There is no more derisive topic in the world of wine than scores. You either love them or hate them. The subject has been well argued and like so many of life’s quandaries we fear the “right” answer is not forthcoming. But scores are a bellwether when looking for a source to evaluate or purchase wine. How an organization approaches scores says a lot about their approach to wine.
PROTOCOL wine studio has some thoughts on this subject:
Scoring as Inevitable:
By serendipitous means the fermented grape was first brought to our tables. But as the demand for wine grew and styles evolved, so was born another fine tradition, that of the wine critic. With two glasses in hand, a different wine in each, there would be those who would come and listen to the words of this “sage” for he was known to say which was the better of the drink.
And there you have it, as with all art, the critic follows closely behind. The evolution of the 100-point system was natural, even anticipated. And as styles and technology evolved, so has the practice of wine evaluation. But all critics suffer from the same dilemma: how do I communicate my opinion of this wine in the simplest terms?–Because (and let’s face it) most consumers don’t take the time to read and interpret the pontifications of critics.
Perhaps the first expression of wine scores was as simple as thumbs up or thumbs down. This is the most efficient form of critique, but even Siskel and Ebert must find the cruel simplicity of this evaluation restrictive. And so the system has expanded, eventually resting on the natural scale of 100. In short, if Parker had not adopted the 100-point system when he did, someone else would have.
Understand the Impact:
Scores are here and they’ve made an impact. It’s important for the wine professional to understand this when making buying decisions.
Perhaps the most glaring example of scores changing winemaking styles is in Bordeaux. Beginning with his lauded evaluation of the 1982 vintage, Robert Parker made his mark. Thirty years later everything from micro-oxygenation in winemaking to skyrocketing futures prices can be traced back to Parker’s influence.
Understanding this influence and more importantly understanding how your client will perceive the results of this influence is critical. In short how we feel about Parker is irrelevant when making buying decisions for our clients. The true question is how does the consumer feel?
If Joe consumer loves fruit bombs and high scoring wines, we can accommodate that passion. Just as important, if the same consumer is open to learning about old-word style and grace, then we can leave the world of scores and fruit extraction aside for a more funky ride.
Using the Toolbox:
The well-appointed toolbox has many instruments. Delicate ones for fine work and severe ones for more extreme circumstances. If knowledge of the Grand Cru system in Burgundy is the fine bit drill, then surely wine scores are the hammer! If one chooses the hammer at every turn, perhaps a course in refinement is long overdue. Likewise the toolbox without a hammer is definitely incomplete.
The true professional is not necessarily judged for the tools he brings to the table, but for the quality of his work. Our ultimate business goal is to sell wine. We prefer to achieve this via cultural context. Let us expound from our prospective. As wine professionals, we are tasked with searching out good wine. We are Sommeliers, which means we have been trained to assess a wine’s soundness. We look for wines that our customers would like (accounting for varying palates) and that we know we can sell for particular reasons. This is the critical function of our work, and scores may well be a part of this consideration.
But there’s an essential next step we call it: The Hunting. There has to be a story behind a glass of wine for us to really get behind it. As human beings we make connections with others in many different ways. We want to hear about the family behind the bottle, the farm and vineyard and for goodness tell us about the dogs on the property. As professional wine buyers we are always hunting, looking for that story. In this element of our work, tradition, culture and poetry take center stage. There is no consideration for scores when hunting.
At PROTOCOL wine studio, we propose a different way: loyalty, honesty and integrity in wine buying. The story behind the wine is most important, the social aspect; the wine itself becomes part of that whole experience. But scores must be part of the intelligent wine professional’s buying decision. But be wary, sometimes scores will help us to determine what we don’t want as much as what we do want. Knowing the difference in the mind of your customer is the key.
Tina and Guy
Partners, PROTOCOL wine studio
Tune to #winechat Wednesday 1 August for a complete discussion.