In my first lengthy missive on wine criticism, I went over the various flaws I see in the current system. In this post I’m going to outline a system that I believe takes the best of what has come before, and adds to it in innovative ways to create what I think is a more complete wine review. One, as I mentioned before, I’m certain that no one will ever use.
The Ãœber Wine Review System!
The 100 point system is an elegant summation of a complex review process. Folks that don’t care, or that don’t have time for a lengthly review, can check a score and understand instantly whether a reviewer liked or disliked a certain wine.
But there are many problems. Most have been discussed nearly to death, but here is a short, and slightly redundant catalogue: points project a false sense of precision; there is a tendency toward grade inflation; only the 70-100 point range is actually used; there is no real difference between an 89 point wine and a 90 point wine. I’m sure there are other problems. All of this is trumped, however, by one overriding fact: consumers love points.
The Ãœber Wine Review system utilizes the 100 point system a little differently than most, and in doing so addresses at least some of the concerns critics of the system have.
1. Wines are graded in context. That is, they are graded according to their variety and their style. It doesn’t make sense that there are no 100 point RosÃ©s in the world. They are a category unto themselves, and they deserve to be judged based on their particular merits. We don’t often compare a Honda and a Ferrari. Obviously, one is a sedan and the other is a sports car. They are designed for different purposes. They have different price points, and completely different customer bases. The same, I think, is true for wines.
One implication of this approach is that a wine in one category may get a higher score than a wine in a different category (a dry white versus a Pinot noir for instance), and yet the reviewer (me) may prefer the lower scoring wine more. This is to be expected when wines are judged based on their relative merits instead of on an absolute scale.
2. Wines will get 50 points for showing up – remember the 100 point system is successful because it mirrors our educational grading system with which everyone is familiar – but every point of that remaining 50-100 range will be used. If a wine does poorly, if it has a flaw that isn’t a result of bottle variation but a macro-level winemaking practice or mistake, then it will be reflected in the score. Poor performers will be judged fairly so that the top performers will get the recognition that they deserve, free from accusations of grade inflation.
To accompany the score at the top of the review, there will be a summary paragraph outlining the sensory characteristics of the wine, as well as a note on what I guessed the wine was when tasting it double blind.
The benefit of having this all up top, at the beginning of the review, is so that casual wine drinkers can get in and get out with the information they need to make a purchase decision quickly and easily. Pretty standard stuff.
Regional Context and Producer Backstory
This will be the bulk of each review. Arguably the most interesting thing about wine isn’t what is in the bottle, it’s the stories of people who make, grow, and enjoy it. Alder at Vinography has perfected this aspect of wine criticism, combining excellent wine writing with his critiques. W. Blake Gray and Jancis Robinson also both give tremendous regional and producer context. Each review will strive to reach the bar set by these luminaries.
Double Blind Tasting Note
Double blind tasting means that the wine reviewer knows nothing about the wine in the glass in front of him except the color. In my case, Michael and Bill Traverso at Traverso’s in Santa Rosa pick the wines for me to review, my wife picks them up and serves them to me. I take notes and guess at the variety and region.
The goal of the double blind note isn’t to gauge a critic’s ability to correctly guess variety, producer or region. No one is very good at that game, not even the world’s best critics. Double blind tasting is used instead to remove any confirmation bias from the review and focus as much as possible on what is in the glass.
Double blind tasting is risky for reviewers. It puts them on the spot and a particularly poor guess might reflect poorly on their palate or wine knowledge. So be it. Reviewers shouldn’t be passive spectators in this game. They need to get on the field and play just like the producers and the consumers who are risking their hard-earned cash based solely on a reviewer’s recommendation.
To emphasize this sense of drama, each review will be linked to via a post teasing the sensory attributes of the wine tasted blind, along with the my guess as to the variety and region. Readers will have to click through to see if I was right (not likely) or wrong (quite likely). I’ll also keep a running tally of correct guesses in the sidebar of the blog as a goof.
Scores for each wine are determined after the wine has been revealed.
Labs entail additional expense, require technical knowledge to interpret and do not explain why a wine is great.
Despite these shortcomings, labs do provide a crucial check on both the reviewer’s palate and the producer’s stated claims about alcohol and other properties that influence the taste of a wine. Wines that lack balance and wines with faults both benefit from an analysis of their chemical properties. Best of all, the data obtained are objective, which is a nice addition to an otherwise completely subjective exercise.
Frankly, that this basic level of fact-checking doesn’t take place is astonishing for a $250 billion global industry.
In Page Contextual Pop-Ups
Each review is sprinkled with pop-up links to wikipedia articles on technical aspects of wines, wine regions and wine varieties to give extra context for readers who wish to learn more. Best of all, the reader never has to leave the review to do so.
Gorgeous Creative Commons Photography
Flickr and the internet in general is rich with great creative commons photography. It would be a shame not to take advantage of it.
Sound good? Cool. My latest review is here.