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June 20, 2007


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I've tried scoring systems for my own tasting notes and I haven't settled on the right one yet. A 100 pt system is too large and requires too much precision; after all... how much difference is there between an 87 and an 88?
I've also tried a 5 point (star) system with 5 being the best, but after a while I got into fractional scores like 4+, or 3-.
Currently I'm trying out the old scholastic A, B, and C method and I try to keep it simple. C I don't like. B is good. A is very good. Additionally, for the A's and B's I will use +/- indicators on some wines to differentiate a bit further. That 87 or 88 I mentioned above? It becomes a B+ Makes it much easier for me.
I think you can get away with the 5 star system, but you need to define what level each star represents. Is the 3rd star average / middle of the pack? Or is the 3rd star good. Is 1 star reserved for completely undrinkable wines that you poured out, or for wines that were just so-so but still palatable?
Good luck in deciding. I look forward to see where you land.

You know I use my own Happy Face scale, which is sort of my trademark at this point. I won't be switching. It's not that far off from a 5-star rating scale, really. If I were you, I'd stick with just words. Ratings are so subjective. You can express more in words than you can with any visual or numerical scale. And it works for you because your posts are well written. For me, wine is emotional, so I feel like I'm expressing the emotion in both the words and the happy, or not so happy, face. It's all personal preference.
Of course, I'm not a fan of standardizing anything across the blogosphere. It's our individuality that makes us all such awesome bloggers. :-)

Lenn -- I've always enjoyed the fact that you do not use a rating system. It pushes me to read reviews in detail instead of looking for a quick summary. There are so many resources that utilize rating systems; this site is different and different is good.

I think ratings are useful when there are literally hundreds of wines from all over the world being reviewed at once (such as in an issue of Wine Spectator). Such congruity helps one manage impressions and expectations when the abundance of information would otherwise cause confusion.

Since this site focuses primarily on New York wines, there is no problem with being overwhelmed. Each wine or series of wines is treated with its own entry, allowing for a great deal of information and explanations. Also, there being one reviewer, consistency is not, by definition, a concern.

That's my two cents: I'm curious how others will feel!

So I just posted my rather lengthy opinion over at Winecast, but in a nutshell this is what I think:

The idea of a "5 star rating system" is right on - people are used to seeing and using this elsewhere (Netflix, etc.) and it is completely non-intimidating and non-snobbish. THis is important, as part of the whole Wine 2.0 thing is "wine for the masses" - so let's keep it simple.

But I don't think a straight 5 star sysem is quite good enough - I think we need to allow 1/2 stars. Netflix users have had a big debate about this, and have found that the 5 whole star only system that Netflix uses doesn't allow for fine enough distinction (say a movie is better than a 3 but not quite a 4 really needs a 3.5; in the same way, there are very few truly 5 star movies out there, but you don't want to have to rate all the really really good ones just as 4s).

If we go with a 5-star system and allow for 1/2s, I think we shouldn't use stars though - we should use wine glasses! Just put our own little spin on it, and it's visually interesting. Note that it will be important up-front to define what each step of the rating means though (is 2.5 Neutral, does it mean OK/Drinkable, what?) - we need to make sure everyone knows what the stages mean.

And now for the caveat - where wines differ dramatically from movies (and thus the Netflix example) is their cost. A movie pretty much always costs what it costs ($4 to rent, $10 for a theater, whatever). Wine however varies dramatically in price, and the rating system we use should in some way reflect that.

So we almost need two ratings - one for QUALITY, and one for VALUE. Dr. Debs' QPR system (Quality-to-Price ratio) kind of incorporates these two facets into one - perhaps we could use a 5 wine glass QPR scale or something like that. I'm not sure how best to include these factors into a rating system, but I feel a good system needs to address both.

someone should publish a translation guide between the 100 point system and the 5 star system. I'm thinking (give or take a point):

* = 80-85
** = 86-89
*** = 90-92
**** = 93-95
***** = 96+

My personal opinion, for whatever it may be worth, is that the preference and/or need for ratings systems seems essentially symptomatic of a general lack of interest in learning anything other than the simplest, most superificial aspects of any given subject. People can't seem to be bothered with digging into anything anymore, appreciating subtleties, assessing wide arrays of information, and perhaps most importantly, drawing their own conclusions. I'm with the individual who commented favorably on the fact that you, Lenn, have to date eschewed any system at all, in favor of penetrating, thoughtful investigations into your subject. This does of course require a heightened engagement on the part of the reader, but it also yields in the end far greater rewards; a deeper, more insightful sense of understanding and appreciation. Wine is art, art is culture, culture is humanity, humanity is us. Lose it, lose ourselves. I say stay the course!

no system at all. just notes/descriptions of wine and its qualities. whether we'd drink again, whether we'd buy again, etc.

as a store we don't think it's responsible to assign numbers/points/etc. to wines, especially ones we're carrying. what would that even mean? ummm, "we sell this but it's better than (or not as good as) that other thing we sell".

if we were an independent reviewer, or the wine press, that would be entirely different. But we'd probably do what we always do which is talk a lot about its virtues, its weaknesses, and evaluate it from a more verbal perspective than a quantitative one.

hi Lenn - my answer is 3, see elboggotorcido.com for details - thanks for the inspiration! - j

I am not a score chaser when I shop, as a number does not dictate what I will and won't like. However, I am not afraid of them either and they do have their place in defining a baseline for what a reviewer thinks of the product they tasted.

Some responses above seem to be fearful of introducing numbers or scores. I don't think Lenn has any intent of giving up on his in-depth notes, descriptions, or narratives of a wine. In his recent '04 Waters Crest Cab review, I wouldn't expect the blog to be replaced with only a number; I would expect the blog to remain exactly the same and simply be supplemented with a score.
Christopher Watkins' response above is 100% right on the money... for a wine drinker/consumer. But in addition to being a wine drinker, Lenn is a wine reviewer/critic (Lenn: that isn't meant to be an insult! It is a complement to your great blog). When it comes to reviewing wines, having the reviewer set a baseline for their impressions is not a bad thing.

I'm going to read this blog daily with or without wine "scores"; but I do think scores have a place in a wine review, so long as they are not the focal point of the review.

Having just posted my comments on ratings at Vinography, I have to say I am a huge fan of ratings because not everyone is a 'read the review' person. Case in point, I will read the full directions while my business partner just wants a checklist. Combining the two methods of review are helpful. However, when the ratings start going into fractions of points then you lose my attention. Wine really should not be all that complicated. A five point scale, or five stars if you prefer, is all I really need and all most of us need to avoid over-intellectualizing a physical experience. I do want to know some of the characteristics of the particular wine, but I also want the bottom line of should I even bother buying it?

I'm of two mind about this. At first I was enthusiastic, then woke up thinking "oh, now, we're getting into scores." The comment above that converts scores into stars is a case in point. And I would give out lots of 5s, because if a wine is priced right and tastes like what a sauvignon blanc should taste like, I think that's EXCELLENT. The idea that a 5 star wine is 96 points or above is precisely what I don't like about wine ratings.

I appreciate all the people who want a "quicker answer" but I guess I want to write the kind of wine reviews that would help me in a store, namely is this wine worth what it costs, and is it a good example of its type.

It will be interesting to see how this develops. It could be great, but without a clear rubric of what a 4* wine is, versus a 5*, then its of little use as a standardized system.

Hi Lenn,

As you know I use a consolidated rating system including my own score. But the number is far less important than the concensus. My system is geared to providing the research and recommending wines that my readers will enjoy. If 3 or 4 professionals rate a wine Very Good to Excellent, the likelihood is that my readers will like it and be satisfied. The number really doesn't matter. They will classify it based on their own palate. What I provide is a higher likelihood of satifaction. Isn't that what everone is really after? Just some thoughts.

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