Bucking the Trend
Written by Jennifer Jordan
Filed Under: Judging Wine
The Failures of the 100 Point Rating Scale
The concept of rating wine is not without its uses. Certainly in today's market place, there are more wine consumers than ever and more wine producers delivering new bottles to them. Offering some guidance while browsing crowded store shelves or giving a previously-anonymous vineyard recognition for good wine making are some of the benefits of a rating system. But there is a dark side to rating wine - and the 100 point rating scale is the culprit.
The 100 point rating scale has grown into a behemoth that dictates far too much perception in the wine industry; it has the potential to crush the most ambitious of grape. A wine maker can see their business soar when their wines are given a 90 and sour when their wines are given an 89. All it takes is a lower rating to leave a Merlot morose, cause a Cabernet to sour, and force a bottle of Port, in a fit of hopelessness, to end it all by tipping itself over. It has carved such a niche in the industry that even editors of publications like Wine & Spirit and Wine Spectator - who are frustrated by the limitations of the system - are forced to use it to keep their circulation numbers up.
This dissatisfaction with the system from within major players in the industry is peculiar. Wine makers and writers everywhere outwardly admit the system is flawed and often missing the point - yet most are paralyzed by inaction. There are no marches against it. There are no signs protesting its existence. There are no telethons to stop it. In fact, Jesse Jackson has probably never even heard of it. But wine drinkers, wine makers, and wine sellers, whether we realize it or not, all fall victim to the rating scale; it is stunting the potential for the industry and cheating the average wine consumer.
Your Palette is Your Own - and Science Agrees
Wine consumers are often insecure about what constitutes a "good" wine - and that more than anything has driven the popularity of the system. While it would be righteous to say no one should be told what wines they should and shouldn't like, the reality is science is discovering that taste isn't only dictated by preference - it's actually a matter of genetics. In 2003, Nature Genetics published an article detailing a study performed by researchers at the Weizmann Institute. These researchers discovered 50 odor-detecting receptors that are turned "on" in certain individuals and turned "off" in others. These receptors allow the nose to perceive aromas and then tell the brain how to perceive taste. Thus, a person with certain receptors turned "on" will taste things dramatically different than a person with those receptors turned "off."
This allows us to understand why everyone has different likes and dislikes: your palette is your own and science agrees. Some people like red wine, some people like white wine and some people (gasp!) like no wine at all. There is no number that can change the way a person perceives flavor or aroma. There is no scale that can tell people what is "good" and what is "bad" when so many people taste or smell the same things differently. Just as there are different strokes for different folks, there are different vines for different kinds.
Ignoring the Context of Wine
Wine is all about context. It is about who you are with, what you are doing, and the traditions that surround you. This more than anything defines the massive short-coming of the 100 point rating scale - it has no context. Wine is also about culture. Having been a part of so many cultures - and part of human civilization since the dawn of history - wine has left the world, for thousands of years, under the influence. From wine during Biblical times to the wines of ancient Rome, it hasn't just been the contents of a glass that have shaped the wonders of wine. Wine has always been, and will always be, so much more than just a drink. Wine is about community, it's about culture, it's about celebration, it's about a glass of Barolo with a great fillet of beef, it's about spending time with your loved one reminiscing over candle lights, and it's about time we view wine in these terms.
Wine Rating for the New Millennium
As the interest in wine revives, and the wine revolution hits full speed, it is time to rid the world of the 100 point rating scale, to hide it away in the crevices of a busy vineyard, somewhere its numbers will never again have any bearing on viniculture or consumption. But, with the 100 point rating scale dismantled, some of you may still desire a little guidance, something to help you find the wines you truly desire. For this reason, a contextual system should replace the 100 point scale. This new system should account for the social and cultural situation a consumer is in when they are enjoying their wine. Are they drinking wine at a party? Are they on a date? Are they looking for nuances, textures and aromas they can discuss with their connoisseur companions?
The Party Goers
For those of you who constantly find yourself on the hosting end of a party, two things may cross your mind: "Do I have enough cheese dip and what kind of wine should I serve?" For the latter query, we offer a Party Goer Rating. This rating will be reserved for wines that offer variety, complement party food, and are sold under a wide range of prices.
For those who find yourselves on the receiving end of a party invitation, this rating can guide you towards the best wines to bring for specific occasions. The goal of the Party Goer Rating will be for you, the goer, to go into a wine store and know right away which wines are ideal for your celebration.
Those of you who are lovers and daters may find a bottle of wine to be an essential part of the equation. After all, few things are as romantic as a glass of wine with a nice dinner. It is for you dazzling duos that we offer The Lovers Rating. This rating will be reserved for wines that are ideal for dating situations. It will include expensive bottles, for times you want to go all out, and not-so-expensive bottles, for times you want to save a dime. The label on the wine will also play a pivotal role in The Lovers Rating, conveying the romance and seductiveness of the wine's art, color, and name.
If you are a more seasoned drinker, you may find the drinks of novices unappealing. You may want something with a little more zest, a little more spunk, and a little more pizzazz. You may search for something that allows you to experience complexity, nuance, and adventure of the taste buds. If you know your way around the vineyard, we offer a Connoisseur Rating. This rating will be reserved for wines that speak to the high art of blending aroma and flavors.
This contextual system will offer a rating based on the equation of X out of 4. For example, a wine that is a dream drink for a sommelier would receive a 4/4 Connoisseur Rating. But, being a grape of many talents, this wine may also be a very good date wine, thus giving it a 4/4 Lovers Rating. Imagine if Paul Giamatti and Virginia Madsen found a wine such as this: there would definitely have to be a sequel to the movie Sideways.
With a broader range of guidance implemented and the 100 point rating scale gone, grapes will be liberated, peeling the constraints from their skins for the very first time. Wines will be chosen not on a number, but because a certain style is ideal for a specific occasion. Wines will be based on context. And that, is how it should be. After all, wine is about you: your life, your festivities, and your relationships. But, more than anything, wine is about your enjoyment; it's time for you to pour some on.