For nearly 40 years, and for better or worse, the wine world has lived with the 100-point scale. Points, as popularized by critic Robert Parker of The Wine Advocate, along with other publications, were an easy way to understand relative degrees of perfection. They helped a generation of wine consumers to seek quality and separate the good from the bad. They were a remarkable communications tool.
If scores were useful, they became nearly everything for many parts of the wine industry, to the frustration of those who didn’t like them, didn’t use them, or hadn’t fared well by them. And yet we’ve come a long way from the Reagan era. The score-chasing of the 1990s—by winemakers and wine drinkers alike—has fallen by the wayside. A different generation of tastemakers has appeared. That includes sommeliers—who long bristled under the influence of scores on their customers, and who are sometimes portrayed today as new barometers of taste—along with a colorful array of writers, bloggers, Instagrammers, and sundry other voices.
That hasn’t marked the end of scores. Not only is Parker’s Wine Advocate publishing more scores than ever, but so are the other magazines who have bet on scores as a valuable consumer tool—including Wine Spectator and Wine & Spirits Magazine. Wineries still await scores with anticipation, and proclaim them with pleasure when the numbers fall in their favor.
Distributors continue to leverage them in selling to their customers, and it goes without saying that a critic’s praiseful words without a score are far less likely to show up on a winery website or on a shelf than those with a number attached. Scores, much as their naysayers would like them to, clearly haven’t disappeared.
But how much impact do they still have? Do they still move wine and move markets? It’s a more complicated question than it appears. In the debut of SevenFifty Daily’s Viewpoints series, we asked several top experts on various sides of the divide to tell us how scores impact their work.
Jon Bonné is one of the leading American voices writing on wine today. In addition to his work with SevenFifty Daily, he is the Senior Contributing Editor at PUNCH, and author of the award-winning book The New California Wine, as well as two new forthcoming books, The New Wine Rules and The New French Wine. He is also the wine consultant for JetBlue Airways. For nearly a decade, Bonné served as the Wine Editor and Chief Wine Critic of The San Francisco Chronicle, where he won two James Beard awards and numerous other accolades.