Quite a bit of virtual play has been given to the 100 point paradigm as of late.
If you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about watch this:
Just yesterday I came across a great post on Mike Steinberger’s Wine Diarist and I also signed The Manifesto on Score Revolution. These wonderful threads each challenge assumptions that the 100 point paradigm is useful.
While I agree wholeheartedly with the inadequacy of the 100 point paradigm and that “nature is unquantifiable” I think there is something missing from the discussion: If the 100 point scale is useless, what is the New Paradigm?
Let’s analyze this by talking about the ‘suckling’ (NO, NOT YOU JAMES) populace who buy wine no matter what the score is, let alone know what a wine score actually means. Let’s keep in mind as well the SHEER variety of platforms by which small wineries can catapult to prominency on supermarket shelves, much less just get their name out ‘there’, if there are no scores for the ‘suckling’ populace to ‘rely’ upon…
DO THE ‘SUCKLINGS’ NEED SCORES?
Wine geeks don’t need scores. They are an important minority in terms of wine sales. They buy more than their fair share of wine, they know what they like because they are past the ‘suckling’ phase when help is not only appreciated, but almost a requirement, in order to make a smart purchase.
There is so much shit wine out there. Some of it is shit wine that looks like shit wine but has a ‘cute’ label with a dog, a fox or a goddamn unicorn.
Granted, this isn’t a label, but you get the picture. Getting away from dogs, foxes and unicorns and back to the 4,000,000 Pinots, Cabernets, Merlots and Chardonnays on the average shelf at $7 a bottle…
That’s the cheap stuff. This isn’t the REAL wine i talk about and doesn’t deserve to be quaffed, unless you like that stuff…I shudder to think how that “stuff” is “engineered” (see exhibit A), but a great article was published recently by Jon Bonné detailing this small “industry”.
A lot of it is shit wine masquerading as “micro-production-terroir-driven-cool-climate_________ (fill in the blank varietal) from________ (fill-in-the-blank-wine-region, AND for only $49.99 per bottle.”
A bit of care and attention from the wine-savvy sales associate in your local wine shop can make a world of difference to this ‘suckling’ majority, IF THEY ONLY WENT TO A WINE SHOP TO BUY WINE.
Alas, they usually don’t go to wine shops to buy wine, they go to the SUPERMARKET. Not to bash the average supermarket, but too many people shop places that lack a decent wine selection and have some hipster ‘managing’ the inventory and bringing in wines like Muscadet, Chablis, Arbois, Frappato, Langhe Nebbiolo and Hárslevelű…Oh, wait, he’s a Wine Geek too. Shit! How much is that ’07 Occhipinti Frappato again?
Maybe this is part of the problem…Do we need to dub down REAL wine to make it accessible for the ‘sucklings’. I’m not sure that’s the right answer.
These are customers who by and large buy what is easy, because they don’t know better, and it is sitting right there in front of them…AND it’s ON SALE for $3.99 A BOTTLE. What decent bottle sells for that much?
A bottle, or a few million, produced here:
Shut the Front Door.
ITS ALL ABOUT RATIO
The portion of said ‘sucklings’ weekly income devoted to wine purchases is a pithy fraction of what Wine Geeks feel comfortable spending on a daily basis. They arrive to buy in retail settings and appear much like “deer in headlights” if they ask questions at all. Most don’t, they slink off to the meat counter after selecting the “cutest” label or whateverthefuckwasonsale.
Do we owe them a bit of credit for showing up to buy at all? They don’t need help buying chicken or tofu, celery or raisins. But what about Muscadet?
Let’s agree that they need help there…
The RATIO of bad to good and the sheer volume of choices which exists in the current mass market is astounding, especially so given the thousands of new “micro-production-terroir-driven-cool-climate_________ (fill in the blank varietal) from________ (fill-in-the-blank-wine-region), and for only $49.99 per bottle.”
How do we expect them to shell out 50 bucks without some indication of it’s taste, the quality, much less it’s artisinal value stemming from conscientious production methods etc.
They don’t pay attention to the blogs, publications or any media platform that aches to discuss REAL wine with a deeper respect for its intrinsic artisan values, that of transparency to place, soil, vintage; that of balance, clarity, energy, deliciousness (thanks Terry), acid, tannin, persistence etc.
(Oh yeah, then there’s that part about FOOD PAIRING)
What is the big deal with allowing a few well established but biased and subjective palates to HELP direct these ‘suckling’ palates to find that ninety-something point does-any-thing-really-matter-to-them at $12 per bottle for dinner on Friday night?
BIASED AND SUBJECTIVE, BUT WELL-KNOWN WINE REVIEWERS
They exist. We know who they are. Some are better than others. As far as the others are concerned, I’m content knowing they are there, at least so there is a bit of comedic relief in this oh-so-serious-eddy-of-culture known as Wine Geek Centrale. (Full Disclaimer: I am a Wine Geek.)
C’mon, if this isn’t funny, then I don’t know what is…
Ok then, back to the real discussion:
Points aside, can, or does, this contingent of biased and subjective, but well-known wine reviewers really help consumers with these choices?
Maybe, maybe not.
Mike posted two wine reviews and the game was to guess the points awarded based upon the descriptive elements in the notes:
“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.”
Disclaimer: I won, sort of.
“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.“
DOES IT HELP?
Probably not so much…and these tasting notes are rather accessible, as tasting notes go. Regardless, Jane most likely got lost in the “endless layers” and started thinking about a shower and Joe got confused about what “graphite” tastes like by thinking back to third grade math class. And then there is “what the fuck “exquisite finesse, depth and grace” actually means.
If you don’t know, I’m not going to be the one to tell ya…
LESS IS MORE
Most tasting notes lack easily understood descriptors. They go on for days it seems with
‘flavors of concrete, plasticine and petichor’
‘stupendous dry extract and flavors of cassis’
‘sleek mineral mid-palate texture and long acacia flower finish’
OK, so I made these up, but it’s not too far removed from what the Reigning Emperor’s write. Most Wine Geeks are guilty, even if they don’t admit it. But they do it because they are moved by wine. I admit I am guilty too.
But without some DISCERNABLE sense of KNOWLEDGE about WHY WINE MOVES YOU, you run the risk of patronizing Joe or Jane with your verbose verbiage, or worse still, losing CONTROL of ON WHAT TERMS REAL WINE SHOULD BE DESCRIBED to some ridiculous start up company who can do what you do better (?), for less and then, REAL wine comes out the loser.
That is not what we need.
WHAT DO WE NEED?
The world needs wine ‘elite’. Not just “to call the wine like they see it” (thanks Bob), but to keep EXPLAINING WHY WINE MOVES YOU. Let’s call it keeping wine mystified a la Terry Theise, not otherworldly mystified, but mystified enough so that even the ‘sucklings’ CAN LEARN TO GET EXCITED in November when Foillard releases his Beaujolais Nouveau or when Rhys develops their next vineyard site or when DRC starts making Burgundy that is affordable (HA!).
In the same way we want and need sports announcers to call the BCS National Title between LSU and Alabama on Monday, we want and need wine experts to do some of the tasting in the trenches, so that we can learn what wine moves them. Once we know that, we can find the ones that do a decent job and pay attention, if we want.
Do you really want to HAVE to taste all that wine they HAVE TO TASTE just to know whether it is worth it?
I don’t because there is SO MUCH SHIT WINE PRODUCED, everywhere. No region is free from the plague of shit-wine-production.
We Wine Geeks may not like how they call the game, but at least they are calling it.
What are you doing?
SMALL WINERIES AND POINTS
So how do small wineries (quickly?) generate a dynamic customer base without submitting wines to one or more of the Evil Empire? With growers and purveyors to pay, cases of wine stacking up and employee paychecks that are signed already…GOTTA MAKE THAT PAPER.
“Gulp” goes the small winery owner, then, questioning himself:
“I guess I shouldn’t submit my wines to for review because Wine Geeks don’t like scores.”
“I guess I’ll have to hit the streets with my wholesale distributor’s newest wine rep?” Done.
Get up on Twitter. Sure, right on that.
ARE WE MAKIN’ PAPER YET?
Shut the Front Door!
No, not quite.
What is left?
Buy a big purple grape costume and go jump up and down on the corner of 7th and Folsom advertising your wine club?
SCORES SELL WINE
The ‘movement’ which is challenging the 100 point scale is being spearheaded by highly sophisticated groups of Wine Geeks who are more or less prosthelytizing their “ideals” that wine is more complex than just a “score”… I will give them that.
HELL, I AGREE WITH THEM, ER, US.
But HOW do small wineries sell through their wine and PAY THE BILLS without submitting wines for review?
Oh wait, wineries need to be MAKING wine that is worth buying first…
We all know that some are. Most aren’t.
But that is a whole other bucket of BD prep 501…
The fact of the matter is that scores sell wine.
Let’s assume that all wineries, big and small, make good wine and need to sell it.
The 100 point scale puts them on the same footing.
Maybe not to you or me, but to a wide sector of the ‘sucklings’, scores DO matter.
Hell, I’m on Wine Bezerkers almost everyday and the Wine Geeks there post wine for sale and include the scores all the time. Love Bezerkers.
Back to wineries:
If you want to abolish the 100 point paradigm, make it profitable for wineries to sell to retailers and wholesalers to generate income, without HAVING submit wines.
Then tell the retailers that it’s better to write their OWN tasting notes for these wines without assigning a score. Talk about basic aromas, acid profile, flavor intensity and food pairings.
Then send the not quite nascent ‘sucklings’ to this blog post so that they get a rude awakening as to the amount of time and money they should invest to become Wine Geeks like us, so that they too can spend too much time talking about the 100 point paradigm and why it should just go away.
Again, Shut the Front Door.
Honestly, this is where the discussion should go.
TRUST YOUR OWN PALATE. BUY WINES BASED UPON THE PRODUCERS PHILOSOPHY, PHILOSOPHIES THAT ARE IN LINE WITH YOUR OWN.
So I’ll restate:
Can small wineries afford to do away with the 100 point scale?
Will it be easy?
Will retailers and wholesalers help?
Can Wine Geeks help?
Is that was is happening?
I don’t think so.
So what is the New Paradigm?
Right back where we started…
Anyone else have a bright idea?
What will happen to Bob, James, James, Antonio, Steve, Allen etc. if we can find a New Paradigm?