Monday, August 15, 2011

Why score wine?

The movement against scoring wine seems to be growing. There's now a website called Scorevolution which is backed by a growing number of individuals including Christophe Hedges of Hedges who I met in Washington state last year and - inevitably - Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon who has a trenchant view on everything, bless him.

The manifesto, it has to be said, is a bit turgid, but it's hard to fault the sentiment.

"Wine is a gustatory expression of where its grapes grew and the method by which they were farmed. These methods having been developed over time to address the variability of nature. The combination of land, climate, culture and philosophy is terroir. Ideally a wine will evoke an understanding of the region and perhaps the individual vineyard that was its place of origin. The subtle expression of wine through the context of its geography"

"If we rely on the biased palates of the select few - and no palate can ever be unbiased, as the process of tasting is supremely personal - to tell us what is good, great and perfect then haven't we sacrificed our own understanding of the wine and, as such, what would be the point of drinking it?"

In other words wine is more than numbers.*

I was interested to read Eric Asimov the wine writer for the New York Tines had been reported as reiterating that the only way to appreciate and assess wine was with food which is, after all, the context in which most people enjoy it.

And how reliable are scores? On what basis are they allocated? I remember discussing this with Tom Cannavan of, a frequent judge in wine competitions on a press trip and he said that even if critics ostensibly score from 1-20 that most have a register of 1-5. I'm conscious of that myself. I usually score supermarket wines for my own reference between 12 and 17, most of the wines I taste falling around the 13-14 mark. But 12 sounds much more generous than 1, on the 1-5 scale, doesn't it?

How then do you indicate to your reader how you rate a wine? On my credit crunch drinking blog I do in fact rank wines from 1-5, 1 being 'drinkable. Amazing, given the price' and 5 'unmissable. Snap it up'. Which I think is probably OK for cheaper wines, much less satisfactory for more complex ones.

Parker appears to score from 1-100 but any wine below 89 seems to be regarded as a poor score.

And surely it depends on how you're feeling, who you're with, what you're eating and, above all, what your personal taste is.

Which is why I now favour a system of flagging up natural wines in accordance with how they're likely to fit into your wine drinking experience: green being similar to a conventional wine, amber maybe slightly more challenging and red a warning that the wine may well be way outside your comfort zone.

Speaking of which I've had a wine this week, the Herbel La Pointe Chenin 2008 which has the unfortunate look of an unhealthy urine sample and an aroma of fermenting apples. Maybe it's suffered in transit or wasn't kept cool enough but even my husband, a diehard natural wine fan, couldn't finish his glass. Definitely a red which goes to show, as I've said before, that just because a wine is natural doesn't mean it's good.

What do you think about wine scores? Are they useful or useless and is there any other way you'd advocate of flagging up a wine's style and quality to the consumer?

* There's an interesting debate on the 100 point scale on Palate Press here.


  1. I find this debate very interesting. Whilst convenient for the writer to score as a point of reference, I really find it quite depressing that critics (some of which I like) have to allocate wines into a percentile in a similar way to Robert Parker.

    I have even overheard customers in a wine shop arguing why a wine is 91 points and what makes one 92. Rubbish.

    I know people can relate to scores out of 5 or out of 20 but I have never personally seen people walking around an art gallery scoring paintings. For me, wine shouldn't be any different as it's enjoyment so geared by timing, winemakers expression and accompanying meal. Surely we can be concisely descriptive enough to explain these factors.

  2. Nice post and great to discover your blog!

    We are kindred spirits here as you will find by a glance at my posts @

    Wine scores are the bane of consumer acceptance. The idea that taste can be attributed to a numerical scale and that the taste of one or a small group of people can sway an industry is incoherent.

    This of course leads the discussion to how more communities of wine can be created and referrals more accessible as a source of choosing wine.

    Thanks again.

  3. @Gregory

    "I have never personally seen people walking around an art gallery scoring paintings"

    Good point. Scores can exert a kind of tyranny but I still think it's good to flag up to readers what to expect from a wine

    And thanks, Arnold, for your comment. You'll see I already link to you as a fellow natural wine fan ;-)

  4. I have always wondered should I compare a 87pts Marlborough Sauvignon with a 88pts Kakhetian dry Kisi from Georgia or a 86pts Torrontes from Uruguay :-)
    Personally, I use "the rating system" as a joke, for those who are unable to read the impressions which are "personal" anyway and by no means trying to establish the "purchase recommendation"... But this happens more often than not and I had more than several requests not only to give score but even to apply a graphic illustration of it :-)
    I completely agree all the scoring systems could be summarized to a 1-5 scale.

  5. Hi Fiona - I really enjoyed this post. Whilst I cannot be classified as a member of the wine industry by any means, I do attend a lot of events. I am always amused at how, when asked for their take on a specific wine, the experts always begin with their score (either out of 10, 20 or 100) - I must admit that I have always found that rather odd, as I don't see the relevance between their score and the actual qualities of the wine...and how would you even go about comparing them? Thanks for giving me some food for thought in this post!