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What Value is the Point System


Craig Camp
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To answer Mr. Kolm's question about "performing"....

I find that sometimes a wine will show particular characteristics more readily when preceeding samples lack those features.

For example, a wine of a certain level of oak may strike one as extremely woody when the wines you've sniffed/tasted previous to it are non-wooded bottlings.  The same wine will appear less oaky if tasted amongst a group of similarly oaked samples.

A 15% alcohol Chardonnay may seem way out of balance if you've just tasted a 12% alcohol, non-oaked Sancerre or 10% alcohol German Riesling.  But put that wine in a line-up of similarly-styled Chardonnays and it likely fits into the set of wines without showing up as hugely imbalanced.

And that same Chardonnay will taste positively light and lively if you have it after a set of young, 2000 vintage Porto wines!

As someone posted about the "measuring devices" we're using being "imprecise," I can't imagine that a wine changes so radically from one taste to the next...it's the context that helps determine or change one's sensory impressions.

That's why I don't put a lot of trust in numerical scores...I'd rather read what a critic says in describing the wine than in simply the mindless score. 

By the way, do you prefer blind tasting to critique wines or do you taste them un-masked?

Perhaps for the casual taster, but as a professional, my task is to evaluate each wine on its own. Perhaps I've always been different in this sense. People talk about big oaky wines winning tastings but not being what you would want to drink -- I've never been one to fall for those wines at tastings, either. (Although I must admit that I've never tasted a Chardonnay after a set of Ports.)

When I am tasting analytically, I look through the superficial elements to get to the core of the wine and its potetntial. Experience aids me in filtering out extra-contextual factors. I have found over many years that when I taste wines that I have forgotten I had previously tasted, or that I knew I had tasted but had no recollection of my score, the difference is 2 points or less (on a 100 point scale) about 95% of the time. Perceiving a wine differently doesn't mean that you rate it differently.

I should also add that for me, a point score is just a convenient marker for ranking, as Craig points out. It has no scalar value.

Edited by Claude Kolm/The Fine Wine Review (log)
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Yeah but what kind of spread are we talking about? +/- 5 points out of 100 on a given wine? Is there any wine that Parker gives a 99 to that some other established expert says should get 85? And even if there is, is that normal or the exception?

No -- I score some of Parker's most treasured wines in the 70's or lower. I find many of them undrinkable.

Edited by Claude Kolm/The Fine Wine Review (log)
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We went through this fairly carefully in one of the subjectivity threads before the Purge.

Oh my god all the people who agree with me are gone!

Given a set of criteria though, you can make stable(ish) value judgments.

That, my friend, be objectivity.

Yes but it's a long way from objectivity to a points system.

The problem with a points system is that (if I can get slightly technical) is that it is a total order. This means that for any two wines A and B either

A is better than B or B is better than A or they are of equal score. Now clearly this is rubbish -- there are often pairs of wines which are not comparable in any meaningful sense. Parker gives Petrus 96 the score of 92 points, and he gives Yquem 1991 91 points. And Lafon Meursault Charmes 96 gets 93 points. So what? so ... the Lafon is better than the Petrus is better than the Yquem? Well we already used the word for this a few posts back. Any system that allows that sort of inference is deeply flawed and objectionable.

But I have no problem at all with partial orders -- saying Petrus is better than a jug wine., but not committing to comparing Yquem to Petrus.

The rankings are only good within a particular type of wine. It is absurd to say taht a 96-point Meursault is better than a 92-point Languedoc. That's why I also assing letter grades, with the letter grades varying for the type of wine. An 86 might earn a Muscadet an A, but a Montrachet a C or a D.

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That's why I also assing letter grades, with the letter grades varying for the type of wine.  An 86 might earn a Muscadet an A, but a Montrachet a C or a D.

I very much agree with this system. It also takes into account that on given days a taster could give a wine a 90 and then a 92. Both are an "A".

This communicates efficiently and accurately.

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This communicates efficiently and accurately.

But it's not necessarily good for business. Consumers will gravitate towards whomever offers the greater degree of differentiation and precision.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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This communicates efficiently and accurately.

But it's not necessarily good for business. Consumers will gravitate towards whomever offers the greater degree of differentiation and precision.

That's the fact Jack. Points sell newsletters.

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If there are no rules to taste, why the heck would anybody bother to try to make good wine? What is the point of all the winemaking knowledge that is so painstakingly passed down from winemaker to winemaker? Why bother with vineyard management, hybridization, and aging in oak? All to satisfy some sort of subjective fantasy? I don't think so.

As for all the other nitpicking, it simply proves the point that there are rules and exceptions to those rules. Big deal. You still can't fight your way out of the paper bag of reality: some wines are better than others. If the market fails to recognize it sometimes, fine. If experts disagree, fine. Wines are being evaluated on many criteria. They aren't monolithic entities. A score is a composite, and there can be variations in how the components are weighted. This is the same as measuring any other volatile, hard-to-pin-down substance with imperfect tools: there will be variation. But it's pure reductionism and sophistry to jump from that to the nihilistic conclusion that whatever wine you like is good. It's not.

Intrinsically, your argument can be resumed as follows: jug wines will be perceived by the wast majority of people as being less appreciated than Petrus. Hence saying that the one is better than the other has statistical relevance.

I'll say yes, at that level of "granularity". However, scores as we are talking here are essentially used to value wines of a certain minimal quality level and is therefore essentially used within the 80-100pts, or 15-20 pts. To use your decription, within this range, taste differences render the absolute statistical relevance of individual scores really doubful without an understanding of the guy's taste. Let me take the example of Bordeaux: Pavie 2001 got a 94-96 from Parker, it only got a 15/20 from Robinson. One is raving about this "new frontier of Bordeaux wine", the other is "appaled by the caricatural wine". The same huge differences exist for other so-called garage wines. Also, Parker systematically smashes medium-weight wines such as La Tour Haut Brion in the 90's (87-88 points) whereas others are giving these wines 19/20 (i.e. 95 points). Finally, take Burgundy and look at the differences in rating between Rovani and Coates or Burghound. These differences are driven by differences in taste - Rovani preferring bigger wines with strong colors, Coates and Burghound giving high scores to lighter wines which play more on their aromatics.

We are therefore not talking about "exceptions", but about two of the major wine regions in the world.

So all in all, yes, taste is the key factor to differentiate a 80-100 pts wines, and without an understanding of the "taste" of the guy writing, the scores are useless. Because "I like this" vs. "I don't like this" has become a too big factor in the score.

Side comment - if taste was not such an important factor, then why are some journals using pannels? NB - I am against pannels, because the spread of taste is so wide, that basically all wines end up somewhere in the middle. Also, one has no control on how the pannels are set up (i.e. who likes his wines packed and stacked, and who prefers them lighter).

I regularly organise tastings with knowledgeable and less knowledgable wine lovers. There are usually two camps (roughly speaking and making a big stereotyping here):

- the lovers of the big dramatic wines, who value extraction and immediate impact more than length and finale. Usually, these guys like new world, new oak, low acidity, Cabernet, Chardonnay, Southern Italy, Southern Rhone (etc.)

- The lovers of aroma and fruit, looking for balance and elegance. The power is secundary. These wine lovers usually prefer Pinot Noir, high acidity, no new oak, Loire, Nebbiolo, Mosel, etc.

Anybody recognizing this sort of trend?

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I regularly organise tastings with knowledgeable and less knowledgable wine lovers.  There are usually two camps (roughly speaking and making a big stereotyping here):

-  the lovers of the big dramatic wines, who value extraction and immediate impact more than length and finale.  Usually, these guys like new world, new oak, low acidity, Cabernet, Chardonnay, Southern Italy, Southern Rhone (etc.)

- The lovers of aroma and fruit, looking for balance and elegance.  The power is secundary.  These wine lovers usually prefer Pinot Noir, high acidity, no new oak, Loire, Nebbiolo, Mosel, etc.

Anybody recognizing this sort of trend?

I so regret that you were not here before the purge. It would have been fun.

I'm hollywood and I approve this message.

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If I were to read someone's tasting results of a particular flight of wines, I could judge (better) their rating were I to have some idea of the wines in that group.  I have seen a wine "perform" differently based upon what wines precede it, for example. 

This is a key point that separates enthusiastic participants (like me) from the experts. The ability to discern characteristics on an individual basis – consistently.

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The problem with ALL scoring systems is that they ALL score too highly.

How often does Parker (not picking in him in particular) score a wine 15 out of 100. Talking to people and his scoring system there is a feeling that you might as well mark the wines out of 50 as I am not sure that I have ever seen a wine at the 50 point mark. I think that I have seen some at 67 ish where he says they are thin, dilute or nasty (but in his more literate style). If they are truly nasty why mark in the 60s and not the 10s or 20s?

Edited by ctgm (log)
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I so regret that you were not here before the purge.  It would have been fun.

Tell me more of this purge? it sounds really interesting!

When you pass, I think, twenty posts, you can go to the eGullet Site Talk Board and read the "Anti-eGullet Weblog" thread for the scoop on this. The thing is at least one of the purgees has very strong opinions about wine (favoring Old World vines with terroir from certain regions of France only) and is not shy about sharing his opinions.

Edited by hollywood (log)

I'm hollywood and I approve this message.

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Parker starts out with a base of 50, and then 5 pts. for color and appearance, aroma 15 pts., flavor and finish 20 pts., and overall quality and potential for aging merit 10pts.

That's what it says.

Firefly Restaurant

Washington, DC

Not the body of a man from earth, not the face of the one you love

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I so regret that you were not here before the purge.  It would have been fun.

Tell me more of this purge? it sounds really interesting!

When you pass, I think, twenty posts, you can go to the eGullet Site Talk Board and read the "Anti-eGullet Weblog" thread for the scoop on this. The thing is at least one of the purgees has very strong opinions about wine (favoring Old World vines with terroir from certain regions of France only) and is not shy about sharing his opinions.

There have been people here in the past who limited their tasting experience to famous wines. Their strategic reason for this was primarily they could afford it. People who do this do not understand wine. I remember one who argued and argued about Italian wine but then admitted he had no tasting experience with Italian wines other than Barolo. Obviously comments from people like this are not very useful.

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funny thing is, every writer i've talked to who has to assign some kind of numerical value, be it stars or points, thinks it's pretty much worthless, except the readers demand it.

This is very true, but understandable. Every wine writer is trying to find a way to effectively communicate their tasting experience to readers. Clearly well written tasting notes are the best method, but as we mentioned before not necessarily commercially viable.

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I regularly organise tastings with knowledgeable and less knowledgable wine lovers.  There are usually two camps (roughly speaking and making a big stereotyping here):

-  the lovers of the big dramatic wines, who value extraction and immediate impact more than length and finale.  Usually, these guys like new world, new oak, low acidity, Cabernet, Chardonnay, Southern Italy, Southern Rhone (etc.)

- The lovers of aroma and fruit, looking for balance and elegance.  The power is secundary.  These wine lovers usually prefer Pinot Noir, high acidity, no new oak, Loire, Nebbiolo, Mosel, etc.

Anybody recognizing this sort of trend?

A perfect description of the (growing) schism not only among wine buyers but also wine pundits. The good thing is that most everyone knows which camp each pundit falls into.

fanatic...

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funny thing is, every writer i've talked to who has to assign some kind of numerical value, be it stars or points, thinks it's pretty much worthless, except the readers demand it.

Russ - There are various of reasons for this:

First, and most importantly, when you taste lots of wines, you run into situations where the wines you like are not "objectively" better than certain others. Accordingly, you would put those wines in your cellars, and not necessarily some of the others that get the "objective" higher rating. But the public wants to have an insight greater than your personal experience (which, it must be admitted, the public cannot duplicate).

Secondly, there is only so much expression even the most gifted writer can put into words. Numbers put a rank to the verbosity.

Third, somewhat related to the point, for various reasons, one may be tempted to shade either too positively or too negatively with choice of language (consciously or not). The use of a numerical ranking forces the reviewer to be more honest, objective or whatever you want to call it, about his or her overall view.

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