The Point-Less Life
Alder Yarrow, Seth Long, Bill Moore, and Dan McCallum, take a bow—sort of. Alder, you got the exact scores but had the wines reversed. Dan, you had the right score for Wine 2 and were off by a point for Wine 1 until you let that tobacco note throw you. Seth, you nailed Wine 1 and were off by a point for Wine 2, and Bill, you did the opposite. Well played, gents.
So, the answer to the quiz:
Wine 1: 93 points
Wine 2: 97 points
I am not going to identify the critic, the publication, or the wines themselves, because the issue isn’t any one critic or publication. The point I was trying to make was that professional tasting notes are often just a tangle of inane descriptors and fail at their most basic duty: to convey with some degree of precision how good, bad, or indifferent a wine is. I’m not sure that I succeeded in making this point with the tasting notes I cited, because a number of you correctly guessed that the wines had received significantly different scores, and a few of you came thisclose to acing the quiz. Perhaps my preamble yesterday gave the game away, or maybe the two tasting notes were not as indistinguishable from one another as I thought they were. I have to say that I was struck by the way some of you expertly zeroed in on the use of certain words and phrases in the two tasting notes—a tour de force of linguistic sleuthing!
Despite the somewhat ambiguous result of the quiz, I am going to exercise my prerogative as the landlord of this joint to ignore the result and to reiterate a point I made yesterday: numerical ratings got to be so popular in no small part because professional tasting notes are usually such unenlightening gruel. The question now—the question that prompted this two-part post and the bonus quiz—is whether the numerical ratings dished out by wine critics are coming to be seen as equally useless. To put it in pop culture terms, have scores jumped the shark?
No doubt, lots of winemakers still care about the numbers, and many collector/investor types surely do, too. But I sense that points are losing their hold over the marketplace. Judging by the chatter in the chat rooms, wine geeks no longer seem to get as worked up about professional scores as they did back in the day (over on wineberserkers, the discussion concerning Antonio Galloni’s Napa scores was largely driven by ratings refusniks). Perhaps grade inflation is to blame; when every wine these days seems to get 90 points just for showing up and scores in the mid- and high-90s are given out like candy on Halloween, it becomes hard to suppress a yawn. Maybe the weak economy has thinned the point-chaser population, or it could be that the numbers racket has simply run its course and American wine culture is changing. The rise of CellarTracker may also be a factor.
Whatever the reason, professional scores don’t appear to carry as much weight as they did in the past, and I’m not the only one who has detected a shift. I recently spoke with Kermit Lynch, who told me that retailers and restaurants don’t seem to be nearly as preoccupied with numerical ratings as they were just five years ago (and, in fact, a number of wine shops nationwide are now point-free zones). I’m curious if your observations square with mine (and Kermit’s), or if you think I’m guilty of wishful thinking. And how important are professional wine ratings to you? Do you follow them, and do they inform your buying decisions? When you pop into a wine store, do shelf talkers still have the power to get you hot and bothered? Are you living a point-less life, or are you hooked on scores?