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I Can’t Keep Up With This, Either

by David on October 1, 2007

OK, how many of you have purchased a wine because you liked the label or because the packaging made the wine look more expensive than it was? I know I have. ;-) With the ridiculous and ever-increasing number of choices we have, you have to make a selection one way or another, right?

And then others bring their copy of the Wine Advocate or Wine Spectator to the shop with them. It’s a perfectly reasonable way to narrow down your choices and try to get the most bang for your buck. And if you’re one of the lucky few who’ve managed to find a publication that’s fairly closely aligned to your personal taste, then it’s all the more reason to go that way.

So, what do you think of numerical wine ratings? Are they helpful for you? I ask because the topic goes endlessly round and round in the blogosphere. Recently, our good friend at Winecast, Tim Elliot, suggested that everyone get together and settle on a common system that actually isn’t numerical. He recommends a five-star system.

I don’t know about you, but I start having nervous flashbacks to report-card days. Five stars is an “A”. And 3 stars feels like a “C” – kind of the same effect as an 82 from the Spectator – even though that’s not the way it’s described. “I think I’ll pass…” The visual impact is so powerful. And should a flawed wine get any stars at all?

But, I have to say, I love that word “delicious.”  We all want to drink something delicious, right? And it reminds me of the wonderful writing team for the Wall Street Journal, Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher. “Delicious” is their highest form of praise. They use words instead of points. But even there, as they acknowledge, one man’s delicious is another man’s “yuk”,  just like some of us love figs (Mmmmm…) and they give others the willies.

Alder at Vinography, one of the most widely-read winebloggers, uses a 10-point system, although it’s been pointed out, repeatedly, that it’s really a 20-point system because he regularly assigns 1/2 points in his ratings: 8.5, 9.5, etc. I know that those who go with this sort of system are trying to address the very real issue that human beings aren’t sensitive enough to discern the difference between a 91 and a 92.

Which leads us to the ubiquitous 100-point system used by Robert Parker, Wine Spectator and others.

But, as many of us have said ad nauseum, a five-star or 96-point wine for one person is a 3.5-star wine for someone else. Just like movie ratings, just like book reviews, just like restaurant reviews…

In a previous post, I noted that a high-profile Merlot received a 94 from Robert Parker and a 78 from the Wine Spectator. What are we supposed to make of that? All of which reminds me that you can subscribe to something called the Wine Blue Book that “groups the major critics’ average wine ratings, then lists them by price to determine overall value – the Quality Price Ratio for wine.” And there’s a similar consumer driven ratings system. Do any of you find either of these options helpful? Is averaging the answer?

Stars, 10-point scales, 100-point scales… it kinda doesn’t matter. 10=100=5 stars. It appeals to our love of a quick, easy answer. There sure are a lot of people out there trying to help us buy wine. I, truly, cannot keep up!

But does the ratings system perform its mission of assisting consumer in deciding if that’s the right wine for him? Or does it mainly result in a handful of writers determining what sells and what doesn’t? Why am I ragging on this again? Well, to quote Wine Blue Book, “scores drive prices.” Soon: what would help?

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