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Wine

100 Points or Let’s Bust That System… Yeah, right.

I get such a kick out of seeing everyone kick this debate around. Those who are mostly new to the wine biz want to tumble the Walls of Jericho so badly, because they’d love to have the wine business “Their way, Burger King.”

Well, sorry…

Did you ever notice when there’s anew kid at school how long it takes that kid to integrate? And the kid has to integrate. He or she can’t just come to school and immediately change the culture. Society is society, and anyone relatively new to this business just needs to take deep breaths on this one.

Query a wholesaler about this one… the guys who are putting wine on the shelves of stores and into restaurants. Ask how they purchase wine from a supplier.

Present any wine you’d like in the three-tiered system, and the wholesaler will always ask, “So, Mr. Supplier, what has Parker, Wine Spectator, or Wine Enthusiast say about this one? Does it have a score, yet, and if it does, what is it?”

If it’s not int he 90s, then it’s off to the next layer of their bureaucracy.

“We need a sales allowance to sell this wine. With no score, we’re going to have to hand sell it.” Then there’s, “We want a depletion allowance,” for the same reason. (They’ll either take it to bring the wine into the warehouse, or they’ll take a price to move it out of the warehouse.)

Until you’ve worked as a sales agent for a winery, you don’t realize how having that endorsement will make or break the deal for bringing in your wine…It’s brutal for suppliers, and the scores make a big difference in that link in the sales chain. Not saying if it’s good or bad… Not saying if it works for Susie Q. Public, I’m just telling you what it’s like on the streets, if you’ve never been on them. It’s just the reality of sales that you’ve never had to experience and need to take into consideration, before you think that the world is going to change overnight, because that’s what you think should happen.

My company makes money creating shelf talkers, because they matter to our clients, to wholesalers, and to retailers. Some consumers see a shelf talker that says “gold medal” next to a wine that’s got the same price point and no gold medal… They buy the gold medal one. That’s the same as saying this is a 90+ scored wine. Some people trust professional wine palates to help them not waste money on a brand with which they may be unfamiliar.

And, I have to share with you; honestly, wholesalers are laughing all the way to the bank as they read stories about, “Should the 100 point system just go away?”

Bring on the scores, those of you so engaged, because we’ve been judging each other since the beginning of time.

Imagine any sports endeavor without scores… “Oh, yeah, we got the football to the goal post, it was such a (don’t inject an adjective, because that would be judging) move.

Think about taking away the ultimate, like Superbowl, because scores don’t matter anymore. What’s the Masters without having established the Masters. And, how was that done, through gaining personal scores.

This debate needs to end, because it’s pretty ridiculous, when you’ve sold wine at any level.


42 Responses to “100 Points or Let’s Bust That System… Yeah, right.”

  1. Interesting article!

    As we’re an online Wine distributor our tracking’s show customers tend to purchase wine from us that they can’t buy off the shelves. However, when it comes to descriptions, adding wine ratings definitely helps the educated wine buyer but for those who have never heard of ‘Wine Spectator’ ratings don’t seem to make much difference at all. Awards certainly help, especially the well known South African awards such as Vertitas, Old Mutual etc.

    Something that could be considered, maybe more for us than anyone else, is possibly having a section on our sites that describes these rating systems and the publications involved in providing them!

    That’s my 5 cents worth ;-)

  2. Jo Diaz says:

    Jen, The more information people have, the better they seem to like it. At every turn, people seem to not only love enjoying, but they also seem to love learning about it. It’s the only food (liquid or solid) that I can think of with which we have such a fascination.

    Having a section that introduces people to different rating systems and the people who produce them would be a fascinating addition.

    Thanks for your five cents worth.

  3. Tish says:

    Jo, you are certainly entitled to your viewpoint, but if you truly believe in the efficacy of the 100-pt system, why aren’t you advocating a more honest, consistent and thorough use?

    Shouldn’t re-sellers who use critics’ scores in general make ALL the scores available to their customers? That way, someone who trusts RP could know when their favored source of guidance feels less than 90-pointish about a wine.

    Similarly, are you prepared to support the notion that he critics themselves should reveal all of their ratings, not just those over 85 points? If both of those situations were to be put in place, then I could understand your blind support.

    As the system works right now, however, the selective cherry-picking of retailers and supplier/advertiser-coddling promotion of only “highly rated” wines amounts to no more than blatant gaming of the system.

    Let’s get back to the original idea of all rating scales: consumer guidance. The devolution of the 100-pt scale has rendered it anything BUT a true consumer guide. Old is becoming new again with respect to true guidance. Conscientious retailers (online and bricks-mortar) who assert their own expertise and authority without relying on the crutches of points are rightfully gaining traction today. And they will continue to do so because people ultimately see and respect this interaction as a useful, well-lit two-way street, which makes the path toward wine satisfaction far more direct than when resellers and buyers pluck roadposts here and ther from the dark one-way street of static numbers and reviews.

  4. Jo Diaz says:

    Tish, have you ever been on the streets selling wine? Has your life and livelihood ever depended on sales being actualized?

    Have you ever made a presentation to a wholesaler, or participated in a sales meeting on a Friday, when there are 10 other people waiting in the balance and they’ve all got their scores in their hands just waiting to bury you?

    Once you’ve lived that life and that part of the wine business, you’ll know WHY it works, not if it SHOULD or shouldn’t.

    I had one guy say to me in a voice message, mind you:

    “Jo, you’ve been with us for three months now. What’s happened in that three months? I’ll tell you what’s happened in that three months. Sales went down and you got paid!!!”

    I found out later that the wholesaler and the team hated this guy, for just the kind of abuse he had just given to me; andthis guy lived on scores and medals… and was brutal to me as a sales person.

    When you’re in sales, you’ll take anything you can get and run with it to avoid the alligators, Tish. After you’ve pulled a few years in wine sales, let’s talk.

  5. Jo, as usual you’re right on. It’s sad that some people are so obsessed with criticizing point scores that they can’t just let go and live a normal life. The reason that point scores are successful, as you point out, is because the industry–and ultimately consumers–like and trust them.

  6. Tish says:

    Jo, I never said the use of ratings to sell wine — both at wholesale and retail levels — did not work. But that does not mean that it’s right. Let’s be honest, the sheer volume of wine in the marketplace has made such practices possible.

    But things are changing, and the blatant inauthenticity of publishing and cherry-picking only “highly rated” wines is becoming exposed. I know in the NYC market, there are more self-reliant, ratings-free retailers than ever. They shake their heads at the wholesalers who pitch by score. And those retailers — who embrace their own authority and expertise — are thriving.

    Let’s do an authenticity check. It’s perfectly fine for individual critics to churn out oodles of rated reviews. But that’s where the authenticity ends. The scores are being misused, and that inauthenticity is now coming back to bite the system itself. It would be refreshing if those who create and defend scores would call out the abuse. Without that, your defense comes up short, in my opinion.

  7. PaulG says:

    In my first book “Washington Wines & Wineries” I pointed out all the foibles of the 100 point system as it is used (and sometimes abused) and I proposed a rather complex redesign, keeping the 100 point score but assigning different values to different categories and expanding the “good” scores to range from 50 on up to a perfect 100 (only one winery got the perfect 100, and it was carefully explained why).

    Guess what? The wineries hated it! The trade ignored it. Some readers applauded it but I think most felt it was too much trouble. So in the second edition I went to the simplest possible 5-star rating system.

    That said, I rate wines for Wine Enthusiast and use the standard 100 point scale. Tish hates the magazine and takes every opportunity to dump on it and those who write for it; so be it. The Wine Enthusiast cuts off ratings at 80 (not 85) as a courtesy to consumers. Let’s face it – who wants to read about a 75 point wine? Anyway, this post makes a lot of important points regarding how people on the street who are actually selling wine must face certain realities. The newbie bloggers can scream foul all they like, but the bottom line, as always, is the bottom line. My two cents.

  8. Jo Diaz says:

    Tish… “And those retailers — who embrace their own authority and expertise — are thriving. ” I love these guys, and they made my process so much easier. Even if their numbers grow, they need to hire an exceptional person who will hand sell every single bottle of wine in his/her shop, or on her/his wine list. People with true passion for what they do is still so very rare. They’re the teachers among us.

    Still, what remains is that we were born being pushed to get great scores as people from pre school onward. And, the mass majority of us are still impressed with the Summa and Magna Cum Laudes, be it test scores, people, autos, or wine.

    And, they can shake all they want, but it doesn’t change a thing. Wholesalers have their own little worlds, have been making boatloads of money since forever, and out opinions of what they should or shouldn’t be doing isn’t even causing a ripple on their pond.

    Abuse exists in all forms of life. There is no perfect world; at least, not htis one. I’m far from perfect myself, and made peace with that a long time ago, when a Sioux once gave a legend to me: In each piece of work we leave one mistake. That’s the point where the spirit enters and exits the piece of work… So, to this system, there’s the point.

  9. Jo Diaz says:

    Steve, and you’re right as usual, too.

    Obsessing on what’s not right… There’s a saying, “Worry about the things you can change.” By writing about the obsessions, that’s someone trying to make a change. Unfortunately, the tide is huge, so good luck convincing the rest of us that it’s not what it should be; because it is what it is, regardless of what we wish that it was.

    People who aren’t familiar want a guiding light, and if someone has loved something, and someone else trusts that person, it’s more likely that the person experimenting with take a chance.

    Human nature… Said the chief to his followers, “Let me go see if it’s safe. If it is, I’ll let you know, and you can follow…”

    Said the followers to the chief, “Okay, Chief!”

  10. Jo Diaz says:

    Paul, your two cents is worth about 100 points. Thanks for weighing in.

    It’s interesting that people balked, when you took away the 100 point system, and created a new one. Seems like they should have loved it, if what Tish is thinking is happening; instead, they’re trained – like the first graders that we were – to understand 0-100.

    It is about what works for the masses, regardless of whether or not we want it to be that way. It is what it is: right, wrong, or indifferent.

    This system is in place, and the people who have the money rule the system, and they’re called wholesalers.

  11. Santo says:

    On of the major draw backs of the 100 point system is the fact that most of the retailers use only the points and no description of the wines. I’ve worked the floor of retail stores in the US and in Italy, I’ve worked at a wine auction house and now am opening my own wine shop. We plan not to use wine scores but only descriptions. We want our customers to stay a bit and learn . How much can one learn from a row of wines with points on them? I even took a poll in the area where the shop is going up and out of 4000 people in the area (all random on the sidewalks) over 83% said they would rather not see scores and just be able to read the tasting notes. I know most stores in Italy do not use a point system as they feel people should know about the wine. Isn’t that what wine is all about? Getting to know the wine? Not the scores it got?

    I used to chase scores until I saw some of WA wines go from $85 to over $140 the next year because of the scores they got on the previous vintage. Scores may sell wine but who do we learn anything from them? I do not plan on using them on the shelf talkers but do know them if someone asks. I just feel people should want to buy a wine from someone’s description, a tasting or from what their local merchant says.

    Santo

  12. Jo Diaz says:

    Yes, Santo, there are drawbacks… I pulled a 60 in Religion in the fifth grade, because I refused to learn dogma word for word. In all systems there are flows.

    And, not every store should just have scores and no descriptors. When we create shelf talkers, we use both when appropriate.

    It will be interesting to see what happens when those people on the street then come into your shop; but, your biggest challenge is going to be distributor sales people. They pitch what the guy in the front office tells them to pitch. How many of them will know all the nuances of what they’re selling… But, what they will definitely know is what it got for a score.

    Italy is a completely different culture. You’re not as neurotic as we Americans. Anyone who’s been to Europe is first struck by that.

    I also feel that descriptors can be very – and should be very – inviting. Good luck with your endeavor.

    Because it’s your baby, you’ll have the passion and will hand sell everything.

  13. Santo says:

    Jo-

    Having ran a NJ wine store (5800sq ft) for a bit, we replaced all the scores with notes. It was a huge risk since people tended to just want to pick out their norms and leave. We found that people actually started to ask questions about the wines and get more involved.

    The distributors there are as they are in WA….points points and then this one got more points! It got to the point (sorry bout the pun) where I told my staff to ask them to not mention any scores on wines unless they were asked. We also asked them to not post any shelf talkers on their own unless we approved them.

    I really think that since there seems to be all these wine shops popping up all over the country that wine merchants are going back to the days where everything was a hand sell. Time will only tell.

    PS I signed the manifest when it first came out. Not cause I was being a sheep but cause I really want people to learn about the wine and experience everything I do for my job. All of us here have one major thing in common…we all are over the top passionate about wine and would do it for free if we could.

    santo

  14. Jo Diaz says:

    Santo… that’s what my blog is, mostly, and so it is for all others with a wine blog… writing for free… free thinking, free style, free from editing… Free as a bird!

  15. Boo Walker says:

    I pound the streets for a living across this country, and I can tell you that 98% of the people I meet would like the 100 point system to go away. I’m with Tish.

  16. Clive says:

    Your post reads like a rant, but what I gathered was: People use scores to sell wines. This is the way it is. Talking about or advocating for something different is stupid. It makes you like the awkward kid who’s come to a new school district. Conform or die you hippies!

    Did I get that right?

    I support the idea behind Hedges’ movement, of not reducing people’s personal experience to a number, nor should we simply accept the scored ratings of those in the 100 point publications. I’m not sure this post furthers the conversation or defends the 100 point system succinctly or at all.

  17. Louis says:

    If a wine score makes it easier for the intimidated layman to begin nurturing their interest free of merchant input, and alleviates the very common fear of sounding uninformed, then I’m all for it.

    Is the system flawed? Sure. However, at the end of the day 95/100 is so much easier for the fledgling enthusiast to understand than:

    “Unreal for its sheer hedonistic quality. Oozes rich and ripe fruit and sweet wood character, but doesn’t taste overripe. Loaded with cassis and mineral flavors backed by tar and spice. Much thicker and darker in color than the ’88, which is more elegant. In its history the winery has made no other wine with such massive tannins, yet the texture of the wine is supple. Made from very small yields.”

    I’ve watched people read those descriptions and say aloud “….are those supposed to be GOOD qualities? What does any of that even mean?”

    I’ve been a somm for over a decade, and yet even I read some of these descriptions and chuckle from time to time.

    I think our goal should be to get people interested…nay…EXCITED about wine. If something as simple as an (honestly assigned) number can be the spark that ignites the blaze. So be it.

  18. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks, Clive.

    Yup, I had a rant. I have them occasionally, like we all do.

    I didn’t write or mean to insinuate that “Talking about or advocating for something different is stupid.”

    What I was journaling that this system, based on my experiences over the last two decades in the wine business, is not about to change any time soon…

    “Conform or die you hippies.” That’s hysterical, given that I’m a hippie from the 60s and 70s.

    “Did I get that right? ” You were on the fringe, but not completely near the core.

    I support Hedges’ movement, for people to make their own choices. I’m just stating that the boulder that Hedges would like to move needs more than a normal crane, and I can even conceive who’s going to bring that in, based on how we all score each other.

    You just scored me, and gave me a failing grade. That’s fine. My GPA is 3.85, because I’ve had my share of philosophical differences with more than one professor. And to date, the points they took away have proven that I was correct over the course of time. I’m okay with not having everyone get everything that I write. It’s my journal, and that’s the beauty of not having an editor.

    When did Hedges go public with his manifesto?

    I went public in early 2006, and have written copiously about people being able to make their own decisions based on their own personal preferences.

    Some examples:
    Live by the Score, Die by the Score ~ (July 5, 2007)
    To score, or not to score… that’s my question. ~ http://wp.me/pTZ8D-47k (Aug. 19, 2006)
    Everyone has a palate ~ http://wp.me/pTZ8D-47k (Feb. 11, 2006)

    Thanks for stopping by, Clive.

  19. Jo Diaz says:

    Boo, Is this within the wholesaler houses? If is is, they have the power to #StopThat. Let’s see who takes the first step/

  20. Jo Diaz says:

    My hero… They assist in the daunting process, Louis… however right or wrong it may sometimes appear, for those searching for a sign post. You can live by the scores, because you’ll also die by them, but these producers have to play the game.

    Imagine trying to change the rules for Checkers.

  21. Boo Walker says:

    Jo, yes sir. They are among the list. And I certainly think they have a great amount of influence. But it’s gonna take all of us chipping in. As long as the discussion is out there, I’m happy. Thanks for the friendly rant.

    Louis, perhaps we don’t need endless paragraphs about leather and bing cherries and opulence and hedonism and ripe fruit and sweet wood and whatever other words seems to fall into everyone’s quiver as you mention. But I’ve read stuff that all the wonderful writers commenting here have to say over the years and it’s not always numbers and a recycling of the same old list of wine words. All these guys are just as fascinated as I am by the land, the story, the philosophy, and the style. I think these topics are much less intimidating to a consumer than the same old descriptions said in different ways. And they are even less intimidating and easier to get one’s head around than a number. But if it was my perfect world, your customers would just put down the wine list and let you guide them.

  22. Jo Diaz says:

    Boo, I used to visit my wine shop owner once a week, before moving to California and into the wine business. Each week, we’d pick a wine and ask Audie, “What about this one, Audie?” It was always the same answer, “It’s a lot of wine for the money.”

    We’d buy it. There wasn’t one that I actually liked, though, because we were trying to learn about Merlot. Merlot is one of my least favorite varieties, but he was right about a lot of wine for the money.

    It took coming out here and working for about 10 years within the business to finally get Merlot… And, a lot of other cultivars.

    That’s how persuasive a retailer’s recommendation is. A palate, however, is another challenge to conquer.

  23. Boo Walker says:

    Amen. I’m pretty sure my palate is less evolved than it was starting out.

  24. Christophe Hedges says:

    The old boys club is at it again. The score “destructionists” – (Charles Olken, July, 2011) vs. the scorelitists.” – (C. Hedges, today)

    Jo-

    Really? I sell over 100K cases a year, most of which is a single SKU pre-AOC Bordeaux style blend from fruit located in multiple AVA’s, a pleasant style , along with another sales rep, aka Boo Walker III, and we have never used scores, much less shelf-talkers with scores. It’s called hitting the streets, not being an idiot, relating to the buyers, understanding the market, and selling something with VALUE (which can be had at any price point). The moment you sell with a score, you discredit your confidence in wine. Buyers can see right through this… Are you a confident man Jo?

    Old Boys Club (Wark, Olken, Hiemoff, Gregutt, Diaz, Gray?) – Read this: He is the unofficial God Father of the Revolution. By the way, why doesn’t Parker and Laube comment to your sites? Are they too cool? Anyway, read below-

    A Few Words About Numbers – Hugh Johnson, 1992

    “The much respected American wine critic Robert Parker took his country by storm in the early 1980′s by introducing a universal scoring system for wines to accompany his admirable published tasting notes (originally in his monthly newsletter The Wine Advocate). The explaination of his system is lengthy, but the outcome is that most fair to good wines are awarded scores between about 70 and 100. No wine can score less than 50.

    The simplicity of attaching scores to wines had instant appeal in America and the “100-point system” has been successfully adopted by the very influential Wine Spectator. Indeed it is hard to imagine the American wine trade ever abandoning a system of such seductive but unfortunately misleading simplicity.

    Scoring is used by most professional wine judges as a working yardstick. In many countries a 20-point system is used, with (for example) 3 points being given for colour, 5 for aroma or bouquet, 9 for flavour and 3 for overall quality (there are many variations on this). In the press of professional judging, with a need to arrive at consensus rapidly, such systems are useful tools, although widely understood as having shortcomings. True consensus is arrived at not by numbers, but by words in subsequent discussion. Among non-professional wine-buyers numerical scoring of wine conveys a totally false impression. First, it asserts the existence of objective absolutes which can be measured. In the world of wine there are no such things. Second, it implies that the measure of one day will hold still true months or indeed several years later. No taster, however gifted, can guarantee a precise once-for-all measure of wine quality. (An aggravated weakness of the system is that it is used in judging wines in their earliest stages of development, long before they are even bottled At this stage large differences in market value are at stake). But perhaps the most serious indictment of publishing such scores is that it teaches the layman to believe that all wines are in competition with each other; that they are all trying to achieve a perfect 100 points.

    There is no room in a pocket-book to develop the contrary thesis; there is just room to say that the most precious quality of wine is its variety; variety not only of colour, scent, flavour, strength and longevity, but of purpose, aspiration and philosophy. All wines are competing for your money, yes. But some hope to win it in joyful simplicity, others as complex works of art, others as sheer refreshment. There is no common factor, objective or subjective, that can justify numerical scores as a means of interpreting such a rich diversity.”

    –Hugh Johnson in Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Encyclopedia of Wine; 1992 edition; Fireside, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

    Jo:

    What kind of wines were/are you selling? Perhaps the kinds of wines that need scores to sell? Wines with loads of image margin built into the price over COGS? Or wines that have no authenticity, bulk projects with no specific or emotional place of origin.

    I bet you also work with distributors that are complacent.

    Football scores like wine scores? Are you kidding me? How old are you? Seems as though the “hornets” nest has really been disturbed to post something so distant in context to wine.

    However, I will admit, I respect wine bloggers, wine writers, wine philosophers, etc., but when blogs like this are posted for the purpose of thrashing on guys like Santo, myself, the region of the Rousillon by VIGNERONS CATALANS, Kermit Lynch
    (Jo-how the hell is this guy selling wine if he signed the ‘Manifesto’?)
    etc, its just another pathetic attempt at discounting our voice for change because your scared of this uprising.

    Scores, as they stand, used, abused, are peaking, especially if you look at the effects of score inflation. (Read Elin McCoys article on Parker, World of Fine Wine, Winter Issue 2011) How much longer can Bordeaux sustain its pricing? What will happen when high scores are no longer relevant to justify the extravagant prices? Do you ask yourselves this?

    Perhaps the scorelitists are correct. Perhaps the ‘Manifesto’ should never have been written, and I, along with all the people who believe in the “movement”, regardless of politics, should have accepted scores as doctrine, with all it’s flaws, inconsistency, scandal, etc. We should have been kept in our places. Succumbed to drinking 92 point wine.

    Side Questions (Random): don’t have to answer, its just for thinking about…

    What is the average score of wines from the Puget Sound AVA? Is there a perfect Puget Sound AVA wine? Reason I ask is because I love this region, but will it ever be known, or cared about? What is a perfect wine?

    Maybe this topic is exhausted, but it only got to exhaustion because it is such a controversial subject. Controversy breeds discussion.

    Think about it. As we become smarter purchasers (recessions are good for that) we will think deeper about the value self proclaimed wine critics have over our decision to buy wine. (sorry men, but the time to become famous as a wine critic was in 1980) The fact that the hornets nest has awoken is another sign this revolution is thriving. Your responses are defensive and abundant. Gents, don’t drink 90 point wines for the rest of your lives.

    Jo- Free yourself.

    With Respect,

    Christophe Hedges

    Number one country on the Manifesto to have signed: Italy!! France close behind. California, not even close. Can you help with that?

  25. Christophe Hedges says:

    By a Human on our FB page:

    It initially served a purpose, but so rapidly got out of control. “Scores corrupt. Absolute scores corrupt absolutely…

  26. Mike Willison says:

    I can’t help but be reminded of the little mentioned allegory of “the Grinch.” Now, before anyone makes any untoward parallels, I do not mean to suggest that anyone in particular is the Grinch, is like the Grinch, or treats animals in the manner of the Grinch, just that there is an apt allegory.

    Remember when the Grinch, certain of his Christmas thieving success, cocked his ear in the direction of Whoville in anticipation of hearing the awful and calamitous boo-hoo cries of the who-hash-less, roast beast-less, and Christmas-less Whos? Remember as he, from the precipice of Mount Crumpit, cried, “They’re finding out now that no Christmas is coming! They’re just waking up! I know just what they’ll do!”? Remember further as the Whos woke up, one by one, and rejoiced in the coming of the joyous day despite there being no tinsel, to trees, no who-hash or roast beast? The Grinch sat, mystified and said, “How could it be so? It came with out ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!” He sat and listened to the happy Whos singing for several hours and came to a revelation. Soon enough the Grinch joined in the celebration, returned all of the toys and food for the feast and even carved the roast beast.

    We are very clever creatures, indeed. If you take away my car I will walk to work, or find another way. If you stop using scores, maybe we will tell stories about the grower, the vintage, or the land. Maybe even a short story will do for those on the run, or short of attention or wont: “A delicious example of what a reliable grower-producer can make with Paso Robles syrah in an agreeable vintage. This is a wine to follow year in and year out.”

    What’s the old adage about teaching: “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I’ll remember for a while, involve me and it’ll last a lifetime.” We all have the tools (especially those that have written here), newbies, vets, and in-between; let’s start involving people more deeply.

    Those that advocate change will gladly look like fools if it doesn’t work out.

  27. Jo Diaz says:

    Mike, brilliant!

  28. Jo Diaz says:

    Christophe, brilliant!

  29. Jo Diaz says:

    Christophe,

    The wine I sold I had to hand sell. I went to Puerto Rico, My boss told me that I couldn’t sell wine in PR. The man who owned the winery had bundles of money and still does. I walked away from one retailer who wanted 6,000 cases of a Sonoma County Chard that we had. I sold wine… and not by the scores.

    Glad you could work all your issues out… and I’m not dumping on you, Santos, or anyone else.

    The crux was and still is… Wine is sold by scores whether or not we like it.

    And, I’ve supported up-and-comings, you just don’t know me, so I’ll let that go.

    Freed myself years ago… Again, you don’t know me.

    Can I help? Let me sleep on it.

  30. Christophe Hedges says:

    hmm, Jo:

    You do have an open mind. Fascinating.

    Mike: Good god man, you live in such tranquility as to possess powers beyond modern knowledge. I will be in Oregon next week. We must meet.

    Back to Jo:

    I bet you and I would get along great. Like two friends, one a republican, and one a democrat, though neither would tell the other who is what.

    Good night-

    ch

  31. Jo Diaz says:

    Christophe,

    I don’t have a problem telling you (or anyone) that I’m an Independent, so we still have to figure out who you are.

    I was raised in a Republican family, with a great grandfather having been the governor of Maine, if that has any points. I had another great grandfather who founded Boston (Rev. William Blackstone)… British. I left Puritanical roots behind and moved my family to California in 1992… Very independent and very open minded.

    Nightie night…

  32. Tish says:

    Christophe:
    LOVE the Hugh Johnson quote. As Jo said, birlliant!

    Mike:
    I am +1 with Jo here as well. Brilliant. I especially like the way you frame your comment to demonstrate the up-side of rejecting numbers. What *would* happen if the 100pt ratings disappeared from public view? Methinks not much. Of course, we will never have a chance to see that happen overnight. However, I do see this situation developing sort of in reverse: as we (“newbies, vets, and in-between”) continue to encourage a more direct connection between people and wine, the numbers naturally go away. That is already happening; its a cultural maturation process.

    Jo:
    While I am with you on the above comments, I have to say your others are standing out as spin upon spin, with an undercurrent of wimpishness. Or at the very least a lack of conviction for what you insinuate in some of your comments that you really believe. Referring to the 100-pt scale, you wrote: “It is about what works for the masses, regardless of whether or not we want it to be that way. It is what it is: right, wrong, or indifferent.” What if we were to apply that logic to California wine instead of scoring systems? As in: “Merlot is about what works for the masses, regardless of whether or not we want it to be that way. It is what it is: right, wrong, or indifferent.” How would all the Petite Sirah producers feel about that? Why push against the tide of what people already do en masse? Your “right, wrong or indifferent” attitude is simply a cop-out. Have some conviction; what’s right does matter, and worth standing up for.

    Paul:
    Interesting anecdote about your book. The way you portray it here makes it sound like you favoring trade response to your readers. Hmmm. Perhaps you just gave up on that system too soon.

    Then you refer to what you do now for WE as using “the standard 100 point scale.” Which one would that be? Do you use the same criteria and structure as RP and WS? You don’t even use the same criteria and format as your own WE colleagues. There IS NO STANDARD SCALE because there are no shared standards in place. I am not saying they are grabbed out of thin air (although James Suckling did a good job of suggesting as much in his blog’s videos). THe numbers are actually not a system at all; they are just a way of expressing a subjective judgment of ranking.

    Unfortunately, I see you have been served some 69-point Kool-Aid with respect to my take on the scale, and on WE. I worked there for 10 years and left on excellent terms. I happen to be one of the few American writers who has been paid to write articles about the scale, for multiple publications, and I have been prominently quoted on the topic. It is an area of expertise;you are welcome to visit my websites (wineforall.com and nywinesalon.com) to see that I cover topics as well, including reviewing wine without any scale at all. The fact that WE gets dragged to the woodshed when I cover or comment on the 100-pt scale is more their doing than mine, as they exemplify several of the problems I see with 100-pt hocus-pocus — e.g., a buying guide that disguises advertising as editorial, and a partner retail business that specializes in cherry-picking the highest possible score for specific wines, ironically WS and RP scores more frequently than its own. If you take exception to what I have written about a magazine you write for, perhaps you should address those specific critiques, not me for delivering them. Paul, you do not know me; narrowly characterizing me as you did comes across as petty and unprofessional. Note that I have a solid track record of bashing other media as well. In 2008 I founded a 100-point Hall of Shame, populated by multiple rogues. In 2007 I got booted from WS’s online forums for questioning James Laube on the correlation between their highest scores and the highest-alcohol red wines. I called out W&S, too, in 2006, leading them to change their policy with respect to label reproductions.

    As for the cutting off of scores, I stand corrected. You say WE cuts off ratings at 80, not 85. Last I checked, however, the magazine does not print reviews below 85. No descriptions at all… Correct me if I am wrong. Isn’t that the same difference, so to speak? 85 is the new 80, and the 100-pt scale is effectively a 10-pt scale. It’s functionally a fraction of its original self. I won’t bore you here, but I covered grade inflation among 100-pt-scale-using glossies for Wines & Vines in 2006; that piece can be found at wineforall.com, as well as a blog post on the oversaturation of 90+ scores (http://www.wineforall.com/blog/?p=160#more-160).

    Also in your comment above, you wrote: “this post makes a lot of important points regarding how people on the street who are actually selling wine must face certain realities.” I was not aware that critics like yourself cared a lick about how wholesalers sell wine. Is that the purpose of your reviews? So that street salesmen who can carry a binder of magazine clippings can peddle the most complex beverage on earth? For whom are you reviewing wines, really?

    And finally “The newbie bloggers can scream foul all they like…” What is a “newbie blogger,” and can you offer an example of any such “foul-screaming” post? Last time I checked the Scorevolution.com site, it seemed like a lot of heavy-hitting wine veterans — individuals and organizations alike — had signed the manifesto, which is downright amazing considering how extreme the site’s rhetoric is. The growing mass of intelligent people who are speaking out against the 100-pt scale represent some of the wine world’s best and brightest. And those clinging to it blindly sound more out of touch with every passing week.

  33. Jo Diaz says:

    Tish,

    This blog was written to demonstrate that whether or not we personally like it, the system works for some. If the numbers are diminishing, so be it; but, the lights are far from going out on Broadway.

    Anyone who knows me (as I’ve said to others, you don’t know me) knows that I’m far from a wimp. I wouldn’t be where I am today, if I were sheepish.

    I wrote this blog to demonstrate that those who are wanting the 100 scale system to simply dissolve, have another think coming. It’s all about wine professionals talking to each other within the comments section of most blogs. We have stronger opinions based on experiential learnings and blogs give us a place to voice what we thing. I’m of the opinion that the system still helps many average consumers, whose wine knowledge is just beginning, and he or she needs some guidance.

    Wine professionals offer guidance; be it 100 point system, stars, puffs, or cat claws. (I have a five claw system for Sauvignon Blancs. One Claw is a commodity wine, Five Claws is over the top with the cat pee factor. In my world, it needs to be three claws. This demonstrates who ludicrous the entire scoring of wine – for me – is silly; but it’s not silly for others, and who are we to be judge, jury, and executioner?

    Most vintners hate the system, because there are many flaws within it.

    1) Someone with a palate for high alcohol wines leads a new-to-wine consumer astray. While those wines are too hot and better suited to a palate on the fringe of hyposmia, they’re a turn-off to someone just starting out, in my humble opinion.

    2) Some vintners have figured out how to get the high scores, but those wines were designed for high scores and not Jenny Q. Public; so, it’s a failing to serve the public, but not a failing to serve the wine critic.

    3) Who likes getting a 60 grade, when that person knows that he or she deserves more?

    It’s a crazy system for those reasons, but it still serves a curious public.

    Personally, do I chase scores? No, I don’t have to. I figured out when I was a kid and my father force fed fish to me, shoving more fish into my mouth as I gagged, that I hate fish and couldn’t ever judge the best of dishes, that everyone is different. (Turns out that I’m allergic to most fish, and have had anaphylactic reactions to it as an adult, when it’s used in wine to fine it.) But… the masses of people are looking for insight; and for some, scores are comforting.

    Do I have a right to take that pleasure away from those people?

    No, I’d rather mind my own business on this issue, because we all have a right to our own opinions… right, wrong, or indifferent, and I’m sticking to those guns.

  34. Tish says:

    The five-clasw scale for Sauvignon Blanc is genius. I am for any scale that can communicate style, not just subjectivity.

  35. Christophe Hedges says:

    Tish-

    I would agree to that.

  36. Gregg Burke says:

    “This blog was written to demonstrate that whether or not we personally like it, the system works for some.” Well that can be said for anything including heroin and polygamy. First I have been on the street and scores for the most part are looked at as a joke. A necessary evil. It is not just those new to the wine industry. As a matter of fact there are probably a lot of people who remember a time when no one knew nor cared about points. It was not that long ago. I will admit that publications like Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast…. have helped to broaden the popularity of wine. The thing is what should be a reference point, has become the focus. I have made the point on other blogs that critics should be the first ones to want to get rid of the 100 point system in favor of something that makes people read the tasting notes that they labored over. Also any retailer who willing gives up his authority in favor of a critics score is doing himself a grave injustice. The 100 point system is in trouble with the next generation wine drinkers who are not influenced by traditional wine press, or points. As wine professionals we need to move our industry forward and not blindly hold on to something because it is comfortable. We need to move in direction that best serves the goal of bringing wine into the lives of more people. The time of the 100 point system is winding down and it up to us to usher our industry forward. Points will not go away tomorrow but they will go away. The prevalence of these discussions is proof. And let us not forget that we all have the right to our own opinions and you know what they say about opinions. Cheers.

  37. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks, Tish. I love it, too. It allows me to not have to say cat pee. I get enough of that with my litter box.

  38. Jo Diaz says:

    Christophe,

    Thanks, too.

  39. Jo Diaz says:

    Gregg, I agree that it’s slowing going away/evolving. It’s like a blacksmith… They’re hard to find these days… a cobblestone street maker, even more so.

  40. Jo Diaz says:

    Christophe… The streets are one thing, and the dining room table is another. The wheels of progress turn very slowly, and that’s part of my point. Until it trickles all the way down, it’s still in the middle.

  41. Excellent points, mmyeah, but. The thing is that there’s more than one way to sell wine, being a question of scale. I’m not necessarily arguing, but some producers are preempted from the 3-tier system simply because their production levels are so low, not even allowing for considerations of critical acclaim. It is true, however, that the end user prefers something to go on, and if it’s a retail shelf presenting the wine, then sure, scores and medals do it. But tasting rooms and events aren’t to be ignored for the sheer fact that many consumers are tired of the “It’s 93 points – buy it” way and prefer the “It tastes like ___ and might pair well with the ___ I like to cook.” Just sayin’. But again – well-written post.

  42. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks, Christian,

    All of your points are well taken. Most of the great wines never make it to the shelves for a number of reasons, some of which you’ve stated.

    Example: “production levels are so low” ~ I just got an Iron Horse “Joy” Sparkling in the mail. This one has only 300 magnums produced of the 1997 vintage. It’s such a special win;, only 300 happy people are going to get their hands on a bottle… It’s that unique. With or without a score, I know that I just scored.

    Tasting rooms and events are the best way to learn about wine. It’s where I started, and it’s where I knew I wanted to work, when I moved to California. I’ve been learning for nearly 20 years now.

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