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100 Points or 20 points?

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.

12 Responses to “100 Points or 20 points?”

  1. Chris,

    When reading this I really became anger – it appears that there are a lot of freaks out there. Just keep on your wonderful work and change nothing (it appears that you will not anyway:)- your readers can distinguish by themselves what they find worth reading and what they are not.
    Maybe worship of 100p system is uderstandable form the point of view of the wine trade. However, one should feel sorry for those people (buyers mostly) who find themselves of not able to appreciate particular wine only because somebody has scored it 17, not 94 points.

  2. Bravo Chris!!! Keep up the good work.
    And the fact that this person is commenting your rating system means that you already have some influence/importance in the world of wine. And that without the 100-points system.


  3. Chris, I’m personally okay with the 20 point system, but then I’m generally okay with things European. You know what I mean. My suspicion is that you will have to/want to embrace the 100 point system, if you want to continue playing the points game with everyone else.

    A better solution, that will never fly, is a 10 point scale, as wines below 90 points are practically dead, ratings-wise.

    For myself, I use a 4-star system, and allow half stars. It helps get down to my “essential truth”, that is: was this wine delicious and would I drink it again? “Worth a detour” if you will. Paul

  4. Hey Chris,

    I prefer the 100-points system for my personal use : all my wine is on Cellartracker and there they use the 100-points system (btw : very pleased to see your scores on their site!!!), I agree with you that the 20-points system is as valuable as the 100-points system, but the Parker scoring system feels better for me, it is a question of habit I think, the Belgium (soon Republic of Flanders 😉 ) wineforum I’m active on also uses the 100-points system, we recently had a big discussion on the forum concerning the best scoring system and the 100-point system came out first, followed by the 20-points system, a “star(s)” quotation or a scoring system with 1-5 points were dissaproved of

    but this is ofc just a personal preference and I really don’t mind looking at your 0-20 scores :))

  5. I apologize for poor gramatics in my previous comment – probably was thinking about my personal 100 points wine:)

  6. I apologize for poor gramatics in my previous comment – probably was thinking about my personal 100 points wine:)

  7. I personally like the standardized 100pt system, though in truth it is a 20 point system starting at 80.

    It’s somewhat like the metric system vs Imperial; Both work but it’s nice to know you have the same expectation when you see the number.

  8. Thanks for all these comments and feedback.

    Kris – you’ll notice my cellartracker scores are still out of 20 of course! Sorry about that. 🙂

    Lars, Paul, thanks for those comments.

    Eriks, no problems with your grammar to my eyes. And as someone who has been teaching himself French on and off for the past three years (having given it up at school with no real understanding of it) I have come to understand how difficult grammar can be! 🙂

    Charlie, understood. And the 100 point system will probably become more dominant with time. But it hasn’t won out yet.

    Cheers, Chris

  9. Thankfully my intelligence is still just above that of a hamster and I can comprehend the different weighting between 100 pts and 20 pts scoring.
    However I always tend to take any score with a pinch of salt since taste is such a subjective matter to each person, well unless everybody scores it awful. I can truthfully say that I cannot tell the difference between a 90% score and 91% score; not that I would even score it the sme way round. But perhaps a 5% or 10% variation would be noticeable. Scores are guide and not Moses’s tablets from the mount, not even Parkers I would suggest either !.

  10. Thanks Rick; your point about personal impressions is spot on. There is no universal palate, we all differ. And there are intra-taster as well as inter-taster differences too, our preferences changing with time and mood, environment and so on.

  11. Fine post, Chris.

  12. Thanks Jim. How many points are you on it?