Tag Archives: wine scores

The Wine Curmudgeon’s 100-point scoring system

100p-point scoring systemYes, it’s silly, but is it any sillier – or any less accurate – than the rest of the 100-point systems?

The Wine Curmudgeon’s antipathy to wine scores is well known – they are often lazy, even more often too subjective to be worthwhile, and even biased.

But since I’ve been told I need to be more than merely negative, please consider the Wine Curmudgeon’s 100-point scoring system:

• Is it wine? If yes, 75 points.

• Is the wine red, white, pink, or sparkling? If yes, 5 points.

• Does it have a screwcap? If yes, 5 points.

• Does the wine cost $12 or less? If yes, 5 points.

The total? 90 points for most of the wine I buy.

Yes, this might seem silly and not even particularly accurate. Which is the point.

Is it any sillier than the scores used by the Winestream Media, where price, varietal and region seem to have as much to do with determining the score as the quality of the wine? And is it any less accurate than a system without any standards, and where one critic’s 94 can be another critic’s 87?

Of course not. The only way to determine whether you like a wine is to taste it. You can take suggestions from me or Robert Parker or any of the hundreds of us who do this. But in the end, the decision is yours. Or, as I was told all those years ago when I started doing this: “If you don’t like chocolate ice cream, and someone tells you that chocolate is better than vanilla, would you go out and buy chocolate ice cream? Of course not. So why would you do that with wine?”

Cartoon courtesy of Bob Johnson, using a Creative Commons license

Winebits 491: Wine scores edition

wine scoresThis week’s wine news: More foolishness from the world of wine scores

Only a 95? The news release was so excited that I thought it was going to short out my computer — three Spanish wines from a producer owned by a luxury Big Wine company earned scores of 93, 95, and 90 points from the Wine Spectator. Which is all well and good until you look at what the wines cost – $73, $228, and $30. In other words, the best the $228 wine could do was 95 points, which hardly seems to be worth the trouble and especially if you can get the 90 pointer for one-seventh the cost. And, frankly, the $73 wine isn’t much of a value at 93 points, either. Once again, for those who still think scores have any relevance, this is another example that they don’t.

But it’s all the same: Wolfgang Bitterolf of the Wine Dabbler blog has parsed several scores, ratings, and tasting notes from influential Winestream Media critics and found that, as he puts it, “It appears that I can spend a lot less than $140 to get a hold of wines I like just as much” as the expensive, highly-rated ones the critics like. He focuses on the $140 2007 Pahlmeyer red blend from Napa, which got 96, 95, 93 points from top critics. He then rated the Pahlmeyer using the website Vivino’s 5-point scale, and gave it 4.5 points – the same as its Vivino crowd-sourced rating. And, as Bitterolf points out, that’s the same rating he gave four wines costing from $10 to $28; hence his happiness at drinking 4.5 score wines that don’t cost $140.

Blasephemy! Robert Parker’s successor as editor-in-chief of The Wine Advocate, where Parker made the 100-point system famous, told a wine trade seminar that scores “aren’t everything,” and that reliable tasting notes are necessary, too. In her talk, she sounded a lot like the Wine Curmudugeon and anyone else who has criticized scores because they are incomplete and shaded by the reviewer’s preferences, Of course, this doesn’t mean scores are going anyway, and I didn’t notice that the wine world paid any attention to the  comments. Instead, it yawned and went about its business, which includes using scores to sell us wine we may not like.

Follow-up: Expert scores and red wine bias

red wine biasOur red wine bias study has the Internet buzzing – and people are saying smart things about it

This week’s post about red wine bias among wine critics did everything that we hoped it would do: Get people talking about what our study means. There has been some tremendous discussion – not just here, but elsewhere around the cyber-ether.

My biggest surprise? That so many mainstream wine critics picked up on the study and offered serious comment, instead of dismissing it out of hand. That’s my mistake, in assuming the worst. My biggest disappointment? That not enough people saw the study as one more example of everything that’s wrong with wine scores.

Suneal Chaudhary, who crunched the numbers for the study and deserves an award for his efforts, said, “I’m starting to get a sense that there’s something about the scoring system that’s flawed in some way but can’t exactly put it in words at the moment. The other reaction I’ve seen a lot is that red wines are more complex and so they should rightly score higher. Which is a fine argument if it’s true — but I’m not sure if it is. Personally, I think whites have a different aesthetic to them. It’s like saying the smell of roses is more complex than jasmine or something, but does that make the smell of roses better?”

That was a common theme among the comments, emails, and discussions Suneal and I found – that only wines made with serious grapes deserve the best scores, and the only serious white grape is chardonnay (and don’t even think about mentioning rose). So, according to this argument, why should anyone be surprised by any kind of bias? It’s only natural and right.

Which, of course, made me very sad – the some animals are more equal than other animals theory.

A sampling of other reaction from around the Internet:

• A mostly favorable discussion on the Wine Berserkers site, which also surprised me. It’s the Internet – who says nice things?

• Winemakers, not surprisingly, were split. Those who focus on white wine (and several left comments on the blog) disagreed that red was more difficult or more expensive to make. Red winemakers, not surprisingly, said of that course red was more expensive and more difficult, so why shouldn’t it get higher scores?

• Blog reader Patrick Sirridge’s observation was one of the most astute: “In my view, many wine critics/writers follow the herd and provide higher ratings for higher priced reds,” he said in an email. “Even more modestly priced reds get the benefit of the doubt regarding quality and complexity and thus get higher ratings. Bias in favor of reds – sure.”

• Another blog reader, Bob Henry, found several old magazine articles and blog posts discussing this subject, including an interview with Robert Parker in what was then called Wine Times and today is the Wine Enthusiast. In the interview, which is at the link, Parker said that some red wines are indeed more serious than others, and that his scoring system reflects that. I wonder if Parker would disavow that comment today – or if the Wine Advocate still uses that approach.

You can download a PDF of the report here.

Expert scores and red wine bias

red wine biasIs the Winestream media biased in favor of red wine? Our study seems to show just that

Do experts rate red wines more highly than white wines, regardless of price, vintage, and region? Does this mean there is a critical bias in favor of red wines?

That may well be the case. Data scientist, wine lover, PhD, and former college math professor Suneal Chaudhary did the numbers, analyzing more than 64,000 wine scores dating to the 1970s and taken from the major wine magazines. The results are something I’ve been trying to get a handle on for years, the idea that critics favor reds over whites. The details are after the jump: Continue reading

Winebits 459: Wine mergers, grape theft, wine scores

wine mergersThis week’s wine news: More wine mergers are coming, plus thieves hit European vineyards and more about wine scores

More of the same: Two executives from the country’s biggest wine companies say that the consolidation that we’ve seen is a precursor to what will happen, driven by high wine prices, aging winery owners who want to sell, and the way the wine business works. The Press Democrat newspaper reports that the officials expect to see big companies who haven’t bought wineries yet to start doing so: At “some point there’s going to be a lot of pressure with this premiumization for them to get into the game,” said Hugh Reimers, the president of Jackson Family Wines. And, in case you missed any of the buyouts and purchases, the story highs the highlights from the past couple of years. It also warns us about a forthcoming wave of Spanish cabernet sauvignon; I, for one, will immediately go on full rant alert in case I see any of that wine.

Dirty tricks: European grape theft, whether by criminals or tourists, has become a big problem this harvest season, writes wine-searcher.com. “Due to the low harvest the grapes that have survived the frosts and the storms in spring are reported to be of high quality and, for that reason, more attractive to thieves. Police have also been on horseback patrol in the Champagne region during this year’s harvest in order to prevent thieves targeting the precious grapes.” German tourists in northern Italy have also been stealing grapes.

Stupid scores: South African wine writer Tim James has had enough of scoring systems, concluding that “Perhaps we should just abandon the whole scoring nonsense. What a good idea!” Who am I argue with him? James’ conclusion, reached during a discussion of the various scoring systems – 100 points, 20 points, and 10 points, as well as five stars – will be familiar to regular visitors here. His point? “The mind reels at the inevitable confusion and communication failure in all this.”

Winebits 446: Cheap wine, retailer foolery, U.S. wine sales

cheap wine
You need to take the bag out of the box if you’re going to slap it.

This week’s wine news: College students take to cheap wine, retailers fudge with scores, and U.S. wine sales will remain flat.

Don’t slap the bag: The Wine Curmudgeon was greatly heartened to see a food website at the University of Florida offer solid advice about buying cheap wine and insisting that cheap doesn’t mean bad wine (and that it linked to my site just hows smart the author, Abigail Miller, is). Writes Miller: “The cuter the label, the simpler the wine,” something I have been preaching for years and that producers assume we’re too stupid to understand. Plus, I brushed up on current slang – “bougie,” a derivative of bourgeois, as in “drinking wine is so bougie,” and slapping the bag, a drinking game that uses the bag inside boxed wine.

Scores and retailers: A Massachusetts TV station discovered that the scores used to sell wine on shelf talkers at liquor stores in its area were playing fast and loose with vintage – that is, the wine that got a 90 was not the vintage for sale. It was something that the TV report found in eight of 10 stores. Said one retailer: “I guess it would be good to know that the winery has won medals, but I think that the consumer needs to look at the year, because the year will make a huge difference.” Sadly, despite the retailer’s observations, I’m told this is a common practice throughout the country.

Not much growth: The U.S. wine boom has ended, and the market will grow at just about one percent through 2020. This compares to growth of 3.3 percent before the recession, a fact the short story mentions but doesn’t try to explain. Has wine become what marketers call a mature category, where we’ve seen all the growth we’re going to have? Or is there something else going on that no one can explain? My guess, given that so few Americans drink wine compared to other countries, is the latter.

Winebits 445: Wine scores, Veramonte, Tennessee

wine scoresTake that, wine scores: Writes MJ Skeggs in the Portland Mercury about wine scores: “Yep, despite how the tasting industry (the magazines, star reviewers, bloggers, anyone with a palate and a keyboard) claims objectivity, it comes down to personal preference.” Couldn’t have said it better myself, though I’ve probably said it just as well many, many times. Skeggs lists eight other reasons to avoid scores, as well as the best alternative – find a good retailer and go from there. And how can one not recommend a wine article that includes a Spinal Tap reference?

Chilean winery sold: Control of Veramonte, once a star of cheap Chilean wine, has been sold to one of Spain’s biggest producers. This is probably good news, since Vermaonte’s current owners have presided over the wine as it has become more expensive and less well made. The new lead owner, Gonzalez Byass, makes Beronia, always quality cheap wine.

Tennessee grocery store wine: How big a deal is supermarket wine? More than 400 grocery stores in Tennessee started selling wine this month, the first time they were allowed to do so under new legislation. The fight to allow wine in supermarkets in the state dates to the 1970s, and has been called the biggest change in the state’s liquor laws since Prohibition. Where have we heard that before?