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Monday Manifestos
The Joke’s On Us—Unless We Fight Back

By Charles Olken

If we blindly accept that we must pick our grapes by the phases of the moon, the joke’s on us. If we blindly accept that the only true expression of wine is vineyard-specific, the joke’s on us.

If we buy wine by numbers and not by taste, the joke’s on us for being foolish. But, if we accept that no symbolic rating system has any validity, especially those that are accompanied by thoughtful, rigorously researched tasting notes, and listen only to those who would sell us wine they own, the joke is truly on us for subscribing not to knowledge-based thinking but to a new brand of wine religion.

If we allow words like authenticity, typicity, terroiricity and organicity to replace our own palates and our own ability to taste, to read, to think, to comprehend ideas and to form conclusions based on any and all inputs that make sense to us, the joke’s on us.

Yet, folks, that is what the true believers would have us do. They would have us not compare wines against each other. They would have us believe that only the winemakers and the retailers know what is good for us. They attempt to shame us for listening to voices other than their own. They pretend that wine is not a product offered to the world by a business—often a multimillion dollar business owned and operated, in large measure, by rich corporations and rich people.

They want us to believe that the fat cats have got it right and the educated little people have got it wrong. They want us to believe exactly what they believe and to sign petitions that say so. They are creating a new religion, and you are either a follower or you are a heretic.

If you think I exaggerate, read the “oath of allegiance” that one must sign in order to join the cult of true believers.

I hereby distinctly and emphatically declare my allegiance to the revolution.

It matters not that this oath of allegiance is supposedly part of self-proclaimed movement to do away with wine scores. When you read the so-called “Manifesto” to which you are asked to swear distinct and emphatic allegiance, you are asked to endorse far more than the idea that wine scores are inimical to wine evaluation. You are swearing allegiance also to the worship of terroir as the only true measure of wine, and you are forever forswearing the notion that anyone other than the folks who own the wine can tell you anything significant about wine quality.

Here is the language that tells you not to read, not to listen, not to believe in the notion of wine criticism, as if wine criticism were somehow different from automobile criticism or restaurant criticism or movie criticism.

If we rely on the biased palates of a select few – and no palate can ever be unbiased, as the process of tasting is supremely personal – to tell us what is good, great, and perfect, then haven’t we sacrificed our own personal understanding of the wine, and as such, what would be the point of drinking it?

“What would be the point of drinking it?” Did someone really write that? It is like asking what would be the point of buying a BMW if Car and Driver recommended it? There are some 150 models of cars within the competitive price range of a basic BMW 3-series. Are we now supposed to drive everyone one of them ourselves before deciding? Or is the basic message of the Manifesto that we should buy the first one that drives well because each is different and thus not subject to comparison?

Well, I have figured out the underlying message here. It is this. If we allow folks to tell us how to think, how to lead our lives, to whom to listen and not listen, to follow only their systems of understanding and not the ones that make sense to us, then the joke is truly on us. Because bottom line, those folks are just trying to sell us their wine without having us ask questions and without listening to anyone but them.


Fighting Back
by Don Nelson
Posted on:8/8/2011 4:59:06 PM

No need to fight back. Just ignore the nut cases.

by Christophe
Posted on:8/8/2011 7:57:42 PM



I don't quite understand your point.  The revolution likes critics.  We are disputing the use of a flawed scale, that is all.

It is a simple message.  We just had a gentleman sign up that uses Vinicode, very impressive to say the least, and probably the most interesting use of numbers for describing wines.

I am sure in the future, we can agree that this was a great learning experience for all.  This little revolution is about changing the way we look at wine.  A way that we feel will invoke great discussions.


No Subject
by Anonymous
Posted on:8/8/2011 10:50:49 PM

"Or is the basic message of the Manifesto that we should buy the first one that drives well because each is different and thus not subject to comparison?"

The point of the manifesto is to read the tasting notes, NOT just go off the points.  It's pretty simple.  When you buy a car do you not look ove the notes on the car, how it handles then test drive it before you make a full commitment?  Is this not what the manifesto is saying?  Read the notes, don't just go off point.  I drive an M3 and would have gone for the M5 but after driving it I like the M3 better.  Can't we do the same with wine or should we just trust your scores and that's it?


by Charles E. Olken
Posted on:8/8/2011 11:48:57 PM

Have you ever in your life bothered to read Connoisseurs' Guide? Are you aware that our tasting notes run fifty to one-hundred fifty words?

The problem with the manifesto is that is castigates everyone who uses a rating system and does not even begin to recognize the rigor, thought, independence and care that goes into the tasting notes.

It is painfully clear that you have no comprehension of the writing and the effort that goes into the writing. Otherwise, you would not be writing comments like "should we just trust your scores?"

Try reading my tasting notes. And by the way, did you also drive the Lexus I 250, the Audi S5, the MB CLK and all the other variants that compete in the sporty sedan category?

Now carry that analogy over to wine? In order to make the kind of choice that you made, one would have to taste thousands of wines. Most consumers cannot do that. That is why they read the comments of critics. But, like you, most of them decide on their own one way or another. Your comments suggest that you think anyone who subscribes to any publication that uses ratings is nothing more than a mindless lemming.

Don't look now, but the wine buying public is made of milliions of them.

by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:8/9/2011 6:55:26 AM

That car is so "then..."

Oops, wrong subject ;)

by Charlie
Posted on:8/9/2011 8:22:43 AM

Finally. A joke that is not on us.

Thanks, Mr. P.

Ebbs and flows
by Randy Caparoso
Posted on:8/9/2011 9:24:34 AM

I was born and raised in Hawaii, Charlie, the land of soft sand and deadly surf, yin and yang, ebbs and flows of tides, and harmony and (often) disharmony of diversity.

That's why on one hand I can say Connoisseur's Guide was one of my original inspirations when I started my career in the wine biz (late '70s), and still is.  But yes, I also believe that winegrowing can be as much affected by phases of the moon as the ebbs and flows of tides are, and I also believe that 100 point scores do as much damage as good simply because it's grossly misused as measurements of quality by people who have direct influence on what consumers buy and consume. 

The problem is, Charlie, that your words are descriptive, and probably as more masterful than anyone's, but distributors and retailers have a tendency to use the numbers, not the words, when making their sales, thereby hoisting wines on consumers (that is, those that can't read or think for themselves) that they often don't even like.

You see, I liked it a lot better when Connoisseur's Guide didn't use the numbers -- just the puffs.  At least that way people were forced to make decisions more upon the words rather than numbers, and someone like me knew that the difference between a one, two or three puff wine was negligible:  they were all good, it was just a matter of discerning nuances.  100 point scores, however, presuppose a 92 is better than an 88, and that this difference is permanent -- for all-time.  And everyone knows that wine quality can't be quantified as such, and that one wine is better than another wine on one day for one person, but not necessarily for someone else or even for the same person next week, next year or under any one of many possible different circumstances.

So here's my suggestion:  I say you should embrace the folks that sign that "manifesto" precisely because they're coming at it from a different perspective.  Diversity, ebbs and flows, and differences of opinion are a very good thing.  Let these "crazies" have their say.  I think they have something good to say (but I'm not signing anything because I'm not that kind of joiner, and I don't believe in ultimatums), just like I'm a huge fan of whatever you have to say.

Yin and yang, Charlie -- we all need each other!

by Doug Wilder
Posted on:8/9/2011 11:43:16 AM


From what I have picked up reading about this agenda, much of the commenting is not actually against those who write about a wine (with a score), but the power that score has when the wine is in play - how marketers, retailers and ultimately, the consumer use the entire review.

Professionally, I am ignoring the manifesto; it won't impact how I do my reviewing. However I did borrow the spirit of their call to action and posted it to my FB status (with one small change):



Well Said...
by TomHill
Posted on:8/9/2011 2:15:43 PM


The problem is, Charlie, that your words are descriptive, and probably as more masterful than anyone's, but distributors and retailers have a tendency to use the numbers, not the words, when making their sales, thereby hoisting wines on consumers (that is, those that can't read or think for themselves) that they often don't even like.

You see, I liked it a lot better when Connoisseur's Guide didn't use the numbers -- just the puffs"


Well said, Randy. I miss those meadow muffins, too. I've always thought Charlie's notes about the best around. No "gobs of hedonistic fruit" in them...just the facts, maam.



Meadow Muffins??
by Charles E. Olken
Posted on:8/9/2011 3:30:35 PM

Mr. Hill !!

Charlie, take heed
by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:8/10/2011 6:03:54 AM

When last you and I had a go-round on this subject, I commented that your wine reviews don't need the numbers--they don't, and I am glad to be in such good company in that opinion.

Numbers--Who Needs Them
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:8/10/2011 10:29:15 AM

Mr. P--

I am flattered that so many of CGCW's most ardent supporters and friends agree that CGCW reviews have the stuffing to stand on their own. That is how they were designed by Earl Singer and myself three decades ago.

But, the marketplace thinks otherwise, and whether I like it or not, if the marketplace wants wine rating iin shark fins or smiley faces or points, that is what I and all the other reviewers are going to give them.

A few wineries may think that the consumers are stupid, lazy and out of touch with their own palates but I do not. The broad consuming marketplace pretty much knows what it likes and how it likes its information presented.

I understand and agree with the argument that points are far too imperfect to be objectively applied, They are as subjective as the carefully researched words that accompany them. But they are also the current lingua franca of wine reviews. Very few critics are going to abandon the system just because a few wineries want us to speak in tongues.

a little light
by Eric
Posted on:8/11/2011 1:53:07 PM

I want to shine a little light on this.  most of us who are reading this have some level of involvment in the wine industry yes?  That being the case we may forget sometimes what the 100 system means to the average joe going into the store to purchase a bottle of wine.  the score he may see posted on a bottle of wine while it may make the purchase easier it really holds no anyone.  He or she see's a score of a 95 and says hey that may be good without ever meeting or speaking to or knowing anything about the person who gave it a 95.  then said drinker will go home and drink the bottle and since the wine has a rating of a 95 he will probably like it, or find a reason to like it because he doesn't want to be made to feel foolish or uneducated and go against what a "professional" says about that bottle of wine.  I know this because I grew up in the northern part of the midwest where wine isn't really a industry and im sure this same fact holds true for other people who go to the store to buy wine.  So as this point system may make it easier to purchase wine it really does not help the buyer develop their own tastes or really learn anything.  get rid of scores let people think for themselves and they will probably be more likely to take a chance on a wine that may make them fall in love with wine instead of let some stranger tell them what is good. long live ScoRevolution

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