Parker’s 100-point enthusiasm

kermit lynch There’s an interview with importer Kermit Lynch in yesterday’s NYT magazine. It’s worth clicking on just to see the view from his deck in Provence–it becomes easy to understand grafting on a career that would take you back there as often as possible!

The interviewer sets Lynch up as the anti-Parker in a lot of ways. Lynch remarks:

I’ve read so many times that Parker’s great secret or invention or whatever — his route to fame and power — was that 100-point scoring system. I always thought it was his writing. He’s great at expressing his enthusiasm. You want to feel that way yourself: I want to get all excited!

While Parker’s lasting influence definitely will be popularizing points, I agree with Lynch that Parker’s notes have conveyed an infectious enthusiasm over the years. In his heyday, Parker could get people revved up about a wine even if a “balls to the walls zinfandel” might not exactly be what they wanted. Today, many tasting notes are precious, fanciful or or merely anodyne addenda that readers skip on their way to skimming scores (if that is their wont). It’s hard to write good tasting notes, especially when reviewing a group of wines form the same region or vintage that are broadly similar. And Parker’s descriptors were often limited or repetitive. But because notes are fundamentally conveying an opinion rather than fact, Lynch is right to underscore Parker’s enthusiasm, which often appears lost today under hints of marzipan and toasty vanilla.

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11 Responses to “Parker’s 100-point enthusiasm”


  1. He makes a good point. Parker has done a lot for and to wine. On both sides of the coin. Sad to see where he is now and how it ends. Funny how things that start off one way, end up in some totally strange place.


  2. I think the problem with Parker is the problem with many things. Commercialization. When is big, big enough? Once he started expanding the ‘Parker’ brand beyond himself, it lost its true-ness and original value. Yes, it is hard to cover the whole world by yourself, but you can only ‘farm it out’ so far and expect to retain the essence of what made him valuable and unique.
    Get a half a dozen people in there and you no longer are sure that you know where they are coming from and whether they have the same loyalty to the oath of non-partisanship (see Jay Miller goes to Spain). When he expanded his staff, he lost my subscription. I used to know where his taste buds and mine agreed, that changed. He turned into a monochromatic version of the Wine Spectator. Albeit without the ads and the monthly picture of bloated Marvin.


  3. […] Tyler Colman praises Robert Parker’s “100-point enthusiasm.” […]


  4. Fair comment. I never did like his writing style (very confident/expressive), but it’s clear that it struck a chord with swathes of the local community who may not have enjoyed in the same way the writings of Hugh Johnson and Michael Broadbent etc. or who felt they needed an unambiguous opinion to follow.


  5. HEY “DOC,”

    HAVING ONLY TONIGHT COME ACROSS YOUR FEB. 14, 2012 POSTING TITLED “WHO INVENTED WINE’S 100-POINT SCALE” (AS A SIDEBAR TO THIS POSTING), LET ME CROSS-REFERENCE MY COMMENTS WITH A LITTLE BIT OF “HAGIOGRAPHY” ON THE POPE OF MONKTON.

    AMERICAN SCHOOLS USE A ZERO THROUGH 100 POINT GRADING SYSTEM.

    (ASIDE: NOT TURN IN YOUR HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT, AND YOU GET A BIG, FAT “ZERO” AS A GRADE.)

    PARKER, BEING A GRADUATE OF AN AMERICAN LAW SCHOOL THAT USES THE 50 TO 100 POINT GRADING SCALE, ADOPTED THAT AS HIS PARADIGM.

    BY HIS OWN ADMISSION HE USES TWO SCALES:

    A 40 POINT SCALE FOR WINES THAT DON’T IMPROVE WITH BOTTLE AGE.

    AND A 50 POINT SCALE FOR WINES THAT THEORETICALLY SHOULD IMPROVE WITH BOTTLE AGE.

    HE THEN ADDS ON AN EXTRA 50 POINTS TO BRING THE NUMERICAL SCORE TO 90 OR 100 POINTS.

    THE SALIENT QUOTE:

    “Theirs [Wine Spectator's], in fact, is advertised as a 100-point system; mine from the very beginning is a 50-point system. If you start at 50 and go to 100, it is clear it’s a 50-point system, and it has always been clear. Mine is basically two 20-point systems with a 10-point cushion on top for wines that have the ability to age. …”

    READ ON . . .

    ~~ BOB

    Excerpts from Wine Times (September/October 1989) interview with Robert Parker, publisher of The Wine Advocate

    WINE TIMES: How is your scoring system different from The Wine Spectator’s?

    PARKER: Theirs is really a different animal than mine, though if someone just looks at both of them, they are, quote, two 100-point systems. Theirs, in fact, is advertised as a 100-point system; mine from the very beginning is a 50-point system. If you start at 50 and go to 100, it is clear it’s a 50-point system, and it has always been clear. Mine is basically two 20-point systems with a 10-point cushion on top for wines that have the ability to age. …

    … The newsletter was always meant to be a guide, one person’s opinion. The scoring system was always meant to be an accessory to the written reviews, tasting notes. That’s why I use sentences and try and make it interesting. Reading is a lost skill in America. There’s a certain segment of my readers who only look at numbers, but I think it is a much smaller segment than most wine writers would like to believe. The tasting notes are one thing, but in order to communicate effectively and quickly where a wine placed vis-à-vis its peer group, a numerical scale was necessary. If I didn’t do that, it would have been a sort of cop-out.

    I thought one of the jokes of the 20-point systems is that everyone uses half points, so it’s really a 40-point system — which no one will acknowledge — and mine is a 50-point system, and in most cases a 40-point system.

    WINE TIMES: But how do you split the hairs between an 81 and an 83?

    PARKER: It’s a fairly methodical system. The wine gets up to 5 points on color, up to 15 on bouquet and aroma, and up to 20 points on flavor, harmony and length. And that gets you 40 points right there. And then the [ balance of ] 10 points are … simply awarded to wines that have the ability to improve in the bottle. This is sort of arbitrary and gets me into trouble.

    WINE TIMES: You mean when you are in the cellars of Burgundy, you look at a wine and say this is a 4 for color, a 14 for bouquet, and so on [?]

    PARKER: Yes, most of the times. What happens is that I’ve done so many wines by now that I know virtually right away that it’s, say, upper 80s, and you sort of start working backwards. And color now is sort of an academic issue. The technology of color is refined and most color is fine. My system applies best to young wines because older wines, once they’ve passed their prime, end up getting lower scores.

    WINE TIMES: Your scores get 50 points added on and look like the grades boys and girls get in school, and I know that’s why you ended up with a system with 100 points, . . .


  6. I agree that Parker’s fame got bigger than himself, but his notes are still of great value. And the scoring system is genius in terms of branding and marketing. Gary V has a funny movie about Parker’s scores. it’s is quite worth watching it. Cheers!


  7. His notes are indeed of much value. Much respect for Parker.


  8. Kermit Lynch is a classy dude


  9. Maybe my problem with the 100 point system is that no one really USES all one hundred points. Except for Gary V. I loved when he would give a lesser wine fifty four points and give it a Pazz “with eleven Zs”. Tell us what you really think, wine critics and don’t sugercoat it!


  10. THE “EVOLUTION” OF THE WINE SPECTATOR’S SCORING SCALE

    QUOTING FROM WINE SPECTATOR (MARCH 16 – 31, 1982, PAGE 12):

    “Scoring:

    “The Wine Spectator Tasting Panel uses a nine-point tasting scale, first introduced in 1974 by the Oenological and Viticultural Research Institute of South Africa, and modified by researchers at the University of California-Davis.

    “Panelists are required to grade a wine against five sections (unacceptable to superior) and to provide written comments about each wine tasted. The section division is:

    “Unacceptable . . . 1 point
    “Average quality with some defects . . . 2 to 3 points
    “Average quality . . . 4 to 6 points
    “Above average quality with some superior qualities . . . 7 to 8 points
    “Superior . . . 9 points

    “Space is provided on the tasting sheet for panelists to describe appearance, aroma, taste, and to list general comments. Following the scoring, a panel discussion is held on each flight of wines.

    “Total points given for each wine are tallied and an average score calculated. Only the top four wines (or more if ties occur at any or all of the four levels) are reviewed in detail. All other wines are listed only as having been tasted in the flight.”

    FURTHER QUOTING FROM WINE SPECTATOR (MARCH 16 – 31, 1982, PAGE 12):

    “Criteria:

    “In selecting the wines to be evaluated by The Wine Spectator Tasting Panel, care is taken to be as fair and equitable as possible.

    “We believe that Wine Spectator Tasting Panel is the most significant series of wine tasting reports available to the consumer. This is why:

    “All flights contain no more than 12 wines. From each flight of wines tasted, only the top four wines are fully rated with scores and condensed tasting notes from the full panel. When ties occur, all wines in the first four places are reviewed fully.

    “All judging panels will normally consist of five or six members, most of whom are selected for their reputations as winemakers, wine merchants, educators, or wine-interested consumers with acknowledged palates. Further, every effort is made to select panel members to taste and rate wine for which they have established a particular knowledge and expertise.

    “All wines are tasted blind against others of like type. No ‘ringer,’ or European-American comparisons are permitted. When a selected wine is available in more than one vintage, a mixing of vintages is allowed.

    “All wines are poured in each flight, then each panelist tastes and rates each wine individually. A panel discussion of each flight of wines is held following the tasting and rating.

    “All wines are rated on a modified UC-Davis nine-point scale, recommended for The Wine Spectator Tasting Panel by Emeritus Professor Maynard Amerine.

    “All wines are purchased at Southern California retail prices and are selected for their general availability in most major U.S. markets. However, because of distribution and pricing variables, availability will vary throughout the country.”

    IN 1985, WINE SPECTATOR DROPPED ITS 9-POINT SCALE AND ADOPTED A 100-POINT SCALE. ONE CONSEQUENCE OF THAT CHANGE CAN BE FOUND IN THE ABSENCE OF PRINTED 9-POIN SCALE WINE REVIEWS DATING FROM THE LATE 1970s TO THE MID-1980s IN THEIR “BUYER’S GUIDE” BINANNUAL REVIEW BOOKS.

    QUOTING FROM WINE SPECTATOR (MARCH 15, 1994, PAGE 90):

    “How We Do the Tastings . . . . Ratings are based on POTENTIAL QUALITY, on how good the wines will be when they are AT THEIR PEAKS. . . . . [CAPITALIZATION used for emphasis. – Bob Henry]

    [Bob Henry’s comment: High numerical scores for most ageable young wines can be misleading, as these wines generally do not reach their peak “potential quality” (sic) until many years after their public release. For example, if a red wine merits a “96” score reflecting its “potential quality” some ten-plus years into the future, then how do we assign a comparable 100-point “quality” score when sampled TODAY in less-than-peak condition? ]

    . . . .

    “About the 100-Point Scale:

    “Ratings reflect how highly our tasting panel regards each wine relative to other wines. Although the ratings summarize the wines’ overall quality, read the tasting notes carefully to determine if their style and character appeal to you.

    “95 – 100 . . . Classic, a great wine

    90 – 94 . . . Outstanding, a wine with special “character and style

    “80 – 89 . . . Good to very good, a wine with special qualities

    “70 – 79 . . . Average, a drinkable wine that may have minor flaws

    “60 – 69 . . . Below average, drinkable but not recommended

    “50 – 59 . . . Poor, undrinkable, not recommended”

    AS YOU CAN SEE, THE WINE SPECTATOR SCALES GOES DOWN TO 50 POINTS . . . JUST LIKE ROBERT PARKER’S. (WATER WOULD SCORE “50 POINTS” ON THIS SCALE — NOT “ZERO.”)

    FURTHER QUOTING FROM THE SAME MARCH 15, 1994 ISSUE IN THE “LETTERS” SECTION (PAGE 90):

    “Grading Procedure:

    “In Wine Spectator, wines are always rated on a scale of 100. I assume you assign values to certain properties of the wines (aftertaste, tannins for reds, acidity for whites, etc), and combined they form a total score of 100. An article in Wine Spectator describing your tasting and scoring procedure would be helpful to all of us.

    “(Signed)

    “Thierry Marc Carriou
    Morgantown, N.Y.

    “Editor’s note: In brief, our editors do not assign specific values to certain properties of a wine when we score it. We grade it for overall quality as a professor grades an essay test. We look, smell and taste for many different attributes and flaws, then we assign a score based on how much we like the wine overall.”


  11. Chicago Pinot, I just checked out your blog. I think it lacks depth, and give it a pazz with 11 z’s. 62 points.

    (did you love that? think of how a winemaker would feel)


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