Trying to pick out wines for your friends is always a bit of a challenge. It can be completely overwhelming. You just walked into a wine store and you haven’t got the slightest idea which wine to pick that will satisfy your guests. You need something you know is good, but that’s also going to match their preferences and (hopefully) exceed their expectations. The only problem is, there isn’t a single bottle there you recognize. Say that perhaps you’ve got your handy copy of So and So’s 500 Best Value Wines, and every wine is rated with a comfortingly simple 100 point scale. That should make it easy, right? Nope.
Critics, Writers, Tasting & Rating Standards
Wine is definitely a hugely subjective thing, and trying to develop some kind of unified standard for effectively tasting and rating wines seems next to impossible. Far too many critics and writers have tried, and the number of point schemes and five-star systems you can find out there is bewildering. Whose ratings can you trust then? It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that wine is so subjective that there are no concrete demarcations between wines of different quality, and that it’s all up to your personal taste. I don’t agree.
It’s pretty obvious that in the world of wine there are very clearly established notions of quality. Some wines are accepted en masse as being better than others. Parker-esque 100 point systems or the older 20 point system attempt to divide wines up based upon some arcane measurement of quality and craftsmanship.
The Subjectivity of Wine Ratings
While it’s important to understand the quality of wines in such a way, it doesn’t leave much room for personal taste. Judging a wine in such a detached way (based solely on quality and craftsmanship) is a fantastic way to learn and to appreciate new styles. However, just because some critic gave that wine a 98, or a 100, doesn’t mean I’m going to enjoy drinking it. It’s like looking at an abstract painting in an art gallery. I might not personally like it, but I’m never going to say it was a bad painting. Taking note of quality is great, but unless I’m buying for a bunch of complete wine-geeks who like to drink weird things, then my first concern is going to be taste. Quality and craftsmanship contribute enormously to how enjoyable a wine is, but if it’s well made and represents its terroir perfectly (etc.) and I still don’t like it, I’m not going to buy it.
Having a very clear way of establishing an objective rating system that accommodates the intricacies and personal preferences, and values the voice of the consumer as well as the critic, allows for us to explore more efficiently the world of wine. I also don’t necessarily want a one-dimensional scale of “bad” to “good”, I want a system that tells me what I want to know on a more diverse and intricate level.