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Scoring Wines Has Crew Up in Arms

In the last issue of the PinotFile I used the popular 100-point scoring system to rate the wines reviewed in that issue. Since I have never been a proponent of scoring wines numerically, it was Intended to be an “October Fools” trick and possibly incite some controversial discussion. Surprisingly, it unleashed a large outpouring of opinion among the readership, a majority of whom were adamantly opposed to me adopting the 100-point scale as an integral part of my wine reviews. 65% of those responding prefer the reviews as they are currently presented without numerical scores. 25% wanted scores to accompany the written descriptions. 10% preferred some type of quantitative rating system other than numbers in addition to the descriptions that would create more of a basis for qualitative comparison. I have excerpted some of the more detailed comments below. Not surprisingly, most of those who preferred scores had responses that were very brief and to the point.

NO!

“Scoring reduces a complex, nuanced assessment to a single number.”

“It is not possible to apply precise numbers to something so subjective.”

“One of the reasons I subscribed to your newsletter is because I got more out of your descriptions of the wine without looking first at the score, which is what I tend to do with the 100-point system. I find that people make buying decisions more by score than by description of the wine when the 100-point system is in effect.”

“I’ll admit that I fall into the scoring trap. I do buy wines based on their scores. However, I’ve often bought wines based on your recommendations as well. A critic can convey that a wine and/or a winery is outstanding in many ways, through words or numbers. Each approach has pros and cons. What I really want is the insight from someone who tastes hundreds of wines each year (something I can’t do). When I find that my tastes align with theirs, or when I unlock the key to understand which words (or numbers or icons) they use to bring attention to wines I’ll really like, I’m on the right track.”

“You are a breath of fresh air and I like that. The Prince of Pinot tasting notes work for me because it is from your gut and heart. Putting scores on your notes would take the “extra” out of “extraordinary” for me. The Robert Parkers, Wine Spectators, etc., have their following, and you have yours, and it is growing!”

“Leave things the way you do it now with no scores. Really, what is the difference between a 91 and 92?”

“I’d stay away from scores. They are a slippery slope and they can definitely skew perceived quality in a relative sense especially viewed over time. I place way more emphasis on the write up.”

“I’m certainly used to the scoring metrics of the big wine rags, but prefer your legacy approach of verbal descriptions and assessments.”

“The feature of your newsletter that makes it unique and interesting is your word descriptions rather than a point award. On the other hand, it limits your appeal to the “quick fix” crowd. I prefer words. I like to read and understand, not glance, buy and brag.”

“I’ve come to expect honest, if at times wonderfully elusive descriptions from you rather than a numerical score. I think the big name publications have warped our views. There seems to be a cut off line at around 87 that says anything less is relegated to the bottom shelf and not worth seeking out for the serious wine drinker. I’m convinced that a high or low score skews perception and defies reality whereas descriptions give us something to look for when we taste.”

“I wouldn’t score. It has helped lead New World wines down a deceitful pathway to global mediocrity. The 100- point scale has nothing to do with the quality of wine. It’s obvious that those that score highest in Parker and the popular publications all share the same mundane pandering to high residual sugar and alcohol levels that push the envelope of reasonable taste to ridiculous extremes. I’d prefer you rate wine in relationship to its varietal fidelity, regional diversity and expression of the vineyard along with it’s unique geographical qualities.”

“As long as you reserve scores over 95 for wines better suited to pouring over ice cream and waffles than to drinking, like the Advocate and the Speculator do, I’ve got no problem at all with 100-point scoring. For me personally, point scoring doesn’t add anything, but I don’t find it offensive either. I am reading the PinotFile more as a guide to producers worthy of attention than as a buying guide to specific bottles.”

“I am not a big fan of 100-point scoring systems that depend on one person’s palate. If a wine must be scored, I believe that a blind tasting by a large and experienced panel is a fairer system.”

“Terrible, terrible, terrible idea Prince! This is a sure fire way to make certain that PinotFilers cease reading your excellent reviews and look right to the score, which is what I admit to doing myself with “those other publications.” This is wine, it isn’t math class, and wine can’t be qualified with a sterile, academic classification system that only serves to encourage the “mine is bigger than yours” mentality. Scores will change the entire nature of your publication, robbing it of much that makes it so unique right now.”

“Scoring of wines does not add helpful information. Your description of the wine, alcohol content, and special icon make me happy!”

“You don’t need it (scores). It is your notes and content, coupled with the very fact that certain wines garner your attention more than others that is a recommendation in itself.”

“Readers are much less likely to read your excellent descriptions of wines that get an 88 score, even though this wine might be suited to their taste. On a number of occasions my wife and I have enjoyed a wine at a restaurant and I have looked the score up after the meal. I have found some of these wines rated 88 or 89 by Parker (but higher by Wine Spectator). We still loved the wine and buying it was the right decision. I would recommend you not implement the numerical scoring system.”

“One of the reasons I have enjoyed your newsletter and reviews for the past few years is the fact that you have brought a non-scoring approach to your reviews. I have seen your differentiating brand that includes part story teller. I have bought wines you written about simply because of the story and background you offer. Nobody is doing this. You bring insights to how something got into a bottle. You do a great job of describing how something tastes. Personally for me, scoring abstracts and obviates a broader dimension and personality of good wine. Frankly, it leaves me a bit cold. You tend to review upscale wine producers. You more than anyone know the work that goes into putting out a bottle. I think your earlier position of no scoring honors the efforts of those producing.”

“It is very easy to cut to the chase when a score is given, but the words are what let people understand the flavors and sensations that provide a wine’s palate signature. Numbers can convey palate length in seconds, or color intensity or level of aromatics, but when broken up to that level still don’t really describe the palate like words. Words involve thought and real communication. The PinotFile forces the reader to understand the wine is not a passing snapshot.”

“I must admit that I was a little disappointed to see the scores in the last issue. I have always enjoyed your writing with the outstanding descriptions of the wine. I also like the Pinot Geek. Reading about a wine ‘you could snuggle up to all night’ with the Pinot Geek icon seems more exciting than reading your great description and then a 92 or 93 rating. Somehow, even a rating in the 90s seems like a letdown after such good review writing descriptors that your do.”

“I prefer not seeing the score. I feel so many good wines are never enjoyed because the score isn’t 92 or better. Tasting notes should always be the method of choice in determining a good wine to create a memory with!”

“I like the reviews and information, without the scoring. Makes it seem more personal.”

“Why should someone read your magazine rather than one of the 47 others that give scores?”

“Frankly, I believe that if you attempt to numerically score for publication all the wines your taste, all the fun will be gone for you.

“I don’t trust the scoring, too much bias in it. Everyone has a different palate and scores don’t tell you if you like a wine.”

“One of the reasons I like your publication is because you don’t give scores. You are forced to read your descriptions, and count on what Rusty Gaffney says. I much prefer this to a point system. Besides the false objectivity of the point system, in a world where everyone is pressed for time, people start neglecting what is written, and just look for the number. To everyone’s detriment, I believe.”

“I vote no regarding wine scoring for your newsletter. It’s overdone and over emphasized by the wine media. Better to have an experienced taster like yourself evaluate a wine for notable characteristics, obvious faults, etc. and share this information with your readers. The reader then benefits from the information without feeling compelled to like or dislike a wine because it scored 89 instead of 91.”

“Keep the Kiss method. We love your traditional method of descriptions.”

“Don’t score. It’s refreshing and differentiates you from the mainstream wine critic. Recommending the wine and describing it is plenty enough.”



YES!

“I am a data nut so scoring gives more input and information. Once I get to know what YOUR 92 means, then the scoring is beneficial to me.”

“More information is always better.”

“I very much like your wine scores to be listed. It gives me a much better opinion of what you think of the wine.”

“I think a quantitative, as well as qualitative, rating may be of assistance. I think Parker’s system has a false exactitude, and the difference between a 94 and a 95 is elusive to my palate. I think a five band rating separately for the quality and a five band rating based on cost per bottle would be of some utility. I would add a rating system to your descriptive narrative to yield a rough index of comparison.”

“The easier the better. If I trust your commentary (I do), then why wouldn’t I trust your scoring. I like scoring.”

“I have to admit, while I claim not to be a fan or proponent of number ratings for wine, I appreciate seeing and being guided by (to a limited extent) them. Given your history of clear and accurate narrative reviews, as well as some numeric ratings in the 80s in your first venture into numeric ratings, I trust that your numeric grading system will work.”

“I don’t need it (scores) or really like it, BUT is probably does make commercial sense for you to introduce it. The reality is that the marketplace is sold on it.”

“The combination of notes, your icons and the scores, in my mind is the best vetting system!”

“I don’t have time to read every description. A point system is very important to me.”

“Scores specifically identify your evaluation of each wine.”

"I think it is very important that you do score the wines. The truth is there is way too much wine out there, and the only way to really get a sense of where a wine stands is to score it. Everyone who scores has a different palate and I think wine folks now understand that. Trying to ascertain what you really thought of a wine from your notes and relative to all the other wines that you taste throughout the year is just not possible. Scoring is the only way to have a true relative sense, based on your palate. You will be quoted much more if you do score. I have always thought the argument against scoring is a false one. Yes, wine is subjective, but with all things subjective, you the scorer do have a preference and that preference is best and easiest conveyed with a score. Maybe a score for a wine will change over time, so be it, it is the nature of wine.”

“Scores are another way for me to learn your palate and judge what your comments mean compared to my palate.”

“I know some folks find the scores ridiculous, but I for one enjoy them.”

“I find the use of a numeric scoring system to be valuable. Once one becomes familiar with the reviewer’s tastes, preferences, etc., it is a very efficient way for a reader of reviews to segregate wines for purchase. I love your reviews, but it has taken me a long time and a lot of reading to get to know your “code.” You are never harsh in your criticism of wines in your reviews, so I have had to read many reviews and sample many wines to get to the point that I am confident when buying a wine that you have reviewed. My preference would be for you to be more straightforward in your reviews. If you don’t like the wine, just say so and don’t make us figure out the code. I think the numeric rating system would be a useful tool in that regard.”



COMPROMISE!

“I would like to somehow see different levels of Pinot Geeks. One could be great, another stupendous, another other worldly, etc.”

“If enough readers want scores, which I seriously doubt, offer a separate summary page listing the wines with a score.”

“I am torn about what is preferable. I struggle in reading your reviews as to your preference for a wine that does not receive the Geek status. Many times I am unsure in your description whether the wine is simply good, better than average, etc. I think this is where a wine score or other icons would come in handy.”

“I’ll continue to read your reviews whether you use a numerical scale or not as I have found some excellent Pinots from your recommendations and thoroughly enjoy reading about your excursions and reviews.”

“I favor descriptions over numbers, but I am not opposed to a number system as long as it doesn’t detract from the current system.”

“There are merits to both methods. A pure numerical score without tasting notes is worthless to me. Tasting notes without showing the taster’s bias are also worthless but probably less so. To me it is absolutely critical to know how the taster tastes for any system to be of value. You system was fine and I thought the numerical addition was a way to show your bias among wines you liked - cest la vie.”



After reading all the comments, I decided to side with the majority, stay with my original vision, and continue the wine reviews as they are currently offered without numerical scores. All scores have been expunged from the last issue of the PInotFile. I realize that scores drive wine sales and wineries would quote my reviews more often if they were scored. However, I have to side with noted wine critic, Janus Robinson, when she says, “But perhaps, strangely for someone who studied mathematics at Oxford, I’m not a great fan of the conjunction of numbers and wine. Once numbers are involved, it is all too easy to reduce wine to a financial commodity rather than keep its precious status as a uniquely stimulating source of sensual pleasure and conviviality.” I would agree with Randall Grahm as well who said, “I am tortured - it is quite mutual, mind you, by the most popularly read American critics. I’m irrationally enraged by their quasi-mystical numerology, by the fact that their universe of relevance - life begins at 90 - is so pitifully delimited. I feel that I’ve got their number, as it were, but perhaps it is they who have mine.” I believe readers should look to the outstanding producers I feature in the PinotFile and their entire portfolio of wines, rather than narrow their focus on sourcing specific highly scored wines regardless of vintner.

In deference to those who requested a clearer breakdown and more straightforward delineation of the quality of wines reviewed, I will include the following in my reviews. The Pinot Geek Icon will continue to indicate a complete wine of exceptional quality. The Pinot Value Icon will remain the same, signifying a Pinot Noir that represents an exceptional price/quality ratio. Usually this is an inexpensive wine (often under $30) that offers the drinker varietal correctness as well as appealing aromatics, flavors and enough complexity to signify a bargain at the wine’s retail price. Very Good will indicate a distinctive and well-crafted wine. Decent will denote those wines that are undistinguished, but very drinkable. Unsatisfactory will signify a wine that is flawed or that I would not recommend. The words, Very Good, Decent and Unsatisfactory will appear at the end of the tasting description.

On the Prince of Pinot website home page, you can click on Wine Reviews and then Notable Pinots page. The wines receiving the Pinot Greek Icon and/or the Pinot Value Icon are listed alphabetically by winery name and then chronologically by vintage and ascending price.

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