Perrotti-Brown MW: Scores aren’t everything

The editor-in-chief of The Wine Advocate, famed for its use of the Robert Parker points system, has acknowledged that scores “aren’t everything”, with robust and reliable tasting notes also required to put a wine into context.

“Scores aren’t everything,” said Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, during a discussion led by the WSET on the importance on wine scoring systems. “They only tell you where a wine sits qualitatively amongst a group of its peers, but they tell you nothing about the style of the wine.”

For that, she noted the importance of “reliable and rigorous” tasting notes, reviews and tools such as WSET’s Systematic Approach to Tasting to accompany a score and give a wine meaning.

The concept of wine scoring began in the 1980s when Michael Broadbent introduced the star system in his book, The Great Vintage Wine Book, which was followed by the development of Robert Parker’s 100-point system.

This, she said, developed “a whole new way of viewing wine as a commodity – as something you can purchase and make money from,” which in turn has had a substantial influence on consumer buying decisions.

The rise of crowd-sourced rating apps such as Cellar Tracker, Wine Searcher and Vivino have also impacted the dissemination of scores and tasting notes, which while offering increased exposure to wine brands, comes with its own set of challenges.

“The challenge is that you don’t know who is doing the rating, what qualifications they have or what their agenda might be,” said Perrotti-Brown, who also raised concerns over score overkill, which might dilute the value of scoring, and score inflation, which risks their reputation and damages consumer trust.

Perrotti-Brown made the comments during a panel discussion led by the WSET on the power of scores for wine and spirit brands, attended by wine and spirits professionals and diploma graduates as part of its first WSET Week USA.

Led by WSET’s international development manager, David Wrigley MW, the panel also included Allen Katz, director of spirits education and mixology for Southern-Glazers Wine & Spirits, and head distiller/co-founder of New York Distilling Company, and Maggie Campbell DipWSET, a member of WSET’s Alumni Board and head distiller at Privateer Rum.

With regards to spirits, the rating system is younger in its development, said Katz, who stated that the evaluation of spirits is still a problem.

“In many ways, I look up to the wine and beer industry because the evaluation process is wholly honest,” he said. “While spirits evaluators have the skill set, these qualified experts are, by and large, also paid consultants, many for brands,” adding: “It’s an immense challenge to avoid brand influence.”

7 Responses to “Perrotti-Brown MW: Scores aren’t everything”

  1. Allen Murphey says:

    I think Ms. Perotti-Brown hit the mark in her assessment of point scores. I have always felt that they are a starting point, grabbing the attention of the reader scanning scores, then seeing what wine the score is attached to. I doubt that many took, or take the time to read the fine print about that 95 point wine. Making my bones in the Washington, DC market exposed my palate to a wide variety of wine. It also demonstrated the influence that the local Robert Parker and The Wine Advocate had on consumers. In reflection, it was something akin to Moses coming down off the mountain every other month with a new set of commandments.

    As for me, I preferred to read the tasting notes, especially regarding the wines I had experienced before. I also encouraged consumers to look at reviews from English publications such as The Vine and Decanter to get a more rounded assessment of wine. Most of all, encourage them to make their own determination about what a good wine is, taste as many as possible, and learn to trust their own palate. No two are exactly the same.Collectors are far more in tune with point scores, and whether or not there is a positive pattern to that greatness over time, regardless of vintage. But they are in a clear minority as far as wine drinkers go, commensurate to the amount of these wines available. The premise that makes these Holy Grails what they are, right?

    If you need wine advice, put some trust in your favorite wine shop. You can actually converse with them.

  2. Michael Schiffman says:

    No one drinks points. In fact, the majority of consumers referenced in articles like the one above don’t even taste. They swallow and rush to judgment. To read tasting notes, especially like the ones in
    Wine Advocate, I would liken to a fate worse than death. The intellectual work that goes into developing one’s own judgment and wine sensitivity is not even imagined by who only pay lip service to their desire to learn. The plethora of available wines today is a wonderful thing and also a great confusion for people not ready to deal with it. Trust your palate is still the best advice. Don’t angst over the absurd tasting notes in many journals, not to mention the misguided practice of restaurant wine list descriptions. Understand the concept of an appellation system, start looking at maps and proceed from there.
    The nomenclature dilemma is a huge bugaboo for so many. Not having heard of a wine is probably the best reason for trying it.

  3. Victor Honoré says:

    Scores are really not just for the readers.
    The scores are for the giant wholesalers and retailers, who don’t have the time to taste the more than 5.000 brands in their portfolios. There is too much good wine. There are over 300.000 labels in the United States. Giant retailer Total Wine carries 8.000 wine labels. Very difficult for a new winery to obtain shelf space with so much available wine. Sales reps at TW have not tasted the 8.000 wines they sell, I assure you.
    If the same wine is not scored every year, there is no continuity of quality for the wholesaler and retailer to evaluate.
    The Wine Advocate was able to taste almost every eligible wine in a given Southern Hemisphere country. With the enormous increase in quality, newsletters like The Wine Advocate would have to have larger staffs of professional wine critics in order to keep up with so much availability of good wines … Without continuity wholesalers will lose interest and devise other marketing strategies.
    There are more than 30.000 eligible wines in Spain, Chile, and Argentina that merit a score of 87 points or more…and there is only one wine critic at The Wine Advocate to rate them all one time per year…impossible.
    Therefore, the giant wholesalers have recruited a large team of wine professionals to join their ranks as educators, managers of tasting panels by region, organizers of national events, etc.

  4. Andrew Linn says:

    On my first visit to to the USA many years ago, finding myself in a wine store with unfamiliar numbers shown next to the price tags, I asked what they were, and was told they were ‘Robert Parker’s ratings’. When I inquired what purpose they served, I was told that ‘without them people would not know what wines to buy’.

  5. Great article and conversation on a serious opportunity for the wine industry to come together, service consumers better, and compete more effectively against other beverages, to lead through innovative thinking and standards, and grow faster.

    Consumer friendly ‘visual’ tasting notes & ratings based on a single standard/system, contributed by pros and consumers alike (the retailer, distributor, wine club, restaurant, and their customers) within the same ecosystem, is the future.

    This system is already in place and growing daily.

    I invite the industry to look into Quini (tasting & rating application) and QUINI SOMM (tasting and real-time top-line data platform for industry) with an open mind and see if we can all converge to deliver a better wine experience and products.

    Many have begun to participate and together we have a great future ahead for all of us with this standard. A unified system where retailers deliver a compelling personalized wine service efficiently, using digital interaction that leverages their pro ratings and the power of their massive customer base to provide a normalized and real view of what everyone really thinks of a wine, right on their own cell phone. And with that make even better, smarter inventory decisions.

    Please feel free to drop me an email to chat more and advance the idea. roger @ quiniwine . com.

  6. Mark Norman says:

    Another important point not mentioned was the fact that many wine drinkers have become suspicious of “ratings” by the big names…far too many feeling that scores can be purchased…as more and more technology becomes available serious wine drinkers are more interested in knowing what their friends (or at least their peers) think of a wine…Quini is a verys socially oriented rating system. The future for time starved professionals would love wine is to be able to interact with those that they trust and to discover what they thought of a specific wine.

  7. Bob Henry says:

    Excerpts from Wine Times (September/October 1989) interview with Robert Parker, publisher of The Wine Advocate

    WINE TIMES: How is your scoring system different from The Wine Spectator’s?

    PARKER: Theirs is really a different animal than mine, though if someone just looks at both of them, they are, quote, two 100-point systems. Theirs, in fact, is advertised as a 100-point system; mine from the very beginning is a 50-point system. If you start at 50 and go to 100, it is clear it’s a 50-point system, and it has always been clear. Mine is basically two 20-point systems with a 10-point cushion on top for wines that have the ability to age. . . .

    . . . The newsletter was always meant to be a guide, one person’s opinion. The scoring system was always meant to be an accessory to the WRITTEN REVIEWS, TASTING NOTES. That’s why I use sentences and try and make it interesting. Reading is a lost skill in America. There’s a certain segment of my readers who only look at numbers, but I think it is a much smaller segment than most wine writers would like to believe. The TASTING NOTES are one thing, but in order to communicate effectively and quickly where a wine placed vis-à-vis its peer group, a numerical scale was necessary. If I didn’t do that, it would have been a sort of cop-out.

    I thought one of the jokes of the 20-point systems is that everyone uses half points, so it’s really a 40-point system — which no one will acknowledge — and mine is a 50-point system, and in most cases a 40-point system.

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