Monday, March 5, 2007

Rating Wines

Look we all know that HRM Parker invented the 100 point scale for rating wine; if you don't believe me just ask His Highness. Give that I'm a subscriber to his Wine Advocate, it seems that he has long forsaken 85% of his scale, given that he only rates wines in the 85-100 range in print. Hmmm, odd result. Why not just use a 15 point scale then?? Alas, turn to the folks across the pond and Robinson, Jefford, Johnson, Spurrier and their English ilk use a 20 point scale but then add half points. Look either it's a 15 or a 16, get over yourselves. Finally (I'm almost off the soapbox), the WS has to grudging give credit to Sir Parker and his development of the erstwhile 100 point scale, as Shanken and his groupies adopted it after much hemming and hawing. To its credit the WS does issue ratings occasionally as low as 50 but I've never seen a wine receive a score below US Grant. To ask the obvious, why not adopt the 1-50 scale then?

The reality is that if we ever turned tastings on their head, asking the critics to pick the 98, 96, 93, 92, 90, 89, 87 and 83 from eight wines that they had previously given these scores to, there is little doubt in my mind that most would fail more than 50% of the time. The numbers are so subjective and of that moment as to make them no more than a vague estimate of one taster's biased notion of how a particular wine tastes at a specific moment amidst a defined selection of it competitors. At any rate, why not use a scale that everyone can at least understand, if not envy?

Which brings us to my attempt to qualify something that may not submit to qualification:

[starting from the bottom]
  • plonk--this is swill, industrial waste escaping the remediation pond. Think the white version of 2 buck chuck, which has an essence of lighter fluid to it;
  • OK--passable at a barbecue when you need something to down when surrounded by the attractive guests of your neighbor. Never to be poured at home, nor presented to friends in the form of a gift. After 2 glasses switch to hard liquor or water;
  • Good--Yeah, this is wine. Someone made an effort to process grapes to juice is a professional manner, even if 19 million cases were made. Certainly drinkable at one of those professional networking functions where you get too many cards from folks you would never in your wildest dreams call or those informal cheese board mixers at the lodge you're visiting during ski season. Finish, smile, forget about it.
  • Very good/quaffable--Ahh Miles and his demons. A wine of this description rises to the level of crafting; a talented hand is involved in the process of vines to blossoms, grapes to fermentation. This wine can be enjoyed with distinction, at any random dinner party (w/o wine geeks present) it stands out and pleases, even though you know it lacks subtlety and complexity and you're dying for something with a bit more bite to it.
  • Excellent/tasty--Here's one of those things that make you go "MMM!" Broad based and full of fruit, structure and backbone, this rating only falls on wines that you would love to have again and mention to your friends in the form of a boast--"Well I had the ____ last evening with roasted pork loin and it was the bomb." Nothing is really missing in this selection and your friends will think you sage if they ever receive one of these offerings as a gift.
  • Superb--Easy here, we're in the octane zone. The stuff of legends as in "back in 2005 I had a _____ and nearly flipped. We dragged the sommelier over and he shot a load in his shorts after just a quick swirl." You get my meaning; this has to be profound, the top of a varietal class that you've done with a passion. If you know pinot and that Rochioli is the best pinot you've had in some time, well you know how to rate it. Hoard these beauties, drink under the cover of darkness, approach with stealth and no one within earshot of your cork pull.

So that's the scale. No numbers, they are meaningless in the larger scheme of things and no one, not even the best, can explain the difference between a 94 and a 95 or an 18 and an 18.5 or even a 73 and a 74. I dare them to try.

Cheers, Barrld


Ken said...

I had a similar scoring system to your idea. But when I created my website & decided to average the scores, numbers needed to be assigned. My emphasis is not so much on the numbers as it is on the fact that 3 or 4 or 5 professionals are recommending this wine. Whether the score is 87 or 93, that doesn't really matter. It is probalby very good or excellent and you will be the judge of that. Cheers.

Barrld said...

Ken--Thanks for the note; I've perused your fantastic site and see how you've merged scores and verbal ratings. Fine stuff. Cheers, Barrld

Joe said...

As a science guy, I am looking for 'normal distributions', but remember that HRH RP and WS only taste the top 15 to 25% of wines, so it shouldn't be that surprising. I note that WS does not publish scores below a certain level in their magazine, and RP tends not to visit a winery every again if the scores are not good, so there is a bias. I am sure if you made him wander up and down the $10 aisle and subjected his palate to that he would probably throw out a few bad scores.

sue said...

You need to get more creative on the bottom of the scale..... Like BLB.. belongs in a box, or LMD.. Like the Mad Dog I drank in the parking lot at St. Louis High


Barrld said...

Joe--Points well taken--I can just picture RP downing a glass of Yellow Tail or $2 Chuck. Sue, LOL, I guess I do need to upgrade my downgrades!

Randy said...

Hey, how come I never had any Mad Dog at St. Louis? Wasn't it invented that long ago?

Anyhoo, Barrld, this is one of the funniest articles I've read about wine in ages. Of course you're spot on re Sir Robert. Thanks for the laugh and all the best with your future tastings/reviews.

A sante'

Barrld said...

Heh Randy, thanks for the post, mighty good to have you aboard.

Cheers, Barrld

Ben said...

Hi Barrld, just came across this post, very interesting reading. I too have always been puzzled with the 100 point scale in that the vast majority is very rarely used. Maybe it has something to do with academic grading where everything under 70 is unsatisfactory and under 60 is absolutely failing. It is refreshing to see you using system where the bottom 75% (or more as you point out is the case with Parker) is not off-limits.

Barrld said...

Ben, thanks for the thoughts. I still vacillate regarding reviews of marginal wines that I do occasionally drink but think it better in the margin to tell folks when I think the $17 or $25 bottle of what should be very good juice is just OK.