Friday, January 20, 2012

The fallacy of the 100-point system revealed

Yesterday, Steve Heimoff assessed the current state of the 2010 California pinot noirs on his blog. Steve said of the 110 or so pinot noirs that he had tasted the scores ranged from 94 "all the way down to a miserable 80." I don't know about you, but to me (and to Steve's employer) a score in the low 80s (80-82) indicates that a wine is an acceptable wine, especially "in casual, less-critical circumstances." I don't consider an 80 a great score, but I wouldn't consider it miserable. Steve's statement reflects what I would consider the core of the score inflation problem. Grade inflation does not mean all scores are going up (as Blake Gray et al. suggest), just that the meaning of scores has changed. In the not so distant past, a grade of a "C" in college was considered an “average” grade. Now, many students believe it means outright failure. I teach at a local university and see this with my students. Every student thinks that they are an "A" student, but in reality few are. I suppose the same is true with wineries. They all think that they produce 90+ point wines, but few actually do. There is nothing wrong with making average wine, but apparently Steve Heimoff thinks that there is. Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of the problem.

When I commented on the post, Steve replied: " I would not use the word “miserable” in a formal review. But let’s face it, an 80 is interpreted as miserable by just about everyone. So when I comment on my own scores, I can be more descriptive, especially if I don’t identify the wine in question, which I would never do out of respect." So, is Wine Enthusiast’s rating scale a joke because when they rate a wine as acceptable, the editors actually believe it is "miserable?" On the surface, an 80 may seem like an average score, but if the critic doesn't actually believe that an 80-point wine is acceptable, then what is the score really worth.

I understand that Steve probably meant that a score of 80 will not be welcomed by most wineries as being helpful, and he is probably correct. But, if Steve takes wineries' feelings into consideration when he reviews wine how are we supposed to believe what he writes? Steve will apparently write psuedo-nice things about a wine out of respect, but when he doesn't have to identify the wine he can let everyone know that he really thinks it is miserable. This is not really breaking news and most people know that ratings are just a big game wine pundits play, but I’m kind of surprised to hear Steve Heimoff actually admit to the fallacy of the 100-point system. Bravo, Mr. Heimoff!


  1. Aaaand this is why I never mention Enthusiast scores at work.

  2. Frightening stuff when you really consider what this means. I suppose you work in the wine industry...

  3. So in your view, what is the correct rating system? Or we don't need any?

    By the way, I would be surprised if Wine Spectator or Wine Advocate critics wouldn't think of low 80s scores as miserable...

  4. I think a clear and concise description of a wine and a nominal ranking (as I do with excellent, very good, good, etc.) is the way to go. With bottle, lot and other variations for wine assigning points is pointless (no pun intended).

    Officially, WS and WA don't think a low 80 is miserable, but why then don't they publish the scores? If Heimoff personally thinks low 80s are miserable, who's to say that Laube or Galloni don't as well?

    Anatoli, thanks for reading and commenting!