ONE WINE GEEK’S STANCE ON THE 100-POINT WINE SCORING SYSTEM

In 1978 an, I would imagine, not-so-happy attorney who had a passion for wine put out a pamphlet on his own dime that helped people, “make their own decisions on wine.” This pamphlet was eventually called THE WINE ADVOCATE. This pamphlet used a 100-point scoring system so that the reader knew what bottles to stay away from and what to enjoy. At the time Robert Parker Jr. was a sort of rebel, changing the way the country assessed wine. Before him there was a widely used five point system (Supported by the world’s most famous wine taster Michael Broadbent) that he believed was not enough this industry and craft.

THE WINE ADVOCATE became very popular, very quickly, at a time when Americans were developing a love for wine. The Judgment of Paris had already taken place and California was on its way to greatness. Thanks to Michael Broadbent the Christie’s wine auctioning program was solidly reestablished and the US was about to go bonkers with wine. Those who had loads of money were buying up lots at auction and having decadent parties with classic vintages and hundreds of guests while the well-developed middle class had a hero that allowed them to sample the good life by buying decent wine and sharing it confidently with friends. That hero was Robert Parker and his system.

2009

That passion, that need, that love, that curiosity is back and now more than ever. Wine is more popular that ever and Americans are going nuts. For the past couple of years there has been an edgy race between beer and wine as the most consumed in this country. Beer has always won (I believe) but for the for the past few years wine is dangerously right behind or just neck and neck.

There is a new generation helping to fuel this reality and they are being called the Millennials. Pretty cool title. My generation was lucky enough to be called Gen-X but we didn’t really know what to do with it.  “X” kind of has this rebellious ring to it but aside from the first BUSH WAR (which I didn’t understand at the time. I was too interested in chicks and rock and roll) it was the Clinton era and there wasn’t really anything to rebel against except for our parents which is what every generation does anyway. At least we got the opportunity of seeing the “buzz clip” of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and got to make out to Maxi Priest’s, ” I just Want To Be Close To You” when it was still hot. This new generation came up with a crazy world thrust into their lives.

When Robert Parker was on his way up there was a craving that had to be satisfied. Times are different now and there is a new craving to be satisfied. The point system just won’t do forever.

In my last post I wrote about what I would like to see in wine this year. Every point I made goes against the point system and my message in general does the same. I respect and appreciate the scoring system for its stepping-stone-quality but no more than that.

We are in an age where we have more information at our fingertips than ever. We have the Internet. What an amazing invention. It has come so far and still has so far to go. We now have the power to make our own decisions in wine. We always have but have just not realized it. Why? Well I believe in large part by the point system. Why think for yourself when someone can do it for you? It is not only a Parker thing now as the two major wine publications in the States are using it as well.

What exactly is the difference between a 98 and a 99-point wine or an 89 and a 90-point wine? Why don’t we talk about the wine and let it sell itself on its own merits?

It seems these points are now a card that is put on shelves accompanying bottles so that the wine merchant or employees don’t have to talk to the customers. If you see the point you are looking for then no need for human interaction just a money transaction (and usually a lot of money).

Tell me what to buy and I will buy it. I need an expert in here now to tell me what to do not explain my options. The 100 points fits right in.

It has kind of gotten out of control.

If you are into wine and want to learn, the point system is a starting point that will hopefully be done away with at time as you learn what you like and what to look for.

Wine is individual. It is a personal relationship with you and the varietal or blend. It is an experience with friends. It is festive. It is a companion to you and your meal. It goes beyond points.

It all comes down to the wine merchant. Once you understand a grape and fall in love with it then you know the words you are looking for when buying a bottle. Your local wine shop should be able to aid in continuing the learning experience.

Instead of a point system do this:

Lets say you love Syrah.

How do you know that?

You were at a wine bar with some friends, got adventurous and wanted to try something you never had before. Lets say that grape is Syrah. Well, you fall head over heels for this wine and want more of it in your life. You can find out where the bottle is sold and buy just that Syrah forever more or you can start your wine journey with this grape and travel bottle by awesome bottle into the sunset. How do you go about continuing this love affair?

Cheat.

Go online or to your local bookstore and look up tasting descriptors of syrah. Find the adjectives that are similar to the one you fell in love with at In Vino…I mean…the wine bar and go to your local wine shop and start asking for your next bottle using the words in your arsenal. If the wine merchant is worth his or her salt they will pick up what your puttin’ down and suggest something nice. If you have a budget they should not even blink (If they do blink be wary and careful).

If this all works out you are about to go home and share a great bottle with your sweet muffin cakes (or whatever you may call your significant other. Feel free to use this one), your dinner and or your friends.

This is the best part.

At some point you will find out that syrah is a great blending varietal and your friendly, knowledgeable and helpful wine merchant will eventually inform you of this when you have formed a trust and it is time to branch out. At some point our brains tell us we are so over something and we need something else. We will always still like that first something but we just need a breather.

(Jamie Goode, a wine geek with a PhD in plant biology and the author of my bible, “The Science of Wine: From Vine To Glass” puts it well with reference to his favorite berry, raspberries. If he has a couple here and there all is well. If he eats loads of them in one sitting he would be tired of them. He still loves raspberries but his brain wants a break form the aromas and textures of the food).

Now you start learning of a place called the Rhone Valley in France where syrah is a major component of the area’s blends but that there is so much more. You are on your way to learning about wine.

This is just where I stand. I don’t listen to any wine rep that talks of points in a wine. I listen to them but when I hear, “Parker rated this…” my eyes glaze over and I think about Star Wars. Our shop has no shelf talkers and no indications of points. I am not even sure what of inventory our boy RPJ has rated. It is not in my interest to know. We hand sell and I love doing it. The look on people’s faces when they come back for another bottle of wine because the previous one was great is priceless. It is what I am doing this for.

By talking to the customers about the wine and not just telling them a score they are going home with a bottle and some valuable information that will add to the enjoyment of wine.

The wine world thanks Parker and his point system for allowing them to fetch high prices for wines and fuel the market. As a passionate member of the wine industry I thank Mr. Parker for being a major player in laying the groundwork for such a thriving American market (Others would be Warren Winiarski and our man Marvin Shanken).

What we need to do now is take what he and his contemporaries have built and push it into a new direction.

Let’s help the ocean of wine lovers out there novice or conessieur make their own decsions about wine and own their experiences in wine shops and at restaurants.

Just throwin’ it out there. Cheers.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by moolay on March 15, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    I couldn’t agree more and the idea of winemakers then tailoring their wines to suit Parker’s palate as opposed to being true to their grapes really starts to take things in the wrong direction. Not to mention hiring jet-setting “consultants” to help them with that.

    But there is something about assigning a number to a wine that’s hard to shake. If I’m buying in a region that I’m unfamiliar with, in a shop I’m unfamiliar with, looking at 2 wines of equal value and one scores 91 from Parker and the other scores 89, I know which one I’m probably going with—which is terrible. I think maybe I’ll just do the opposite from now on.

    But that touches on what you’re saying—if we buy from a local wine merchant that knows what’s up, we should never be in that position to begin with.

    Great post—

    Reply

  2. […] One Wine Geeks Stance On The 100-Point Wine Scoring System […]

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