In a progressive move, UK-based wine magazine Decanter has announced that it adopting the 100 point scale for its tasting section, and that it is reducing the number of tasters for each session to three. Significantly the individual scores of each taster will now be published.
By doing this, Decanter are presumably hoping to reduce the noise that comes from having a larger panel of tasters and then just averaging their scores. The Decanter magazine has been improving over the last few years, but the weakest bit has always the tasting section, which often (in my opinion, whatever that is worth) turns out perplexing results.
Moving to the 100 point scale from the 20 point system is also a positive move, because this has become the benchmark scale for assessing wines. [However, editor Guy Woodward informs me that tasters will still be scoring on a 20 point scale, because that is what most are used to, and Decanter will then convert this to 100 points and list it alongside the 20 point score.] We’re all familiar with the shortcomings of points, but they are a remarkably useful tool, albeit a limited one, for separating the best wines from the rest. If you give me a tasting note, that has some use, but it doesn’t really tell me how much you liked the wine.
If you tell me one Pinot Noir gets 87 points, and another gets 91 points, I can see that you liked the latter quite a bit more. This is useful information for me.
Publishing individual taster’s scores is also a good move. The score is not a property of the wine, but of the interaction between the wine and the taster. Individual scores will make each taster more accountable, and they will likely perform better. The are also useful for readers: if they can see that one person likes big, oaky, international-styled red wines, and scores by size and ripeness, then they can choose to follow or ignore this taster’s scores.
It will expose the bad tasters ruthlessly, too! Some people, even experienced tasters, just aren’t good at judging blind. I’m looking forward to seeing this new system in action.
Here’s Decanter’s conversion chart, showing how a 20 point score becomes a 100 point one – new-decanter-panel-tasting-system