My Fellow Inebriates,
There’s a lot on my furry mind right now. For starters, I can’t refer to Dan Lacey’s Obama Unicorn Nude Baby Jesus Manger Christmas Card Art Painting as “mine” any more, it having gone to the highest bidder much earlier in the morning than a liquored-up animal is capable of rising. BUT (!!!) Dan Lacey contacted me and offered to send a facsimile, as he felt I’d given it some publicity. Imagine!!!
So that was a nice consolation. Then I got very immersed in reading about an interesting Wine Advocate scandal, which got me thinking two things:
1. The wine rating system is totally bogus. More on this.
2. It’s 7:00 am. Why on earth do I not have a glass of wine beside me right now? (And I still don’t!)
So how is wine rated?
Prior to the 1970s, wine reviews were usually conducted by aficionados with links to the wine industry. They were the only game in town, so wine buyers accepted the conflict of interest.
Then Robert Parker blazed on to the scene with his 100-point rating system and no industry ties. His new uninvested perspective gave him credibility that reviewers had previously lacked, and he went on to influence everything from grape cultivation to wine price points—effectively putting many wines out of reach for day-to-day budgets.
Parker originated the 51-100–point scoring system, now ubiquitous among wine publications.
When I first hit the booze wagon, 80 points struck me as really great. Lots of kids are pretty happy to score 80% on a spelling or math test. Then I clued in to the missing 0-50–point wines—there aren’t any, because the scale goes from 51-100. Ahhhhh. Got it.
So an 80-point wine is really…30.
This is hard for a drunk to parse. Because 80 out of 100 is 80%. But 30 out of 50 is 60%.
Oh man, that explains why I’ve had so many crappy 80-point wines. Why, Robert Parker, why, dude? Why would you start the points at 51?
Even Fahrenheit temperature makes more sense than this. If somebody like me, thoroughly inebriated and writing my little daily rant, devised a rating system that began at some arbitrary midpoint and neglected the first 50 numbers, it wouldn’t fly. You’d just say, Oh, that LB, he’s drunk again, plus he’s a bear, and bears aren’t known for numeracy.
But Robert Parker, that cat is famous. He’s so influential that when he invented this crazy system, everybody followed. So a wine noob goes into a store and sees 80 points on a shelf talker and goes home with a bottle of vinegar.
Actually, I’ve never seen an 80-point shelf talker.
That’s because no one vintner would ever advertise that its wine scored under 80 points via Robert Parker or anybody else’s tastebuds.
The buzz goes…if Parker scores a wine 80, it’s almost unsellable. Over 90, the winery sees $ signs and jacks the price until it becomes unaffordable 😦
That’s a lot of power for someone who famously sloshes one sip of any given wine around his gums for 4-5 seconds before rendering judgment. He often tastes 50-100 wines per session.
Which also means Robert Parker is spitting all over the place. Ugh… Blechh!
- Wine drinking is a civilized and cultivated activity.
- Wine buffs routinely sip a wine and then spit it out into a communal spittoon so they can continue drinking.
- Therefore spitting is civilized and cultivated.
First off, if you are lucky enough to have wine, you should consume it. Enjoying wine is a full-body experience. Surely you want to consider not just the initial taste of a wine (and flavors develop in complex ways over the course of even an hour), but the sensation of swallowing the wine, having it in your tummy, feeling it nuzzle your brain. Right??
Second, there is NO WAY you can possibly take a tongue-snapshot of a wine and assess it properly. No way. Every wine you taste is a contrast or a complement to the one you just sipped before it. That’s going to have an impact on your impressions, humans.
Third, think of all the wine loogies sitting around in silver spittoons. The backwashed germs, the phlegm, the profligate waste of alcohol—oh, the humanity.
Okay, so who am I to judge what Robert Parker and his fellow wine snobs do? I’m nobody, right? My tongue is furry and I’m an idiot. But you’d think his tongue would be furry too, after sampling a hundred wines.
As far as taste goes, they’re not a bad guideline. The problem is: If a wine gets rated 90 points, its price jumps. So you pay more for those scores, which are ultimately subjective. Despite the conspiratorial insistence of wine reviewers that wine standards are objective, there are just too many variables for judgment to be iron-clad. Think of wine ratings the way we think of statistics: accurate to within 3-4% (which of course means 6-8 wine-scoring points).
Some variables that can change your impression of a wine:
- You have a personal preference for certain wines; you have more experience with these wines and can taste their dimensions better. An unfamiliar varietal may piss off your tastebuds despite being a perfect exemplar of its type. Some tastes are acquired!
- You’ve just eaten. Eating changes the chemistry of your mouth, your tongue, your stomach and your brain. Some wines taste better with food, some without.
- You’re hungry. Or you’re over-full. Or you’re thirsty. Those things are going to have an impact.
- You just sipped a really good wine. So the next one’s going to be like the comic who has to follow the laugh-a-minute success on stage.
- You just sipped a really bad wine. The next one’s going to be awesome by comparison.
- Emotion. Even Parker says: “I really think probably the only difference between a 96-, 97-, 98-, 99-, and 100-point wine is really the emotion of the moment.” That’s quite an admission, given that a “bottle rated 100 can multiply its price fourfold.”
- You’re staggering drunk. Depending how close you are to the hour of porcelain-altar worship, wine is going to be appealing…or not.
- You’re the 64-year-old editor of a wine mag who goes on $25,000 wine-tasting excursions, swishing-and-spitting upwards of 100 wines per episode. You have no idea what wine’s for anymore.
So what’s the best way to find a wine?
I like 1 Wine Dude’s recommendation: “The most influential wine critic is the guy or gal working at the wine shop that you happen to trust the most!” But if you do go online for wine info, try the Reverse Wine Snob: “All reviews are based on drinking wine normally; no one-sip tasting notes allowed.”
And seriously, Robert Parker, spitting is gross. You have to cut that shit out.