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Points, scores and wine criticism by Sean Hamill

Posted on 8th April 2020 by JN Wine

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Points, scores and wine criticism by Sean Hamill

Arguably, one of the biggest developments in the history of the wine industry was in August 1978, when Robert M. Parker Jr., a lawyer from Baltimore, Maryland and amateur wine enthusiast released a bi—monthly consumer report about wines available in the U.S. The report included importer information and, most importantly, a score out of 100. The publication was The Wine Advocate and the points became known as “Parker Points”, and survive to this day as either a wines greatest achievement, or biggest failure. 

Robert M Parker, Jr

The UK was a little ahead of the curve; Jancis Robinson became assistant editor of Wine and Spirit magazine on the first of December 1975. Jancis now devotes much of her time to her column in the Financial Times, as well to her website, where she scores wines in the more “European” style; out of 20, rather than 100.

Jancis Robinson

The reviews

In 2004, the two writers had a bit of a disagreement with regards to a certain wine. The 2003 Château Pavie, a Premier Grand Cru Classé (A) Saint-Émilion, caused a great deal of controversy, with the 2 critics giving vastly different write ups;

“An off the chart effort from perfectionist proprietors Chantal and Gerard Perse, the 2003 Pavie was cropped at 30 hectolitres per hectare. A blend of 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, it is a wine of sublime richness, minerality, delineation, and nobleness. Representing the essence of one of St.-Emilion’s greatest terroirs, the limestone and clay soils were perfect for handling the torrid heat of 2003. Inky/purple to the rim, it offers up provocative aromas of minerals, black and red fruits, balsamic vinegar, liquorice, and smoke. It traverses the palate with extraordinary richness as well as remarkable freshness and definition.” (Robert M. Parker, Jr., Published 26th of April, 2004)

“Deep blueish crimson. Completely unappetising overripe aromas. Why? Porty sweet. Oh REALLY! Port is best from the Douro not St Emilion. Ridiculous wine more reminiscent of a late harvest Zinfandel than a red Bordeaux with its unappetising green notes.” (Jancis Robinson, Tasted 23rd of August, 2005)

The Scores

Parker proceeded to award the wine 96-100 out of 100 points, meaning it had the potential to become the perfect wine after some time to age and develop in bottle. Robinson, on the other hand, gave the wine 12/20. And here lies the difficulty with points, scores and wine criticism on the whole. The Author Jim Harrison once stated;

“To rate either wine or literature as if we were scientists is frivolous. Both are in the humanities, not the sciences…”

And while I cannot concur with this observation whole heartedly, I do find it to be an astute point well made.

It is somewhat pointless (pardon the pun) to discuss the impact of points on wine; we know that they have an impact on sales. A Parker score of 90 and above more or less secures the sale of said wine. Similarly, a score of 16 or above from Jancis has a similar outcome.

The issue arises when taste is involved, specifically the personal taste of the wine critic. Parker is famous for favouring “big” wines, while Jancis has always looked to elegance, structure and “classic” profiles.

Find your guru

This is where the consumer has to do a bit of homework. This is something that has taken many wine lovers (ourselves included) years upon years; finding your Guru.

Wine critics are mere mortals, like the rest of us, who like what they like and loathe what they loathe. If you choose to follow scores and critics, it is much better to find one with likeminded views, rather than someone who has blatantly different tastes to yourself.

So get reading, get tasting, find your wine church or forge your own vinous path. And remember, we are always here to help. Cheers!

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