This topic has been controversial since the tasting in Judgement of Paris back in 1976 (see movie Bottleshock). A related topic would be the controversy surrounding the “Parkerization” of wine. Read about this issue here: Wikipedia Link. There have been books and movies on both topics. The discussion is certainly fun, but way more controversial in real-life than it should be.
I had this article brought to my attention recently: https://asteriskmag.com/issues/1/is-wine-fake. With some recent commentary from other wine writers: https://foodandwineaesthetics.com/2022/11/29/wine-tasting-and-expertise/#comment-73146. If you find this topic even mildly interesting, I would take a look at these. The whole issue is really one big joke perpetrated on wine consumers for marketing and profit. It could be a serious topic, but there are none in the industry interested in going down that path. Here is my take…
Wine Judging / Scoring
As a wine enthusiast who usually tastes blind (having a trained/experienced palate), I don’t understand the continuing controversy on this topic. The studies done have all been ridiculously skewed. The controversy seems to rise mostly because the average person simply cannot believe some wine snob in a suit can taste a wine blind and tell you the varietal, location, vintage, vineyard name, etc. I can tell you personally, it is very real, but takes decades of training, experience and practice. Training and experience matter in any profession and yes – wine IS a profession (see Sommelier here: Wikipedia Link). Does that mean this same guy could guess at the wine I would enjoy without him evaluating my taste in wine? Definitely NO! So, why do consumers put so much credence in scores by wine writers? Well, what other measure does the average consumer have to select a wine from thousands available (there are other options)? I buy and consume large quantities of wine and enjoy it very much! Many of us think of great food and wine as a fabulous lifestyle (no denial here). All this wine I drink, training I have had… do you think my idea of a good wine qualifies me to recommend a wine to someone I don’t know? The average consumer sifting through 100’s of wine scores is just wasting time. Perhaps, if you spent the time to learn a particular wine critic’s palate… but how many would take the time?
… But, the Studies!
If you read the articles linked to this commentary above, a big piece of the discussion is price. Are expensive wines necessarily better wines? The unqualified answer is positively NO! Can you impress a guest at a fine dining restaurant by ordering an expensive bottle of wine? Likely yes, and there in lies the rub. Price is often confused with quality in many product categories, but whether you personally would enjoy any given wine has nothing to do with its cost. I have written much on the topic of how to evaluate your own palate in past articles for anyone who has an interest. Just remember an important piece to this discussion, the average consumer is likely to enjoy many average priced wines and could likely not tell the difference. I can tell you definitely, my taste in wine is very, very different from most of my friends. Just because I have wine training and experience, does that mean you should like what I like? Think about it…
Can the Topic be a Serious Discussion?
What really matters in evaluating a wine for the general public is: is it faulted? is it balanced? is it made for cellaring? will it pair well with foods? etc. A few other general measures: is it fruity/savory? is it acidic? is it sweet? is it drying in the mouth? So, why don’t critics talk about these characteristics more generally, instead of sharing a score with a flowery completely worthless description attached? It won’t sell Wine Enthusiast ™ magazines! Personally, I am so tired of pro critics scores and notes! So, spend what you can afford, drink what you like and enjoy the wine with your favorite foods! Here is to hoping the media does not trap you with all this nonsense!
2 responses to “Are Wine Scores Fake?”
Great article! I have degrees in Viticulture and enology as well as a quart of master sommeliers advance certification. All the teams in the 80s I have been involved in the industry since the 70s tested tens of thousands of wines been a judge at the San Francisco chronicle competition in the Sonoma County harvest fair. I stopped judging many years ago because of all of the variations in opinions and palettes by less experienced judges, made it difficult. I am a childhood friend of James suckling and we have had conversations about this. I think it’s great that the resources of wine scores are available. It does help many people as a guide that being said it certainly does not address. Individual tastes and I agree that recommending a Wine to someone who’s tastes you’re not familiar with would be a difficult challenge.
Thanks for your comment Sanford! Your background would suggest a bunch of fabulous wine! I tried training/certification as a wine judge. It was terrible. I am not a fan of the WSET, or UC Davis scoring systems. There should be more weight on whether the wine is well-made – balance, structure, etc. Up to a third of the score in my opinion. I was tired of giving a wine 2/20 points just because it wasn’t faulted (clarity/appearance). I do enjoy recommending wines to others, but only after I learn their palate. Actually, I prefer tasting notes from other wine collectors over pro scores…