Do Points and Scores and Ratings Matter?

The way analytics work, when I write about something, I see more on social media about it.  Fortunately there are a few who comment or message me about what I write too, and a few nice winemakers who respond to my pestering questions.

I stumbled across this podcast (I scrolled down to the transcript cause I’d rather read than listen) about points and rating systems from wine experts.  Remember that I have issued a disclaimer that I have no formal wine education whatsoever (and I keep reminding people who ask me questions about wine that I am John Snow, and I do know NOTHING).  I’m not well trained enough to rate and score wines, or even understand how those systems work.  I cannot tell you why a wine was rated as a 93 point wine versus a wine that earned 88 points.  Everything in this blog is based purely on opinion and impression and is really just my thoughts on the wines I taste and drink.  (Speaking of which, it’s 5:00 somewhere and it’s cold and raining, I should light the fireplace and pour…… no, darnit, gotta pick the kid up from work in an hour). Money quote from the transcript to this podcast:

Even the accompanying tasting notes often aren’t that helpful. The prose can be as purple as a young Argentinean wine: “A spirited little filly that shows all the right breeding. Rich nose of barnyard and sweaty saddles. I’d give it four stars out of five.”

Other than the high rating, who’s to know if the critic likes this wine? One person’s sweaty saddle is another’s unwashed leather.

More maddeningly, though, scores evaluate the obvious: how a wine tastes. What really matters is how interesting the wine makes your dining companion.

Now that would be worth rating.

I like the way she is thinking here.

I honestly believe that the rating systems are basically just a marketing scheme.  For some folks out there, this is an art form and they’re trying to create and express something unique and interesting, and hopefully people will like it and buy it.  Some people make wines a certain way in order to get lots of attention, a high score, and appeal to a certain part of the wine-buying public (that may in fact even be the largest part of the wine buying public).  But it’s kind of like being told you should like a certain movie and go spend $20 for the IMAX Ultra-ThX movie experience and you go and you hate it but feel guilty.  This is about your experience with the wine, your taste buds, how your mouth chemistry interacts with the wine (eww that sounds kinda gross now that I’m re-reading it) and what you like.  There’s wines I like the first time I have them and the second time I wonder what was wrong with me? I think it even changes day by day, based on what you ate for lunch before you went wine tasting, the weather and your mood.  These point systems are like a snapshot – it’s just a moment in time, how one person saw that wine and felt about it then, at that moment.  You may (or may not) feel the same as the person who assigned the points.  Amusingly, you may (or may not) feel the same way as I do about the wines I recommend, and that’s ok.  It kinda goes back to the riff I did on the Virginia Governor’s Cup competition medals.  I’m really shocked by some of the winners that I’ve tried and didn’t care for, and some that didn’t appear.  At the end of the day, these competitions are to promote the industry overall, throw a big fun party (that maybe someday if I work at a winery I can attend), and market the wines.  It sometimes provides a big bump to some new wineries that helps them get off the ground, which is good.

Speaking of marketing, here is an interesting response to the issue of millenials and their impact on the wine industry.  It argues that the wine industry should focus on Gen X (hey, that’s me!!!) as a bridge to millenials, as we are closer to millenials that the Boomers who are now declining in their wine consumption.

After comfortably selling wine to the baby boomer generation for years, millennials became the next big target of importers, producers, and PR firms. For several reasons, baby boomers are aging out of wine buying and drinking, and for another set of reasons, millennials are not buying wine in the numbers that producers and marketers were expecting. Which begs the questions: What about Generation X? No one was talking about them at all…

Gen X entered the workforce at a good time economically, and with fewer college graduates competing for careers compared with the generations bracketing them, Gen Xers have had a comparatively easy time building wealth. Today, Gen X is at the peak of their lifetime income and spending.

So we’re a pretty significant part of the market share with disposable income (as long as we’ve saved for retirement), and can save the wine industry while it retools to appeal to millenials.

John Truchard: Wine marketing can be quite polarized to either an older, fine wine consumer, or to a distinctly younger millennial drinker in a lower price point. Marketing to the former segment tends to focus on “education,” meaning aspects like vineyard, variety and vintage. Marketing to millennials tends to be more lifestyle and “entertainment” driven, often with brands that are manufactured specifically for that group. This polarized “education” vs. “entertainment” approach doesn’t speak to the traditionally forgotten Gen Xers, a smaller demographic with less financial importance to wine marketers…

However, as Gen X matures and begins to overtake the boomer demographic in terms of wine spending, we’ve seen a more blended approach to wine marketing emerge, especially here in the Napa Valley. More and more wineries are emphasizing offerings that speak to both education and entertainment – incorporating food, art, cooking, and music into the traditional wine experience.

I think for us Gen X’ers the points/scores and prestige matter a lot less too – we want to enjoy it and enjoy the experience – that hybrid of education and entertainment mentioned above.  I like where that is heading.

So my sage advice, don’t look for points/ratings/medals alone to “Find Your Wine.”  They may help point you in useful and interesting directions, but taste around and see what you like and don’t be afraid of a bad tasting experience or two or five.  But whatever you do, listen to Dan and follow his recommendations for Virginia Wineries!

Consider this your wine tasting Declaration of Independence!

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