Wine Ratings: Why You Can’t Avoid Them

In the wine business there are two groups of sales people: there are those that sell wine because they like/love wine and those that sell because business is business.  A debate that regularly pops up between these two camps is whether or not score, points and grades are important.  There are great points on both sides, and both sides believe they’re right, but at the end of the day only one can win.

Everything in life is rated, even if it’s as simple as liking or not liking something.  Before buying a household appliance, a refrigerator for instance, I go online to find reviews and product ratings. If it’s a new electronic device I’m considering, I either get information from people that I know or I visit to find a review.  If it weren’t for these resources I probably would buy multiple fridges or TVs before finding the right one.  This is also applicable to buying a new house, moving to a new town, choosing a college, placing a child in daycare or private school… You get the picture.  Why is it then that rating wine is not okay, when seemingly the same people against it search for reviews for everything else?

A point that is regularly raised by those opposed to the rating system, is that wine is art and its appreciation is different for every person, just like a painting.  Time out!!!  If that were the case an original Picasso wouldn’t be worth millions of dollars; instead, it would be worth hundreds of dollars–just the cost of paint, canvas and man hours.  Grammies, Emmies, and other awards would all be obsolete because everyone, although not equally talented, would be judged as such. Asking anyone for an opinion would be like an episode of the Twilight Zone because I feel the answer everyone would give would be “It’s all very good.”  If I walked into Best Buy and that was the response I got, you can be assured I wouldn’t accept that answer.

What really gets to me is the hypocrisy throughout the wine industry.  I’m dumbfounded by the number of people that say ratings are terrible for the business, but immediately will tell a customer how the wine they like is SO MUCH BETTER than some other wine.  Really?  You should have answered the poor old lady with “It’s all very good” and see how far that would have gotten you.  There is nothing wrong with ratings, unless the rating causes quality to drop; this was the case for Windows many years ago.

My conclusion is, do what best suits you.  If you happen to have a similar palette as the Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, the International Wine Cellar, Decanter, or your local wine guy then continue to use that source.  Wine, like art, is still a business at the end of the day.  There are people buying and selling and if a third party wasn’t rating or reviewing they would be.  To reiterate, you cannot avoid ratings. If you aren’t rating it yourself someone else is.

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