It is time to change the way we talk about wine!

It is time to change the way we talk about wine!

Why ratings and points are outdated

Wine ratings and points scales are outdated and becoming increasingly useless! There, we said it, and you can thank us for it later but allow us to explain how we came to the conclusion.

In December, Vynl CEO Damian Priday was sitting with his brother Nicholas, another soon to be wine entrepreneur. They had drunk wine virtually everyday during their stay in South Africa, beers galore, and cherished a mutual appreciation for drinks they consumed. During a wine tasting we tasted an exceptional Viognier from the Lourensford winery in Stellenbosch. We agreed, it was exceptional, it was a great wine, we would be buying a few bottles, and would be drinking plenty more of it throughout our stay. It was the perfect wine for our travels. We pulled out Vivino to take note.

Damian’s rating - 5 star

Nicholas’ rating - 3 star

Average - 4 stars (when last I looked on Vivino it was 4.2)


The trouble with star ratings

Here in lies the flaw of the star rating system. These two votes weighed heavily on the overall rating of the wine given that they had now DOUBLED the amount of ratings for that particular wine. The idea is that with enough ratings the product will be reviewed by all comers for all circumstances, and we will get a true average of whether a wine is good or not. This is used by virtually every e-commerce site, like Amazon, as well as Yelp.  But how do we know if we have enough data to judge the wine? And how can we trust the person behind the data? Take a look at any wine, or even product, online. Even the best wines will have a handful of one star or 1/10 ratings. The reason behind that could be anything ranging from a heightened expectation of the individual, to an unfortunate bust that made its way through bottling.

This is where a few problems arise:

  • There is not enough data for the rating to be statistically significant. Nobody knows what that number should be. Is it 100? 150? 500? Nobody knows how many people should rate a product before

  • Can the person behind the data really be trusted? Were they really experiencing the real deal, or the typical product? Were they just having a bad day, or was their expectation simply too high? When you read a random one star rating, was this person just being an asshole?

  • How you interpret the the rating is left entirely up to you. Nobody has ever told us or educated us on the five or ten star ratings. We know more is better, but does a three star rating mean something is bad, or just okay, or decent, or actually pretty good but not great. Add to that disconnect between the interpretation of three stars (for example) of a reviewer (good) and a buyer (not good enough).


The trouble with the points rating system

If these problems are a little bit of a stick in the mud with star rating systems, then points rating system on magnifies these issues significantly. Let’s give the point rating system credit where credit is due first, developed by Robert Parker in the seventies and popularized in the eighties, it made Mr. Parker the most famous wine critic in the world. It also gave a generation of wine buyers a measure that they could use as a piece of mind.

The 100 point system (which is really a 50 point system, you get 50 points off the bat just for being wine) became an entrenched part of the wine industry. So much so, that a one point difference in a rating could make or break a wine. Score 89 points and you’ll sit on the shelf, score 90 and you will fly. Consumers see 90 points on a flyer, or a sticker on the label, even a post-it from the store and assume it is a good wine, which is probably true. The problem is not the rating itself, but the disconnect again between the rater (wine critic) and the consumer.

People have tried to get around this by claiming that you have to find a wine critic with whom you share a palette. Forgive me for being a bore, but that seems like way too much work, and requires me to drink a ton of wine, read a ton of ratings, and still get nowhere. “You have to know what you like” is something we are also told, but unless you have had the pleasure of drinking over 100 wines in your life, do you really get a great grasp of what you like. And where is the room for experimentation and exploration? The rating system pigeonholes us into thinking that a handful of wine experts around the world are the guiding lights of good wine, but the problem is that it is all just a matter of taste and opinion. No matter your level of wine knowledge, it is very easy to disagree with a wine critic because we are humans, we are individuals, and our tastes vary!

The wine rating system is junk science. Even the folks who use it think that it is nonsensical! Studies have shown countless times that different critics will score wines differently based on their personal tastes and opinion. Perhaps even more damning, the Journal of Wine Economics published a study showing that the same wine critic would score the same wine differently within just minutes of each blind taste testing. In some cases their scores would vary by as much as 4 points between tastings, and the same win would achieve scores of 86 (above average) to 90 (good) to 94 or 96 (exceptional).

Winemakers have noticed this too. Some winemakers have been perplexed at how their wines could score exceptional ratings one day with one critic, and garner near junk ratings with another critic. This could make or break a wine brand and they understand that. What is now common practice in the industry is to send out as many samples as possible of your wine until you achieve the rating you need so that you can sell it for what you want, to who you want.

Tasting, as with many things in human life, is all about context. Simply put, if the environment garners negative emotions, I could put the best wine in the world in front of you and you would absolutely hate it. Music is a good example of how you can influence a taster’s opinion. A 2008 study at the University of Edinburgh showed that music could boost a wine’s rating by as much as 60%, with Jimi Hendrix going well with Cabernet Sauvignon, and Kylie Minogue pairing exceptionally well with Chardonnay (side note, we told you wine and rock and roll make for great pairings!). Professional and amateur wine tastings alike have destroyed this careful nuance, with professional tasters often required to taste 100 wines and events like Wine Riot in the USA

So the problems with the ratings system are as such:

  • It is hardly scientific, and studies have quashed its meaningfulness

  • Personal tastes are a massive influence, for critic and consumer

  • Tasting and enjoying wine is all about context, which ratings never take into account

  • Winemakers are gaming the rating system to get the results they want, admitting that medals and high ratings are often down to a bit of luck

Is there a solution to our current predicament?

To paraphrase Nicolas Joly, we need to stop cutting up and analyzing wine into 5000 parts, rather we should sip carefully and see if it grabs our heart. Only then are we at true liberty to enjoy wine. The greatest weapon any wine drinker can have in their arsenal is mindfulness, being present, being very aware, and choosing something based on how you feel. This still takes time, and a lot of experience in drinking wine, but how can that possibly be a bad thing? Drinking more wine, drinking different wine, drinking similar wines, or the same grapes from different regions will shine a light on the intricacies that are involved in the art of winemaking.

This is not unique to wine. The same applies to art, or to music, or to books. If you read one book, listen to one album, or stare at the same painting every day you really cannot appreciate art as a whole. Looking at new art, reading more books, listening to more music, and drinking more wine serves to expand our minds. In doing so we grow in our ability to appreciate, and even distinguish, these art forms. You start to form your tastes, but knowing that the more you explore means the more you grow, you will never be truly satisfied. With hundreds of thousands of wines to try in hundreds of regions around the world, it is an exciting journey to embark on.

This is the very core of our mission at Vynl. Vynl exists to promote the exploration of wine, to promote the inherent social nature of wine, and to give people everything they need to share in the amazing art of wine. Vynl is not just for people who love wine, but for people who have an endless curiosity in the wide world of wine. There is so much to explore, and we are committed to creating a platform that will help you explore, indulge, and expand your appreciation for without the pretentious and illogical systems of ratings that have no importance to you, the consumer.