Food & Wine Thursdays: 100 Points

I really need to stop engaging the wine media on blogs. Nothing good comes of it and I’m continually frustrated at the endemic unwillingness to engage in an actual dialogue, preferring to spiral the arguments out onto new tangents. But I can’t stop.

W. Blake Gray, the freelance wine journalist I attempted to take to task a while back, wrote this article on his blog, The Gray Market Report.

Read through it if you’d like. He’s enraged at “yet another excoriation of the 100 point rating scale.” In his post he equates those of us who don’t like the sometimes-used 100-point scale of wine rating with some kind of poorly explained “liberal elitism.” However, he doesn’t do a very good job of defining his terms and, despite criticizing those who would like to see fewer quantitative ratings of pretend objectivity in favor of purely qualitative descriptions in wine writing, can’t come up for a defense of the 100-point system himself other than “that’s the way it’s been done so we should keep doing it.” Most significantly though, I wanted him to actually provide links or excerpts from all of these attacks on the 100-point system, since I was unaware that this was such an anger-inducing phenomenon. Here was my response:

Just out of curiosity, could you perhaps post links to these excoriating criticisms of the 100 point scale as well as some of its defenses?

I’d like to see what this argument is that you are criticizing. It’s not that I’m suggesting you’re manufacturing an argument from a dubious premise, but I’d like to see what this torrent of debate is that has prompted you to make such sweeping generalizations about a lot of people. Sure I could go looking myself, but you’re the one who cared enough to write an article about it. I usually put links or source text in blog posts when I’m responding directly to something I disagree with, especially if I violently disagree with it.

Most wine folks I know don’t like the 100 point scale and might criticize it in passing, but they don’t find it particularly excoriation-worthy. That’s because it’s a straw man argument: criticizing the 100-point scale is pointless because there’s nothing substantive to defend its worth. You either believe it’s worthwhile or you don’t, but there’s no logical defense of its validity as a tool for measuring a wine’s worth. Period. As far as I can see your only defense of the 100 point scale is “that’s the way we’ve been doing it, so we should keep doing it.

And yes KKO (another commenter), the market (not marketplace) didn’t determine the system, the wine press did. And until very recently (blogs) there wasn’t a lot of democracy in the wine press, forcing wine makers and importers with any significant commercial ambitions, to make decisions at least with an ear to the tastes and protocols of a handful of critics, many of whom have been at their jobs for 20+ years doing the exact same thing while the wine world continues to grow and change. The 100 point system is a relic from a bygone era that just won’t go away, like the internal combustion engine and Fred Thompson.

In the end if one’s not critical enough to understand that any wine rating system is arbitrary and meaningless, that’s fine with me. Enjoy your Mollydooker. I’ll keep the good stuff for myself.

Mr. Gray’s response:

I’d like to know why you believe the media determined the supremacy of the 100-point scale when the New York Times uses 4 stars, the San Francisco Chronicle now doesn’t use stars at all (but used 4 stars in my time there), and a variety of other publications also use their own systems. Even the Chronicle’s circulation dwarfs that of Wine Spectator and the Wine Advocate combined.

As for posting the excoriations in question, I’d rather not give them the publicity.

Speaking of Mollydooker — earlier today I got an email from a wine shop in another state telling me I could order some of the new bottlings — 99 points! — for a little under $200 each. But despite my defense of the 100 point scale, I didn’t do it. Fancy that.

The logical fallacies pile onto each other in such a brief response. Argumentum ad ignorantiam, petitio principii, argumentum ad populum, not to mention the basic fallacy of not actually answering any questions. Argumentum ad being lazy-um?

Why bring up something that’s irrelevant to our discussion like other newspapers that use a different scale? That’s not what we’re talking about. Why bring up that bit about Mollydooker? I wasn’t presuming that he was a slavish purchaser of highly-scored wines. That wasn’t in the argument. And, really, he won’t post links to those excoriations he purports to being in response to? Seriously? He’s a wine journalist who has been published in MAJOR AMERICAN NEWSPAPERS and he won’t cite sources? Really?

So here’s my follow-up. Note that I am also responding to another commenter (Steve) who supports a 100-point system like the one Rotten Tomatoes uses. He appears to misunderstand how Rotten Tomatoes works.

Steve: The Rotten Tomatoes 0%-100% scale isn’t the same as a 100 pt wine rating, it’s simply a number that tells you what percentage of critics liked or didn’t like a movie. It’s a measure of quantitative data, not a qualitative analysis. If such a thing existed for wine, that would actually be beneficial.

Blake: You’re all over the place here. Naturally when discussing the 100 pt wine press I’m referring to the wine press that uses it. Our discussion, I thought, wasn’t about which qualitative measure of feigned objectivity was superior, but rather that it wasn’t consumers and wine makers who demanded such a measure but rather the wine press who opted to use such a system back when the wine world was a much less democratic place.

The fact that the Chronicle eschewed its star ratings in favor of qualitative reviews without final quantitative judgment shows why the Chronicle is at the forefront of relevant mainstream wine journalism.

And that’s already too many words. Follow the comments over on the Gray Market Report if you want to see it continued.

About David D.

I'm a wine professional. Like a real one who makes most of his living in wine and have for most of my adult life. I also write, but you can see that.
This entry was posted in Dispatches From Academia, Home of the Bizarre Rant, Wine & Cheese and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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