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The 100-Point System Today


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The San Francisco Chronicle takes on the 100-point system. Is it good for customers? Bad for diversity? Does it still work? Does anybody really care?

First, Blake Gray presents a very clear and complete synopsis of how the rating system works today, for better and for worse.

Are Ratings Pointless?

One of the issues that Gray tackles is grade inflation:

In the first issue of Robert M. Parker Jr.'s Wine Advocate in 1977 -- the publication that introduced the 100-point scale -- the highest rating awarded was just 91 points.

Earlier this year, Jay Miller, a new rater hired by Parker, reviewed nearly 1,000 wines from Spain and gave five of them perfect 100-point scores.

There's little dispute that Wine Advocate scores have trended upward over the past 30 years. Of 78,252 wines listed in the eRobertParker.com database on Monday, 36 percent have scores of 90 or above -- and a score of 96 or more is hardly a rarity, with 2,080 wines listed (2.7 percent). But the underlying reason for the big scores is unclear.

Parker posted the following on his eRobertParker.com bulletin board: "Hard for some of you to believe, but the goal posts have not moved ... wine quality is dramatically better today ... and there are at least several thousand producers making very good to outstanding wines that were ... 1. not even producing wine 15-25 years ago...2. their fathers or mothers or some third party was producing industrial/innocuous swill...I suspect few of you even remember how appalling much of the wine world's products were in the '70s."

But Grey also quotes Tanzer as remarking that competition between 100-point publications has also driven up scores.

In a description of the Chronicle's 4-star rating system, Jon Bonne (aka eG member jbonne) brings up an interesting point:

Price receives consideration too: We hesitate to recommend two-star wines that are more than $40, and -- like most consumers -- view more expensive wines with a more critical view than less expensive wines. [emphasis mine]

Wine Opinions has just released a market survey, as reported on The Wine Collector, and this one demonstrates that the larger wine market is not really score-driven.

The most influential opinions affecting consumer retail wine purchases over $20 (the highest category) were "wine-knowledgeable friends" (72%) followed by retail staff (61%). 

The Wine Spectator (54%) has more influence than Robert Parker (41%) amongst high price point consumers.

24% of consumers in the panel read wine blogs, about double the level which read the Wine Advocate or eRobertparker.com.

87% of consumer respondents agreed with the statement "I trust my own taste more than I do the wine critics."  Despite that, 49% agreed that "I try hard to avoid wines with poor ratings."

Interestingly, most consumers (42%) disagreed with the statement that "There is a big quality difference between a wine related 92 points and one rated 88 points."  Note: another 39% were undecided on this statement.

The Chronicle also asked for some opinions from the man on the street: 2 cents: Does the wine scale influence your purchases?

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Mary Baker

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I refuse to buy any pinotage rated less than 98 points.

:laugh::laugh: I shudder to think what a 98-pt. pinotage would taste like!

I thought it was a very well done article. The good, the bad, the past, the future, a few industry people, and the man on the street. Good coverage of an evolving topic.

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Mary Baker

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Mary,

The point system is good for the wine business...it's the producers that send in wine to be rated that are at risk...if a producer does not send in for any ratings then they have side stepped the point scale be it the 4 star, 20 point or 100 point scale...personally I let the consumer rate my wines thus far...will it always be that way...not sure...I ethically can't have anyone from Mr. Parkers team ever rate my wine...this is due to the personal reason that I use Mr. Parkers eBob site as a learning ground...for me it would not be fitting to have them rate my wine...do we need points the fact that we are talking about it tells me ...YES...nice post Mary...score 100 points...

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I once asked Mr. Parker about why he uses the 100 point system. His response was that restaurants are rated in some objective manner, as are movies, hotels, etc., and that he thought wine was, among other things, a consumer product that could also stand to be rated in the same manner.

I am no fan of any objective method of rating wine but his point is well taken and, whether one likes the system or not, it is myopic to argue that it doesn't have some place in the wine market.

Best, Jim

www.CowanCellars.com

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I ethically can't have anyone from Mr. Parkers team ever rate my wine...this is due to the personal reason that I use Mr. Parkers eBob site as a learning ground...for me it would not be fitting to have them rate my wine...

I'm a little confused by your stand on this, John. Lots of wine producers who are rated by the Wine Advocate post on the eBob forums. (Which, by the way, are not owned or managed by Robert Parker. The forum site is owned and administrated by Mark Squires.)

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Mary Baker

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I ethically can't have anyone from Mr. Parkers team ever rate my wine...this is due to the personal reason that I use Mr. Parkers eBob site as a learning ground...for me it would not be fitting to have them rate my wine...

I'm a little confused by your stand on this, John. Lots of wine producers who are rated by the Wine Advocate post on the eBob forums. (Which, by the way, are not owned or managed by Robert Parker. The forum site is owned and administrated by Mark Squires.)

Mark Squires being an employee of the Wine Advocate...

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Mark Squires being an employee of the Wine Advocate...

Hmm, well I'm not sure how that works. I do know that he made a BIG point to me in private correspondence that he is the OWNER and ADMINISTRATOR of the wine forum. I will PM you with the juicy details.

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Mary Baker

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Mark Squires being an employee of the Wine Advocate...

Hmm, well I'm not sure how that works. I do know that he made a BIG point to me in private correspondence that he is the OWNER and ADMINISTRATOR of the wine forum. I will PM you with the juicy details.

Excellent. He just recently started reviewing the dry wines from the Iberian peninsula for the WA, prior to that I have no idea if he was working for the advocate or not.

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I ethically can't have anyone from Mr. Parkers team ever rate my wine...this is due to the personal reason that I use Mr. Parkers eBob site as a learning ground...for me it would not be fitting to have them rate my wine...

I'm a little confused by your stand on this, John. Lots of wine producers who are rated by the Wine Advocate post on the eBob forums. (Which, by the way, are not owned or managed by Robert Parker. The forum site is owned and administrated by Mark Squires.)

Mary,

I do this for personal moral reasons... I do post a lot on eBob...I do think Mark owns the site...he now does have an expanded roll in one region...how this works with Mr. Parker I just don't know...anyway since I feel that I am always posting about this or that...never do I want anyone to think that I am trying to sell our wine via their web site...I post to learn...we sell to loyal customers and referrals that our trail draws...

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In a description of the Chronicle's 4-star rating system, Jon Bonne (aka eG member jbonne) brings up an interesting point:
Price receives consideration too: We hesitate to recommend two-star wines that are more than $40, and -- like most consumers -- view more expensive wines with a more critical view than less expensive wines. [emphasis mine]

This is something that gave me pause for thought. I don't suppose the critics who use the 100-point score would really want to complicate their lives further by considering price into the equation, but really now . . . when wines cost $200-$300 on release, shouldn't they be scrutinized for more than 30 seconds? Not necessarily held to a higher standard, but . . . well yes, maybe they should. I think if a winery is charging more than $100 per bottle, then perhaps critics should be expected to do year 3,5,7 and 10 followups. And a new Napa winery with no track record should have each release reviewed again each year 1-5.

I bet that if wineries which get a 94-95 on release start getting 86's in following years, that all wineries will take note and vanity pricing will be reined in. I'm sure the market apologists will say, "yes, but these wineries charge what customers are willing to pay and that will never change." My argument is that it can change if critics really revisit their techniques in the light of modern pricing that critics.

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  • 2 weeks later...

This subject has bedevliled me for quite some time. I primarily do my tasting in the spirits world, but have been privileged enough to taste through several thousand wines over the past 8 years in the wine and liquor business.

Ratings do affect customers, period. I think we can all agree on that. But what kind of rating system works the best? I find it hard to believe that any taster for Wine Spectator could qualitatively say that a wine they rate today at 90 points, they "liked better" than a wine they rated 6 months ago at 89 points. I could understand if they only rated 30 wines a month, but they are rating hundreds. I doubt there is anyone that can assertively claim they remember the nuances of a wine they had 6 months ago (outside of outstanding or terrible wines) when you are tasting 500 a month or more. I guess what I am trying to illustrate is that unless wine tasting is 100% objective and strictly technical then a rating must be interdependent on other scores. A 90 pt score must some distinct value that makes it different than an 89, but becuase of the small increment, it is almost impossible to make this laboratory science. So at some point a value judgement had to be made. When a value judgement is made, it will be based on the taster's palate and previous wines sampled.

Bottom line: I think the 100 pt system has serious flaws.

The star rating system can lack a certain exactness, as was mentioned, a 90 and 94 would be rated as equivalent. But then again, as long as those fall into the "3 1/2 stars" category, does it really matter? Can we really disect wine to that level of nuance and still unabashedly call ourselves objective? I don't think it is possible.

My prefered method of rating, which I feel is best suited to consumers and enthusiasts alike, is simply the word rating. "Recommended", Highly Recommended", "Must have", "Best Value", etc. These have more easily translatable meaning. When accompanied by real tasting notes that attempt to communicate effectively the flavors that we taste instead of "new maserati leather", "ham-hocks from that butcher in soho" and "$600 Cashmere socks, new in the box from Neiman Marcus", are a better service to our customers and show a real intrest in wine or spirits, not in showing off or splitting hairs.

JMHO.

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I once asked Mr. Parker about why he uses the 100 point system. His response was that restaurants are rated in some objective manner, as are movies, hotels, etc., and that he thought wine was, among other things, a consumer product that could also stand to be rated in the same manner.

I am no fan of any objective method of rating wine but his point is well taken and, whether one likes the system or not, it is myopic to argue that it doesn't have some place in the wine market.

Best, Jim

I wouldn't agree that restaurants or movies are rated objectively. Isn't all rating partly subjective?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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That is sort of what I was trying to hint at. I think the broader your rating system becomes, the more objective it becomes.

For instance: good vs. bad. Because of the broadness of the categories, by default, you are going to have much more agreement about what is a good wine or what is a bad wine.

Or: Not recommended, recommended, highly recommended, must have, best value. Slightly more specific, but still broad enough that most people, critics included, will agree with you.

Once you break into stars and points, I think you become so specific that it is almost totally subjective on the margins.

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I think the broader your rating system becomes, the more objective it becomes. / For instance: good vs. bad. Because of the broadness of the categories, by default, you are going to have much more agreement about what is a good wine or what is a bad wine. / Or: Not recommended, recommended, highly recommended, must have, best value. Slightly more specific, but still broad enough that most people, critics included, will agree with you.

That last is exactly the de-facto type of quality ranking common to US wine newsletters and articles in the period preceding introduction of the 100-point system (as I keep pointing out) and also, incidentally, it is the system used by many critics for movies, hotels, etc.

Mr. Parker's reply to Florida Jim argued for objective categories, but does not seem to have said anything about 100 points. (Why thr particular choice of metric gets lumped together offhand with the distinct issue of "objectivity" is itself an interesting question that many people do not ask.)

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Any good rating system has both objective and subjective componants. A set of criteria by which wine is evaluated.

Rating systems are not about numbers or icons alone in a vacuum.

Numbers or icons are a summation of a critic having tasted and evaluated a wine.

Siskel and Ebert didn't just mutely offer a thumbs up or down. Each film was discussed and evaluated with the critics placing it in context of their criteria for assessing films.

A viewer got a good idea of twhat the film was about and how its elements were executed by the writer, director anmd actors and came together (or didn't) to justify the final rating.

Same with wine. A number without any notes is totally out of context and thus limited in its value to consumers. Rating systems are a means of communication. Context is critical--one needs notes and an understanding of the system--most rate wines within peer group for example.

As for those who are struggling with the notion of how a wine rated 88 differs from a wine rated 87 or are questioning how a critic can make such a miniscule differentiation in the first place; I offere the following:

Haven't you ever sat at a tasting and tasted two, say, sauvignon blancs and after evaluating each find that both are equal in quality in your eyes but you prefer slightly, one over the other?--if someone twisted your arm you would select one ahead of the other but just slightly?

A good system should provide a critic the leeway to do this.

Perhaps people would feel more comfortable by trying to look at numbers a bit more broadly. That is, while a critic may like one slightly (a point or two) more than the other wine, the consumer can basically look at the two wines as similar read the notes and scores and make a decision.

I think many are getting lost in minutia.

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those who are struggling with the notion of how a wine rated 88 differs from a wine rated 87 or are questioning how a critic can make such a miniscule differentiation in the first place --
-- might appreciate this discussion on the Internet's public wine forum, May 1988 (two different posters):
There was a good article ... by Jancis Robinson who was telling of a dinner she had with Parker.  They opened [an aged wine] ... and Parker had just finished saying that he believed that a 1 point difference in his ratings really made a difference to his readers.  So Robinson asked him what he would rate the wine they were drinking now, and he gave it a 90.  She looked up the rating he gave it in his book, and there it was a 95.
This is a good example of one reason why commercial rating systems based on taster preference can be meaningless.  Parker [could attribute the difference] to bottle variation.  And since no one can expect to taste from [the same bottle as the critic,] everyone should expect significant fuzziness" in point scores.
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I use the ratings as a consumer to get a relative value, especially when you are comparing the cost of a bottle. If a bottle is under $20 and it rated in the high 80's or over 90 it is likely I will try it. Because I do like to support places that can deliver high quality at affordable prices.

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I use the ratings as a consumer to get a relative value, especially when you are comparing the cost of a bottle. If a bottle is under $20 and it rated in the high 80's or over 90 it is likely I will try it.
I understand, hemingway. In my observation, many thoughtful consumers use wine critics' judgements that way, since long before the particular "100-point" scoring system surfaced. The issue in this thread (and linked references) is not the use of quality rankings by critics, but that particular way of expressing them.

A typical example the older format is Vintage magazine's March 1981 review of recent California Cabernets on the market. I used this at the time, much as you describe. It grouped tasting notes on recommended wines into ranks: Outstanding (11 wines), Well above average (14), Above average (13), Average / solid (25), and "Good but non-varietal, or varietal but weak" (17). Most wine newsletters that I have on file that preceded the popularity of "100-points" used systems like that.

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"varietal but weak"???????????

Really!

Here is the explanation for the numbers that appears on the cover of every Wine Advocate.

Along with a note that scores should always be considered along with the tasting notes which explain the score a wine is given. Also a warning that scores and notes reflect a "snapshot" of a wine at that point in time etc.

Also is a detailed discussion of how points are assessed concluding with:

"Scores are important for the reader to gauge a professional critic's overall qualitative placement of a wine vis-a-vis its peer group. However, it is vital to consider the description of a wine's style, personality and potential. No scoring system is perfect, but a system that provides for flexibility in scores, if applied by the same taster without prejudice, can quantify different levels of wine quality and provide the reader with one professional's judgment. However, there can never be a substitute for your own palate nor any better education than tasting the wine yourself."

50-59: a wine deemed to be unacceptable.

60-69: a below average wine containing noticeable deficiencies, such as excessive acidity and/or tannin, an absence of flavor or possibly dirty aromas or flavors.

70-79: An average wine with little distinction except that it is soundly made. In essence, a straightforward, innocuous wine.

80-89:A barely above average to very good wine displaying various degrees of finesse and flavor as well as character, with no noticeable flaws.

90-95: An outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character. In short these are terrific wines.

96-100: An extraordinary wine of profound and complex character displaying all the attributes expected of a classic wine of its variety. Wines of this caliber are worth a special effort to find, purchase, and consume.

Tanzer and Burghound also discuss their 100 point systems in detail on their newsletters. The Wine Spectator does the same.

So what exactly is the debate here? What is the problem with these systems?

50-100 points scales clearly allow a taster more flexibility than 20 point scales (the Davis scale) or stars or glasses or whatever!

Is the debate really about a rating system?

Or are we really debating the critics. Let's be honest here--we are talking about one critic--Parker.

These debates over systems never really materialized until Parker emerged as an influential entity. I am sure there was some discussion about the use of stars by Hugh Johnson vs the Amerine (Davis) scale somewhere but really!

Interestingly, there are few discussions and debates over the "Jancis Robinson palate" or the "Meadows palate" or the "Johnson palate" --no--it's usually just Parker that seems to have a "palate"!

Or, are we debating how consumers use these scales?

This one reveals a bit of snobbery IMOP. Assumptions are often made that consumers are sheep who blindly buy wine based on a number with no other criteria and then drinking the wine regardless of whether or not they actually like it!

I am sure there are a few of these around but come on! (I am excluding people who buy wine for investment purposes though even these folks would be well advised to use more criteria than just a critic's score).

Information is information. The more the better for consumers. In the end, people will access and process whatever information they need to make a good purchase for themselves. If they buy a wine because a shelf talker says a respected critic likes the wine or their neighbor tasted it and likes it or the local paper said it was a good value or the customer tried other wines liked by the same critic and enjoyed them or the store clerk recommended it or they like the label or the wine comes from a producer they are familiar with or they notice the wine is from the same country and or area as other wines they have enjoyed.....

OR

any combination of the above!

people are not stupid sheep--so what's the big deal over any rating system?

As for the example of "Vintage Magazine's" system I have no quibble with it I can surmise that its system, and others like it probably were less "popular" than the 100 point system because it was too broad and people would have trouble with seeing:"good but non varietal" and understanding it. (or caring much about it).

The brilliance of the 100 point scale is it really can be looked at as six category rankings--80-85, 96-100 etc (Vintage has six also) that are more easily understood. Or, one can look at the 100 point system as a much more precise scale wherein a consumer looking for a critic's assessments on a more minute and precise level can consider wines that are one or two points apart.

The 100 point scale works on many different levels and has a very broad appeal because it can be broad or narrowly applied by consumers. It is hard for a consumer to digest what 17.5 really means or what a "good but non varietal wine is" and often a star or a wine glass icon or a "good" "better" "best" scale is simply too vague or general for many.

People apply their own level of sophistication and most end up finding a wine they like. There are loads of sources and scales by many different "palates" and plenty of information is available.

If someone wants very detailed and precise info its there. If someone just wants a simple thumbs up or down to make a decision that's fine too.

Why would anyone seem to worry about how other people make their wine buying decisions?

I personally use a lot of sources and find that sometimes simple and broad is good and other times I want to know if a critic likes wine A just slightly more than wine B.

As Parker states" "there is no perfect system" but there are a lot of places to go to get guidance and information about wine. That's good!

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Parker's regular printed disclaimers -- that his preferences may not match the reader's, that the tasting notes are essential to his evaluations -- are well taken and deserve emphasis.

are we really debating the critics. Let's be honest here--we are talking about one critic--Parker.
My own postings here are very focused and except as otherwise noted, they're about the specific 100-point scoring format and its history. (Also, I don't presume to second-guess other posters' motivations or otherwise read their minds.) I can show you some principal discussion about critics' rankings in pre-100-point days (or you can find it yourself in standard sources if you'll do some research) but its printed record was never as extensive as the controversies over the 100-point system.
Assumptions are often made that consumers are sheep who blindly buy wine based on a number with no other criteria
Actually it is industry sources who say that and have been doing so since the 1980s; I'll quote. (Assumptions?! I've heard the point only from professionals in the business whose income depends on knowing their customers! Who is making assumptions here?) Since the subject has been raised, here's one of several testimonials in John Winthrop Haeger's 1998 article (cited here before) reporting research on exactly this question:
Tales of score-blinded consumers are everywhere in the wine business these days. [The owner of a Los Angeles retail wine shop, interviewed by Haeger,] recalls the customer who told him: "... I only buy wines rated 90-plus." Observes [the owner]: "There are a lot of sheep out there who live and die by the numbers."

Back to the reader's own taste. When I see modern wine enthusiasts (apparently intelligent adults) obsess over comparing number scores for a wine among different critics, or the exact order in which one critic preferred several wines, I'm amazed. What happened to learning which wines YOU like, and developing YOUR palate?

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