Tanzer On Wine Ratings

by Tim Elliott on May 29, 2007

Last week while driving around Napa Valley I caught up with some of my podcast listening. One of the episodes of Grape Radio I listened to was a fascinating interview with wine critic Stephen Tanzer from International Wine Cellar. I really enjoyed the two-part interview Grape Radio did over a year ago but this time the conversation really hit home with me from the very beginning.

As I’ve blogged here in the past, I am a reluctant practitioner of numerical ratings. I’ve been using them for long enough to develop a clinical process of reviewing wine with points for appearance, aroma, flavor and overall enjoyment. So I was somewhat surprised to hear Mr. Tanzer’s candid remarks about his use of the 100-point scale near the beginning of the podcast, calling the process Robert Parker uses “silly.” Since I mirror my rating process after Mr. Parker, I guess I fall in this silly category too. Mr. Tanzer characterized his use of numerical scores as a sort of “shorthand” for his impression of a wine; a sort of digest of his written tasting notes. While I agree that numerical scores look far too precise than they really are, I don’t agree that scores are just an emotional response to a wine. At least the way I score wines. The discussion did further underscore how subjective wine reviews are and readers can’t really compare each reviewers scores with others. The best we can hope for is that the individual reviewer is as consistent as humanly possible with his or her scores.

Later in the show the conversation turned to how few new entrants there seem to be in the wine reviewing space. Of course they were referring to print publications and newsletters but I was somewhat surprised that no one mentioned wine bloggers. That’s because I don’t think the next Parker, Tanzer or Laube will come from the established wine press or wine trade but will emerge from the growing wine blogosphere. I also think there will not be only a handful of voices reviewing wines, as there are today, but hundreds. And collectively there will be a lot more information about a lot more wines to help consumers make buying decisions.

Check out Grape Radio’s latest interview with Stephen Tanzer here. It’s a long show but very much worth your time.

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