Saturday, July 30, 2011

Wine Shoppers Need Point Scores -- Because They Can't Understand Our Reviews

By Mac McCarthy

Respected wine guru Steve Heimoff posted a spirited defense of numerical wine scores in wine reviews -- Defending Point Scores--Again! , taking on some of the stock complaints from the growing chorus of critics of the idea of giving wines numbered or lettered scores. (There's even an anti-scoring manifesto circulating.) Heimoff 's common-sense counterarguments are well worth reading.

Weighing in on the topic, my view is that the attacks on scoring are completely pointless. The reason is that number-haters offer no practical solution to the perceived problem.

They complain that the wine shoppers act like sheep, following the scores they see given to wines without really appreciating the subtleties of the wines and even of the reviewers doing the scoring.

So what's the fix? Leave the sheep to wander the aisles unguided?

No -- the wine shoppers should be reading the full narrative reviews, rather than jumping right to the scores. That way they can fully grasp the wines being reviewed, and make a sound judgment.
Aw, baloney!

At least wine shoppers can understand a score -- even if not the subtleties between, say, an 89 and a 90. Trying to decipher the blather that passes for wine reviews, on the other hand, is not something I'd wish on a poor ordinary drinker.

The language in most wine reviews is useless to most wine drinkers. The flavors described are unfamiliar - there are often an improbable number of flavors, leaving the ordinary mortal wondering what the heck the reviewer was drinking.

(Robert Parker once described a flavor note in a wine he was reviewing as "white tobacco." White tobacco -- what the heck does that taste like? How is that helping anyone shopping for wine?)
Buyers grab onto scores because it's something they think they can understand. It's not their fault the scores aren't as helpful a guide as one might think.

And let's face reality: Eliminating scores will not encourage ordinary drinkers to boldly strike out into new unscored territory and discover new wines, new makers, new flavors -- instead, untutored wine shoppers will retreat to brand names. And how will that benefit anyone?

If we're going to argue about scores, let's argue about how wines are reviewed overall -- and figure out how to review wines not just for those among us with wine cellars, but also for the expanding population of new wine enthusiasts eager for guidance in buying a decent bottle of wine. Let's at least think in terms of which audiences we review for -- some wines aim at the sophisticated drinker; some wines are approachable by the broader market, and can be appreciated by them. In my post "What To Drink (For Beginners)" I spell out reds, roses, and whites that are easy for beginning wine drinkers to approach, appreciate, enjoy (and that they can easily find without knowing much about wine brands). In another post, I add "Wines Not Safe for Beginners To Start With"  just to drive the point home.

Maybe when we review wines -- unless we're writing only for the sophisticated elites among us -- we could start pointing out whether a wine is something a beginner or a less experienced drinker would appreciate.
And for God's sake, can we figure out a way to describe what we're tasting so that another human being can guess at what flavors we're talking about? Without having to go to Sommelier  school?

I admit, I struggle to find useful things to say (besides "Yum! That was good!"). This is not easy. But it's better to struggle with this, than to continue the pointless, doomed campaign to eliminate wine point scores.

What do you think? Like scores? Hate 'em? Have better -- practical -- ideas? Add your comments below!

1 comment: said...

Well said. *starts slow clap*

Confusing wine reviews only lead to more confusion. Enter: The future of wine reviews: