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TPFThis blog uses the 100 Point Scale as a means of rating beer, wine, and spirits. I do it not because I particularly want to but because it’s become the universal standard for saying what’s great, what’s good, and what’s merely passable. It’s lingua franca, common knowledge, a scale that resonates with all of us who ever beat our brains out studying for the SATs or agonizing over that one tragic 92 on a physics exam that landed us a point – one stinkin’ point! – short of getting into Princeton. It’s practically engraved on our DNA, as Americans, and requires zero beverage acumen to figure out that a 95 pointer is perceived by the reviewer as being a better Zin, Saison, or Whiskey than the 89 pointer next to it.

Oh, that it were that simple…

Most reputable reviewers post their explanation of why and how they see/use those hundred points. I haven’t done it, so here it is:

I get hundreds of questions (really) that go something like this: “You gave that Napa Cab 95 points and  then turned right around and gave 95 points to that $15 Spanish red. Whassup wit dat?”

Some critics apply the 100P across all categories of wine, reserving their highest scores for those which have the most potential for greatness. Search Wine Advocate, for example, for “Prosecco, Under $25, 95 Points or Higher”. See what you find. I’ll save you the time. NOTHING comes up. Robert Parker, much as I like and admire him, starts his ratings on the premise that a Prosecco cannot be rated as highly as an Aussie Shiraz, a Walla Walla Syrah, a Hermitage, or a Napa Cabernet. Cannot. Ever.

I just simply cannot hang with that philosophy.

Comparing Syrah to Prosecco – or even Syrah to Cabernet – is an apples and oranges proposition. My way of using the scale produces far more 90+ wines, beers, and spirits than Parker’s and I believe it’s the only justifiable way to do it. Ragardless of what you may think of Prosecco vs. Chateauneuf du Pape, Barleywine vs. Pilsner, or Single Malt Scotch vs. blended Whiskey, it IS, absolutely possible for some beverage within every category to be the best of its type. Important phrase: “of its type“.

I contend that Sauvignon Blanc should not be penalized because it’s not Rhone Syrah. I think Pale Ales CAN, quite possibly, be as characterful and perfect as a Barrel-Aged Cherry-Infused Sour Brown. And I’ve had blended Scotch that would make many Single Malts taste like the contents of a mud puddle. When we start with the presumption that one grape or beer style or a brownwater spirit is always going to be “better” than anything outside those categories, we begin the task of rating saying that YOU should accept our preferences. I’ve actually read the phrase, “...it was pretty damned good, for a Pinot Grigio…”, a phrase that contains a damning with faint praise that will make any discerning reader think, “Well, WFT. Why am I drinking Pinot Grigio at all?

1047250xYou’ll find ratings here that deal with each type and style of beverage within its own category, not unlike when the question is asked, “Who is the best football player in North America?“, the very first thing out of your mouth should be, “Well, high school, college, CFL or NFL?” I firmly believe that it’s possible for a Zinfandel to achieve greatness. Ditto for any white wine you can name. I’ll go ahead and state, right here, that, IMHO, the single best wine I have tasted in the past seven years is a whiteMarisa Cuomo “Fiordiva”, profiled here, a blend of indigenous grapes from Italy’s Amalfi Coast. It would have been my first-ever 100 Point wine, except for the sad fact that I knew that the vintage I reviewed previously was waaaay out of stock everywhere. (I gave it 99 points, in case you don’t want to click over) This view is not at all based on my finely-honed mania for Italian wines. It’s just a freakishly delicious wine that anybody with a working tongue could appreciate and has every quality that all of us wine-weenie geeks need to keep us interested, as we over-analyze like little Junior Scientists.

I absolutely believe that many, many Pale Ales and Lagers I have tasted are totally worthy of scores that fall north of 90 points. I KNOW, damned well, that certain Vodkas, Gins, and even some liqueurs merit scores that land over the 90 barrier and I see absolutely no justification in presuming to tell you, the readers of this bloglet, that one category is more worthy of your attention and “serious” evaluation than another. Job One for you, as a beverage consumer is pleasing YOU, not measuring up to my standards of What’s Significant. I want you to be able to read The Pour Fool, see that 93 points for that Oregon Pinot Blanc, and know unequivocally that I think, out of the whole little universe of Pinot Blanc being produced in the world, that one is among the best. I don’t hand out 100 points lightly. Until 2013, in fact, I had never given any beverage that perfect score. I believe, without checking, that I’ve done it maybe five times, now, and that’s for one simple reason: producers of all beverages are getting better almost exponentially, every damned year, in an explosion of creativity and craftsmanship that beggars anything we’ve seen in human history.

Apples...............Oranges

Apples……………Oranges

I’ve still, in 25 years of evaluating them, never given out a 100 Point score, for any wine and haven’t really been tempted, except for the Fiordiva mentioned above. I’ve tasted wines – lots of ’em – that others gave that rating and simply didn’t agree. No judgment on them but I have my palate and they have theirs and they’re different. So, in many people’s minds, I’m saying that this wine, at 95 points in The Pour Fool, is better than that wine in my next post that got a 93. NOT true, unless they’re the same wine – same grape, same style of blend. My 95 point Amarone is an outstanding example of that wonderful, quirky blend of Corvina, Molinara, and Rondinella. It has no direct comparison to my 95 point Washington “Sorella” from Andrew Will, because it can’t, no matter how much anyone wants to believe it should. The grapes are too different and express totally distinctive flavors and textures and the process is wildly dissimilar. If you ever have a question about two wines you read reviews of here and want to know which represents the best use of your dollars, PLEASE, use the email link and ASK. I’m delighted to answer. But what you get will be only my tastes, my scale of value, my preference, NOT a universal judgment.

wine-geekScores are just a tool, a suggestion of which wines stand out for their general quality, which is why you should always read the descriptions that accompany the rating. If you don’t know what is implied in the term “Barolo” or “Ribera del Duero” – the grapes, the textures, the acids, the flavor possibilities – you can easily wind up with a wine you absolutely hate and wind up pouring down your sink, all because you got swoony over a reviewer’s 94 score. To this knotty dilemma, add the FACT that wine retailers and distributors have their own little set of grievances regarding scores and, if you buy based on scores, you definitely risk having those folks go frosty on you and become profoundly less helpful. Wine trade folks call those of us who buy based on ratings “Score Whores” and that is one of the worst epithets a wholesaler or retailer can fling at you. “Score Whores” are those unwise types who stand around at parties and hold forth on their (usually very limited) wine knowledge, saying things like, “I only buy 90 point wines.” Say that around a wine professional and you are Instant Idiot. And the folks who run through their local wine shops and gather up nothing but 90+ wines and then pester the staff for more that they read about in magazines are called “Cherry Pickers“, also a term of scorn. Wine distributors even use the term for retailers who buy for resale based solely on what published ratings they can find to put on signage and online postings and ignore the hundreds or thousands of other wines in the wholesaler’s warehouse. In my own time in retailing, I’ve made a quest out of – and gained some notoriety for – digging around in distributors’ catalogs for hidden gems; wines that did NOT get rated at all or got lower ratings but represent excellent value. I love doing this, as it plays perfectly into what it is that has kept me interested in adult beverages for over 40 years: that sense of discovery when I encounter something unexpectedly wonderful.

I URGE you to think about doing this my way; possibly the only time I’m ever going to say that I think I’m totally right about anything. Take an occasional flyer on a wine, beer, or bottle of booze that draws your eye on a shop shelf. Yeah, you’ll get clunkers, maybe a lot of ’em. But there WILL be that occasional bottle that makes you think, “My God, why did I never read anything about this stuff?” They’re out there and your friendly (as opposed to snotty, condescending, officious) shop steward and I can offer suggestions.

mad-scientistLastly, I want to offer the strongest possible warning about one obscure (and rightly so) phenomenon of the wine trade. About three years ago, I got an email from one of the biggest jackasses I have ever encountered in the beverage biz, who insisted that The Pour Fool would soon be out of step with the times if I did not subscribe to and promote his new website. The site may well be gone, by now, and I wouldn’t give the name here under pain of death but it employed a reputable, but severely deluded, statistician who was attempting to analyze reviews and scores from Wine Advocate, Steven Tanzer, Wine Spectator, and other notable sources and determine how their ratings were statistically skewed and then to correct them mathematically, using margin for error and a complicated formula of his own design. Let me be clear: this guy was trying to introduce scientific standards on personal, subjective ratings. The whole idea, as I pointed out to the site’s owner, is pure, unadulterated Bullshit. Ratings do not have a “margin for error”. When I say that Beer X is worth my 92 point rating, I’m not uncertain that it shouldn’t get a 96 or an 89. It’s 92, end of story. If I can’t decide on the proper rating, I would say so, but that hasn’t happened in 40+ years, so I’m confident that it won’t. This clown’s emails to me grew more and more insistent and then increasingly insulting as his blizzard of scientific snow failed to change my mind. His original arguments on the merits of his “system” became a personal diatribe aimed at my acumen and qualifications. That shifting of attack is the eternal hallmark of someone whose ideas don’t withstand close scrutiny. When insecure people run out of ideas, they always resort to insults, scorn, and mindless diversions.

PLEASE, I beg of you, do not, ever, fall for the idea that there is any scientific basis at all for beverage reviews…or movie reviews or car reviews or coffee reviews or reviews of those little umbrellas they put in tropical cocktails. Reviews are Opinions, nothing more. Pseudo-Science is a real seductress for people of a certain mindset and it claims victims like my obnoxious correspondent every day. If you fall for the idea that there is any way to objectively evaluate something that’s purely about tastes and preferences, you’re just another victim. Scores are guideposts, indicators…suggestions, and should never be taken as anything more than that.

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6 thoughts on “Score Whores, Cherry Pickers, and Pseudo-Science: The 100 Point Scale Examined

  1. Pingback: The Fool’s 100 Point Wines: An Unearthed List | ThePourFool

  2. Good write up, I am always interesting in how people score and rate beverages. I have my own system that I designed for myself more than anything, but I do rate on a 10 point scale down in 0.5 increments.I’ll admit, my system does fall victim to the global flavour scale where I would have a hard time rating a pilsner better than a barrel aged barleywine unless that pilsner is unique or basically perfect. There just isn’t enough flavour in most of them for me to say, yes I will rate this as high as this other one over here that blew my mind.

    I can’t stand those statistical systems and I also dislike any system that factors in “appearance” in the beer world, to me that that is a sin and the weird obsession with clear beer. I have no problem commenting on it, but to use it as a way to rank beer is very old school and market-speak like. It’s different if the beer is flawed (seriously excessive gunk, foam monster, etc) but flavour and aroma are the ultimate deciders for me.

    Regarding online crowd sourced ratings, I like reading them after I try something or using them to look for brands I haven’t tried yet but beyond that I believe in finding a few reviewers with similar tastes and trusting their recommendations, as well as trying new beverages just because.

    My only issue with the 100 pt scale is for the most part, it’s a 20 pt scale. I am curious, what is the lowest rating you have ever given?

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    • When I rate a Pilsner 94 points and then rate a Stout 93 points, that does NOT mean that I’m rating the Pilsner “higher” than the Stout. I’m not comparing the two styles AT ALL. The 94 for the Pilsner is only a rating for that Pilsner vs. all other Pilsners. That’s the point I was trying to make in the post. I cannot agree with the view that we have to set some beer, wine, or liquor styles and categories as superior to others. I might give a Pale Ale a 96 (did just that recently) and gave a Double IPA in the same post a 95. That doesn’t mean I think the Pale is better than the DIPA. The two things are not suitable for comparison. If a Ferrari and a Volvo both win an annual car magazine Best Of the Year, does that mean the Volvo is comparable to the Ferrari? Probably not. They’re two different things and cannot legitimately be compared. Same here. In my ratings, I’m only comparing and scoring Pilsners against Pilsners, Cabernet vs. Cabernet, and Whiskey to Whiskey. And within each different category, there absolutely CAN be a tier of superior beverages. Those are the ones getting the big scores and they have nothing to do with anything in the other categories. I think that should have been clear from the post itself.

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      • Clear in the post, but perhaps not clear in the rating itself on other posts. For example when you rate Deschutes Red Chair and Deschutes Dissedence in the same post with the same 99pt rating without saying perhaps “for an IPA or for a Oud Bruin” one could easily mistake them for a global rating. I don’t know, might be worth adding something for clarity purposes? Just a thought…at least I know how you compare now which helps.

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Speak yer piece, Pilgrim.

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