This post is pointless – and so is the rest of this blog

Reducing this wine to a single score? Not for me, thank you.

I don’t believe in points. That’s why there are no points or other ways of scoring in my tasting notes.

I think they’re more confusing than helpful, and that their reliability is so low as to render them useless. That’s why I never used any scoring system for reviewing wines on this blog, and never will.

One person’s brilliantly refreshing and mineral white can be another’s « teeth enamel removing wine with acid levels close to toxic, made by some sheep farmer on the north side of his 4,000-foot foot elevation vineyard picked two months before ripeness ». One would score it, say, 92, the other (that’s Robert M. Parker Jr., by the way) would barely grant it 55. What’s the real value of that particular wine? Should we average this out?

A score takes what is obviously and strictly a subjective opinion and elevates it apparently to a more objective status. It imbues it with a sense of authority. It may even keep you from actually reading the review that goes with it – and in any case, if it’s a red wine scoring 90+ in Wine Spectator or Robert Parker, you just know there’s going to be « gobs of ripe red/black fruit » somewhere in there, right?

I feel much closer to Cory Cartwright’s non-scale, as expressed in a beautiful blog post he wrote last August. Cory has been getting tired of categories and rigid evaluations of wine, and I can understand why. Although it’s important for people learning about wine to get their bearings, know their categories, etc., it’s also important to avoid pigeonholing everything, which can easily happen – and points lead us inexorably in that formated, square holes for round wines kind of place.

Not everyone agrees with me about the value of scoring, though. Check out the debate I had with W. Blake Gray on Palate Press. Although Blake had some good, er, points, I think he… pointed out, in many ways, that the most important things about wine reviews – and about wine – are to be found elsewhere. I’d rather focus on the everything else, rather than reduce a full review of a wine to an 89 or a 90.

I enjoyed debating with Blake and would do it again. Please feel free to comment on this blog, and I’ll respond. I’ll give you extra points for participating.

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18 Comments

  1. Posted October 9, 2010 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    I’m also of the no-points-allocation train of thought. As a consumer, I can attest to point scores adding a level of confusion rather than clarity at the retailer. This is reinforced every time I’m at a tasting event, winery tasting room or anywhere else that there’s more than just me drinking wine – none of us has the same palate.

    That being said, I appreciate educated wine folk who can communicate what’s poorly crafted and what’s beautifully built. Beyond that, it’s just a matter of taste. Tasting notes are so often not written for the public consumer, but for fellow educated wine-os. This is entirely fine by me, and helps me learn.

    Meanwhile, I write about wine as whether it’s share-with-a-group-of-friends wine, lay-in-the-hammock-after-mowing-the-lawn wine or hide-it-away-and-drink-it-with-those-you-really-really-love wine. Points not necessary.

    As always, thanks for your clarity, honesty and willingness to speak to those of us outside of the “industry”. It’s why you’re such a fabulous wine-writer.

    Cheers!
    J

    • Posted October 10, 2010 at 7:45 am | Permalink

      Jeannette, a couple of years ago, a friend of mine told me he liked my blog “despite the winespeak”. It certainly got me thinking, and attempting to make my writing as accessible as possible – although it’s tough for me to move out of my wine-geek frame of mind. I certainly don’t think that points would contribute to simplifying things.

      Thanks for the good words. You’re too kind, as always.

  2. Posted October 9, 2010 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Brilliantly said, Remy! I’d much rather read a review than be brick-walled by points.

    Cheers,

    K.

  3. Posted October 9, 2010 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    I wish it were a perfect world where scores didn’t matter. I loved your post and admire the stand, as I did a similar position boldly taken by the editors at the New York Cork Report. The unfortunate reality, for people like me who get paid by other people to review wines, is they want points, or stars or something with a number. Wines reduced to a star or a rating of some sort is what they think sells magazines and/or newspapers. So you do it or they find someone else who will. The problem, I feel, is with consumers who (generally speaking) have been weaned on numbers whether it’s for movies or wine and look there first for guidance. I, for one, look forward to a day when the sum of the words used to describe a wine equal a number that doesn’t have to be specified. But I don’t see that day coming anytime soon — at least in traditional media.

    • Posted October 10, 2010 at 7:40 am | Permalink

      Rick, I understand what you’re saying and I have to say that if my livelihood depended on me putting stars at the end of my reviews, I don’t think I’d make myself get fired over that. Luckily, the wine reviews I am doing are on this blog, which is totally my own space, or in other contexts where I have not had to add scores, badges or other such decorations. I hope it stays that way.

  4. dave mcneilly
    Posted October 9, 2010 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    My wine education began in the late 70’s, reading Hugh Johnson and studying his wine atlas, then going out and trying to find wines from the regions and producers he spoke of. Hugh never scored a wine.

    • Posted October 9, 2010 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

      Excellent point, Dave. I too was much influenced by Hugh Johnson, without ever reading any point score from him.

      I believe Michael Broadbent has also quite a distinguished set of tasting notes, without any scores either.

  5. Michele Bosc
    Posted October 10, 2010 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    As an “industry” person I take all the above comments to heart and learn something from every one. I believe you can’t compare point assigned to a single wine from different reviewers. Points can be helpful when comparing wines rated by a single reviewer. Find one that shares similar likes and dislikes as you. Then find the wines he/she rates higher. Chances are you will like them too. But just because RPJ rates a Chillean Malbec fruit bomb a 93 doesn’t mean your cool-climate-Pinot-loving palate will also love the wine. In the end that’s all that really matters. Point systems are here to stay, at least for the foreseable future. So use them if you like. Or use them in conjunction to the words describing the wine. If the words used are similar to words that describe a wine you like AND it has a high score (88+) chances are you will like it and it was well made. When the point system also builds in value then chances are you will get a well made wine you will like at a good price. Isn’t that what we all want? For the average consumer (and an educated consumer like me) the last scenario I described is very helpful in deciding which bottles will earn my willingness to part with my hard-earned cash.

    Great conversation Remy. Thank you!

    • Posted October 12, 2010 at 6:07 am | Permalink

      Michelle, I agree with you that points from a single reviewer that you know and appreciate can become somewhat meaningful to an informed wine buyer, but even then, you also point out they should be used in conjunction with the actual review. So the points, by themselves, have very little use.

      I have to note that all the arguments I’ve heard so far in favor of points essentially go to expediency. Saying “they help when you’re in a rush” isn’t exactly a defense of the fundamentals.

  6. Spike Stockdale
    Posted October 12, 2010 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    I admire all the no score sentiments. But in the real world it helps the consumer to have a simple metric for how much a critic appreciated a wine. A wonderful description certainly is more useful than simply giving a score. But in the end, like any important subject, this is neither black nor white. If critics use scores to be lazy and not tells us about the wines, then scores are not good. If on the other hand they use the scores as a sort of shorthand to help consumers remember what the critic really liked, then I’m all for them.

    Remy, I wish you’d give the wines you write about a score.

    • Posted October 12, 2010 at 6:13 am | Permalink

      A simple metric would help the consumer if it was an actual metric. Because of the variations between reviewers, and even of the variations between the scores a reviewer would give a wine from one moment to the next (and we know just how important a one point variation between 89 and 90 can be, in terms of marketing), they don’t really provide a reliable measure of satisfaction by themselves.

      One case I mention in the post is that of Wine Advocate, where scores given by David Schildneckt and Robert Parker are based on very different – if not opposite – criteria, but both are put up on shelf talkers and such as reviews by “Wine Advocate” or even “Robert Parker” whether he wrote the review and gave the almighty score or not. Someone relying solely on scores to buy wines could be in for surprises – and disappointments.

      • Spike Stockdale
        Posted October 12, 2010 at 6:36 am | Permalink

        I think most sophisticated consumers understand the variability and inaccuracy of scores. And the great 89-90 debate will rage forever. But I also know when I see a Parker 95 that is going to be one big. fruity bastard of a wine (and I like that), and Stephen Tanzer will always score that wine a little lower seeking more balance and every Wine Spec writer has a different set of criterion… and then some days the writers are just, cranky, tired or in love with everything the taste. Even knowing all of this, I still wish you and Bill Z and Eric Asimov and all the other wine writes I appreciate would give scores. I applaud Beppi for caving in and starting to score.

        I’m not saying you are wrong to dislike the narrowness and false precision of scores. I am just saying that from a consumer’s point of view (and we are the people you write for) even though the tool is flawed, it’s usefulness outweighs its shortcomings.

        Enough of my opinions.

  7. Posted October 12, 2010 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Rate. Collect. Seriate. Hoard. Gloat.

    Pretty standard human traits that are not the most becoming. And they are the synthetic pleasure opiates that creep in then banish the true sensual and emotional bliss of wine.

    Sure, I’ve benefited from some fine wine scores, but I stand with Remy, Bill and Eric in keeping bastions of humane, hedonistic and intelligent wine reviewing against the mob onslaught of numbers and rankings.

  8. Daniel
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 2:40 am | Permalink

    Remy, great post (in a great blog) especially “A score takes what is obviously and strictly a subjective opinion and elevates it apparently to a more objective status” which is the crux of the problem (you could also strike out “apparently”)

    and this is the major goal of most wine “critics” trying to make a living, or should I say, trying to become famous, and equally a major goal of producers (and distributors) trying to make and sell wines based on points

    I’ve always felt that points is equivalent to the dumbing down of wine, how wonderful it would be if mentioning “points” would become socially unacceptable, the equivalent of, say, flatulence in public

    • Posted October 25, 2010 at 6:53 am | Permalink

      Thanks for your comment, Daniel. Comparing points to flatulence is pushing, really, but I agree, of course that the accent should not be on the overly simplifying notion of points. I do maintain that they do more harm than good because of their misplaced authority.

  9. Daniel
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    well Remy perhaps you are being very diplomatic, as usual, which is what makes you a pleasure to read..

    however, objectively speaking (of course), what would you call this “passing gas”?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYOzr0YlBeM&feature=youtu.be

    • Posted October 30, 2010 at 7:16 am | Permalink

      Yes, I saw that, and I think I should probably thank James Suckling for making my point for me.

2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] course, I’ve argued before against using ratings to review wines, both on this blog and in a point-counterpoint match with W. Blake Gray on Palate Press, so reading Tom Wark’s [...]

  2. [...] of just providing a series of sensory impressions (in fact, my descriptors are often very limited). I don’t give scores, either, for similar reasons. But then again, I don’t delve through dozens of wines at a time to try [...]

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