On balance, I’d rather have scores for wine than not. In a critical assessment of wine, given that we have such an impoverished language for tastes and smells, a score helps a reader know exactly how good the taster considered the wine to be. That’s helpful. But the 100 point scale is beginning to get a bit silly.
This 100 point scale is now the default scale for assessing wines. Some brave souls persist with other systems, but pretty much everyone else scores out of 100.
Along those lines, while it would be nice to make use of the whole scale, everyone calibrates by Robert Parker. But there’s been some subtle grade inflation, such that these days, for decent wine, the scale really begins at about 85, with most of the action taking place in a narrow band of scores from 88-95. The source of this grade inflation? Well, guess which rating will be used on a shelf talker? The highest, of course, so there’s a subtle pressure on the major publications to be more generous with the points in order to benefit from the free advertising that the use of their endorsement in a retail setting brings.
It has got a bit silly. What sort of world is it where 89/100 is considered a fail? But it is for aspiring winegrowers: to be taken seriously, you need a 90+ score. And while a score of 90 used to sell wines, now you really need to be comfortably in the 90s for your wines to shift, unless they’re cheap.
This means all the scoring action is compressed around the high end of the scale. For the most serious wines, we’re talking about ratings on effectively a 5-point scale, from 95-100.
Is there any point following critical ratings of Bordeaux 2009 for the top properties? Given the uncertainty of tasting from young barrel samples, the fact that critics have to use a range with these young, possibly not representative samples, and the fact that the scoring space at the top end is compressed so much, I guarantee that all the first growths and most of the super-seconds will get very similar scores (95-98, 96-99, or 97-100, for example), thus yielding very little useful information at all.
What of the future? Will all top wines rate within just a few points of each other? Will some critics end up extending the 100 point scale? Will some resort to using half points, to buy them some extra room to manoeuvre? It’s all a bit nuts.