The Wine Press : The truth behind 90-point wines and the rating system

By Randy Kemner
Proprietor, The Wine Country

There is a lot of psychological power in a wine score based upon the 100-point scoring system invented by critic Robert Parker when you see one on the shelf of a wine department or in a wine magazine. Those numbers readily transfer to our deepest, darkest memories, dredging up fearful collective memories of our school days.
Everybody knows what a score of 94 means (good) and what getting a 78 means (a very bad night at home). We are not even interested in reading a description of the wine-we only react to the numerical score.
I must tell you good lovers of fine wine an unpleasant reality. The 100-point wine scoring scale is a terrible way to select wine. Giving points to wine, a beverage that changes its aroma and taste from second to second, month to month and year to year is misleading at best and irrelevant to the consumer whose taste is as personal as a fingerprint. Assigning a static number to a moving target is impossible.
The 100 point system is a joke, concluded author Elin McCoy after conducting exhausting research for her Robert Parker biography The Emperor of Wine.
Years ago, my friend Jack McLaughlin had made an equally pointed observation. What does 90 points tell you about your wine? Whether or not it will taste good with what you are cooking tonight? Whether you will like its taste and enjoy it?
In a scathing exposé in the Los Angeles Times recently, writer Jerry Hirsch revealed that the “90-Point Wine” promotion of a certain mega liquor chain included highly rated wines that were actually scored by one of its very own employees.
Wines he has to sell, of course.
I know the argument that people are too busy to explore all the wines available to find out what they should buy and need a shortcut. But the 100 point system isn’t it. There are even limitations to describing wines-cherries, berries, leather and mocha-that you read in wine reviews. Nobody tastes these things in wine after they read these reviews.
The best way to learn about new wines is to develop a personal relationship with a good wine merchant and discuss your preferences. Also, try to taste as many wines as you can by attending tastings, visiting wineries, hosting dinner parties where people bring wines to match the food.
And take good notes. Not wine-speak notes, but your impressions, in your own words.
Remember, wine is for pleasure-your pleasure. It’s not to get too serious about.
A Great Idea for Your New Rebate Checks!
You didn’t really ask for this, did you? But they’re coming soon. Rebate checks, I mean. This month our government is mailing us each $600 it borrowed from China.
So it’s just like funny money. Off-budget.
You could blow it all in Vegas, which would give a new meaning to the term “stimulus package.” Or you could pay off your credit card bills…but that’s not what your elected monkeys intended. It’s a month too late to put it in your IRA. I rather think the powers that be planned it that way. The government wants you to spend it in retail shops. You know it’s your patriotic duty to spend it, don’t you? Honest.
The hard part is choosing what to buy with your sudden government windfall. The fact that you are gazing at a wine column may suggest which way you are leaning. One sure way to support Old Glory and have some great fun at the same time is to purchase a few cases of your favorite wine at your favorite wine store.
But which wine? Should it be exclusively domestic wine to be truly patriotic? Some would argue that wines, like presidents, must be born here to be truly worthy of the national rebate. But others, particularly those with Austrian accents, might argue these kinds of restrictions are dangerously xenophobic and nativist. After all, this is a nation of immigrants. Immigrants from places called Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne, Sancerre, Rioja, Barolo, Porto, Germany, Austria, Australia, New Zealand and such.
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled Vouvray. But don’t give me any friggin’ Languedoc Merlot!
Examine your own conscience to decide what is right, and then have some fun. My wife is buying Champagne with our check.

The Wine Press

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