Archive - May, 2008

Ratings and Recommendations

There are so many articles on the topic or rating and reviewing wines that I hesitate to write another one, but one thing I have discovered in my brief research is that almost all of it is based on attacking or defending the 100 point scale.

In fact, in my very first post on this blog (back in June 2006) I said:

This is not a site about wine tasting notes, collecting and investing in ‘fine’ wines, ranting against the 100-point systems and a certain reviewer (although it may come up from time to time) or matching it with food. When I say “Wine Culture” I am thinking of how the vine, its fruit and the fermented by-product has played some role in our lives for thousands of years, and how even today this agricultural product is present in our digitised, mechanised and hectic lives. Just as well.

However, the European Wine Bloggers’ Conference is encouraging us to discuss the issues that ALL wine bloggers face, and this is most certainly one of them. One of the latest posts by Ryan Opaz is:

To Rate or Not to Rate – That is the Question

There is a high likelihood that if you have a wine blog you will be tasting wines and writing up the results in some manner (there are a few weird sites like mine that don’t, but we are not common). If so, should you be rating them for your readers?

One argument, for example here on Fermentation, is that wines ought to be judged on some objective criteria, whatever these may be, and if we fail to establish what these are and how they are measured, then the whole business of rating is worthless.

On the other hand, companies like Wine Spectator, rely on a fixed scale to be able to classify the thousands of wines they deal with.

But where do bloggers come into this?

One of the themes that keeps coming up in my thinking about wine blogs is that the majority of them are NOT objective writers trying to be “journalists”, but rather they are, and should be, individuals with opinions looking to entertain. This means that we bloggers should be encouraged to say what we think, whether we are experts on the subject at hand or not, just as we would in a conversation with friends, not writing a piece for Encyclopedia Brittanica.

Wine reviews in this context are not supposed to be “objective” reviews. You don’t go round talking to your friends about that 88 point wine you drank the other night, do you? In fact, these are a form of word of mouth recommendation and as such a recommendation should be simple; buy it, or don’t buy it!

If bloggers could agree on this as the start of a common recommendation system, we would have a way of cooperating and make wine blogs a more influential voice for consumers looking for recommendations and information (as discussed recently on 1 Wine Dude).

And what would this scale look like? It could be simple binary: yes/no; toast/bury; etc. but this is a little too simple even if it is a model that works elsewhere.

I would like to throw out the following for discussion, and I’m sure someone, somewhere, is already doing this, but unfortunately I have not come across this*:

+2 I loved it and would really recommend you buy this
+1 It was OK and largely worth the money
0 OK, reasonable but not memorable and there are probably better options for your money
-1 A bad investment of time and money.
-2 I hated it. Avoid at all costs.

Points to note:
1. It uses +/- numbers so that the aggregate reviews can be summed, and strong feelings have more impact than lukewarm ones, after all there is a difference between a recommendation that sounds like “Yeah, buy it I suppose” and “go out and buy all the bottles you can, now!

2. It is based on no more than personal opinion at that point in time (taking into account cost, perceived value, quality, context, etc.)

3. It gets around the issue of the “great value” wine that only scored 87 points, compared to the exhorbitantly expensive 93 pointer. Which would you rather recommend more to your friends?

4. It could be refined further, but ought to remain simple

Most bloggers I know who rate wines point out that this is just their point of view and you need to read the rest of the text about quality and context anyway. They also point out that it is only a reference point and that once you get to know them, you can get a feel for whether you have similar tastes, and therefore whether you could use their ratings as a guide to your own shopping.

In this case, let’s ditch the intermediary step and go straight to the heart of the matter – buy it, or don’t buy it.


* this is not completely true as I read a blog some years ago that had something like this but I cannot locate it any more as the conversation about 100-point scales drowns out all other discussions. Please send me any suggestions for where to find such scales.

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