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The 100 Point Wine Rating System and Why I Hate It
By George Russell Perry
I am certainly not the only writer offering wine reviews. I'm not even the only one on the internet. I'm certainly not the most influential wine reviewer. What I am, however, is honest about the wine that I drink and review. I say this because I've noticed with growing frequency that every time I visit a wine shop there are more and more wines being displayed with numeric ratings. There's nothing honest, at least in my humble opinion, about rating wine with a number. Wine is about passion and enjoyment, and nothing sucks passion and fun out of any situation quite like numbers.
The 100 point rating system was created Robert M. Parker, Jr. some 30 years ago as a way of helping wine buyers decide which wines were the best while avoiding those that just didn't measure up. The ratings run from 50 points to 100, with anything above 90 being considered an excellent buy. While I certainly applaud Mr. Parker's efforts, I feel as though he's missed the point of it all. Now, I will admit that even he will tell his readers to look at more than just the rating of a wine before they buy it, but let's be honest, what's the point of having a rating system like that if you're not planning on having people shop for wine using it as a guide.
When I first got into reviewing wines, I debated the use of a rating system. I thought about using the 100 point system, but not beholding myself to the Parker ratings (if there were any), but quickly dismissed the idea. I settled in, for a time, with a 5 star system, with ratings going for zero stars to 5 stars, with varying spots in between (think Star Search with a 3.75 star rating). For a time this worked for me, but I still felt as though it limited me.
Eventually I abandoned a rating system all together, favoring instead a system where I wrote out my opinions and then simply recommended whether or not I thought people should buy the wine I was reviewing. I find this method preferable for a couple of reasons. First, it lets me review the wine both coldly and passionately. By that I mean that I essentially offer two reviews of a wine - the first being the bread and butter of the wine: what were the aromas, the flavors, the color, etc. The second review being my recommendation. What, if anything, did I pair this wine with? Did it get better as I drank it? Was there anything about the wine I didn't like? Would I buy it again? None of those things can be answered by a numeric value slapped on a card placed next to a bottle of a shelf.
There are two fundamental flaws in the Parker method of reviewing wines. The first is that wine tasting is subjective, and placing a numeric value on anything immediately makes it objective. I may taste a Riesling that is nothing short of amazing, but if I'm not into Riesling, I'm not going to give that wine a good rating. Robert Parker is known for being more inclined towards French wine, particularly Bordeaux, and has stated that he rates wines based on how much pleasure they give him, so logic would dictate that it would be unlikely for him to give a Australian Sauvignon Blanc a better rating than a French Bordeaux.
The second flaw in the Parker rating system is that not every wine is rated. Wines have to submit themselves to be rated, and more and more of them are deciding to cater themselves to their consumers as opposed to a critic that may or may not give them favorable wine reviews and ratings. This means that many wines are passed over at stores simply because they don't have ratings. That doesn't mean that they're bad wines, on the contrary many of them are amazing, but they have decided not to submit themselves to ratings by critics and have instead decided to let real consumers be their critics.
I realize that there is no perfect way to review wine, partially because it is such a subjective thing. Reviewing wine is no different than being an art critic - what one critic says is crap is haled by the next as brilliant and life-altering. The only way to know your thoughts on the art (or wine in this case) is to experience it for yourself. Wine reviewers such as myself are, at the end of the day, just offering our opinions. The best advice I can give anybody considering whether to try a bottle of wine is to check out some wine reviews, and then buy the bottle. Worst case scenario is that you're out a bit of money. Best case, you've found an amazing bottle of wine that you'll continue to buy for years to come.
George R Perry is the author of The Good Wine Guru, a website featuring wine reviews wine articles, and suggested wine products. The Good Wine Guru can be found online at: http://www.thegoodwineguru.com
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