Tuesday, July 17, 2012

This is Scoring Wine

The 100-point system of rating wine continues its relentless march towards global domination. Until recently, the only place you would see a wine with a score out of 100 was in a written wine review. Now the 100-point system is also set to replace the 20-point system traditionally used in Australian wine competitions.

Earlier this year the Sydney Royal Wine Show trialed the new method of judging in some of its classes; wines at the just-completed Royal Queensland Show were scored out of 100 rather than 20; and the Canberra International Riesling Challenge in October will also be moving to this new system.

It’s not just an Australian phenomenon, this obsession with big scores. Even that bastion of old-school wine appreciation, Decanter magazine in the UK, has this month ditched its old five star rating system in favour of points out of 100.

Sigh. Regular readers know that I am no fan of scoring wine. It makes as much sense to me as scoring a sunset. Yes, some sunsets are more beautiful than others. But two or three points more beautiful? Reducing such a subjective, multi-faceted sensory experience to such a precise number seems to be, well, missing the point.

But I am obviously in a dwindling minority. Doling out the points is clearly here to stay. So, adopting the can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em principle, from now on I will start scoring wine too. And I’m very excited about the new rating method I’ve devised: where most blokes only go up to 100, my scoring goes up to 110.

In a nod to nostalgia, I’m going to allocate a maximum of 20 points for quality - complexity and persistence of flavour, all the usual jazz. But I’m also going to award 10 possible points for funkiness: whereas most judges would give lower scores for a touch of volatile acidity or cloudiness or a whisper of brettanomyces (a ‘spoilage’ yeast), for example, I’ve realised that I actually like finding these agricultural characters in wine: I think they can make it more interesting and more delicious with food. So actually, no, bugger it: let’s make that 20 possible funky points. Boo-yah!

I’ll give up to 10 points for packaging. After all, who doesn’t love a cool label, a heavy imported bottle and a wax capsule? Another 10 possible points for obligatory greenness (sustainable, organic, carbon neutral - all the touchy-feely stuff). And 20 points for food-friendliness because it’s so important: I’m going to ask winemakers to recommend a specific dish for each wine sample they send me, which I will then have the kitchen staff in my tasting facility cook up and serve alongside the tasting glass. Ten bonus points will be awarded for any wines fermented in clay amphorae.

I’m also going to give up to ten points for value: the better the QPR (that’s “quality-to-price-ratio”, apparently: it comes with its own logarithm), the higher the score (I’ll be deducting points for wines that are obviously overpriced, opportunistic and ostentatious). And finally, I’m leaving another ten points to play with just depending on how I feel on the day.


A version of this article first appeared in the Weekend Australian A Plus on 21 July 2012