Dear Wine Writers, Why No Numbers? | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Dear Wine Writers, Why No Numbers?

Dear Wine Writers, Why No Numbers?


Scores don’t serve the drinker.

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We are often asked why we do not assign a numerical score to the wines and spirits we review. After all, it is a process employed by many of the most popular reviewers, including the eminent Robert Parker, the glossy Wine Spectator and the high-end British publication Decanter, which bills itself as the “World’s Best Wine Magazine.” It is easy to understand the appeal since we all grow up in an educational system that rates our performance via numeric scores and grades.

Numeric scores invariably call to mind logical precision and objective truth, that as sure as 2 + 2 = 4, a score of 98 = a great wine … but does it really? Is it possible to objectively distinguish between, say, a wine rated 91 points versus one rated 93, or maybe an 87 versus a 92? Neither of us would care to build too large a claim upon so thin a footing. To be sure, we are not intending this as a swipe against our fellow wine reviewers. We’ve no doubt that a great many of them, especially the ones bringing in the big bucks for their opinions, have the experience and palate to discern such subtleties —and the brazenness to assert as such. Rather, we approach this from the vantage point — affirmed by numerous studies — that subjective appreciation is influenced by context.

This is why we are more comfortable discussing our personal impressions rather than assigning a seemingly objective score. This is also why we often care more for what the marketing folks like to call the “back-story,” the who, what, where, why and when of how the beverage we are appreciating in the moment came to be.
Of course, the marketing folks usually prefer to air-brush these details, if not make them up completely. For our purposes here, so long as truth can be discerned from fiction, and the “back-story” is actually the legit back-story, such details strike us as genuine knowledge rather than merely subjective judgment. Further, at a minimum some basic knowledge of the potential of any given confluence of grape varietal, growing season, winemaker and terroir is the foundation of any credible reviewer’s recommendations. Finding wine critics whose tastes align with your own is potentially the most effective use of wine reviews; calibrate what you read by what you enjoy drinking should help provide a rough guide for future purchases, and hopefully also entice a bit of adventurism.

Consider the kosher Ramot Naftaly Duet 2010, a blend of Cabernet and Merlot (with a touch of Petit Verdot) from the Kedesh Valley of the Upper Galilee that one of us enjoyed during a family holiday celebration last winter.  It was a full-bodied, food-friendly, softly textured wine that opened with red cherry and raspberry aromas and maintained these red fruit flavors along with layers of currants, plum, cedar, spice and herbs all the way through the finish.

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