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Snooth User: Philip James

Are Ratings Pointless

Posted by Philip James, Jun 19, 2007.

This is a topic that comes up again and again - and a few interesting articles talked about it in the last week ( here and here ).

Before, I spell out the argument, here's a spoiler! My take is that ratings allow people to quickly weigh up and rank several choices. Relying on ratings is the fastest way to find a good wine. But, in order to make a great decision, you need to take the time to read the tasting notes, understand your wants, and consider the purchase. That takes more time, but thats how you find a great wine.

OK, lets back up a bit. There's a lot of anti-ratings sentiment at the moment: how can one person's tastes define what the world should drink? wine is constantly evolving so how can a static score be representative? can a critic accurately assess and rate 50+ wines a day? All are very valid points which highlight the shortcomings of such a one dimensional measurement.

However, the flip side of the argument shows us how much ratings have done for the world: before Decanter and Parker, wines were judged solely on their plots of land. Rating a wine on its merits alone suddenly allowed lesser known regions and wineries to break out and gain fame and fortune. Suddenly, a wine couldn't hide behind its appellation.

The British magazine, Decanter, used to rule the roost with its 20 point scale, until Parker came along and expanded it to 100 (who'd going to up the bar again? 200? 250? 1,000 points?). But its clear that there's no difference between and 88 and an 89 point wine - the critics themselves say that wines within a 2 or 3 point rage are of the same quality. Oh, and the scale only starts at 50 points. And an 80 point wine is, according to Wine Advocate's official scale, "barely above average". So, now 90 seems to be the new requirement for a decent wine.

So, its clear that ratings did help. But, I think the absolute sway that they used to hold over the public is slowly coming to an end as consumers are becoming more savvy about what they purchase and how they research it. According to recent research by Wine Opinions , 24% of consumers in the panel studied read wine blogs, about double the level which read the Wine Advocate or And the most influential people affecting wine purchases? "Knowledgeable wine friends".

We hear you loud and clear. Snooth Rank is firmly in place, now calculated off over 1.5 million ratings from users, critics and bloggers. We're working with bloggers to import their data en masse, and then we'll build out the elusive 'friends' tab - some fun stuff there, we promise, and just a few weeks away.


Reply by andrew, Jun 20, 2007.

My understanding is that the 'average' quality of wine has risen significantly in the last 20 years due to modernized equipment. Since ratings are always going to be subjective and open to debate, I think the only true way to get a precise rating is to have many different reviewers rate a wine, then average the scores. That way, we would be able to use a wider scale (where the average is in the middle of the scale, and only a few truly amazing wines inhabit the top 10% of the ratings).

On a similar topic - I found this article in Slate interesting, called 'Cherries, Berries, Asphalt and Jam: Why Wine Writers Talk that Way'

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