Friday, December 21, 2007

Last Night's Tipple

The most commercially influential wine rating scheme in use today is the 100 point system. Popularized (although not invented) by wine critic Robert Parker in the 1980s and now adopted by most wine publications that rate wine, it's actually not really a 100 point system: if the liquid in the bottle is wine, then the minimum score it can get is 50 points. Any wine that it not badly flawed will get a score above 75 points; and in order to be commercially viable, the score has to be above 85 points. Well, at least if the wine costs more than $10 a bottle and is not available in unlimited quantities. Yes, ratings matter in the wine business, and they matter a great deal. Wine publications are widely read by enthusiasts (and those who fancy themselves as enthusiasts or want to be regarded as such), and a score below 85 for a wine from, say, Ridge, would be the commercial kiss of death. Nobody wants to buy bad wine, and a large percentage of consumers rely on wine publications to tell them what wine is good and what wine is bad.

And wine merchants take full advantage of this insecurity in the American consumer. Anyone who has been to a wine store has been bombarded by those little shelf talkers, which show the wine's score in some publication in a big, bolded number, followed by the blurb that that the publication had about the wine in smaller, unbolded type. For Parker and for most or all of the others that use the 100 point system, the score was intended to be nothing more than a quick reference. The description in the text was where the real meat of the review was supposed to be. Of course, it hasn't really worked out that way; and a lot of wine consumers seem to buy on the basis of the score alone.

I'd like to say that I'm completely uninfluenced by the scores shown on the shelf talkers in wine stores, but I know that this isn't accurate. I can say that I strive to be: a number tells you nothing whatever about a wine. It's even more worthless than a review by someone whose palate and preferences are different from your own. Chasing scores is unlikely to lead to good purchases.

And what scores has the 2005 Ridge Lytton Springs received? Beats me. I suspect that they're not that good, though, because of the lack of mention of them on the K&L Wine Merchants website. I can honestly say that I don't care, though. I liked this wine, and I liked it a lot. If the Wine Spectator or Robert Parker didn't, well, that's just more of it left for me.

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