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02.09.2006

Numerical Wine Ratings: Consumer Friend or Spawn of Devil?

Numerical ratings for wine are one of the the wine world's favorite all-night-debate topics. Nothing seems to polarize a crowd of wine lovers or engender such impassioned debate as the seemingly innocent question, "So just how useful is it to score wines, anyway?" Some people think these scoring systems (dominated by the 100 point method developed by Robert M. Parker, Jr.) are really useful tools for the consumer. Others think they're one of the worst things that's ever happened to the wine world.

It's probably not hard for you to guess where I come down on the issue. After all, I provide scores along with my reviews. But I've decided to use a 10 point scale instead of 100 because, in part, I have issues with the degree of specificity of the 100 point system (I can't tell the difference between a 96 and a 97 point wine). But I do think numerical ratings are a good thing and I'll show you why:

"Light garnet in color, this wine has a beautiful nose of tobacco, dried cranberries, violets, cedar and a light hint of oak. In the mouth it is very smooth, with classic cool-climate Pinot Noir flavors of cranberry and raspberry with a little tart pomegranate and lovely earthy, black tea flavors that taper into a substantial finish."

OR

"This wine is blood colored with a pleasing nose of cinnamon, leather, redcurrants and tobacco leaves. On the palate it is bright and light with primary flavors of redcurrant and sour plum and a light spice as the wine finishes clean without much tannic structure. This is one to drink early and often"

Now tell me. Which one of these wines did I think was better? If you're reading my blog to find out about wines you might like, just a tasting note isn't going to give you enough information RELATIVE to the rest of the wines that you've seen me review here. Knowing that the first wine scored somewhere between an 8.5 and 9 on my scale, while the second one scored between 8 and 8.5 helps you at least judge which one I liked more., and if you're familiar with my palate (a key point here) then those scores are actually really helpful.

Having said all that, there are definitely issues with numerical ratings for wine that have serious implications in the business. Here's an article I came across the other day that captures many of them eloquently and with some brevity.

So I thought I'd raise the issue and ask you: helpful numbers or wicked beast?

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud