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Thursday Thorns
Now He Likes The 100-Point System

By Charles Olken

A very smart winemaker, who has been a critic of the 100-point system of wine ratings, has suddenly changed his mind and begun to praise it. A cynic might say it was because he got a slew of good scores from folks whose opinions matter to their readership. He sees it differently, and his comments on the Steve Heimoff blog started a robust conversation between the two of us. First, his comments, and then my response about why he got it right for all the wrong reasons. If you want to know who “he” is, wander over to the Heimoff blog. I am not mentioning his name, because this is not a personal issue but a philosophical difference, and one that I hold more strongly than he does.

He says, “as a long-time sceptic (sic) of the 100-point scale, I was rather impressed that leading wine publications all gave our 2010 pinot noir the exact same score.”

I responded, “And, what does that tell you?

Does it tell you (cynically) that all reviewers are alike?

Does it tell you that the 100-point system has magically become man’s best expression of wine quality?

Does it tell you that you no longer need to read the words of those reviews? I would be much more impressed if the organoleptic analyses in those reviews were the same rather than the scores.

I will tell you what it tells me. It tells me that expertise in wine evaluation is important. It tells me nothing about the value of the 100-point system because that system is nothing more than a shorthand expression of the more detailed findings expressed in the written part of the reviews.

And, frankly, and I apologize for sounding critical and cranky, but your comment tells me that the trees and the forest are being confused. Your comment suggests that the 100-point system is reality, when it is no such thing. It is only a snippet of reality–a shorthand for a qualitative conclusion and absolutely useless absent the words that folks like Heimoff, Parker, Laube, CGCW pen with great care. The truth is in the words, not in the numbers.

So, apologies again—as I have read your commentaries here and elsewhere and have appreciated your insights. I just do not get this one. BTW, I use the 100-point system because it does not hurt my opinions to append a notational shorthand to them.”

I am not an unquestioning fan of the 100-point system, perhaps I like our tried and true, three-star system better. But, I accept that the 100-point system has become the lingua franca of wine reviews. That is why we all use it. It does not give the answers, and I am surprised that my young winemaker friend would have disliked it so intensely and then changed his mind because a group of critics liked his wines and agreed on the ratings.

We should use rating systems for what they are worth. Consumer Reports scores are very helpful when the Olkens go out to make major purchases, but we do not necessarily buy the highest rated item. We read the commentary and make our choice based on our sense of how one product suits us versus another. We were happy consumers of Siskel and Ebert and their rating system, but two thumbs up was not the be all and end all for us in choosing movies to watch. The only way to make sense of critical analysis is to read the words. If you don’t, you won’t know the difference between a ripe, dramatic Pinot Noir and an elegant, refined version. And neither will my young winemaker friend.

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100 Point System
by Tom Engler
Posted on:5/9/2013 7:31:54 AM


I always preferred the old "Puff" system(rather than numerical score). Like most consumers there is limited time and/or resource within my budget; hence the need for reliable ratings/rankings/exposition. During 25 years with CGCW you two have never lead me to a "clinker"; 100% satisfaction. The commentary, especially involving food choice, is always helpful. Thanks to your good efforts I have been selected as the "selector" of all wines whenever we're out with friends/family. You two get recognized but I get to bask in the glow of the successful choices! Regardless of Puffs or numbers keep up the great work.




by gabe
Posted on:5/9/2013 11:36:01 PM

holy crap i'm famous!

by gabe
Posted on:5/9/2013 11:46:53 PM

Well, i do feel like I was misquoted a bit.  But I appreciate being called a winemaker.  It sounds much more impressive than "cellar rat".

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