Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What's wrong with scoring?

Some wine folks have created a website at aiming to get people to stop applying scores to wine. In their “manifesto”, the group argues each wine is so unique and each taster has such a unique experience tasting it that wine scores are “condescending, overly simplistic, and often largely in accurate.” The group believes scores on wines are never ok.

Surprise! I have an opinion on this!

First off, wine is enjoyed by consumers

I'm tackling this from the consumer view of wine. After all, we make wine so people can drink it. One may grow, produce, review or sell wine, but nearly everyone involved has a consumer’s relationship with wine. It’s the great equalizer in the world of wine.

Therefore, wine will be reviewed

Think about how many thousands of different wines are available to consumers, the multitude of places wine is available for purchase and how very few we get a chance to taste before we buy. Ah yes, don't forget, we must buy wine in order to experience it. I don’t have time to research and commit to memory every wine region, grape, label and review out there before I go shopping for wine. Most people I know don’t either. Many consumers appreciate a wine review (including a score) when they are standing in a store staring at hundreds of bottles of wine. Yes, some reviews/scores I don’t agree with, but the reviewers are entitled to their opinion. Most consumers understand that. Back to staring at a bunch of bottles: I like to have SOME idea what someone else thought of it since I (usually) can’t taste it first and I can't afford to buy them all. If there isn’t anyone who might have tasted it around or any written review available, most consumers (without above average wine knowledge, which is a completely normal state for most) will often find themselves picking a price point (quantitative), and then picking a label they recognize (familiarity) or a label that appeals to them (subjective). That gets the job done, but it's not a very informative process for the consumer.

Furthermore, wines will be compared to each other (often using scores)

Personally, I tend to be a comparative and quantitative person. I measure my ingredients when I bake chocolate chip cookies. I compare cheddar cheeses and prefer Tillamook Vintage Sharp White over all others. I rate potential employees on a point scale in order to decide which one I should hire. I like to know what temperature it is outside, and if tomorrow will be warmer or colder. When it comes to wine, while I most certainly like to appreciate it for what it is in and of itself, I also like to compare it to other wines. Most consumers do too. Consequently, we end up liking some wines more than others, and that’s just another way of “rating” wine.

Wine Elitism?

This is not a crime against wine appreciation, but the manifesto people seem to imply otherwise. It seems if you don’t or can’t take the time and effort (and money) to understand what terrior means, specifically as it applies to the wine in the glass in front of you, then you must be enjoying wine in the wrong way. If you go so far as to compare that wine against another wine and give it a score or rating, then you really are doing it wrong.

Pssshh! Talk about making wine seem elitist. If the only appropriate way to enjoy and appreciate wine is the way the manifesto claims, millions of consumers have to stop drinking (buying) wine PRONTO. Yeah, I don't think so.

Consumers are free to select and enjoy wine in a variety of ways per their taste, budget and lifestyle. As they should be.

What’s the real issue?

Personally, I think the real motivation behind the manifesto comes from a belief that scoring is interfering with consumers’ ability to find, buy and taste different or unique wines due to how scores are used in wine sales and distribution. I have the same concern about choices, but scores are not to blame for that any more than a dead canary is at fault for an airless coal mine. To get at the root of the issue, we need to address the complexity of wine distribution in the United States. And that is a much, much more difficult subject for the wine world to broach.


  1. I guess that I could going around being a "wine snob" if I wanted to, but in my experience for about 30 years is that "if you drink a wine and you like it, it is a good wine!"

    Not everyone has the palate of Parker, etc. and that is OK. My cellar has wines priced from $5 to $150 and that is OK. I won't dump an $80 bottle of wine into a mulled wine pot, but a $2.50 or @2.00 bottle of might be fine.

    Like others have said, the scoring might be an indication of whether you might like it or not. Not everyone has the same palate. Enjoy what you drink. If it is above 90, score! If you like it and it isn't above 90, that's OK too.

    Wine should be enjoyed. Regardless.

  2. I love it when I got to Trader Joe's and they are having a wine tasting!