (with a group of other Wines of Portugal Conference participants) was treated to lunch with some of the winery’s team members.  Over plates of sausage, soup, and other excellent examples of regional Douro cuisine, I asked one of the team members sitting next to me how they are faring in International wine markets like Asia and the U.S.

Her answer (which I will quote anonymously) was almost enough to make me want to hurl my lunch, as it (her answer, not the lunch) speaks poignantly to the depths of laziness that the abuse of the 100 point wine rating system has created in the global wine marketplace:

“It’s very hard for us. In China and Japan, if I call importers and distributors to make ten appointments, at least six or seven of those will ask ‘what are your Robert Parker scores?’ I have to tell them, ‘some of our wines are quite new, only a few vintages, we do not have any Robert Parker scores.’  And then they say ‘okay, we will have no meeting then, goodbye.’”

Quinta Nova doesn’t lack Parker scores because their wines suck – in fact, some of them, like the smoky and red-fruit-filled 2008 Reserva Douro Red are very good; and others, like the true field-blend 2008 REFerencia Grande Reserva Red are downright classy, brooding, and excellent, full of dark fruits and complexity. Their wines lack Parker scores because it’s simply impossible for every bottling of wine to be reviewed – by Parker, Wine Spectator, or anybody. Getting a review from Parker, Spectator or anyone else is an issue facing many, many wine brands even in the U.S., let alone a Douro producer trying to crack the Asian or U.S. markets.

The fact that a majority of the distributors/importers with whom this Quinta Nova team member spoke would reject meeting with them on the basis of their brand not yet being lucky enough to get on any particular review list tells us a lot about what those distributors/importers think about the wine business and about their customers. I imagine what’s going through their small brains is something like this:

  • Wine is a commodity, and it doesn’t matter what I sell to my customers because they won’t know the difference anyway.
  • People will simply buy wine based on the highest point value we can slap on it. They are sheep and their personal tastes and preferences don’t matter because they don’t know any better anyway – and never will (and we like it that way).
  • F—k the future market, f—k empowering and educating consumers to make more informed choices while building lifelong loyalty to our businesses and the brands we work with, I just want to make some money now.

If reading that makes you sick, do not be alarmed – it indicates only that you are still sane.

I am not saying here that the 100 point system is totally bogus – what I am saying here is that the abuse of the 100 point system by the entire wine marketing chain has caused large parts of that chain to no longer give a shit. That is sad, it’s insulting to consumers, and it has to change because it’s not a sustainable business model.  At least in the U.S. market, the days of treating consumers like sheep are numbered – that is a generational movement that is happening irrespective of any one industry.

Will the younger consumers in Asia follow suit?  I sure hope so.

And if the situation doesn’t change, it sure as hell won’t be for my lack of tryin’!

There is a silver lining to the dark cloud I’ve painted above, however: there are a growing number of independent distributors/importers in the U.S. who, while quite small, have heard the clarion call of changing marketing preferences from Millenials and are upping their game – actively seeking out interesting wines and taking the more difficult (but in the long run, probably more lucrative and rewarding) road of downplaying points and using them as they were meant to be used (as part of a larger whole of introducing a wine experience to consumers).  It’s far from lazy – in fact, it’s hard work – but it’s ultimately better for consumers and should be better for their businesses as a result.

In fact, one of those people was sitting with me at the lunch table at Quinta Nova – His name is Wynn Pennington (brother to TV celebrity Ty Pennington), and he’s an importer in Atlanta.  What does Wynn say to customers ask him about point scores?

“I tell them, ‘well, I don’t know the score or even if this has a score, but it’s good and it’s interesting, and you should try it. And if you like it, then you’re probably going to get your customers to like it if you get them to try it.’”

Hope, as they say, springs eternal.

And while it may be a bit naive to be encouraged by that small glimmer of hope, I’ll take it over the lazy man’s load any day of the week.  Maybe, just maybe, Nossa Senhora do Carmo is listening to that prayer after all…

Cheers!

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    Comments

  • Dave Marciniak


    Great post. Just like any other industry, you're going to have two markets – those who go for price (commodity) and those who actually care about what's in the bottle. What I think is great is that we have solid resources by which your average consumer without deep pockets can learn about wine and discover really good ones at a reasonable price. There are wine blogs, locally owned wine shops with knowledgeable staff, and – this is what I think is huge – a growing local wine industry in many parts of the US.

    I guess I just have a more blase view of the market split since I fight it every day in my industry. I say let the ignorant mopes who want to focus on scores do so, and be sure to throw your support (especially wine dollars) behind those who give a damn.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, David – solidarity, bruthah! :)

      Great point about putting out dollars where our mouths are!

      Cheers!

  • Thomas Pellechia


    I hate to burst bubbles, but wine always has been and remains a commodity. It's more lofty only to those who take it seriously and appreciate it aesthetically.

    Having said that, I'll also say that the point system is an abomination, but maybe I take wine too seriously…

    • 1WineDude


      Thomas, I think we both take it too serously but doing otherwise would be soooo boring! :)

      I don't like the point system either, but I'm not blaming it here – I am blaming those who use it as a lazy crutch.

  • @BastianichWines


    Of COURSE underdeveloped markets like China don't have a clue. Wine is a freakish new trend in places like China, and the consumer base has absolutley NO CLUE what a good wine is. You can't even sell white wine (ANY WHITE WINE) in China because the only great wine in the world is Bordeaux. THis market must rely on outside sources to guide them (tell them?) what is quality.
    The US market was similar to this 20 or 25 years ago (to a lesser extent). We've only to hope that the the market develops and becomes more sophisticated, which will lead to more trust in ones own taste.
    In China this will take a decade or more, I predict.

  • Tai-Ran Niew


    Great post!

    Unfortunately, if you look at the results of Project Genome (http://wineeconomist.com/2008/04/05/what-are-wine-enthusiasts-looking-for/), where wine consumers are segmented into six categories of "attitude to wine", you can see there is a long way to go …

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks for the great comments, folks.

      Here's a question for us to ponder:

      Why is it that consumers seem to have a long way to go in attitudes towards wine, or have no clue in China, or are susceptible to having wine treated like a lifeless commodity?

      I would answer it's because the industry historically does a poor job of educating those consumers, who then don't have the means to make educated votes with their dollars.

      Sure, commodity table wine has its place and people likely don't want to think too much about it, but that doesn't mean that fine wine (the remaining 1% or whatever it is that gets peoples' souls stirring) should be treated that way.

      Cheers!

  • Frank Haddad


    The point system sucks, it is a way for lazy retailers and so called sommeliers to sell wine. The 100 point system is a crutch that holds up a lack of training and knowledge.The more shelf talkers on the shelves usually the less the staff know. This judging system also makes for lazy wine writers as well. I you want to piss a writer off, just ask how the wine got a 97 instead of a 98. It becomes a crutch for the writer as well, write three or four lines, assign some points and you are done. . It does not tell you if the wine is typical of the area,nothing about the winemaker etc etc. Say something about the wine and the wine maker. You probably will not review as many wines in the same time period, the stories will take longer to tell. Oh right you will not sell as many adds. The point system had a use in the 1960's and 1970 when people where just really discovering wine in North America, but somewhat like the dial up 56K internet speed, it has had it"s time.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Frank.

      I disagree a little bit about the point system – in recent months, I've grown to not hate it as much as I hate, say, trying to reduce fine wine to any one rating (even my own!). I do think for sure that ratings are vehicle that are ripe for abuse (obviously given my post, right? :-) but the onus is more on the abuser of that system, and less so on the system itself. Just my $0.02 worth.

      You bring up an interesting point about the score being a crutch for a reviewer – I hadn't thought of that angle. Having said that, it could also work the other way, as I know personally some of the people using those systems in the big wine mags and most of them work very hard to assign that number (some harder than others, of course).

      Cheers!

  • Ken Payton


    A lot to work with in your fine post, Joe. I will only add that Quinta Nova's difficulties with respect to exports and scores, whether it be to China or the US, is true of Portugal generally. Parker is indifferent to the country and his designated bully for Portugal is Mark Squires. And all he ever advises locals is to plant more Cabernet, for that is all he knows. Education is the key, as is greater consumer courage enabled by the increasingly important importer and wine shop specialist. Portuguese wines can be thrilling adventures, after all, with flavor profiles unlike any wine one has tasted. But it is not simply a matter of liking or disliking scores. It is a matter of witnessing, as you did in Portugal, the lazy, casual lack of imagination of some critics and the real-world impact of such on exemplary producers not only in Portugal but world-wide.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Ken.

      I totally agree that education and consumer courage are key – and, I think, they're big reasons that I do what I do and why I included this post as part of the Going Pro series, because the thinking behind it is a real impetus for what I'm trying to do.

      When we think about it, doesn't it seem so odd that we treat fine wine the way that we do – buying based on a score alone? Would any woman in their right mind buy, say, an expensive dress because I gave that dress an "A" rating, without checking if it flattered her physique, or came in colors that she preferred, or even could be found in her size? Yet people do the equivalent with wine every day!

      Cheers!

      • @mikeinnewton


        Oh to be able to try on the wine before you buy it. (Or as we often do online, return it with free shipping.) This would be, imho, the holy grail. If I could go into a wine store and taste, on demand, what I was thinking about buying that would be great.

        Hopefully what people do is find a merchant or critic whom they trust and whose pallet is in synch with their own. Absent that, knowing that some critic likes the wine enough to give it 87 or 92 points is reassuring since, other than the varietal, it's hard to really know what is going to come out of any particular bottle.

  • 1WineDude


    Thanks, Matt – I don't want to sound all "rah-rah! fight the good fight!" but I do really believe that wine blogs can help to bridge that gap for wine consumers and help educate people on wine in non-intimidating ways.

    • Matt K


      I completely agree – both on the educational side of learning about wine, as well as to see that there are LOTS of opinions out there on whether a particular wine is “good” or not. I think seeing all of the other opinions gives more freedom to say “I like this wine or that wine” regardless of the score the wine gets. (I give credit to the store because I got into wine just before blogs, but now they’re my main source of info on new wines to try :-) ).

      • 1WineDude


        Thanks, Matt K – seems we are having some influence after all, eh? :)

  • Steve Heimoff


    Joe, no, it's not the 100 point system that's being abused, it's the hegemony of Parker-Spectator. I've been saying this for years. It's amateurish idiots who think (because some distributor told them) that Parker-Spectator are the only critics that matter — a lie that is then fostered by the TRULY laziest people on earth, "wine writers" in second rate newpapers who routinely cite ONLY Parker-Spectator in their columns (because, I suppose, it makes them look professional by name association). (And I could name a certain well-known newspaper right here in San Francisco whose wine columnist does this all the time.) If 100 different critics used the 100 point system, and those newbie Chinese and Japanese buyers respected all of them, your argument would be totally bogus. As it is, it's half bogus. The true thing for you to campaign against is the abuse of Parker-Spectator as the only authorities, and NOT the 100 point system!

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Steve.

      I'm not campaigning against the 100 point system, so I think you might be missing part of what I am saying here. I do agree that having a larger volume of influential voices would be a great thing for the wine industry (irrespective of what rating system they use to evaluate wines). But I don't agree that it's only the WS-Parker hegemony that's being abused generally (though I do think it's being abused in the case cited in my post today).

      My friend Elin McCoy wrote recently (in Fine Wine mag, I think) that Parker's influence is waning a bit and the trend has been to try to sell a wine at retail using the highest score available from a handful of widely-known critical resources, including WE, Decanter, and some others. I.e., the 'new' lazy approach is to go with the highest score, any score that's reputable (and probably some that aren't) that can sell the wine.

      The Asia example in my article is fairly extreme and does speak to an abuse of the Parker influence, but also to an abuse of the scores themselves – a case that Elin's article also makes I think. So it's not *just* laziness in using reviews from only 1 or 2 critics, it's also laziness in using scores from multiple sources but doing it in ways that those sources didn't intend.

      I've actually grown totally sick & tired of score-bashing – for one, bashing scores is guilty of selective memory because there is little doubt that scores helped to improve the quality of wines globally when they first hit the scene. That was HUGE for the industry. Now, people are abusing those scores because it's easy and a lazy way to try to sell a product – if we don't like it, we need to work to change the situation (something that the majority of people who complain about the situation are NOT doing, in my experience) and I think educating consumers is the way to do that.

      Cheers!

  • RichardPF


    Joe,
    I think you are off base when considering the Asian markets, because you have failed to consider their culture and their approaches to alcohol. The distributors relying on Parker scored wines are doing so because they better understand the Asian market, and know what will sell best. It is a business in the end. And there are still 30-40% of the distributors willing to bring in non-scored wines.

    Lets consider China as an example, and I will use some cultural generalizations. People respect authority (and Parker is seen as a wine authority). Society is hierarchical, so they respect such hierarchies including the 100pt system. So a high scoring wine to them indicates it is better. Status symbols are very important to them so they embrace high scoring and expensive wines. Such cultural attitudes are not easily or quickly overcome. Unless you understand these cultural attitudes, you can't work at changing them (and that will be a very long endeavor).

    –continued…..

    • 1WineDude


      Great point, Richard. I am not going to say that I think it's okay, of course, but the situation is much more *understandable* in the context that you've described.

  • RichardPF


    Consider Hong Kong & Cognac. Until the 1970s, Hong Kong wanted nothing to do with Western liquor. But they suddenly embraced French Cognac and by the mid-1980s, they were the heaviest per capita consumers of Cognac in the world. This was because the Hong Kong Chinese felt it was a social duty to show their wealth,and Cognac was seen as a very expensive alcohol. Plus, it has the right color.

    Cognac had an appealing amber color. White spirits looked cheap, like cheap Chinese alcohols, so they avoided it. They did not want vodka or gin (which helps explain why they also don't go for white wine). Red wine has a more impressive color, and is occupying the status symbol that Cognac once did.

    It is their culture which is the culprit in this matter.

    • 1WineDude


      Richard – just wondering aloud here, does sake face a similar issue in China due to its color or any other factors working against it culturally? I'm genuinely curious.

      In Portugal, one of the things that Simon Tan showed us was a photo of (I think) an Aussie or NZ rugby club, who had green caps on while on the sidelines. In China, wearing a green cap means you're a cuckold. We had a good laugh over that – but it does drive home how important taking into account those cultural nuances are. Cheers!

      • RichardPF


        Though I don't have actual figures, China has not been a large importer of Japanese sake. They do produce their own rice liquors, which don't generally have a high status. Korea actually imports lots of Sake, as do numerous western nations. In Japan, sake consumption has been decreasing for numerous years, as young people have been drinking other alcohols, usually western ones such as beer and whiskey. The sake industry has been trying to reverse that will more marketing to the younger generation.

        • 1WineDude


          Thanks, Richard – I knew you'd come through on that! You're a good guy despite your poor taste in NFL franchises :).

          • RichardPF


            Thanks, I guess I just like winning teams, and the most likely Superbowl winner this year as well. And how did your franchise do against the Patriots this year? :)

            • 1WineDude


              The Pats do look good, my man.

              But then, they looked good a couple of years back when they went undefeated except for the game that mattered the most :).

              All I can ask is that the Steelers get another fair shot at them (well, I suppose I could also hope for a Ravens win and that the Ravens really rough 'em up before my boyz get a crack at them! :-).

              Cheers!

              • RichardPF


                Anything can happen, and there is the remote chance that the Patriots will lose. But this is a very different team than before, and I think Brady is even better now.

                I certainly would not have any problem with facing the Steelers again, to give them a chance to redeem their prior loss. :)

  • Steve Heimoff


    I still don't agree it's "lazy" to use the 100 point system. Advertisers have used consumer testimonials forever to promote products. The 100 point system is just another version of a consumer testimonial, same as all those "regular" people on TV saying how much they like their car, or skin cream, or anti-anxiety meds, or step-in bathtub. Consumers want and value opinions from others concerning what products and services to buy. The 100 point system is simply the critic saying to consumer, "Hey, I'm a regular person just like you. I tried this wine, and here's what I think about it." It's no more abusive to use the 100 point system in selling wine than to use puffs or stars or words themselves. And I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for consumers to become "educated" to the point where they don't care about scores and other critical reviews. What does that mean? There are, like, 350 million Americans. Are you gonna make every one of them a wine expert? Even if you did, they would STILL like looking at scores! So Joe you are tilting at windmills.

    • 1WineDude


      Still think we're talking past one another on this, Steve. I'm not saying ratings shouldn't be used to help sell wine. I'm saying they shouldn't be used as a means to totally exclude wines categorically because they don't have them, or be used in ways which promote the number and nothing else. And both of those things are being done right now – and both in my view are lazy practices.

      Using just the score does not actually say "here's what I think about it" to most consumers. It says "all of these products can essentially be treated as the same and can be compared identically, and these over here are intrinsically better than those over there and if you don't agree then you are simply wrong."

      I am 100% sure that this is not how the majority of people using rating systems think, and that they wouldn't want consumers thinking that either. But that is exactly what we get when those scores are used in an abusive way (without context, comments, or used to exclude categories/styles/etc.).

      While my above example might have been a bit misplaced after taking into account the backdrop of the cultural impacts in China, it's certainly not the only example one could find I am sure.

      • Colorado Wine Press


        Only using the using the 100-point system is lazy. Just imagine if the only written or spoken critiques of wines were numbers. I have no problem with using the points in conjunction with tasting notes or some other description of the wine. Not accepting a wine due to a lack of a Parker score is the same type of lazyness. Yes, the 100-pt system has probably been one of the biggest developments of the modern wine industry, but it is simply a training wheel system. It will never disappear, but be need to teach people to actually ride the bike without the training wheels when possible.

  • Jack Straw


    Boring. Old news. What do you, 1 WineRube, hope to accomplish here? Will something change? Will anything change? Nope.
    You always find a way to show your lack of experience and then you amplify it. wow.
    Okay.

    • 1WineDude


      So, Jack, your equation would be:

      Experience = Giving Up

    • 1WineDude


      Whoops, forgot to answer your question (probably my lack of experience rearing it's ugly and amplified head! :). I like 1WineRube by the way – probably a more apt description of my upbringing!

      Change starts with discussion, I think, which is really what I hope to accomplish most days on the blog.

      Cheers!

    • Gregg


      you are in the industy I woud guess by your comments, I would also guess that you depend on scores in yur job. The debate about the 10 point system, let's be honest because tha is what t is, is vital. If what all the research about gen y is thatopinions of critics mean very little to them in favor of peer recomendations. and most of the younger peope I have worked with do not care about scores, so that is why things will change. The debate is important, but not to the staid and lazy.

  • traillspencelow


    The 100-pt. scale seems to me wholesale ridiculous. I subscribe to Decanter because I tend to prefer European wines and their coverage is more Euro-specific than WS. But I have to admit that my eyes glaze over when specific regions are tasted and profiled, followed by the requisite 70 or so wines ranked according to score. What am I to make of the 32 wines that get a score of 17-17.5. What differentiates them? It is no different than the 91 pt equivalent in US publications. That being said, as a wine neophyte and having just begun work in a retail store I have a few observations:

    1. Hatred of Parker and WS by the industry seems to me to be something of an atonement for guilt at having exploited these publications for marketing ends. While some consumers, esp. at the high-end, cult wine stratosphere read these publications, they seem to me by and large industry publications used to hawk product.

    2. The "laziness" is not confined to the industry, but seems a cultural problem. I have had several customers come into the store I work at ask that I sell them only WS top 100 or 90+ RP wines. This is consumer laziness as much as it is industry laziness. But it seems to me endemic to our culture: "the movie got 4 stars" or "the restaurant has 3 Michelin stars." Some of it is just the armament consumers (and ultimately, to our great misfortune, that is what we are) necessary to traverse the battlefield of commerce; but it is also just the laziness of not learning about those things you may or may not have an interest in.

    3. Wine IS a commodity. Any study of the history of wine reveals that great wine is as much a product of place as well as market demand. Moreover, fer would produce it in any remarkable quantities were it not so and much agricultural land would be given over to other uses.

    4. The "blessing" of high scores is a mixed curse for those of us who cherish certain wines. As I type I am drinking an Amiot Chambolle Musigny Les Charmes 1997. The last bottle in our shop. I took a flyer on it, since I got it at cost, close to $30, knowing that the vintage is mixed. Frankly, the wine is fabulous and for me it is a peek into a level of Burgundy that is, by and large, closed off to me for financial reasons, many of which begin and end with the "score-obsessed" mentality. My point is: if you cherish individual, unique and delicious wines it may actually be a blessing that they remain below the radar and off the points grid. It means there is more to discover for those interested in ferreting out the strange, unique and truly great. It also means that some level of variation is ensured. Perhaps the producers don't get the credit or attention they deserve, but that leads me to the next point.

  • traillspencelow


    5. While the 100-pt system deeply irks me, as do the power of critics like RP, why should we demand of wine more than we demand of music, books or any other cultural attainments and expressions? That is, most great musicians toil in anonymity, while a haircut with boobs sells 10 million albums. It is no different in literature, art, dance, etc. Of course, there are exceptions, but by and large the world takes little notice and less care of true talent or grace. Be thankful you have paused long enough to do so.

    6. Selling wine is very hard. Most consumers can't make out the differences between styles, varieties, vintages, etc. I have immersed myself in the topic of wine and, at times, I have to admit defeat myself: What is a Corbierre and a Faugeres, again? My point is: it's a vast topic and any crutch the consumer can find will be leaned on. I remember going into a very high end classical music specialty store in Manhattan after I became infatuated with Bach. After browsing for 20 minutes I tried to buy a version of Mozart's Requiem only to be confronted by a salesperson who, in the snootiest voice possible, asked "You're buying that recording? The Weiner Philharmonic sucks." I never went back and it took me some time to build up the nerve to indulge my naive and burgeoning interest in classical music. I think most consumers are afraid of this. As such, "92 pts." makes them feel as if they're making an educated decision.

    7. Most people don't like to try new things. Most people drink only Diet Coke and will tolerate no Diet Pepsi. While I lived in Ireland some of my more well-heeled fellow Americans jaunted off to the mainland on weekends. I talked to one of these young men after he returned from Paris. Where did he eat? McDonald's! In my store, I am always pimping what I like, but only 1 in 10 people will be interested in a Sancerre Rouge or a Cot from the Loire or a fantastic Cru Beaujolais. It's hard even to sell someone looking for pinot noir a Burgundy: "I like David Bruce and I don't want anything French!"

    9. Given the difficulties selling wine in general, I am astonished that so much unique, great and truly distinct wines even find their way into our marketplace. We really should be grateful. And while I find the messy business of money, marketing and points maddening bull-sh*t, it seems to make my little niche possible. Perhaps, we should be thankful for the laziness of others, because they don't really notice what we're doing to begin with, and that, it seems to me, is a good thing.

    • 1WineDude


      WOW, traillspencelow – so much thought-provoking stuff in those comments, I'm not sure where to start… so let me start by saying THANK YOU!

      I think in a lot of ways what you point out is that there is a fundamental sense of "hoping for the better and believing it's actually achievable" (others would call that naivety) in my approach to these topics. The caution being that we have to accept certain things as they are, of course.

      I do think if there's a time when we could be optimistic that the approach to fine wine (which I'd argue is a bit less of a commodity than table wine – which I'd agree totally IS a commodity) that we see today, which is susceptible to abuses by the lazy in the industry (and in the consumer community, as you rightly pointed out), then that time is now, when we have lower barriers to entry for more voices than ever before. If anything, today wineries, outlets, stores, etc., who really give a sh*t have the power to reach people under the radar like never before in history, to the point where it's created real sustainable business for some (I have examples of this in the real world, too detailed for the comments but if people are interested I can write more about them).

      Your point about gratitude is a great one – there's not one day that I wake up feeling ungrateful that I have chance to interact in the wine world, and I consider my criticisms those of the person who to some seems unpatriotic, but in fact loves his country so much that he cannot stand to see it fall shy of its pfull potential for greatness. :)

  • traillspencelow


    Amen. Love the blog.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, traillspencelow – believe me, it's comments like yours that keep me motivated to show up with my best game here!

  • RichardPF


    Brady is on Fire! Plus, there are so many new and young players on the team, it bodes well for the near future too. At the start of the year, no one predicted the Patriots would be doing this well.

  • traillspencelow


    I guess I would add one more thing: my first love in life was poetry. Now I love many things in addition to poetry, including, obviously, wine: cooking, art, music, etc. All of these things take patience. Understanding Shakespeare or curing a salami take time, care and attention. My point is, I like your comment about the power of producers and distributors to reach consumers now in ways never before possible, and, perhaps it is naivete, but, time, abetted by patience, will make their decisions for them. Beautiful things last; they become the obvious choice. I studied Greek and Latin for a 1/3 of my life. Homer, Vergil, Cicero, the Parthenon, etc. all still exist, in some form or another, because they are beautiful. Many other orators and poets and buildings exited with them, but these are no longer recoverable. I think it will be no different with wine. 20 years ago wine drinkers started with Carlo Rossi. Last night a 22 year old kid came into the shop buying wine for himself for the first time. He said he had a wine he really liked and wanted it again. It was a Bogle Phantom. A far cry from the Cote d'Or, but also a far cry from Carlo Rossi Paisano or Andre Cold Duck, no? Beauty wins in the long run.

    • 1WineDude


      I’m not sure if beauty always wins (I like to think that ugly guys like me have a chance every now and then! :-) but it sure as hell helps your chances!

      I remember my first encounter with wine (outside of the nasty stuff the old Italian boys used to make in their basements in 'Little Italy' back home) – and it was… Paisano! :)

  • Randy


    Jesus, this article does make me sick. Lazy ass distributors. They deserve what they get.

    This is why DTC is the only option.

    • 1WineDude


      Randy – sorry for causing gastrointestinal discomfort. :)

  • Colorado Wine Press


    Nice post. It is completely absurd to dismiss any wine due to a lack of a WA/WS/WE/whomever 100-pt score. The "importance" of the 100-pt system has caused more than the type of abuses that you cite. Now, scores are used from just about any supposed golden voice. The other abuse of the modern score paradigm (what ever form it may take) is the inflation of scores. 90 has become the new "average." The difference between 89 and 90 should not be that great, but in the market anything score starts with a 9 (in the 100-pt variation) needs nothing else to selling it. If it is less than 90, you need to convince the consumer that the wine isn't flawed! While I agree that the scores, points, grades, whatever have a place in the industry, they have taken on too much power for their own good.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, CWP – the reality is that the 89/90 pt. score distinction is real, and as you say it may be driven by perception in the wine store aisles.

      Cheers!

      • Colorado Wine Press


        Oh, I know it is real. But the difference between 89 and 90 is now more greatly exaggerated than it should be. It is said when wines rated in the 80s are considered just ok wines. Just as so many students today expect an “A” and consider a “B” only slightly better than an “F,” so many consumers, reviewers, and as you point out retailers/importers think the same way in terms of wine ratings. If it doesn’t have a WA/WS/WE score of 90 or more, it ain’t worth drinking, reviewing or selling.

        btw- I can’t get your intense debate thingy to work. Every time I try to sign in through my Twitter account it does nothing.

        • 1WineDude


          Thanks, CWP. Sorry about the ID issues, it’s been a PIA for me this week! :(

  • Colorado Wine Press


    No worries. And to jump the gun on your next post, I completely agree with your Don't Go Hatin' on Wine Scores vid. It is NOT the system's fault. The system obviously works or else it wouldn't be the dominant wine evaluation tool. It is how the system is used or manipulated that is the problem. People often forget that there is actual interesting wine inside those expensive glass bottles and not just liquid numbers!

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks :) – just come back next week to comment when it posts!

  • Rita


    As a new wine drinker, I'm finding it hard enough to trudge through all of the jargon and whatnot. The point system seemed like such a good way to find "good wines"…but it's clear to me that that's not always the case! It's hard to assimilate the use of the point system in to what I'm doing when I select a wine. So many options…my brain is melting…
    http://www.winekitten.com

    • 1WineDude


      Don't get too despondent over this stuff, Rita! The bottom line, I think, is to learn what *you* like, and then to find critics with whom *you* identify and whose palates and approach seem to line up best with your tastes. If they use points, stars, pentagrams, it doesn't matter so long as it speaks to you in some way and helps you out. Cheers!

  • Regina


    If you think selling a wine without a score from RP or WS is difficult, try making a living in wine public relations…the first question out of nearly every client's mouth is: "Can you get my wines in front of Parker or Laube or Heimoff…or ?" And when the resulting review actually occurs (surprise!) and isn't in the 90+ range, the next rant is: "What's wrong with these guys…can't they tell a great wine from plonk?"

    Lazy indeed!

    Thanks Joe, for bringing up this sore subject again…

    • 1WineDude


      Sorry, Regina! ;-)

  • Kitesurf holidays


    Wow, that's a great post and a lot of hard work I was completely unaware of the 100 points system and a bit dissapointed to learn about the way it is abused thanks for the glimmer of hope at the end. As a big fan of Portuguese wine it's good to see it getting a bit of deserved coverage.

  • Mark's Wine Club


    I think we've talked about it some in this space before, but the Parker scores are now almost a necessity both for a winery and for a 3rd party to sell the wine. We tried to set up our website without the scores being mentioned and we simply weren't converting visitors into buyers. As soon as we added scores, things changed. We've also noticed that when making newsletters, adding a high score tends to make people like the wine better than the ones whom do not receive a score notification-it's almost a pre-sell for us.

    I can't imagine being a winery in this environment!

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Mark. I am sure, of course, that scores / ratings / etc. help to sell wine, and that consumers want them (for example, 1WD readers wanted me to use a rating system and ‘approved’ the A-F scale that I now use). But I am also sure that way, way, way too much attention paid to them and that other retailers use those as a crutch, rather than as a tool to help them sell the wines that they’ve selected…

  • Wine-Know


    "At least in the U.S. market, the days of treating consumers like sheep are numbered – that is a generational movement that is happening irrespective of any one industry."

    Yes, consumers are treated like sheep, and so they act like sheep. Consumers need a tool to help them understand the rating system so that they can rate wines themselves or at the very least judge for themselves how much they will allow a wine's rating (or lack thereof) to influence they buying decision.

    • 1WineDude


      Wine-know – The tool to help them understand *is* the rating system, I think; the market has just abused it to the point where we assume we understand how the system works in the market, but when we peel off some of those onion layers we discover that we don't really appreciate how all of the nuances work, and that the system doesn't match our changing expectations of it.

  • David Vergari


    That's why we call 'em "Score-whores".

    • 1WineDude


      David – you referring to the importers/distributors/retailers, or the consumers? Or both?

  • @k2whino


    All true Dude. You said everything I have been saying for over a decade. It is a huge trap to fall into as a retailer and I have found myself regurgitating the digits from time to time but as a wannabe educator, I flagellate myself soon after. There has to be a better way to "rank" wines as well as impart more than a sound byte about them to those at any spectrum of the wine learning journey. Maybe one of us bloggers will figure it out and start a revolution.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, K2 – I think the revolution, such as it is, will be in the proliferation of alternatives. For example, the badge program that I'm involved in, etc. Even just providing more context with the existing scores would be a move in the right direction.

      Cheers!

  • Lisa


    Joe, you have bought up a very valid point regarding the scoring of wines, but there is also some very valid comments here as well. It is very sad that new distribution is so hard to find without having an authoritative score in newly emerging wine cultures such as China. But, they do have this demand for the prestige wines that will mean that lazy distributors will choose rated wines above others.

    If you are just starting to understand wine, a scoring system can be useful if you find a similar palate to yours. Otherwise, it could absolutely lead you down the garden path into thinking that you are failing to grasp the wine ideals when you just are not enjoying massive crowd pleasing reds when you prefer a softer drinking wine.

    I find that scoring wines is great in panel tasting situations as it takes in different palates but on my own blog I prefer not to rate wines. There are fair too many 'little gems' that are likely to be missed in this era of chasing only wines of 93 points and above.

    Thanks for the vid … you were right in that the monkey did get a wee bit wild in the end.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Lisa – “There are fair too many 'little gems' that are likely to be missed in this era of chasing only wines of 93 points and above.” EXACTLY. If you're collecting, you can use shortcuts; but for true UNDERSTANDING, you need to put in some work. Cheers!

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Lisa – “There are fair too many 'little gems' that are likely to be missed in this era of chasing only wines of 93 points and above.” EXACTLY. If you're collecting, you can use shortcuts; but for true UNDERSTANDING, you need to put in some work. Cheers!

  • Tim Vandergrift


    Brilliant work, Joe. I hate the intellectual dishonesty of the 100 point scale with the white-hot hate of a thousand burning suns: the folks who use it to sell wine must think their customers are not worth the time to talk to, to educate, to connect with.

    The sooner we talk about wine in terms of hedonic pleasure and character, the sooner we can rid ourselves of this pernicious numbering system.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Tim! You seem to hate that stuff as much as I hate the Dallas Cowboys. ;-)

  • 1WineDude


    Mark, you are hitting on the biggest issue I have with the system and how it's used. What I mean is, VERY few people who use the 100 pt. system (either to rate or sell wines) seems to be concerned over how the scores are interpreted or used, to the point where those distinctions become real and are propagated whether they're intended or not, without any comment.

    Put another way, it would be great to have a Parker for example come out and say "hey, wait a minute here, this isn't what I intended…" and make a statement, something to shock people into reconsidering how they use the information.

    Cheers!

  • 1WineDude


    Mark – very true; but I also think consumers deserve to have it pointed out when the systems aren't being used they way in which in the were intended. I might be crazy but I truly believe that we can have both the systems and the education to support their best use.

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