Robert Parker admits to “the emotion of the moment,” threatening the basis of wine scores!

OK, people, did you really think that numerical wine ratings were objective? This gem has just been transmitted to the Dr. Vino Mobile World Headquarters, from Robert Parker’s interview earlier this year with the Naples (FL) Daily News:

For most people, I think, giving 100 points is almost setting up a situation for the people who are reading it … to be disappointed because you have somebody who’s well-known and has credibility saying it’s perfection in wine. And there’s always the issue: Is there perfection in wine?

I’ve always tried to explain it saying that, you know, I’m a very passionate person and an emotional person. I really think probably the only difference between a 96-, 97-, 98-, 99-, and 100-point wine is really the emotion of the moment. (emphasis added)

He admits elsewhere to being a supertaster, but here he says he’s no cyborg! There you go: relativism in ratings! That’s what I just mentioned in the comments section to Jay Miller, a critic at the Wine Advocate. Join the fray with your comments! Or see Jay Miller’s comments on the science of olfactory analysis.

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22 Responses to “Robert Parker admits to “the emotion of the moment,” threatening the basis of wine scores!”

  1. Well, I guess it’s good to hear what Robert Parker admits and most people instinctively know: ratings and points don’t really matter. If anything, they only serve as a quick summary of opinion and reflect the prejudices (good or bad) of the critic. For most people, they’re as meaningless as film reviews; they only matter to those that imbibe them (the ratings, not the wine).

  2. Do ratings matter? I say yes, because a rating is a reflection of the taster/reviewer. (I actually hate the use of the word critic, probably because I only recommend wines, I don’t trash the ones I don’t prefer). If you value tasters opinion, then the score counts. When I consolidate the ratings of various reviewers I respect, I do it because I value the opinions of these raters. When they all agree that a wine that is Very Good or better, the chances of my satisfaction with this wine increases as well. When I review a wine and say it is Excellent, that is just my opinion and palate. But if 3 other professional agree with me, I would bet big $ you will be satisfied. Everyone needs to come up with a system that works for themselves. Many folks don’t have the luxury, passion, or stamina to try hundred of wines. I find it exhilarating to do so. Then I share my thoughts and research with all that cares to read it. But just like any ratings system, it’s just a means to get to an end. That end is hopefully a very satisfying glass of wine. Cheers

  3. Personally I think you could drop the “emphasis added” line that seems to be included at least once in every entry posted. It’s a common style convention on blogs, to embolden the important bits in a quotation, and I guarantee that 99% of your readers know that “emphasis added” goes without saying.

    Good blog though.

  4. Bob Perker and Jay Miller at least seem to acknowledge the human side fo wine reviewing. Seeing the quote here makes one realize that emotion still has to play a role in giving a wine a score of, say, 87 over 85. It’s just hman nature. Blind-taste a wine one day in one lineup and it will get one score. That same wine tasted by the same taster on a different day will garner a different response, and rating. This simple fact makes all numbers imperfect, and while I do appreciate the idea of aggregating and/or cross-referencing scores to identify “winners,” I still think we’d all be better off if we could mcuster the conviction, like Doc V himself, to recommend wines with words, not digits. Meanwhile, I’d love to see a Specatator editor’s take on “emotion”… The WS system is not only designed to place emphasis on numbers over descriptions, but it also aims to make one critics’ ratings appear equivalent to the others’. The scores are presented and preserved as gospel. That’s denial of the highest order, and it hurts wine journalism far more than it helps. -Tish

  5. Excellent. What we need is more critics to come clean and admit that the difference between scores is not an objective, but a subjective matter. Wine can be–and should be–something that elicits strong emotions and reactions. And as one of the few reviewers who recommends wines with words, not scores, I agree with Tish that this is the simplest way to make sure that the number doesn’t become all. From a marketing standpoint, however, I agree that aggregate critic scores are very important to the average consumer. We still have a long way to go.

  6. […] at least not in a consistently applicable way. By his own admission Parker can’t (hat tip Dr. Vino). And Alder argues that anyone who steps foot on a fairground to judge wines sure as heck […]

  7. Scores do matter but the precision of the 100 point and 20 point scales are bogus.

    Go with a chunkier scale instead like the 5-star (my fav) or thumbs up/ thumbs down etc.

  8. You know, the Dedicated Followers of Parker are going to ignore or reinterpret his admirably honest statement to uphold their value system. Uh, points system. They worship a Graven Image.

    Honest as Parker himself may be, there’s [big] money in that there cult.

  9. I guess it all goes back to it’s all about what the individual likes. If you like it, drink it! Ratings are over-rated 🙂

  10. we’re willing to read multi-line descriptions… why not ask for more than one quantitative descriptor?

  11. I think the most important issue is reliability. Forgetting “emotion” for the moment, if Bob (or any other critic) rates a wine 95 (or 100) one day, will it get the same, or nearly the same score a week or a month later(under blind tasting conditions).

  12. Of course. Does RP even need to state such an obvious fact? I follow rating but do it in sets of 10. A 90 – 100 wine is hopefully ” better ” than an 80 – 90 wine.

    To me the different between a 98 and a 96 rating is the color of the wall or the time of day of the rating…..meaning…very little difference.

    Rating are like recipes, they are simply roadmaps IMHO.

    But, I would rather have a RP rating then no rating at all.

  13. With all due respect to critics like Jay Miller and Bob Parker, there is no way human beings can replicate their scores on the 100-point scale. Just not happening. Can they nail a wine in categories, like 95-99, 90-94? Probably, but the implication of the 10-point scale is the very reason it’s a 100-point scale instead of, say, 5 stars. It can not be done. If a critic disagrees, perhaps he would be willing to do a blind tasting/rating challenge for charity?

  14. Jancis Robinson says the same thing about the precision of her scores – that they are identical for the same wines tasted a week or a few months later. I guess we have to take their word for it, but I – like Tish – would love to see a public blind tasting competition. TO THE ARENA GIANT WINE CRITICS!

    Of course no big wine critic would expose themselves to the possibility of appearing infallible. Wussies! What we need are critics like gladiators!

  15. Jay,

    That is such a provocative claim, it simply must be put to the test. What if I come to a place of your choosing and pour you 10 wines blind that you have previously rated. Then a few weeks later you come to a (reasonable) place of my choosing and I’ll pour you the same 10 wines again, blind. If you can reproduce the EXACT scores, both times, then, I will be convinced not only of your ability but also of the point system’s accuracy. Of course if you can’t nail the exact scores then you have no business slapping single-number scores on wine. Or, as Tish suggests, it could be a public event with the proceeds to benefit a charity.

    Shall we set a date for round one?



  16. […] blunt, to the point, and knows her stuff. She doesn’t seem to get caught up in the emotion that other critics have grudgingly admitted to, though it’s clear she understands that tasting wine is completely […]

  17. Richard Olney said in his “Reflexions”: “Words cannot touch the soul of a wine.” I would add a number or score to that statement.

  18. Marco,

    Wow, if words can’t do wine justice, you’re right, a single number doesn’t stand a chance! Great find!

  19. […] Parker Jr., who admits to being human by saying that wine ratings can be affected by the “emotion of the moment“. Which is more or less accurate? Neither really, they’re alternative means to a […]

  20. For an objective evaluation of wine scores and wine critics, check out the following article.

    The author, Scott Shewbridge, used to have a number of similar articles on the internet, but his consulting company seems to have gone out of business and the articles have disappeared.

    I once had a friend with a statistical annalysis package on his computer run a coorelation between Parker scores and Wine Spectator scores. The raw data was from an article on Sauterne in the Wine Spectator and one of Parker’s books that rated the same wines (chateau and year). My friend said that in his opinion the inter-rater reliability was fairly good.

    Cheers, BNJTokyo

  21. the emotion of the moment threatening the basis of wine scores

    Is it possible that admitting to having emotions during the tasting moment doesn’t really “threaten” the score basis, but actually makes the score more believeable?
    Most wine-serious people are not swayed, let alone even life-altered, by the difference between a 96 and a 97 rating on a wine or between two wines. Or an 84/85 – 89/90 – and probably even that very rare 91/93 moment, if you will.
    These same people would most likely enjoy a bit of human emotion injected into their fray from time to time.
    In the early days when 20 points was all a wine could muster, the introduction of the new 100-point parkerscale was spoken about as almost earth-shattering to us hoi polloi.
    Finally the masses would be able to discern among the wines reviewed, awarded, etc. and, by knowing the final objective truths which this scale would religiously reveal, we would be able to buy the wines we were told to desire. Hoi oligoi would continue to rely on the MW in their shop to stock their cellars anyway, without any applied personal need to bother with such trivia.
    A perceived social win/win moment.
    Alas, the collecting society seems to be uneasy with such perceptions. Always looking for the leg up in the situation.
    How sad they must feel, or is it a sense of betrayal, the moment when godbob announces he is really human after all and attributes his one-point differences to [gasp] momentary emotionality.
    That Domaine Deuxièmes 2000 is now a 94 not a 95?? Merde, I say!! Call my MW and cancel my order this minute!!

  22. […] Parker Jr., who admits to being human by saying that wine ratings can be affected by the “emotion of the moment“. Which is more or less accurate? Neither really, they’re alternative means to a […]


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