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March 25, 2011
Why Publish Wines under 88 Points?
Some things simply baffle me more than others. I always look for the cost/benefit equation that drives my various businesses. I figure people want to be in the know and always be ensured of value for the dollar. That makes perfect sense. But telling what I want or what is perceived to be better is always a shorter list, and quite frankly more useful - or is it?

Case in point is the outdated 100-point system for rating wine. It is beyond me why WA, WE, and WS publish ratings below 88, but I have a few points and a couple different angles here. Before I go too far, you need to know I am not 25 years old and was raised with "if you did not have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."

I firmly believe that they believe they are doing us (consumers) a favor by publishing all wines. This theoretically allows us to read all their ratings. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I just can't spend that amount of time in the bathroom to go from cover to cover, which is why the iPhone and Droid were created, right? In life, I seek "the short list" or "main contenders for consideration" as my time remains at a premium. I think we're all in the same boat here.

There would appear to be two main reasons why all ratings are published. First would be that they want to leverage all the information they spent time and money gathering. I get that. But the other reason may be to fill the pages of a publication. This comes at a cost not only to the consumer of having to peruse through a lot of non "short list" information to sort out the perceived gems. Another theory is that maybe they were perhaps a bit unsure with their ratings and lets face it, they rarely agree on the numbers. Perhaps the savvy consumer can pull out from the descriptors that a wine, not highly-rated numerically, has those characteristics and fruit and aroma notes they seek. But here is where the '88' rubber hits the road. By the way, here's what I think an '88' looks like!

"Oldsmobile Super 88"

The number 88 is THE number which infers there is just something not right with the wine and it could or should have been better. THIS HURTS THE WINERY AND CONFUSES THE CONSUMER. Why would you want to do that? Let me reiterate the food chain here for clarity. WA, WE, WS would not exist if it weren't for wineries - PERIOD. So why would you speak badly about the hand that feeds you? I understand the intent of the rating, yet fail to see the purpose here for publishing those rating that fall below an 88.

Look, I am not going to pontificate and tell the consumer or winery all wines are good. We know that's simply not true. But here is my dilemma. Say you're a winery owner, harvest was tough, you had some changes of personnel, some barrel issues and the wine just doesn't shine. You know it, your wife knows it, the folks at the winery know it, hell, even the winery dog knows it. You're mentally down as you know it's going to hurt your reputation and your wallet. Then the ratings come out and one of them gives you an 81 or something like that, telling the whole world. Seriously, did you need to be kicked while you were down? Folks, this is the net effect of ratings of 88 and lower, but here's the real clincher.

They could and often times are missing what folks like in a wine. A few months ago, I spoke to a winery owner who sold out of what one trade rag had rated as an 83. He stated that everyone who came into the tasting room not only loved it, but the wallets opened up and they left carrying their gem.

This reminds me of movie ratings. If the critics like it, I usually don't and the reverse holds true as well. Critics are just that, critics. They are trained to look for what's wrong. More often than not, they are wrong. One only needs to look at movies as another prime example here. My wife tells me if the critics don't like the movie, we should see it - and most of the time she's right!

At WineMatch, we look for what's right and represent the wine for what it is, not for what it's not. As in the 83 example above, a whole lot of folks found what was right. I am also thankful I am evaluated for what's right with me, not dwelling on where I fall short, as that would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

A big baby at that!



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