Why we should probably just ignore wine scores and focus on drinking the stuff

Wine scores. Both loved and loathed by everyone in the wine profession, they have become a necessary evil as consumers seek out scores as guidance when deciding on what to drink.

After several years of trying to develop my own way of accurately scoring the wines I consume, I’ve come to the conclusion I am as flummoxed by the process as I ever have been. And therein lies my problem. If I can’t get it right, how can the casual wine enthusiast?

It seems many people in the wine world are embroiled in a debate about the way people review and rate wines. And it also seems people spend more time obsessing about wine scores than actually drinking the stuff.

Me, I find it all a bit too confusing than it’s worth. Some people advocate the 100-point system because it provides precision or – shudder – ‘granularity’. Others, meanwhile, prefer the 20-point system, which does the same with decimals, and then there are those who say ratings are really just pointless (I am aware of the pun).

Where wine scores have gone wrong is when they shift from being an innocent way of grading a wine to what can only be described as a critic’s grandiose display of machismo.

This was a great value Bourgogne for the money but if I had to give you a score I’d be at a loss to tell you.

Look no further than American critic James Suckling and the videos where he is seen shouting out scores as he whips through a series of wines, offering up numbers so quickly it makes me wonder if he’s simply pulling them out of the air.

“I’m 98-plus on that!” he said about one wine, then boldly exclaimed, “100 points. Perfect wine,” about another.

A perfect wine? Really?

If Dirk Niepoort, winemaker at Niepoort in Portugal, has anything to say about the topic, he thinks the notion of a perfect wine can be a bad thing. Why? Because it will cause prices to skyrocket and make the wines unattainable for many customers.

My gut tells me the process of rating a wine out of 100 is more arbitrary than its proponents want us to believe. Do I need to know something is an 88 as opposed to an 87? Of course not.

I can also assure you, if you asked me to tell you if the Montagne-St-Emilion I bought from The Winemaker was an 84 or an 87, I would fail.

When it comes down to it, the best way to recommend wine is to talk about it and share what is being experienced rather than apply a score to it that comes with little explanation. If only everyone else would agree.

What I’ve been drinking lately:

A South African Bordeaux-style blend…

In a tenuous link to wine scores and reviews, I came up against this quandary the other day when I had been asked to review a bottle of wine for Wines of South Africa through Twitter.

The bottle in question was a Vilafonté Series M 2009, a red Bordeaux-style blend containing a surprising 46% malbec.

Here were my [edited yet still incredibly stuffy] tweets about the wine:

“Vilafonté Series M 2009. Deep ruby, vanilla on the nose, baked dark fruits, spice.

“In mouth, more vanilla, dark fruits, higher alcohol, medium acidity, nice gripping tannins.

“I’m getting tobacco/cigar box, some leather. A touch more oak than I would prefer. Love the cepages.”

Nowhere in there could I come up with a score for this wine. Was it an 86? A 90? Maybe a 95? I have no idea.

It was a great wine, but I also thought it was too oaky and, if anyone has read my work on 12×75, you’ll know I’m not the biggest fan of over-oaked wines.

You can find this wine and previous vintages at Winedirect for £27.49.

And some great English rosé…

This past weekend I decided to make the most of the sunshine and do something I just don’t do often enough: drink more rosé.

The bottle in question was Hush Heath’s Nannette’s English Rosé 2010, a bottle that came from the Wine Pantry in Borough Market as a gift from my friend Geoff.

Made from the three most commonly used grapes in Champagne – pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay – it is the same wine used in the firm’s English sparkling rosé, but the still version comes from the ‘taille’ from the pressing.

When making sparkling wine in the Champagne style, a ‘cuvee’ comes from the first 2,050 litres of wine pressed from 4,000 kg of grapes, while the ‘taille’ is the final 500 litres.

This is a refreshing, subtle and dry rosé with a dose of strawberries and fruit as well as a mineral element to make it a refreshing choice on a hot day. Buy it at the Wine Pantry for £16.

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3 thoughts on “Why we should probably just ignore wine scores and focus on drinking the stuff

  1. Thanks for saying it, even if it is being said again. I have tried both systems (100 and 20) in the past and they do not work for me. I therefore just write and talk about what my impression is. And if I really like it, I put a star beside it in my tasting note, so that I surely remember to get some bottles of that one.

  2. Reblogged this on Giles Cadman and commented:

    I can see the very valuable points being made by Geordie, but I cannot agree with them. Its like scoring Diving or Gymnastics at the Olympics; if you don’t understand it, it appears to be subjective, once you understand it, it is clearly isn’t it is obvious.

    In conclusion Geordie’s point is well made for the un-sophisticated consumer, consumers should look at banding, 70-80- 80-92 and ignore everything above 92, because if they cannot understand the grading, then they surely will not understand and appreciate a 100 point wine!

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