What’s in a score? [audio]

I recently posted about blind tasting Bordeaux 2005 with Robert Parker. Last week, via the “inaugural edition” of his monthly e-newsletter, he produced his own summation of the public tasting, which included new, “official” scores for all the wines tasted. At the event, he had not scored any of the wines. But when a member of the audience asked him, “Bob, what were your three votes,” he stated:

“I went back and I was a big fan of 9 and 8 and 3. And then I think 13 and 14 are right up there…I can’t forget eight and nine. I had six wines that blew me away tonight: 1, 3, 8, 9, 13, and 14.”

To recap from the other post, those wines were Le Gay (9), L’Eglise Clinet (8), and Pape Clement (3) as his top three wines of the night, followed closely by Lafite (13), Troplong-Mondot (14), and Pavie (1). I’ve uploaded my own audio recording of the event to the right.

Yet in the e-newsletter, there were some surprises among the ratings. Le Gay, one of his top three wines of the night, received a score of 99 points, certainly outstanding but, oddly, only fourth that evening. L’Eglise Clinet received “99+ points.” But two wines scored 100. One was Troplong-Mondot. And the second was La Mission Haut Brion, which was not among the six wines that “blew him away” that evening.

mission_haut_brion_2005What makes a wine worth 100 points? A couple of years ago, Parker told a Florida newspaper the key to difference separating a 100-point wine from a 99- or a 98-point wine. He said, “I really think probably the only difference…is really the emotion of the moment.”

Obviously, anyone could and perhaps should be influenced by emotions during a tasting of excellent wines. But doesn’t it undermine the pretense of (psuedo-)objectivity that scores represent? Isn’t scoring wines meant to “call it like you see it” and dispense with extraneous information such as labels and context?

How can a professional taster explain such a change in rankings from a public event to subsequent write-up? In the case of 05 La Mission, the wine clearly did not send a chill up Parker’s spine that evening since it was not in his top six. In a thread that emerged on his site about the discrepancies, Parker concluded one of his comments with a plea to “KEEP IT REAL.” Indeed.

* * * * * *
The wines as scored in the “Inaugural Edition of the eRobertParker.com Monthly Newsletter” (note: there are some minor errors in the popular vote totals as Parker reports them, e.g. Montrose got two points, not 30; Ducru got 30, not 57 etc.)

1. Château Pavie: Rated 98+ from the bottle, and 98-100 in this tasting. I found it to be massive and incredibly impressive. It received a total of 51 points.
2. Haut-Brion: Rated 98 from the bottle, and 85? in this tasting. It received a total of 6 points.
3. Pape-Clément: Rated 98 from the bottle, and also 98 in this tasting. It received a total of 56 points.
4. Montrose: Rated 95 from the bottle, and 96+ in this tasting. It received a total of 30 points.
5. Ducru-Beaucaillou: Rated 97 from the bottle, and 98 in this tasting. It received 57 points (a very strong showing).
6. Angèlus: Rated 98 from the bottle, and also 98 in this tasting. It received 57 points.
7. La Mission Haut-Brion: Rated 97 from the bottle, and 100 in this tasting. It received 43 points.
8. L’Eglise-Clinet: Rated 100 from the bottle, and 99+ in this tasting. It received 38 points.
9. Le Gay: Rated 95 from the bottle, and 99 in this tasting. It received 53 points.
10. Latour: Rated 96+ from the bottle, and 98+ in this tasting. It received 86 points, and won the tasting.
11. Larcis Ducasse: Rated 98 from the bottle, and 97+ in this tasting. It received 28 points. It seemed more backward than I remember it from several years ago.
12. Château Margaux: Rated 98+ from the bottle, and 98 in this tasting. It received 40 points.
13. Lafite Rothschild: Rated 96+ from the bottle, and 97+ in this tasting. It received 28 points.
14. Troplong Mondot: Rated 99 from the bottle, and 100 in this tasting. It received 54 points.
15. Cos d’Estournel: Rated 98 from the bottle, and 94+ in this tasting. It received 31 points.

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22 Responses to “What’s in a score? [audio]”

  1. Well, golly. What is the difference between a 99 and 100? More to the point, what’s the difference between 89 and 90?

  2. Perhaps between the actual tasting and his e-newsletter, RP put his taste memory from the blind 2005 event into an iPhone and hit shuffle.

  3. Another reason why points should really be delegated to tasting events such as this and not the shelves of stores and lists of restaurants. They have more in common with sport and far less in common with the public’s enjoyment of the wine in various contexts. Typically, the wine with the most horsepower, that doesn’t explode out of balance, wins.

  4. The problem that I have with RPs comment of “keep it real,keep it fun”, is that it’s big business. If what he said was true then the wines wouldn’t cost what they do.

    His scores unfortunately determine the wines price.

    Lok what’s going on at the WA website with the 2009 harvest and the buildup already as yet another “Vintage of the Century.” Will prices be at or above 2005 to now make up for 2007,2008?

    It’s all a sad joke!!

  5. Alpha taster shouts [in frantic Shatner-esque desperation]:


    [dramatic pause]

    FOR ME!!

  6. this is what i think make the difference between a 89 and 90 and 99 and 100 points wine “Ratings are given based on a tasting in a specific day, under certain circumstances, in a certain mood, amongst certain wines. ”
    from the post below http://www.italyabroad.com/italian-wine-blog/30-wines-and-ratings

  7. There should be 4 categories of ranking: bad, good, great and outstanding. Most wines will fall into the good and great category, leaving the extremes for a select few.

  8. For me, the problem is two versions of the same reality. Version one on the day; version two in the newsletter. But as a consumer, it raises a bigger question. If these two versions of the same event are portrayed differently, what else is different from taste to write up? I would hope nothing but this at least begs the question.

  9. @ therydeinside,

    Re having four categories for wine. Along those lines, we did a blind tasting earlier this year with Chinese wine consumers and wine professionals and for each wine they had to pick one of the following four categories:

    I loved it
    I liked it
    I disliked it
    I hated it

    We wanted to elicit preferences and see which wines they would actually buy – all the wines cost less than USD15, so we decided against a category such as “i found it ok”, in order to keep people from simply sticking most of the wines there.

    We found it good fun and that it created a lot of discussion when we later revealed the wines.

    Details on the event, which we aim to do again, next time with a larger number of consumers, are at the top right on grapewallofchina.com…

    cheers, boyce

  10. Well done. I hope you keep chipping away at this numeric folly. How can something so silly have caught on so widely? It would only make some sick sense if Parker were an automaton.

  11. But doesn’t it undermine the pretense of (psuedo-)objectivity that scores represent?

    I’d disagree. If you’re in a shitty mood or having a horrible day, then you’re not going to take the same pleasure in a wine as if you’re happy as all and surrounded by your favorite people, etc..

    We seem intent on making it into something else, but wine is still something that is incredibly personal. How could something as important as you and your situations not effect the pleasure you take. If anything, your point should be reversed. If your mood or your life can alter how you see the wine, how could you possibly justify ascribing numerical ratings.

  12. Also, I think I missed the opportunity to be my usual cynical self and say the difference between a 90 pointer and a 100 pointer is 10 cases in Parker’s cellar.

  13. It’s happened before, and it’ll happen again. Power corrupts.

    On the flipside, Biodynamic believers say there’s a huge difference in sensory perception depending on the phase of the moon: the same wine can taste great on a “fruit day” and crap on a “leaf day” or “root day”. Some major UK wine buyers are even only conducting tastings on “fruit days”.

    Perhaps RP was tasting on a “leaf day”?

  14. I’m with Boyce, with some modest modifications.

    Loved it
    Liked it
    Did not care for it
    Hated it

    with an extra category for: Loved it at that price point.

  15. To play devil’s advocate here I have to assume that his scoring as reported in the newsletter was
    a) modified somewhat by his other experiences tasting the same wines
    b) taking into consideration where the wine will go

    Like it or not (b) is the probably the most important “skill” of the professional taster, at least in my book. Guessing a wine blind is a fine parlor trick, but having the experience to know, at least to some reasonable degree of professional certainty, how the wine will age, is the real skill set. No one is perfect at it of course, but vintners and blenders and others in the industry have practiced this for probably thousands of years now. I have to believe that this would weigh into those scores. He may well think that the Le Gay will show better for some time but that ultimately the others at apogee will be better. (for what its worth I’m not a TWA subscriber, just thought that there could be some quite logical reasons for these discrepancies)

  16. Hi Michael,

    Yes, taking into consideration how the wine will age is a part of Parker’s scoring method.

    “the overall quality level or potential for further evolution and improvement—aging—merits up to 10 points.”


    This brings us to the shocking score (85 points) of Haut-Brion. Sure, it was closed that evening, and it was wedged in the unfortunate position of being between Pavie and Pape Clement. But it was clear to me that it was a great wine.

    Parker ss renowned for his forecasting ability. Indeed, on his bulletin board, he later posted that in 10 years the HB will be “awesome.” Could he not detect the quality that evening? Or since he apparently did, why did he rate it 85 points?

  17. When I do get to look at them, prognostications of cellarworthiness and evolutionary curves by Parker make for great comedy. I always thought that stuff would make a great subject for an episode of “Penn and Teller: Bullshit!” Is that show still on and any good?

    Just sayin’.



  18. I’ve come to accept that the scale used, be it 100 or otherwise, is partly that of a subjective reaction by the person posting it. It’s up to the reader to equate their tastes to the critics which align with their own. Once the consumer develops their own sense of self when it comes to taste, they will be better able to discern the meaning behind the points they read.

  19. Having been in the wine community over the last 25 years as a hobby, in wine retail, and the auction business, my only advice regarding Parker is…you sell your wine based on his reports, you certainly don’t buy it that way.

  20. Dr. V, the Haut Brion inconsistency seems much more egregious than the relative placement of “99” or “100” point scores for a few wines. I doubt that most would, at maturity rate the HB 85, but then (of course) i have not had it, so I really don’t know at all, but what you say does make sense.

  21. […] de la cultureta actual del vino (e inventor de la hipérbole numérica), Robert M. Parker Jr. Dr. Vino devuelve al candelero el tema de cierta reciente cata a ciegas de burdeos de la […]

  22. Jim Boyce gets my vote, I’d definityly add Laurie’s “Loved it at that price point”, and I might add “Did not care for it enough to pay so much, in spite of earning a high score in several wine magazines” 😉


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