A growing community of wine bloggers have become increasingly negative towards using a Robert Parker inspired 100 point wine rating system for reviewing wines with many alternatives suggested. Citing such complaints as the system is subjective and that it cannot truly be standardized across the industry: one writer’s “90” is another’s “88”. That is true, however, my main argument to this complaint is that all rating systems are subjective – by nature. There can never truly be a definitive rating system for anything remotely artistic. Ideally, a consumer finds a trusted voice and learns how the individual reviewer applies whatever rating system they employ.
In defense of the 100-point rating system, I offer the following arguments, or, at the very least, an explanation as to why I use the scale.
The simple genius of the 100-point scale is that, at its core, it is very simple to understand and very familiar. Everyone can relate to a percentage-based, out-of-100 type of system because we’ve lived with these types of scores throughout our academic lives. From math tests to essays to book reports we are subjected to a rating where perfection, a perfect “100” is the ultimate goal to be achieved and where you were awarded 50+ points just for showing up (more on this last point below). A simple glance at the result of two tests where one is scored "90" and the other "89", you immediately know which one is the better result. Now, I always hope that a visitor to my site will read the full description of a wine’s characteristics rather than simply glancing at the score, however, should they choose not to, I’m confident that, more often than not, the higher scored wine will give them more drinking pleasure.
2. A word-based rating system always needs an explanation
How is anyone to know at a quick glance that “Amazing” is better than “Extraordinary” without the reviewer explaining this? Why this doesn’t work without a glossary or accompanying chart at the ready at all times, is that these words have their own predefined unique meanings and they only relate to the quality of a wine by way of context, which, itself, is completely subjective. Even worse, the reviewer who avoids defining the words and their relevance to a rating system at all and simply uses them in their literal means as a way to categorize the wines reviewed. “Honey, I feel like an “Amazing” wine tonight. Oh right, you’re still on your “Extraordinary” kick. Well, I suppose we can pick a “Satisfactory” wine as a compromise.” Yikes.
3. Alternative systems lack latitude
A star-based rating system doesn’t provide a wide enough spectrum within which to work. Granted, a 100 point scale is usually limited to the 80-95 point range (95+ point wines being exclusive and anything under 80 points isn’t worth the effort), but at least you have more room to work with. My favourite Canadian wine publication, "Vines", using the star rating system in their buyer's guide and although I love their write-ups I doubt that even they think that all of the 4 star wines are truly equal.
4. Minimum points is a red herring
Often, the criticism of the 100 point system is focused on the fact that wines get X number of points just for showing-up, which, depending on the publication, can range from 50-75 points. Decanter magazine uses both a star-based categorical approach and a 20 point scoring system, but never posts a score below 10 unless the wine was faulty. Essentially, a wine gets 10 points for showing up and being wine, not vinegar. I like to remind people that this too should be familiar to them as part of their final grade for any class back in High School was based on attendance.
When people focus on this fact I think they are missing the point that the beauty of the 100 point scale is the balance between the subtle differences of wines with the restrained flexibility with which to distinguish them. All wrapped-up in an immediately recognizable and familiar format.
In my opinion, the 100 point rating system trumps all others and is as close to an industry standard as we're ever likely to see. It's not perfect, but it is easy to understand and relate to - which should be the goal of any wine writer in the attempt to bestow the virtue of wine to the masses.
- Liam Carrier ©copyright 2011 IconWines.ca