The latest issue of The Wine Advocate, published just before Christmas, is generating a lot of chatter because it includes Antonio Galloni’s first Napa Valley reviews—1061 reviews, to be exact. Galloni’s scores were pretty effusive—so much so that some observers think he may have single-handedly recalibrated the scales, so to speak. As W. Blake Gray put it, 94 points seems to be the new 90. Indeed, with so many Napa wines receiving scores in the mid- and upper-90s (according to Gray, 123 wines were awarded 95 points or above by Galloni) anything below that really does look like chopped liver now. Whether Galloni’s scores accurately reflect the quality of the wines being made in Napa these days or are the result of grade inflation is a matter of debate. But I have a different question: Do people still care all that much about professional wine ratings?
No, you are not about to read another broadside against the 100-point scale or wine ratings in general. I think ratings are an inevitable aspect of wine appreciation, and I certainly haven’t been able to resist the urge to keep score; I use letter grades instead of numbers, but it still amounts to scorekeeping. I happen to believe that the 100-point system is uniquely flawed, but I understand its appeal—it offers a succinct, unambiguous verdict. And when you read a typical professional tasting note, you see very quickly why numerical ratings got to be so popular. Take, for instance, these two reviews, which I recently came across in a wine publication that shall remain nameless. Both wines were rated on a 100-point scale. Try to guess which one earned a higher rating and the score that each wine received:
Wine 1: “The _____is a captivating wine graced with exquisite finesse, depth, and grace. Seemingly endless layers of dark red fruit, tar, spices, flowers and tobacco are woven together beautifully in this stunning, deeply expressive _____. A radiant, supple finish rounds things out in style. Today the ___ comes across as quite open and accessible given the richness of its fruit.”
Wine 2: “The ____emerges from the glass with dark plums, black cherries, licorice, graphite and spices. The wine possesses striking textural depth and richness, with dazzling purity and exceptional overall balance. Today the spiciness of the oak comes through just a bit, but that should not be an issue by the time the wine is ready to drink. A final burst of fruit informs the explosive finish.”
Judging by all the superlatives (captivating, exquisite, stunning, dazzling, exceptional, radiant), the critic clearly liked both wines a lot. Apart from the one caveat concerning the second wine, the two tasting notes strike me as basically indistinguishable—the same degree of enthusiasm, the same banal verbiage. I am curious to hear what you think—so curious, in fact, that I am going to hold off on finishing this post in order to give you a chance to offer your guesses. Again, which of these wines received a higher score, and how many points was each wine awarded? I’ll be back tomorrow with the answers and to continue my point about points.