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On Scoring Wine

You may have noticed that, unlike many other wine shops and web sites, we don’t spend a lot of energy talking about scores and points.

First, let me say that, in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with judging wine and summarizing your judgment with a numeric score.  The fact is, some wine is better than other wine.  And some wine is a lot better than other wine, while sometimes it’s pretty close.  Rather than use words like “a lot” or “pretty close”, it’s OK to use numbers to represent those thoughts.

Maybe you like a scale out of 5, and the number 5 means really awesome and 3 means it’s pretty good and 1 means it sucks.  That’s just fine.  A 100 point scale (which is really more like a 20 point scale since almost all scores lie between 80 and 100) is just a more finely tuned version of that 5 point scale.  It allows you to say things, in shorthand form, like “this wine is a teeny-tiny bit better than that wine” which can be pretty useful.

So again, feel free to score the wines that you taste.

So where are all the scores in our shop?  We simply don’t like to emphasize points awarded by journalists.  Too often, they are given in a context that are uninformative and even misleading.

For example, there is one magazine that awards points by having journalists taste numerous bottles of wine in a row blind.  Blind tasting can be a fun and educational activity.  But it’s a poor way of judging wine.  Our senses work in the context of our mind and our memory.  When we recognize, from a label, that a bottle of wine is Chambolle Musigny, our nose and our palate will look for particular things — perhaps subconsciously — that are typical of Chambolle Musigny.  We are much more likely to find the Chambolle Musigny qualities that make the wine special if we know that the wine is Chambolle Musigny.

And if we know the age of the wine, we will also judge it in the context of its age.  For example, many Burgundies are shut down at around the age five.  If we taste a shut down Burgundy but have not seen the label, we might not know that it is likely in a shut down phase and therefore we’re likely to punish it with a lower score.

Even when wine is not tasted blind, it is, necessarily — as these are publications that want to provide data on hundreds of different bottlings — tasted in small amounts and at the same time that many other bottles are being tasted.  This is a very different experience from simply taking a bottle home and drinking it with dinner.  Wine evolves in the glass.  It interacts with food.  It improves — or declines — in your cellar.  These are not things that can be assessed in a sip or two.

Inevitably, when wines are lined up and tasted blind, tasters assign higher scores to wines with more sweetness, more alcohol and more oak.  These are exactly the kinds of wines that may give a jolt of pleasure on a single sip, but that the palate will find very tiring after only half a glass.  When I go to wine dinners, it is often these wines that get left only half drunk on the table.  They simply don’t deserve the high scores they get.

So it’s fine to use numbers as a way of summarizing your feelings about a wine.  But using journalist scores to shop for wine is not a good idea at all.