In­fla­tion­ary scor­ing sys­tem fails to recog­nise best wines


In the ar­cane world of wine-geek bick­er­ing, the ques­tion of scores oc­cu­pies a dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of ter­ri­tory. Those who, like me, are par­si­mo­nious in al­lo­cat­ing points sug­gest that no use­ful pur­pose is served in scor­ing hun­dreds of cur­rent vin­tage wines in the 95- to 100point range.

There’s not enough dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion, there’s no room for the truly ex­cep­tional, there’s no real bench­mark­ing if hordes of prod­ucts are deemed “world class” within weeks of re­lease.

Just as em­ploy­ers have be­come deeply sus­pi­cious of the value of a ma­tric cer­tifi­cate in an era where the pass rate hov­ers around 75%, so wine drinkers are en­ti­tled to doubt the value of a stan­dard that can be so eas­ily at­tained.

Those who are more gen­er­ous ar­gue that their mean­spir­ited col­leagues have failed to recog­nise the bril­liance that they have been able to dis­cern. There might be some truth to this, though the more cyn­i­cal com­men­ta­tors ob­serve that high scor­ing is of­ten merely self-pro­mo­tion.

The prob­lem is that who­ever buys over-hyped wines on the strength of an in­flated score will only dis­cover they’ve been conned when they open the bot­tle five or 10 years later.

Then they will be told that the wine was worth its score when it was rated, but that the bar has since been raised, along with the ex­pec­ta­tions of the next gen­er­a­tion. Scores, they will be told, are not ab­so­lute, and a 98-point wine in 2010 is not the same thing as a 98-point wine in 2018.

There’s some wis­dom in this; the world does change. But if a 100-point score is sup­posed to be “per­fect”, it seems fair to ex­pect a slightly more ab­so­lute stan­dard. It doesn’t hap­pen, partly be­cause con­sumers who use scores as a pur­chas­ing guide­line de­mand new thresh­olds, and partly be­cause those who score (es­pe­cially those who score gen­er­ously) mar­ket them­selves through the high­est num­bers.

Robert Parker, who first pop­u­larised the 100-point sys­tem more than 35 years ago, has been a fron­trun­ner in the busi­ness of score in­fla­tion. In the 1980s his high­est-scor­ing wines would gar­ner be­tween 88 and 94 points.

When, 25 years later, he awarded 18 of the very fine 2009 clarets 100 points, he sug­gested this re­flected the qual­ity of the vin­tage. It would have been more hon­est to ac­knowl­edge the de­val­u­a­tion of the cur­rency.

Parker’s scor­ing sys­tem has an ef­fec­tive range of less than 20 points and very few wines score less than 82.

I re­cently at­tended a blind tast­ing of a ver­ti­cal of one of SA’s iconic wines, the Mvemve Raats De Com­postella.

On my scor­ing sys­tem any­thing over 90 points is a gold medal and a hand­ful reach 93. In the De Com­postella lineup the 2012 achieved a cred­itable enough 87.

The 2013 scored 89, like­wise the 2014. The 2015 gar­nered 90 points and the lat­est re­lease, the 2016, came in with a very cred­itable 92.

When I shared these scores with the wine­maker Bruwer Raats, he was pal­pa­bly dis­ap­pointed. With all the hype around 100-point scores you could see he thought any­thing un­der 98 was hardly worth a men­tion in his mar­ket­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

In these days of score hy­per­in­fla­tion he may be right. But 92 is one of my top 15 scores for 2018 and it comes in hard cur­rency, not in Zim­bab­wean dol­lars.

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