At a recent tasting a friendly MW sidles up to me and enquired as to when I was going to stop this nonsense of scoring wines out of 20. “100 points is the only way to score wine these days”, said this advocate of the 100-point system. His argument that I should change was based on the following:
1. He doesn’t know what 16, 17 or any other number out of 20 means. But 91 or 94 or 97, and so on – they mean something.
2. If I score a wine 94, and he agrees it’s a 94, then he knows I am worth reading. If I score it differently, then he knows I’m talking crap (actually he used a different adjective, but I’ve toned it down to merely ‘crap’).
3. Using 100 points increases your use to the trade, so you get quoted more, so people learn who you are, your reputation builds, hence more readers and so on. My MW friend recently persuaded another MW to score Bordeaux 2009 out of 100 points, a new direction for that critic. They were suddenly widely quoted (by the British trade, anyway).
4. That’s because the trade likes 100 points, apparently. He told me Farr’s only use notes from those that score out of 100 (see below for my response regarding Jancis).
5. People like 100 points. People don’t like 20 points. Everybody scores out of 100 these days. Get with the times!
To be honest, I was lost for words. I didn’t formulate much of a counter-argument, but did make a few whimpering protestations, along the lines of:
- I think Winedoctor readers are smart enough to know how the 20 point system works. 20 is perfection. 17 is really good. 14 is just OK. 11 is….you get the picture.
- The idea that my score on a wine would have to match his for my palate/opinions to be of any value implies (1) point scores are an intrinsic quality of the wine and/or (2) he believes in the universal palate. I thought only Parker & Suckling believed that sort of stuff.
- The trade? Do they really only like 100 points? Farr’s quote Jancis who scores out of 20, I argued. “They would rather drop her because of that”, came the reply, “but she is still influential so they carry on with her”. I suddenly felt out on a limb. On reflection, I’m not. Look at the World of Fine Wine, La Revue du Vin de France (RVF), Decanter, Michel Bettane and Gault Millau as well as Jancis. All scoring out of 20. I just hope none of them retire/fold in the immediate future!
- the 100-point system is actually at best a 15-point (85-100) system. The 20-point system as I use it is actually a 16-point system (12-20 with half-points). People rarely score wines in the low 80s (even if they use 80-100 the subtlety of the system isn’t that much different, 20 instead of 15), I rarely score wines less than 12 (although I know there are examples of both 10 from me, and 65-ish from 100-point fans). What’s the problem? They’re both pretty straightforward. It’s the note that counts anyway, isn’t it?
“Not to the trade”, was his reply.
Of course I’ve long realised I’m not writing for the trade. I’ve nothing against the 100 point system, I think points are useful in conveying the fact that you liked one wine more than another. It’s just that I don’t really believe that one system is better than the other. And I’m loathe to change.
Especially if I have to finish every note with something like “I’m 93 points on that”, à la Suckling.