The Wine Curmudgeon does not believe in wine scores and he doesn’t use them. Regular visitors here know how I feel. The only score that matters is whether you like the wine or not.
But Dale Robertson, who does the wine writing for the Chronicle newspaper in Houston, has a system that is worth looking at, even for those of us who think scores are silly. Rice’s system, which uses a 10-person tasting panel, takes into account two of the biggest problems with scores: personal opinion and availability. By averaging 10 scores, Robertson can work around the fact that someone who doesn’t like merlot is probably going to score merlot lower.
The most interesting part, though, and why I’m writing about it, is that one-third of each wine’s score depends on whether it’s available in the Houston area. The more it’s available, the more points it gets.
How the system works after the jump:
A wine can get 30 points – 10 for quality, 10 for value and 10 for availability. By adding that last criteria, Robertson has eliminated one of the most aggravating parts of scoring. Wines that no one can buy always seem to get high scores, as if one of the reasons for the high score is that it’s so rare.
“Nothing frustrated me more than finding a really great wine and having the sales people tell me the store only had three bottles and that they’ve been gone for six months,” says Robertson, who has been doing the 30-point judging for almost a year.”The readers tell me that this does serve a useful purpose. It’s really helpful to know they can find the wine we write about. The reception has been totally positive.”
Yet, as intriguing as Robertson’s system is, it’s probably not the answer. Theoretically, a wine with wide distribution, like Kendall Jackson’s $12 chardonnay, can get a higher score than a $150 cult Napa cabernet sauvignon – 25 points for the KJ (7 1/2 for quality, 7 1/2 for value and 10 for availability) compared to 17 for the cult cab (9 for quality, 7 for value and 1 for availability).
While this is better than a traditional scoring system, which would give 99 to the cab and 85 to the KJ, it’s almost as skewed in the other direction. In fact, I’d argue that something like the Osborne Solaz cabernet tempranillo blend could get 27 or 28 points in Robertson’s system – 7 or 8 for quality and 10 for value and availability. And, as much as I like that wine, I’m not sure even I like it that much.
Robertson acknowledges this problem, and he tries to work around it by only using wines for the tasting panel that he gets as samples. Since the most widely available wines generally don’t send samples to wine writers, he doesn’t have to worry about a Solaz slipping in. That this skews his panels in yet another direction may well be another problem.
Still, as scores go, Robertson has made the best of a bad situation. It doesn’t change my mind about scores – I still prefer to write about widely available wines and tell people why I like them – but it’s better than the usual toasty, oaky and leathery 98s that almost everyone else uses.