Euripides sagely stated, “Man’s most valuable trait is a judicious sense of what not to believe.” It

It particularly applies to politics, but it’s equally relevant for a number of subjects, especially in my mind, to numerical wine ratings.  The gullible, insecure, and naïve rely on the opinions of self-appointed critics who assign numerical ratings to wine.  Self-styled authorities, so-called arbiters of fine taste flaunt their opinions. Wine magazines are particularly at fault, although individuals like Robert Parker have built an empire exploiting the gullible and the insecure who rely on ratings to work their way through the complicated world of wine. There’s no doubt the world of wine is confusing and getting more complicated so as wine shops and wine lists present more choices than ever.

Ratings are a relatively recent phenomenon. Numerical ratings and verbal judgments are a blessing and a curse. Naïve souls relinquish their self-confidence and personal judgment bowing to a stranger’s opinions whose taste may be totally different from yours.

Think about some essential questions before buying into the idea that ratings are filled with truth.  Who are these critics and why are they lent so much credence? How does a critic’s taste match up with yours? Do ratings represent an individual’s criteria or are they an amalgam of numbers submitted by a group? How real is the judgment made by an individual or a consensus of a  committee that tastes flights of wine in the morning, takes a break for lunch, and returns to taste more wine in the afternoon?  How do tasters avoid palate exhaustion after a few glasses? How do mood and atmosphere affect ratings? Are tastings “blind” … i.e. wines  without label?  Would a second go-around change a rating? Do critics and magazines with extensive ratings declare their independence from tie-ins with advertisements or from samples submitted for a fee? If the general rule that ten percent of all wines are bad, even from the same vintage and winery, will a single bottle adversely affect a winery’s rating? Are critics motivated by friendships or negative associations?

Is it possible for the average drinker to tell the difference between a ninety-point wine and one rated eighty-seven? Wines with a score of ninety and above fly out of wine shops and are an economic boon to the winery while the rest of the stock can languish on the shelves,  or are chosen half-heartedly like a bridesmaid instead of a bride. The second-best might be a hairbreadth away from being the star.

There are places in the world where wine is chosen without regard to ratings and off-putting nonsense about wine: aerating, proper glasses for each varietal, the exact temperature for drinking, (so long as it’s not hot, it’s fine) and particular food and wine pairings. After all, we’re talking about bottle of wine, not a long-term commitment like marriage or the purchase of a car.

 


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