To Rate or Not to Rate – That is the Question

May 15th, 2008 by ryan opaz · 8 Comments

Today, we start the first of three questions that will become our round table discussions at the conference. Our motivation for having the questions laid out ahead of time is that it gives us ample opportunity to discuss and debate them before we actually meet. In this way, we can begin the conference hashing out the tough questions, rather than wasting our time at square one.

Therefore, we truly hope that you all take the time to share your ideas about these questions both here on the EWBC and our forum. More importantly, we hope that you take these topics and discuss them with your readers, so that we might learn not only from each other’s opinions, but also from our readers who eventually, will be influenced by our ideas.

Question #1:

Are wine ratings a positive addition to the wine conversation, or are they outdated, requiring us to discuss what our future looks like without them?

30+ years ago, Robert Parker first began to rate wines on a 100pt scale. Some mark that point as the beginning of the end. Others laud the fact that now wines are ranked, ordered, sorted and categorized. Some regions rely so heavily on ratings that they themselves are afraid to price their wines before they know the rating they have “earned”. In a world where the web allows us to communicate in new and dynamic ways, do we really need these ratings anymore?

Or maybe we just need them to come in a different form such as 5 grapes, 3 hearts, 100 points, letter grades or thumbs up or down? What do you think? Is there still a place for ratings, or does focusing on how we can communicate about wine in this new world of the internet allow us to see beyond the points?

What systems do you use? Do you feel that wine bloggers have to rate wine in order to be considered professional? Can wine be evaluated without a quantitative mark laid upon it? Can wine bloggers, as we gain more influence, begin to impact the effect of ratings in the wine world as a whole?

We want to know what you think! Tell us your thoughts here in the comments or in the forum

Tags: Conference Discussion · events · Wine Scores

8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Francisco // May 15, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    What a great way to pose this question, since there are many angles one could possibly address. I would prefer to keep this brief because I would be interested in hearing how everyone else weighs in.

    I feel that this question concerning how we evaluate and communicate about wines is inextricably linked to both questions of culture and subculture. What do I mean by this? From a cultural standpoint, I suppose that my natural inclination is to not even flinch at shelftalkers and “objective” numerical scores. I’m Argentine, so wine is a basic element of life for everyone, rich or poor. Even from an educator’s perspective, I could care less what the “rankings” from US News say about an institution that I would consider sending a child to attend. Despite my feelings on the limitations on wine and educational shelftalkers, I work and participate in a society in which competition, rankings and commodification pervade the collective psychology since childhood. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that consumers here would dismiss blogs like mine as “unprofessional” given the lack of ignorance- friendly number scores. This begs the question of course, what is a wineblogger and who do we write for? How does this affect the way in which we convey our thoughts on wines?

    This is clearly, in the case of many of us, a matter of culture, subculture and the values that correspond to each. I am certain of the cultural aspects that inform my perspectives, but to which subculture do I belong? Are we consuming-professionals or professional-consumers? Geeks, consumers or a unique and blurry vision of both? On the one hand, I’m a geek who loves to relax with a glass of wine and get recommendations from friends, with no financial stake in the matter. On the other hand, I’m very particular about my wines, how they are made and who crafts them. I culturally do not view wine enjoyment as an upper middle-class accessory to impressing a boss or social acquaintances, just as I do not see an education as a means to a similar end. At the same time, I do hold WSET credentials and value this training.

    So, which Francisco comes through in my blogging? The passionate geek-consumer, citizen-consumer-journalist or consuming-professional? The fact that wine bloggers’ discourse and contributions to the big wine conversation are so diverse and impossible to categorize as monolithic “consumer” or “critic” roles lays testament to the fact that we’re really changing the conventions of the game, and precisely why I keep feverishly returning from work to my rss reader. Whether we employ a rating system or not, the hybrid nature of our perspectives imbues our message with a unique and indisputable value. My copies of this month’s wine magazines can patiently wait on the coffee table for my upcoming trip to the airport. For the time being, I’ll return to check what the rest of you have to say.

  • 2 Philip James // May 15, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    This is a great topic, and one thats obviously near to my heart.

    Parker certainly didn’t begin the concept of rating wines, but expanding the commonly used British 20 point scale by 5 fold to create 100 gradations really changed the playing field.

    The image you’ve hosted there I think is the one created by Steve DeLong, of the Wine Century Club. I posted a thread about this on Snooth a few days ago and Steve was kind enough to stop by and add his thoughts on this topic: http://www.snooth.com/talk/#http://www.snooth.com/talk/topic/wine-scoring-methodologies/

    Basically, I’d say there’s a clear backlash against the 100 point scale. Its still a niche backlash however and focussed on those who use the net – some wine bloggers, people familiar with amazon and netflix for example, but at some point when even the people who are famous for using the 100 point scale tell us they wished that it didnt exist you know there are issues.

    –Philip

  • 3 Colin Smith // May 15, 2008 at 8:35 pm

    I think some kind of rating system is appropriate. There are 5 star hotels after all and 3 Michelin star restaurants so why shouldn’t wine have some kind of assessment?

    One of the problems however is the 100 point system is meaningless to the average wine purchaser except bigger means better in many people minds. A simpler 5 star system for wines in supermarkets might work best of all, leaving the 100 point system for the wine competitions. Even then some kind of consistency is needed as 95 to 100 in one competition may mean gold in one whereas it may be 90 to 100 in another.

  • 4 Robert McIntosh // May 15, 2008 at 9:15 pm

    I don’t rate wines myself, not even in my own notes and sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I could track easily the ones I liked more than others, but 100 points is destined for one market/consumer alone; the trophy hunter.

    There is absolutely no need to differentiate between a 91 and a 92 point wine, but, arguably, a difference between 3/5 (or 3.5/5) and 4/5 does help and could be (almost) generally acceptable.

    Of course the question arises of how to share and compare notes and views on wines between bloggers if we do not use numerical or other rating systems? A reader might appreciate being able to compare the view of different bloggers before making that internet purchase, but might be unsure whether terms such as ‘high acidity’ was being used positively or negatively.

    I might propose a simple scale that also included negative numbers that simply reflected personal tastes. Consumers could select from a number of bloggers and sites they trust, add their common results together, and any positive score would encourage them to buy it, and negative would warn them away.

    I think I might explore just such a scale on my own site in more detail tomorrow.

  • 5 Peter Wood // May 27, 2008 at 10:22 pm

    I didn’t rate wines for nearly six years, and then decided I had to. Do I regret it? Nope, and that is because I decided that for my own personal notes, and those on my website, I’d set up a few parameters.

    On any wine that is ‘every day drinking’, and for a general rule, that is everything up to £15, my marks out of ten include a ‘value for money’ factor. If a wine at a fiver is worth £8 it will get a better score than a wine that costs £10 and is worth £10, essentially, those wines that over deliver get a better score.

    For those wines over £15, price plays a smaller part, as people who are buying wines more than £15 per bottle are, on the whole, interested in wine, prepared to pay way above the average price for wine and are more often than not trying that bottle because they already know it and want a reliable wine, or are wanting to try something new – in which case it matters less if they are not that keen and have ‘wasted’ twenty quid.

    Certainly it means that I might have wines such as Petrus scoring the same as a nine pound, but brilliant, New Zealand Pinot Gris, but it gives me (and my reader) an idea of how good or bad I think a wine is.

    The actual scoring system however poses a problem. I’d award a wine that ‘ticks all the boxes’ and tastes ok, but nothing more, 5/10. Effectively an average score. If it scores less than that it’s bad. If I understand the 100 point scoring system correctly, and I’m not certain I do, you get 50 points for just showing up and producing fermented grape juice that tastes horrid. So my 5/10 is a higher score than a 50/100, despite mathematically averaging the same, and God only knows where the five star system comes into the equation!

    A standard system of scoring would be helpful, particularly as there are more and more people writing about wine and scoring it. For someone looking up advice on the internet and seeing umpteen different scores, in several different scoring systems for exactly the same wine, they are never going to know if it’s good or not.

    So maybe we are wrong to rate, and phrases like “buy this, it is brilliant” or “if you buy a bottle of this you are wasting your money” would be a lot more helpful to the consumer.

  • 6 Robert McIntosh // May 27, 2008 at 11:07 pm

    I have finally got around to posting my thoughts on my own blog and got a number of great comments; please check it out if you have not already been involved

    http://wineculture.blogspot.com/2008/05/ratings-and-recommendations.html

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