Robert Parker brought wine ratings into the main stream with his 100-point scoring system. Many years later we have now entered the post-Parker era and that system has approached a level of ‘ubiquity’ according to Andrew Jefford in his latest article titled, ‘The Scoring Scene’ . Andrew explains how there is now ‘a multiplicity of scores and scorers [who] joust and jostle for the attention of drinkers’ and how he decided it was time to review the scoring system. These were some of his findings:
- The scale doesn’t matter
There are currently two types of measurement scales according to Andrew – the 100-point scale and the 20-point scale. They are both the same thing though. Both scales have 20 points of graduation (the 20-point scale makes use of half-points), therefore it’s important to know the outlier scores when evaluating a reviewer’s opinion. When using a 100-point scale, all wines scoring below 80 are not worth reviewing, whilst in the 20-point scale no wine scoring below 10 is worth reviewing. Andrew also points out that the system a critic uses often explains the way that critic wishes to portray him or herself. 20-point systems are old-fashioned and are seen as ‘European’ and convey respect and cautious sobriety. Whilst those who use the 100-point systems are usually more ‘open-necked and globalist’ and imply a more relaxed approach.
- Scores are not universal
In wine there is no such thing as a universal scoring system. It would simply not be possible as the differences between wine styles are so great that it makes them almost incomparable. What this means though is that each genre can be assessed in terms of quality, they just can’t be compared with each other. It is possible to create a perfect Riesling but Riesling can’t be compared to a perfect Cabernet. Due to the confusion surrounding this, many critics are now fearful of awarding high scores to lesser-known varieties. Secondly, the simplicity of scoring means that drinkers assume the scoring system is universal rather than relative.
- Scoring is inflationary
How do scorers become famous in a world where so many are fighting for space and influence? Andrew thinks it’s from scores, ‘achieving some kind of sales traction’. Low scores don’t make customers rush out and buy the product, meanwhile, high scores are promoted to the market, increase sales and subsequently increase the fame of the scorer. This has had a knock-on effect as the wine producers prefer bringing in scorers who award their wines top marks rather than those who actively reflect upon the wine and its vintage.
- Scoring 89 points
89 points is seen as a terrible score in many wine regions. The problem with that assumption is that not all wine regions are judged to the same standards or solely evaluated on the stature of their estates or appellations. For example, in areas like Bordeaux or Burgundy, the annual harvests often produce excellent wines that average out at 96 or 97 points. These areas are known for producing some of the world’s most expensive wines and their scores set the benchmark that all other wines are evaluated against. Andrew goes on to explain that ‘a well-sited 89-point Bordeaux from a good or great vintage will, after half a decade’s storage, seem to most palates a better wine than most 93-point or 94-point reds from other regions’.’
- Score overload
Wine critics are in abundance and more and more scorers are entering the market and, as Andrew says, drinkers are getting ‘nauseous with score overload’. Andrew takes it one step further and says that he believes that much of the sighted fine-wine scores are generated by artificial intelligence and that scores are being based solely on pedigree and reputation alone.
The one positive to all this is that Andrew hopes that tasting notes that accompany all these scores will be scrutinised more and the scores themselves will be noticed a little less.