. Vite Vinifera De Vino's Blog: Ratings???

Friday, November 17, 2006


First of all, what does a wine score mean? It's clearly impossible to summarize in a simple laboratory number something as complex, subtle, and organic as the emotional experience of consuming wine.

Also, a numerical score wrongly suggests a level of precision that doesn't exist, and a single scale can't ever accommodate a range of styles. If anything, it has meaning to the judge or, as is often the case with magazine ratings, the team that assigned the score. Every wine critic has his own palate and all industry magazines have their editorial policies. I have nothing against wine critics they serve important functions, not the least of which is to hold producers with excellent reputations to the highest standards. It's the wine score that I take issue with.

Many wine critics have great breadth and some have an incredible mental database of flavor memories. Although these expert qualities help make ratings consistent, they do not make the ratings objective. I acknowledge if you know the score and you know the judge's tastes, you can infer something: 3 bicchieri from the Gambero Rosso means a bold, oak refined wine, a big score from Robert Parker means a big new world style wine. Of course, to understand a judge's taste very well, one need to drink a lot of wine rated by that judge and then study the scores those wines were awarded. In the case of magazines, it's hard to learn their tastes because the scores are awarded by teams, and when the teams have changing members, it's just about impossible.

So why are wine scores so popular? Magazines, books, and guides try to boil the rich experience of wine into a single consumer friendly number and they promote the fallacy that your enjoyment will be commensurate with their scale. Unfortunately, this fallacy sells, and magazines and books depend on sales to survive. The prevalence, especially this time of year, of top ten lists, best wine of the year awards, and so on, are derivations of the same reductionist marketing strategy.

The serious problem, however, is that when scores are related to sales, they can be compromised by commercial interests. Magazines are dependent on wine producers for advertising revenues and there's a lot of temptation for magazines to give insincere ratings. For example, a recent edition of Gambero Rosso (I Tre Bicchieri) gave the "best producer of the year" award to Barone Riccasoli. Two years ago that winery was convicted of fraud when the police found 900 hectoliters of Montepulciano wine labeled as Chianti Classico in their tanks. I could go on for pages with examples from other magazines and guides, but you get the picture.

Personally, I love to drink a wine and not to rate it. And I don’t have a favorite wine or ten favorite wines---there are so many delicious wines and I love all the options ("There are more things on heaven and earth, dear Horatio...") Also, there are many people that I recommend wine to (and buy wine for) that don’t share my tastes.

It wouldn't do any good for me to score wines and then recommend them according to my scores. Instead, I pay attention to who will drink the wine, what their tastes are, and I try to find a way to communicate the emotional experience I had on the occasions that I drank that particular wine.

In the end, I tend to stay away from magazines and guide books. And anyway, I enjoy drinking wine far more than reading wine scores!

Buona Bevuta a Tutti

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