Thursday, November 8, 2012

Should you really be paying attention to wine points?

In October the Delaware Rock Gym had a climbing competition. To prepare for such a thing many people had to create routes with beginnings and ends that would have a difficulty based on the moves required to succeed in each climb from start to finish.

To establish that difficulty we (staff and friends not planning on competing) would climb the boulder problems and weigh in on what we thought the difficulty was. While myself and Danielle thought one way, some of our co-workers felt another about the rankings in certain categories.

Now what could this possibly have to do with wine?

In rating these climbs for difficulty we were all doing so based on our personal strengths and weaknesses, whether we admitted it or not, it is what we do. I, for example, have tremendous reach but comparatively low strength. Meanwhile, a few of my fellow climbers don't have the same wingspan that I do, but they make up for it in sheer power. So when each person attempts, or completes, a climb they claim a difficulty based on how easy it was for them to finish said climb. This is also what happens when wine is rated on a point system.

In climbing one can say there are objective moves, holds, or techniques that are more advanced and require a more difficult grade. In wine, once one has moved passed the decision of whether or not a wine is flawed or sound, it could be said that there are (reasonably) objective levels of acidity, sugar, or tannin that equate to a certain flavor profile. Whether that flavor profile merits 100 points (!) or whether it rates a measly 94 points [ :( ] depends entirely on any number of factors.

If you like the idea of ranking wines against each other, and at times themselves, it could be worthwhile to follow these ratings. Though some of us in the industry, not that it is a big secret, do not put a lot of stock in wine ratings.

Picture a child's report card; in the second half of 5th grade little Ruddiger Fitzpatrick received a C- in literature. Does that mean you would assign a C- to Fitzpatrick in comprehending, discussing, and creating within the literary arts for his whole life? Or even rate him the same within Russian, Irish, Japanese, or Estonian lit? No. That grade is just a screen shot of his experience at one moment in time, hell even Einstein failed once or twice.

Wine is precisely the same way. Much like the wee Fitzpatrick will (or will not) grow in his ability to appreciate and perceive literature, wine the first year it is in bottle will taste and rate quite differently than the same wine 5 to 7 years after it has been put into bottle. The same wine will also change whether you have it by itself, aside a big honkin' steak, or with a salad.

To me grading wines on a static scale in some sort of tasting vacuum makes no sense, but that doesn't mean my opinions on the scale are right, it just means that there are folks who will agree and disagree with me.

Whether or not you like a numerical point system, the key is finding those whose palates you agree with engaging in a little discussion or research to help find a wine you like. If you like solid clear cut numbers, find a reviewer you like and look for their points. It doesn't matter if it's Jancis Robinson, Eric Asimov, Robert Parker, or Jon Rimmerman, what matters is you find a kindred spirit and you make sure it is their points as opposed to an arbitrary 92 points from 'wine and grape drink magazine.'

Just remember: high points, or cost, does not mean you'll enjoy a wine (or beer) and a lack there of does not mean you won't enjoy it. There is always some subjectivity to what you taste!

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