Wine, Interpretation, and "Objectivity"

An interesting piece in the New York Times today takes a hard look at the rise of the 100-point system for rating wine--tracing its history from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate to its industry-wide adoption--but also calling into question it's effectiveness. Even those who employ the system grant that it gives an air of scientificity and objectivity to something that is much slipperier and elusive. Judging wine (like hermeneutics and interpretation) is an art, not a science--though even the best art should be informed by good theory and criteria, as well as apprenticeship and training.

Perhaps most disheartening is the market-driven nature of the 100-point system and the challenges of conflict of interest when ratings are doled out by glossy magazines laced with ads from the wineries and producers subject to their judgment (as well as retailers who post those little scoring tags below the bottle displays). And while some mags commit [or claim to commit] to "blind" tasting, there's still a problem similar to peer-review in the academy: vintners have figured out what these folks like, and produce wines that are primed to score well--which is a bit like the tail wagging the dog.

The upshot? A few years ago, I read Jim Flick's book on golf, which recommended that most people should resist the hype of massive, ballooned 1-woods, just leave their drivers at home, play from the tee with a trusty 3-wood. Perhaps something of the same is true for new wine afficianados: Amateurs might do better to ignore the pseudo-science of scores and the mass-market formulas the system has spawned and, instead, trust the friendly, knowledgeable folks at a local wine shop.