I have written some articles about wine rating systems and the positives and negatives of such over the years. In the past couple of months there has been more noise in the various media(s) about ratings. One of the reasons for this is Decanter Magazine’s decision to embrace the 100 point template that Robert Parker and The Wine Spectator helped popularized (real culprits are wine sales teams both retail & wholesales) in the past couple of decades. Another reason is the major rift that happened when Jim Budd helped expose what has become known as Campogate. The reason Campogate exposed the wine ratings system is due to the view that ratings could be bought by paying Pancho Campo and Jay Miller (no relation to me thanks). But enough bashing for the moment…let’s view the positives first then get back to debating and bashing the currently popular rating systems.
In early 2009 I began writing an article for the Long Island Pulse that I planned on titling Damn You Parker. Not because of the rating system but actually because I feel Parker’s criticism & ratings actually improved the overall quality of wine during his tenure as wine’s most influential person. That influence has begun to wane, and Robert Parker Jr is winding down his career with a partial retirement.
The article is short but to sum, it is about how through Parker’s criticism wine has gotten better. There are much fewer bad wines and way more good to great ones from almost every corner of the world. But on another front the positives can be undone by tilting too far and having a template for satisfying Parker’s palate. That began to happen and I began to notice winemakers ‘crafting’ wines in the mold that would garner “Parker Points”. I’ve called it the coca-cola trend, but eventually wrote another article titled The Walmartization of Wine (I just make up words as I go). This same theme is the basis of a movie that pissed off many wine industry people including Parker. I’d highly recommend finding a copy of Mondovino which skewers the likes of Parker, Michel Rolland, and several others. For wine insiders there are some very fun and funny scenes.
I’ve done a few things in the restaurant and wine industries during my days and have seen the benefits and abuse of wine ratings. The abuse is when the numbers are used for marketing purposes only, the benefit is when the numbers are just a small part of how the wine is analyzed. A good system used properly will benefit the industry (producers striving for better quality) and the consumer. I am a proponent of blind tasting by wine professionals to hone their skills and better serve the end-user when they talk about wine. I am not a fan of wine professionals that never taste blind and don’t understand the benefits and purposes.
Blind Tasting is often ridiculed as a parlor game and it can be for certain if done for the ego. When blind tasting is done for practice, learning and the understanding of terroir and regional differences it is beneficial.
If wine is to be rated on some kind of a scale, the variables should be included in the algorithm, variables include at minimum price, region, vintage and grape. Others include the weather, the mood, the foods your eating before, after during, the wines before, after and during all play a part. So when I hear that Robert Parker Jr. tastes as many as 120 wines a day and rates them, I know that I can’t trust those ratings. He ate didn’t he, he had a mood, there was weather and how is it not possible that the wines before and after didn’t effect his palate?