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The Trouble With Wine Ratings (an Introduction to the 89 Project) | 1 Wine Dude

The Trouble With Wine Ratings (an Introduction to the 89 Project)

Vinted on July 31, 2008 under wine review, wine tips
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Excellence.

You deserve it. You demand it.

It haunts you. It drives you.

It’s so Powerful. It makes you. Speak. In Broken. Sentences.

We’re obsessed with comparing things when we make purchases, especially in the U.S. Some of us are always out there looking for the best. Even in today’s excellence-obsessed status-quo-chasing society, no one can blame you for just honestly wanting to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to buying wine. Especially when the economy is in the financial out house.

This is where you’d think that wine ratings would help you. By rating a wine on a 100 point scale, you can make a quick shopping determination so that you can pick up the best bottle for the money, and feel confident that you got a good deal and will enjoy your purchase without having to learn any of that fancy wine mumbo-jumbo, right?

Not quite.

If I was grading the 100 point wine rating scale (hell, why not, we love to rate stuff, remember?), I’d give it a C-. That’s because the 100 point scale has 3 major flaws that prevent it from really telling you what you think it should tell you


Flaw #1: It’s actually a 50-point scale.
Yes, just like those exams you took in grade school, no one actually gets less than a 50. A wine gets a 50 just for showing up and writing its name (on the label). This would lead you to believe that, like those old grade school exams, the 100 point scale grades wines objectively. Which leads us to…

Flaw #2: It gives a false sense of Objectivity.
No one can really score a wine 100% objectively. This is because we all have differences in our palates, and therefore (at least) subtle differences in how we interpret a wine’s flavor and quality. If a particular critic gives a wine a very high score, it says nothing about whether or not you might like that wine. So, unless your palate and preferences are similar to that critic, if you blindly buy one wine over another just because it scored a few points higher, you may be passing up a great wine that you would enjoy even more than that flashy ‘high-scorer’.

Flaw #3: It implies a “Scale” of Excellence.
Like that old grade school grading method, you’d expect a wine scoring in the 90s to be better than a wine scoring in the 70s (an ‘A’ vs a ‘C’) – and for the most part, you’d be right. But is a wine that scores a 95 “better” than a wine that scores a 91? This is much trickier territory. A difference of a few points does not guarantee that one wine is better than another, any more than my scoring a 95 and you scoring a 91 on a wine exam guarantees that I’d be a better sommelier than you.

The trouble is that too many people fall into the trap of following the numbers for their buying decisions – so much so that a wine rated a 90+ will sell for a much higher price than a wine that scored an 89.

In order to help break out of some of the rut caused by this scoring system, a group of wine bloggers has started up a new blog called The 89 Project. The aim of the 89 Project is to highlight the wines that people are missing out on because of the 100 point system. I’ve signed on as a contributor, so watch that space for an update from me (once I get my dirty little hands on some tasty “89s”).

In the explanation of his 100 point rating scale, Robert Parker sounds his own word of caution about blindly following his (or anyone else’s) scores:

“No scoring system is perfect, but a system that provides for flexibility in scores, if applied by the same taster without prejudice, can quantify different levels of wine quality and provide the reader with one professional’s judgment. However, there can never be any substitute for your own palate nor any better education than tasting the wine yourself.

Well said. Don’t say we didn’t warn ya!

Cheers!
(images: wales.nhs.uk, modmyprofile.com)

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