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We had five grapes before there were grapes! What’s the Point?

We had five grapes before there were grapes! What’s the Point?

The Point

There is a storm a brewing. A storm that I tackled a long time ago right here on this blog back when Catavino still had a green backdrop and grape leaves overhead. The storm revolves around how wine bloggers can create a standardized wine rating system of their own, separate from the rating system used by the wine rags we hope to upstage one day.

Points are a sticky subject when it comes to wine, making for hot debates as to which system is better and why. And as a result of each blogger defending their own rating system, I figured, seeing that Catavino’s been using the 5pts/stars/grapes system recently proposed by the wine community, for what has been almost 2 years, I should give my reasons for choosing it in the first place.

But first: I HATE POINTS. There I said it, it’s true and it’s my belief that while in the beginning Parkers’s famous 100pt scale did a lot to help wine, it’s time has come and gone. I like Parker, and I appreciate what his scale has done for wine over the years. I believe it helped to wake up a whole industry and for a good part of the past 1/4 century helped to improve wine quality across the board. But all good ideas need to make way for even better ideas as time goes on. The idea of 100pts is one boat that I believe is starting to set sail, though I’m not sure how large the harbor is. Currently we have a generation of wine “geeks” who do not know what life is like without Parker telling them what to drink. For this reason many of these people, I believe, might not fully grasp what is to gain from moving away from the prophets system and instead into a new fresh vibrant world of 5pts. So here’s my reasoning that I went through a year ago as I left my comfortable 100pt cloak behind and moved to a much thinner wardrobe.

These are the questions that I want to ask or address with my points.

  1. First, did the wine have a flaw>?
  2. Second, was the wine poorly made?
  3. Third, was it good enough that most people would like it?
  4. Finally, was this a “special” wine?

Uh oh, you noticed it too? A four grape scale? What to do? What to do! Well, the truth is that in the beginning I wanted to get to a 3 pt scale, but thumbs up, thumbs down, and thumbs cockeyed didn’t really make much sense to me. Also, as I did this, I realized that the Sangre de Toro that I had last night really was a thumbs up, but the Dominio de la Vega Cava I had tonight also a thumbs up, though up a bit higher, finding myself running out of thumbs as I tasted better and better wine, I decided that I might need a touch more nuance.

Thus, I conceded that I needed to be able to communicate to people, “Here are your solid wines, rock solid, good everyday burger and pizza fare wines.” while at the same time, telling them, “This bottle is special and something that a few extra moments of thought should be given to.”
Because of this reasoning we now have the 5 grape scale we use today. As has been pointed out ad nausea, no one can tell a 91 pt wine from a 92 pt wine, but we sure as hell can tell the difference between a 90pt wine and 100pt wine, or at least we all hope we could.

Here is the scale we use:(disclaimer, during the writing of this I noticed that I still had 0 grapes as a possible rating. This has been removed as my current thought is that a 6pt(12) scale is not needed to express my thoughts on a wine.)
Catavino Rating system
1-5 grapes (worse-best)

1 grape – Flawed wine, corked, undrinkable, should be returned to retailer.
2 grape – Uninteresting, not particularly true to style, drinkable, but not seekable!
3 grape – Good wine, with varietal correctness, and good drinkability (Everyday wine)
4 grape – Rich layered, well made, High drinkability. If applicable to the wine’s style, it has potential to mature and develop.
5 grape – Special, unique in its perfection. Pushes the boundaries, in a good way, of what this style of wine can be. Depending on style, high ability to age

Yes I know some people think, this is really a 10pt system because we use half points. So what!? I think it’s much better than the 100pt scale or the 20 point scale. With the 100 point scale, I can’t tell the difference between 1pt’s worth of variation within scores, while the 20pt scale is basically a 100pt scale with number inflation. As EL Jefe points out, in the end it’s about the note, and I agree our notes are not doing enough for the wines we write about. I used to, and at times still do, take verbose notes, but I also take the quick short note with all my typical TN note tricks inside. Color, Nose, Tannin, Palate, Scoreâ€Â¦Tadaaa! When in reality, we should not be talking about the scale as much as the notes. Here’s a quick solution to the over reliance in points, use the points, but put them at the end of the note, where you can get to them after reading about the wine.

So to wrap this up, I want to add few thoughts on the note itself and what we should all be looking for if we do rate a wine. First off, wine needs to be rated in peer groups. I’ve said this in so many forums over the years, and in comments around the blog-o-sphere, and yet people still seem not to understand me. Please let me know if I start making sense now. All wines, styles, grapes, and regions need a pinnacle to aim for – perfection for that type of wine, the ideal wine in its category. This ideal, needs to be a goal based on what the grape, region or style is capable of. Champagne cannot be compared to Argentine Malbec, though a correlation to Cava could be made. Why is it RP, WS, WE, and any other 2 letter wine critics only seem to give the infamous 100pt score to big, long lasting wines from regions that make wines so expensive only -1% of the planet ever tastes them?

I mentioned this idea recently in a post here and in response one person mentioned the idea of place and experience affecting the wines flavor. Yes it does, but I say no to the idea that a light white wine from the north of Portugal can never earn 100pt/5stars/two thumbs unless consumed in the idea conditions. All wines deserve to have a “perfect” score or an ideal. Wine rating should not be based on one set of criteria for all styles. If Vinho Verde was told it had to be “ageable” to get a 100pt score, it would have to be said that there would never be a 100pt version of this wine! Vinho Verde HAS TO BE DRUNK EARLY, that’s what makes it so friggin beautiful. Its freshness and ability not to age is what I love about it. I hear this argument all the time, “well, some grapes just make inferior wines”. Well they may make a style that is inferior to another grapes style, but they still have a 100pt example of the best they can be.

To clarify with an analogy, let’s take a Ferrari, a 100pt car – fast beautiful and damn sexy, but it’s terrible at towing trailers! Hence, as a construction worker, I prefer a MAC truck. 100pt car? Aside from the fact that one is a truck and one is a car, they both are automobiles and run on petrol. Neither are 100pt automobiles when judged by standards for which the automobile was never designed for. I guarantee you that I would never assume, nor judge, a MAC truck to go on the Autobahn at 200 miles an hour. Why? Because it wasn’t designed for that purpose and neither is an Vinho Verde elaborated to be a big, heavy, meat wine to be cellared for decades.

Hold on because my rant is almost over. I’m sure someone is going to have an opinion to post here, but this is the gist I want you to walk away with. If you are a blogger and want to accept the 5pt scale, and you don’t like the idea of half points, don’t use them. They are there for us who can never make up our minds. We can still have a 5pt scale though. Second, DO NOT PUT YOUR POINTS IN THE TITLE OR FIRST TWO THIRDS OF YOUR POST. Put them at the bottom, as an after thought. Make your comments the focus of your post then the price, and finally, the points. If we’re all so bothered by points, we shouldn’t make them so prominent. Oh, and please post some bad tasting notes. I know people want to remain positive, but nobody seems to post bad wine reviews. What kind of love fest is this? Don’t we want winemakers to make better wines? Shouldn’t we point out the bad ones?

Finally, think outside of the box and take notes as you drink the wine in a manner that actually tells your audience a little bit more about the wine, the experience, or the day. I’ll personally buy a wine that moved you emotionally more quickly than a wine that moved you to adjectives. Poems, videos, audio, or maybe pictures, I’m not sure if any of these are better or more helpful, but they sure are more fun. And in the end, isn’t wine supposed to be fun?

Till soon,

Ryan Opaz

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