It is a rampant problem you see, with multiple causes. Some of which are easy to fix, while others are ingrained problems. Though there may never be a true fix, there sure is plenty of blame to go around.
Let’s take a look at some of the more obvious issues in the current wine industry, and what we can do about them!
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The 100-point Scoring Scale
I use the 100-point scale rather conservatively and with a grain of salt. Let’s be serious here, anyone thinking that the 100-point scale is some perfect way to represent the qualities of a wine is simply off his or her rocker.
What the scale does have going for it, is its ease of use, for writers and readers alike. At times it is too easy, so easy it makes people lazy. That is when the problems start, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The 100-point scale is a great tool for two reasons. First, it easily allows anyone to see what someone else thinks of several wines, serving as a comparative tool. Second, it allows one to gauge how his or her own palate jibes with a writer’s. That’s all you should be using it for because guess what, wine is subjective.
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The best tool you have, your most powerful front-line ally in this battle between your palate and the world of wine, is a great retailer. You might think it is safe to stay behind the glass walls of your favorite critic, but guess what? Your favorite critic will never learn anything about your palate and your favorite retailer might.
Having a retailer who takes the time to get to know your likes and dislikes is invaluable and will save you money in the long run. He or she can turn you on to things you otherwise would never have tried. A lesser retailer will sell you points based on someone else’s opinion.
Take your pick. And when you’re tired of the same old crap, pay the extra dollar or two per bottle and start forming a relationship with retailers who care.
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Lazy retailers rely on other people’s point scores, all of those 90 plus scores the trade generates for a variety of reasons. One reason is that doing so is simply easier. Instead of tasting through tons of wines, identifying which they like, writing up notes and educating customers, they can rely on the larger importers and distributors to bring over the easy sales and stock their shelves in a flash.
Distributors are happy to supply only high scoring wines, and too many retailers are happy to go along with the program. Of course, retailers can’t just buy the highest scoring wines from most distributors, they have to take some of the “best” brands as well. This further constricts the distribution options for many smaller players, but it is easy and profitable for the distributor. This leaves only the little guy to complain, when you really should too.
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Arrogant Wine Writers
Yes, there are plenty of us. The people who know it all and simply understand wine, unlike you readers. We rate wines based on typicity, nuance, ageability and finesse, all based on spending merely five minutes with a glass of wine.
What the hell is typicity and finesse you might ask? Well, like pornography, we know it when we see it and you need to check yourself for even asking such questions of us.
Let’s get one thing straight, we don’t rate wine for you, we rate wine for the 1%ers. We use a language full of code words to make sure you never catch on to us, and attack you when we think that’s not working. You should be happy we’ve shared our point scores with you. Now please renew your subscription lest you miss a single prognostication.
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Writers and the 100-point Scale
Just a little aside here. As I mentioned before, I use the 100-point scale, and I think I do so conservatively and judiciously. My scores are accurate plus or minus about five points, meaning that my 90 point wine might be your 85 point wine or your 95 point wine. People call me an idiot when I say that, and I do say it often. Perhaps they are hoping repetition might yield reality.
But I believe, as I stated earlier, that the 100-point scale is a comparative scale as opposed to being any objective measure. Wine appreciation is a subjective matter, end of story. The only objective aspects of wine writing are the technical sheets that list grams per liter of acid, PH and parts per million of dry extract.
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Writers and the 100-point Scale, continued
So, why all this fuss about the 100-point scale? Simply put, we’ve entered a scary new cycle in wine writing. Want to become a famous wine writer? Well, it’s easier and harder than ever. Easier because there are no real barriers to entry today, yet harder because there are more people writing about wine than ever.
So what can you do? Use the lazy distribution network, of course! Distributors and retailers who sell wines by points generally sell by the highest point scores those wines receive. Want to get noticed? Be the highest score for a wine, soon you’ll find your reviews being published on shelf talkers and hanging on display at retailers across the nation!
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And now it is your turn.
Do you want to know why distributors push high scoring wine? It’s because retailers can sell them easily. Do you want to know why retailers can sell them easily? It’s because the buying public has swallowed point scores, hook, line and sinker.
You didn’t think you were going to get off scot-free now, did you?
You share in the blame for the mess we are in, but I don’t blame you. You’ve been bombarded with the point-scoring paradigm, and it is an easy way to get into wine. Most, if not all of us, break out of that dangerous rut eventually. I am not here advocating that you abandon the 100-point system, I am just suggesting that it is not the end all be all.
A First Step
I do wish you would adopt a favorite retailer and learn to follow your palate. Next time you don’t like a 94 pointer, recognize that there’s nothing wrong with your palate. Somebody just has a different taste profile than yours, no big deal. Just figure out what you like to drink, and realize that that is the best wine for you.
I love 88 point wines. I don’t like gobs of anything in my wine, I don’t like my wines to be thick, I don’t like my wines to be heavy, I don’t like my wines to be particularly alcoholic, I don’t like my wines to smell and taste primarily of oak. You know what, I make it a point to drink wines that I do like, not wines that get big points, and certainly not wines that don’t fit my palate profile.
So join me in drinking what you like. Find like-minded people to share your preferences with, and use wine media as a tool, not a bible.
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