Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Perils and Problems of Points

Frank’s Rant:

I am getting very tired of the whole points thing with wine. Do we really need to grade our wine the same way we mark a high school exam? I have yet to find an art gallery that ranks their Monets from one to 100. Rossini arias, as far as I know, have never been assessed as 95 or 96 points. And what exactly is the difference between 89 and 90 points – other than the fact one will likely carry a higher price tag.

When you look at the shelf talkers hanging in front of the wine bins in your local liquor store, what do the numbers actually tell you? Is the bottle in front of you a fruit bomb or something elegant and silky? What food does it go with?

Points don’t tell you whether or not a wine is typical of the region. Typicite or tipicta – depending on whether you are French or Italian – is subjective I will admit, but it does tell me if that Sancerre is really typical of the area. Points don’t.

Nor does the point system give you any indication whether the wine is correctly made for the varietal. At a tasting the other night, we had a Viognier with so much oak in it, none of the fruit and aromas associated with that varietal survived. No peaches, no elusive bouquet. We would have been disappointed if we’d gone out and bought the wine. Yet someone gave it a high mark and thought it was a good one.

Subjective yes. But enjoying wine is, after all, highly subjective. What I like and what I can taste or smell is going to be different than the person sitting next to me. Susan and I can taste a wine and agree it is clear, has a clean nose, perhaps that it ruby rather than garnet. We can agree it is a tannic wine. We can go through a WSET tasting chart or a Davis sheet and give it no points or almost a perfect score. We can agree on all of this, and one of us may hate the wine while the other will love it.

For me, a premier cru Chablis or a Condrieu is bliss. For Susan, the more tannic a red wine is, the better. At a tasting, she can tell me “you won’t like this one.” But if it is well made with no faults, we might both give it a high score – I just don’t like it and she does.

I also sometimes wonder how wines are awarded their points in the glossy wine magazines. Rather too often, it seems big ads equate to big points – although I could be wrong on this one.

To me, assigning a number to a wine and adding tasting note of two lines or less tell you absolutely nothing. The only thing points do is help sell wines at the store level – you don’t need to know anything about wines and neither does the store. Many good wines will be passed by because they are from an area not covered by a critic and so have no magical point ranking.

Mind you, now that I think about it, perhaps this is a good thing. Some of my favorites may remain fairly priced and available. Stay away from the Loire Valley you wine critics, and all will be well.

No comments: