Points – Why I prefer not to use them


The thoughtful Dario Bressanini has published this piece – in Italian, sorry – about the trustworthiness of wine judges and points scoring systems: http://bressanini-lescienze.blogautore.espresso.repubblica.it/2014/04/07/quanto-sono-esperti-i-giudici-%E2%80%9Cesperti%E2%80%9D-assaggiatori-di-vino/. There is reference to articles in English at the bottom, so if Italian is not one of your strengths, you might want to go there.

It is to be expected, of course, that in a world so driven by personal preference, personal aesthetics and differences in individuals’ sense apparatuses as wine, there will be a huge spread in points awarded to wines. It is probably equally to be expected that any individuals’ scoring of several tastings of the same wine will have – on average – quite a large spread, as so many factors influence each tasting. Some will be more driven by their aesthetics and preferences, some become tired and unfocussed earlier than others, in general or on the day, some are not in it for the taste at all, and wine changes continually in the bottle, in the glass and with meteorological conditions.

All of these factors obviously conspire towards rendering the trustworthiness of points scoring, whether for competitions or for publishing, impossible or at least dubious. However, since competitions are competitions, and since publishing a single person’s opinion is just that, a single person’s opinion, I have yet to see someone come up with a better system to render, in a brief manner, a judgement on wine. I would suggest that the steps to be taken here are in the systematization of wine tastings, and in the selection of consistent tasters, rather than in scrapping points systems.

While the lack of trustworthiness in wine scores is a problem in itself, my problem with points for wines is much more an aesthetic one. As I have written earlier (here: https://oleudsenwineblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/08/diversity-in-wine-or-a-craving-for-the-weird-and-wonderful/), I try to have an unbiased view of wines. I try to take them at face value, and I try to push my own prejudices and preferences aside. It goes without saying – but I’ll do it anyway – that I am almost entirely unsuccessful in doing so. I don’t necessarily think that anyone can entirely push own preferences aside, as many of them are deeply embedded and only partially conscious. However, I find merit in trying to do so.

Given this, what is the best method to convey to others the taste of a wine? By way of points scoring, which reduces the huge variety of wine to mere points, or by way of trying to write tasting notes that might convey a sense of the wine? After all, accepting points scoring as a universal indicator of wine quality and character would somehow seem to convey the sense that tastes are the same everywhere, and that there is a fairly limited range of expressions within wine that will appeal to wine drinkers. But this is so very obviously not the case, so for me, the solution must be to try to convey the character of a wine, rather than inevitably fallible points.

Of course, my like or dislike for a particular wine will shine through, but I do hope that I am reasonably faithful and trustworthy in describing it, so that others may at least stand a chance of forming an impression of the wine. For this reason I also find it difficult to bandy about deeply emotive and essentially meaningless words about wine such as “energy”. I have no idea what that means, and while it may make for more entertaining and emotionally satisfying reading, I don’t think it necessarily conveys anything about the wine to people.

Some may find that this position is a rather elitist and obscure one, and that my writings are of less use to the public because of the lack of a quick and easy reference to my preferences. However, that would seem to presuppose some sort of consumer advice utility of not only my humble blog, but of wine writing in general, and that, I venture, would be entirely wrong. Consumer advice, proper advice to consumers, in terms of wine is an almost non-existing category, and if practised exclusively would convert wine magazines, blogs etc. into platforms for advising on fine wine investment. Wine is much more of an aesthetic – almost intangible – good, and so dependent on tastes that it makes little sense to consider points scoring and tasting notes as trustworthy in respect of pointing towards some sort of utility to the individual consumer.

So, while I will gladly and consciously use points scoring in competitions, for my own tastings, and for my own writings, I refrain from them. I think they are essentially useless and aesthetically ugly. If that makes my blog convoluted, lengthy, elitist and obscure, then so be it. After all, it is mostly something I do for my own pleasure, and if any blogger tells you something else about their own writings, you will be excused if you cough a discreet “bullshit”. Most, if not all, blogs are primarily ego-polishing.

Yours truly
Ole

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2 Responses to Points – Why I prefer not to use them

  1. tom hyland says:

    Ole:

    If I were to rate this post of yours with points, it would be in the mid-to-high 90s. However, as I too don’t believe in the point system, I can’t do that “:-)

    I have numerous reasons why I also don’t use a point system for my own writings (I am sometimes forced to use them for articles in certain publications). Too many reasons to list here, so here are two important ones.

    1) The “bigger is better” syndrome. The highest points are reserved for the most full-bodied, powerful, long-lived reds, with rare exception. Both you and I and many others know that bigger isn’t better, merely different. If you prefer that, fine. But often these powerhouse wines are difficult to drink. And I for one, prefer drinking wines (with food) and not merely tasting them.

    2) Variety. How often do you see a well made Friulano or Soave or a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or Chile receive 95 points or higher? It just doesn’t happen, again with rare exceptions. I love these whites and find that there are some exceptional examples. Yet, the wine publications don’t treat them in the same manner as the big reds. It’s all about image with these major publications, as they continually give their readers what they think they want.

    Not rewarding outstanding white wines with the same ratings as reds is like saying that a Michelin-starred restaurant will always be better than a trattoria. Not in my mind!

    • Ole Udsen says:

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks. I agree with both your points. These are indeed systemic problems with points scoring, although there are a few honourable – and not consistent – exceptions.

      Best regards
      Ole

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