The issue of course is wine ratings, we hate them and we love them, but are they really worth anything? It would be sad to realize that something so many people become emotionally invested in is actually not worth the effort, but to a large extent that is what I believe.
Before going any further, let me just say that I use the 100 point scale, or about 30 points of it, when I rate wines and I find that it is a useful way to gauge how much I like one wine versus another wine of similar type. I don’t believe it is some absolute scale, and have always felt that its accuracy was something better than plus or minus 5 points. That is, my 90 point wine could be your 85 point wine or your 95 point wine. Now, considering that most people use about 20 points of the 100 point scale, scoring wines between 80 and 100 points, that also means that they are not of much worth, and that my friends is entirely true.
In the abstract they are generally worthless. You can have two 90 point wines that are qualitatively equivalent, but so completely different as to make their equivalency useless. And you can also have two tasters, each with a different palate, assign points scores that are so divergent that you really have to ask who has lost their mind. Might it be us, those of us who use point scores to begin with? Maybe we have lost a bit of our minds.
Wine Critic image via Shutterstock
Robert Parker, the world’s preeminent wine critic recently sold a controlling stake in his company, The Wine Advocate, causing endless lamentation on internet wine boards, and speculation bordering on anticipation that this spells the end for both the Wine Advocate and the hegemony of the 100 point score for wine. Nothing could be further from the truth. You see, wine reviews are a type of currency, used by retailers to buy consumers. The higher the value, the more efficiently it works. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate has one type of value, that of name recognition, but as always there are many people nipping at the leader’s knees.
There is a second type of value: the point scores themselves. While The Wine Advocate has that name recognition, higher scores tend to sell more wines, and retailers recognize that. Retailers promote high scores and the critics that award them, giving aspiring wine writers a platform enabling them to gain some of that name recognition. The higher the score, the bigger the platform. Don’t believe me? In that case, check out these examples. As you can see, retailers almost always feature the highest known score for a particular wine when promoting its sale. It’s not only standard operating procedure, it’s also good business for the retailer. What about for the critic?
While being listed at the top is good for the critic, it could be argued that being listed amongst these recognized names would be good for any brand, but how much better is it to be listed before these well-known names? A point, maybe two?