“Excuse me, what do all the points mean?”

In Uncategorized on December 13, 2010 at 12:30 am

So, I haven’t touched on this subject for a while now. A little over a year ago I posted a rather venemous indictment of the 100-point system. While my fundamental  feelings about the flaws inherent in the system haven’t really changed, I feel it’s time to discuss this subject again. This is largely because I just shipped out a case of the 100-point 2007 Quilceda Creek Cabernet. I also recently tasted the 2007 Calera Jensen Lane Pinot Noir, which was rated 97 points by Robert Parker and which, in my opinion, barely tastes like Pinot Noir, let alone merits such a high score. I also recently saw this which. Now, tell me what you think, because maybe my perspective is biased, but to me that video comes across as nauseatingly pompous. I’m not saying that James Suckling’s opinion isn’t valuable. Clearly it  is valuable enough to enough people that he has managed to make a very good career sharing it. What I don’t understand is how the idea of somebody simplifying something so magnificent and complex as wine down to a simple, hard number has any appeal to anybody.

I feel blessed to have a customer base in our store who, by and large, trust the opinions of our staff as much or more than the opinions of any wine writer. But we still have shelf talkers with scores on them all over the store, because the public at large has become trained by the pervasiveness of the 100-point system. So much so that even when given an elaborate description of the wine from a man standing right in front of them, many people will still respond “Oh, do you know what it was rated?” as if they’re unable to make a decision without being given a hard number to tell them how good somebody else thinks it is.

It’s the number thing that really bothers me, especially given the number of publications which use a 100-point scale, and the many ways in which each of them can be shown to have at least questionable objectivity. While working harvest last year, I had ample time to discuss Robert Parker with both of my host families. The first winery where I worked is a small, organic, family-owned and operated winery that has been making wines in the same style for generations, and they are in my opinion wines that speak very distinctively of the place from which they come. This is known in wine as terroir. The Cartiers, my host family there also had very few kind words to say about Robert Parker and his influence on the wine industry. In fact, in the bathroom in the apartment where I was housed, there was a poster for the movie Mondovino, which is an excellent documentary about winemaking, terroir, and the business of selling wine. It also shows Robert Parker in a pretty un-flattering light, making him look like a pompous megalomaniac bent on making his palate the gold standard for all wine in the world. Needless to say, the Cartier family chooses not to submit their wines to the Wine Advocate for review. Meanwhile, my second host family do submit their wines to Parker for review, and while they had much nicer things to say about Mr. Parker as a person, they did make one comment that was especially telling; he never tastes the wines blind. He always judges the wines knowing where they come from and what they cost. This is a significant issue for them because they are in the Costières de Nîmes, an area just south of the Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-duPape regions which, though it has similar soil types and many of the same grapes are grown there, Costières de Nîmes wines consistently score lower, and consequently sell for less money than similar wines from neighboring regions. Keep in mind we’re talking about two places about an hour’s drive from one another. 93 points is the highest score I have ever seen given to a Costières de Nîmes wine by the Wine Advocate. It was the 2005 D’Or et de Gueules La Bolida, an outstanding wine that retails for about $30 made primarily from old-vine Mourvedre which has gone head-to-head with much more expensive Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines in blind tastings with winemakers and wine professionals from the region and done very well. Meanwhile, I found 39 Côtes du Rhône wines that have been rated 93 or higher, nearly every one of which is more expensive than the La Bolida. Based on the fundamental premise of the 100-point system, Robert Parker is saying that all 39 of these Côtes du Rhônes are superior to La Bolida. That is very hard for me to believe. And that is my fundamental problem with the 100-point system.

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