100 point ratings

The 100-point Scale and The Myth of Precision

by Tim Elliott on January 14, 2011

James Suckling explaining his tasting approachEvery once and a while the debate about the 100-point scale swirls around the wine blogosphere (and now wine twitteratti). The latest flash-point is wine critic and recently turned blogger James Suckling who posted a video on his site yesterday detailing how he evaluates wine. Different than a lot of wine bloggers, but consistent with the norms of wine critics like Robert Parker, Suckling tastes blind in large batches. This approach is certainly an efficient way to taste through dozens or even hundreds of wines in a morning but we don’t get any sense for how the wine will hold up over a few hours or after decanting. This is why I literally live with wines I’m reviewing over 2 and sometimes 3 days. But this system would slow a writer down significantly if you are tasting 50 wines at a go so we accept the “moment in time” approach used by most wine critics.

And that brings me to the dirty little secret about the 100-point scale; the myth of precision. Mr. Suckling reviews his approach to applying scores in his video which is very similar to my process. But each area we break down still has far too much wiggle room and can easily make an 89 wine a 91, and vice versa. The same thing applies in my grading papers when I teach marketing. This objectiveness is at the heart of why I was proposing a new rating scale for wine bloggers a while back.

The only way to somewhat smooth the ratings variability is to taste a wine over the course of time in the same tasting conditions and normalize scores or taste a boatload of wine so the reader can get a sense for the reviewers’ palate. The reason I use the 100-point scale is because readers ask for it and, like it or not, it will be with us for a long time to come. But I don’t think it’s a precise instrument.

What do you think?

via James Suckling

Course Correction

by Tim Elliott on September 9, 2008

CHATEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE, FRANCE - DECEMBER 12:  A ...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I’ve been reading Neal Rosenthal’s book “Reflections of a Wine Merchant” for the last few days and I’m starting to triangulate this, with recent events, to change the course of this blog and podcast. Around page 144 Mr. Rosenthal starts his attack on wine ratings and he makes a lot of sense to me although he would likely comment how much of an amateur I am here (or worse, as the owner of a San Francisco wine bar once did in email… but that’s another story).

Money quote:

“There is little journalism, which is to say fact findings and reporting, and virtually no effective prose; there is, however, a series of judgments backed by a sadly limited descriptive vocabulary and powered by precise scores.”

Therefore, from now forward, I will drop the 100-point rating scale in my reviews and use my proposed standard 5-star scale. That is, until I decide to drop that as well. I will endeavor to provide more investigative journalism and concentrate on my prose. A review of Neal Rosenthal’s prose is forthcoming.

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