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.
Now, regarding whether or not traditional criticism is losing influence in the wake of alternative voices and crowd reviews: don’t we already have all of the proof we need of that trend?
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.
We are in the realm of ultra-personalization, and wine is just now catching up.
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.
18 thoughts on “You Will Read This Post Just Because It Mentions The 100 Point Wine Rating Scale In The Title”
This is how the 100-point system is relevant to me, as a consumer. I buy almost all my wine DTC(around 60 cases a year, I’m Irish!) — mostly via wine club shipments from Sonoma and a few Napa wineries. These are wineries I have come to trust over the past 40 years or so of visiting Cali wine country.
I rarely know Parker, Spectator, et. al. ratings until after I have purchased. I dutifully post any ratings and tasting notes when I see them in my wine cellar app, CellarInfo, to help me know a little about a wine when I go to my cellar to pick out a bottle for dinner.
About half the time, I write my own 100-point scale rating of the bottle, perhaps with a note about drinkability (i.e., drink now, a few more years), on the label and put it on a shelf next to my computer so I can log the wine out of my cellar.
My rating is simply based on how much I liked the wine at the time I drank it. Was it an 85? Was it a 93? Nothing purposeful, let alone scientific — just how much I liked it at that time with whatever I happened to be having for dinner.
What I get from doing this is some very interesting (to me) data. I can run a report that compares my ratings by winery, by variety. I can see how my ratings for a particular winery have changed over time. Among other things, I can tell which winery is getting better or worse (at least to my taste). This helps me make decisions about which wine clubs to drop and which to continue.
So purely from my standpoint as a consumer, my own 100-point system works great for me.
Paco, that makes total sense to me. Now, I know you’re not saying this, but your subjective rating obviously isn’t meant for anyone other than yourself (which is one of the pillars of the arguments against using such precise numbers for evaluating wine for a larger audience).
Well, actually, it’s meant for me and others in that I can tell friends, when they ask, about wines I have found particularly enjoyable.
In a way, Paco, that reinforces the point about specialized “tribes” following recommendations from personal sources that they trust. The scale might be different, be the concept in those friends following your picks and people following mine is basically the same.
As a sommelier and wine director, I know waaaaay more scores than I care to know. I wish people would take my advice more often, but I’m typically reduced to bringing scores into the conversation on a nightly basis. I am going to make my own rating. “This Sancerre got me laid.. TWICE! So its a 2! Buy it now.”
That sounds like a really good Sancerre.
Incidentally, if someone ever buys me a bottle of Château Grillet and bakes me a room-full of banana bread, I will consider that a marriage proposal, and I will say “Yes” because that person obviously loves me and knows me well.
MG, you’d be a fool not to marry that suitor, I suspect.
Jennifer – ha!!!!! I’d totally buy that wine based on your scale!
There is a bit of a flawed argument here. There are two issues: the 100-point scale and traditional media. They are not the same thing–as traditional media continues to lose more and more influence (and the dinosaurs continue to stick their head in the sand denying that it is occurring), that does not mean that the 100-point scale (or any other rating system) is also dying with it. Just because Parker “invented” the scale (although we all know he didn’t), it will not go away once he does.
dc – true, in that they are not linked. The erosion of the influence of both is, from what I can see, indisputable. it does not mean that either of them are irrelevant, however. My main argument is that consumers will demand room for whatever they find valuable, which means all oft he traditional media and tools will naturally have to erode a little to make room.
While we might not be tuned into scores, wine stores and “regular” consumers certainly are. Just walk down the aisle of a Total Wine and you will see scores from critics and publications as a way to differentiate their hundreds of choices. And I have to admit when I see a 90+ score for a wine under $15 I usually pick up a bottle to see what’s inside ;-)
The 100-point scale is here to stay no matter how rational the counter argument. And when Mr. Parker hangs up his glass there will be plenty of wine writers continuing to use his scale.
Dude, we’re saying the same thing. A decline in the impact of both traditional style criticism and point scores for wine isn’t equivalent to those things bring irrelevant.
As a Wine Specialist (Court of Sommelier), working in a volume retailer (BevMo), the most common question I get is,”I don’t know much about wine… I am going to a dinner (or I need a gift) and I need to bring a bottle of wine… Can you recommend something?” I love customers like this because they actually listen to you. This gives me range to ask several “defining” questions until we come to the proper wine section. In most cases, all they care about is the taste description, what goes with it, is it under $ 29.95 and a good value. The Key: Can you describe the wine (taste) in terms that they can relate to and is it a “good deal.” The rest of our customers stand in the isle checking various blogs and media comments on their phones, shunning any help, until they come up with what they want The (any) Rating is a starting point; the buying – trying point is a relate-able taste description. Both: ratings and scales are tools and will hold their place in the buying decision.
Rick – I’ve often said the the single most influential person in wine when it comes to consumer sales is the wine store guy/gal or somm when talking directly to the consumer at point of potential purchase. :)
Rick and Joe,
A sentiment I have championed as well. No wine blogger can “move the needle” the way a trusted wine retailer can.
Bob, they’re very influential at pos. Bloggers and other media have more dispersed influence now that’s much harder to track than at one retail location. That doesn’t mean that the needle isn’t moving, only that you can’t see it move as easily.
First, any and all rating systems based upon points is total nonsense. That’s because you cannot assign a numeric value to what cannot be counted (‘quantified’).
That being said, the criticisms of a singular expert and collective agreement should, in theory, fall into two distinct domains.
An evaluation based upon expertise should be based upon statements relating to how wine-things happen. For example: achieving varietal character falls within a certain window of ripeness. OTH, a collective might agree that over-ripeness simply tastes better; ergo, varietals are irrelevant.
Expertise might declare a wine unfit for evaluation because of either bret or acetone.OTH, a collective might agree that bret is a ‘style’, and the presence of acetone is a small mark-down.
An expert might (incorrectly) call bitter stuff ‘tannins’. OTH, a collective might call bitter stuff bay-leaf-ish (and be closer to the truth, chemically speaking).
Simply put, wine expertise, by failing to offer explanations as to how wine things happen, default over to the collective, whose only standard is a low-level feel-goodness. What we’re then left with is an abject failure of the aesthetic. This is to say that wine experts , lacking adequate explanations, become high priests of the feel-good–their version of feel-goodness being self-sanctified with a patina of authority.
This, of course, is utter nonsense. Collectives generally do arrive at the same superficial judgments as the singular ‘expert’.
Andie – thanks for that well-considered and equally well-written comment!
I probably hold a bit more faith in the collective/crowd than you do, but I understand your point, I think. Paraphrasing your concern: fine wine can be more like art than commodity, but both the crowd and the experts fall prey to evaluating it almost totally aesthetically in a subjective way (just for different reasons).
This might shock some people but if I am interpreting your comment correctly, I agree with you. It’s one of the things that bugs the sh*t out of me when it comes to evaluating fine wine: too few pronouncements are based on detailed knowledge. Personally, despite getting some of the certifications, studying WSET systematic tasting method, and generally busting my ass to try to keep up with the wine world in general, I decided a few years ago to remove causality from my reviews entirely (unless I had first-hand knowledge of how a particular wine was made), in part to avoid some of what you’re describing. I mean, I don’t make wine, so WTF do I really know about the causes of some of those sensory results? More than the average person, maybe, but not enough to be certain.
I would, however, add one more potential domain to your list: given enough breadth and depth of tasting experience, theoretically an expert (and avid enough consumers) can probably come close to getting it right at least as far as putting a wine on a continuum of worst-to-greatest. I’ve written about that here before, and for me it’s as close as I can get to (sort of) addressing the challenges enough to feel confident that I am not doing people a disservice. Hardly a ringing endorsement, but it’s honest, and now you know why I don’t charge for access to reviews. :-)
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