One wine, two scores

Wine scores cloak wine with a false sense of objectivity and precision. If they are to have any rigor, they should be replicable under various situations. Joel Peterson, the Champagne-sipping founder of Ravenswood Winery, has a telling vignette in this regard:

I have made wines under two labels and I’ve had them scored in the same periodical as much as five points apart. Same wines, different package. Like all judging of wine, it suffers from the wine that came before, the wine that came after, the time of day. All those things can affect a wine by as much as five points.

Many Burgundy reviews have higher scores for each wine at a domaine as the prestige of the appellation increases. To add some rigor, it would be interesting to see if those results were replicable if the wines were tasted blind or intentionally mislabeled. But I guess the folks at Caltech already did something similar to that.

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11 Responses to “One wine, two scores”

  1. Great piece the fMRI takes away some of the issues of other blind/unblind taste tests. The cheap wine they liked best without price info was probably of the “international” style, a fruit forward reasonably balanced wine that the average wine drinker would like.

    The average wine drinker is not looking for the complexity and length of a great wine nor the balance of high acidity so sweetness of a great Riesling, these things just turn them off the wine.

  2. When I worked at a winery we had our wine and bottled the same wine for a French client with his label and we got I think 88 points and I think they got 92 from a very well know usa wine magazine. Exact same wine he had great sales we struggled.

  3. Actually, I think the point is that Mr. Peterson was saying the setting is always going to be different and even if some of the reviewers tasted them “blind” (or didn’t) that the tastings were unstandardizable.

    A more interesting approach would be to standardize all other aspects of a wine (time of decanting, glass, etc.), but only change the time and order between tastes of wines varying from tannic, fruity, and austere at a single price point and see how the scores change. I bet not a single professional reviewer currently tastes in a way that physiologically makes sense.

    Unfortunately you can’t standardize palates so you’d have to have one arm of novices, another of regular drinkers or test for super tasters, non-supertasters, and a third arm of actual MW, MS or top tier professional produces. Doubt they’d go along, but it’d sure be interesting!

  4. Interesting to see you write back-to-back blogs on wine scores and tasting notes. I was just discussing on another blog about your tendency to write up various wines or wineries, but I can’t remember you ever giving a wine a point-score (aside from the time you gave a wine your highest compliment by saying you would buy a case of it). Nevertheless, your reviews do move the needle in the wine world; I’ve seen a winemaker pick up distribution in new states as a result of one of your blogs.

    I’m not saying this to stroke your ego (although I do think your blog is great), just saying that scores and tasting notes seem to be on their way out. Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator have definitely carved out a niche, and I know that our winery has received a very real bump from their reviews. But as a new generation of wine drinkers moves up, I think that scores and top-10 lists and everything else are met with a healthy dose of scepticism.

    The verbiage I hear these days is that people want a “story”, not a score. While I think this is an oversimplification, I think it speaks to the fact that today’s consumer wants to know about more than just how one particular wine tastes. I think (or maybe I hope) that people are now on the lookout for wineries they can believe in and support, thru good wines and bad. I know that is how I feel about wine. If I find a winery I like, I don’t give a crap what Robert Parker thinks. I hope that as more Americans continue to expand their relationship with wine, that becomes a more popular philosophy.

    Anyway, thats my two cents

  5. […] “One wine, two scores.” Dr. Vino has the scoop. […]

  6. I agree with Gabe. I think that nowadays, people are interested in the story behind the product and not just a score. I do that with chocolate (I write about fine chocolate of the world) and never give scores, just my opinion and some background info.

  7. All these comments assume the different scores are the result of the tasters’ palates. Another possibility is bottle variation. I’ve had groups of six bottles of the same wine where 3 were great, 2 were so-so, and one mediocre.

  8. It’s interesting to realize how subjective our tastes are and how easily influenced we are by marketing and by price and by suggestion. What to do? If you own a winery you can hire a marketer. If you’re a consumer, you can find some reputable producers and forget about ratings. There are over 6000 wineries in the U.S. each making more than one wine. That’s an awful lot of stories to tell.

  9. As the Chairperson of a wine competition and I also work the back room of another, I see a great discrepancy in scores. How one wine can win a best of in one competition and no award in another.
    From my view, I believe that the judges need to have an open mind when judging a competition. If they already have preconceived opinions on certain types of wine and grapes, they shouldn’t accept the invitation to judge, knowing they might have to judge those varietals.

    I know everyone palates are different, but keeping an open mind and focus on the wine.

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