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Tuesday Tributes: Best of the Blogs
What’s In A Wine Score

Seen in: Notes From The Winemaker, a blog

By Charles Olken

There are very few topics in the winewriting world that get visited more often, generate more heat and produce less light than the endless analysis of wine scoring. I confess to having contributed more than my share of wisdom to those discussions. I have a particular point of view places the words about wine at the pinnacle of all wine criticism and views stars, puff, stars, points, chopsticks, badges and any and all rating systems as nothing more than notational shorthand for the words that must, of needs, accompany any rating. No words of value equals no rating of value in my view of the world.

It all seems so simple to me. Words describe and evaluate, assess, examine and explain the findings. Points, stars, cookies and checkmarks do not. Cannot. Are useless in and of themselves. And I have argued this point time and time until I get tired of hearing myself. That is why I finally stopped arguing it at all. People either understand and accept the purpose of rating systems or they do not. There are rational reasons why rating systems work, and there are rational reasons why they have distinct limitations. There is no new ground to walked in this discussion.

Until now. John Kelly is the winemaker at Westwood Winery, and he is also, to my thinking, a very sound wine philosopher. He thinks about broad topics intelligently, and he examines them and explains them not in buzzwords or quick sound bites or with unbridled bias for one position to another. He is a philosopher, yes, but he is also a student, a scientist, a man of few words, and yet, when he does unburden himself, his words are worth hearing.

I recommend his comments and the debate which follow over on his blog,

Note well: This is a serious discussion among people who are very serious and also very respectful even as they probe each other’s logic and agree and disagree. There is no light reading in the blog. If they were, I would have left it in a heartbeat. I have very little space for the airheaded comments that try to paint rating systems into a corner. They have both positive and not positive aspects. The debate on John Kelly’s blog does a better job of examining them than almost all of the other conversations yet published.

by John
Posted on:11/30/2010 6:38:03 PM

Charlie - thank you for your kind words. I find myself somewhat abashed. I want to thank you again for your contribution to the discussion.

I want to mention that I immediately recognized the description of my wine that you quoted, but also wanted to point out that I definitely woul dnot have described the wine the same way - in fact I did not when we came up with that tasting note.

When we need a tasting note I usually sit down with a couple sommelier friends; we taste and make notes, then talk it out. We assemble a combination of markers we agree on - different words for the same marker - and also include a number of descriptors that are unique to each taster.

"Bally loafers" is recognizably mine. I use that one regularly to denote a leathery character I find in certain Pinots - when I stick my nose in the glass and what flashes into my head is the pleasurable reaction I had to the smell when I opened the box of the first pair of new expensive dress shoes I bought in my 20's. The aroma is probably due to a matrix effect incorporating one or more trace vinyl phenols and guiacols, but I like the more evocative descriptor.

Bally Loafers?
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:11/30/2010 7:02:15 PM

One of my absolute standards for CGCW is that our tasting notes reasonably represent what someone finds when they pull the cork on a bottle we have reviewed.

It matters not if we have the descriptors precisely correct to the last detail, but whether the tasting note conveys a sense of the wine that leads rather than misleads.

I might not use Bally Loafers, and I never use hot licorice (a Parker favorite) because, as you saw when someone tried to pour me a Pastis in your company some time ago, my face fell about a foot.

Still, the point is the same. If we use words that allow our readers, whether subscribers or customers, to find wines they like and we do not mislead them with descriptions and analogies that are unrecongizable, then we are writing successfully.

Tried to?!
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:11/30/2010 8:36:59 PM

Oh fess up, you drank it! Someone indeed. I must commend you on a fine choice for your Tuesday tribute kid, I've been following the thread over on John's blog and been facinated to no end. Some truly passionate and wicked smart folks weighing very rare to find in the stroke-fest that is the wine blog world. I dig John and his willingness to bark, bite and listen to everyone's side. Very cool....

Describing Zinfandel
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:11/30/2010 11:04:08 PM

Tasted sixteen Zins tonight in our usual pattern of two flights of eight. Most wines over 15% ABV and hot, but a few of those were surprisingly solid, tight, balanced wines.

But one got the ignominious comment of "Would make Sam gag". It was not sweet in the technical sense, but its glyerin, oak and desiccated fruit added up to the same thing for me. And I new in an instant that this was not Zin for Ms. Dugan.

Of course, it is Zin for someone because it is deep, intense and has varietal character. On the whole, it was not a disaster, and far from it, because, with the right description, folks who like that kind of wine are going to be very happy drinking it.

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