I don’t like wine ratings. I think they fully objectify what is a partially subjective thing. That sounds confusing, but to me a wine can be divided into objective and subjective – the objective part is that a wine is well-made & defect-free or not, while the subjective part is if you like the wine. Critics and those with a lot of tasting experience can sort out if a wine is well-made, but beyond that the scores are if that particular critic likes the wine, which may not be to your taste at all.
However, there’s no doubt that ratings sell wine; they also give consumers who are unsure of what they want something tangible to base their selection on, especially with wines unfamiliar to them. Our shop has loads of unfamiliar wines, but I want the fact that it’s on our shelves – we tasted it, we stand behind it and recommend it – to be the seal of approval, not some score.
The Wine Spectator to me is the worst – they use different critics for different regions, so a 91 for a California wine isn’t necessarily the same as a 91 for an Italian wine. The descriptions are usually only a sentence or so long (and generally sound the same), so it’s hard to tell what the wine is actually like. And, frankly, some of their critics are comically bad. (Jim Laube, who rates California wines, has a particularly poor palate.) With Robert Parker (Wine Advocate), though his tastes are generally different from mine at least his descriptions are detailed enough that I know if I’ll like the wine or not. Steven Tanzer (International WIne Cellar) is the critic who I follow the most – he tends to appreciate balanced, elegant wines more than the other two, who favor extracted, big, less nuanced wines.
We have many wines that happen to score well with the publications listed above, but we haven’t listed ratings on our shelves. We’re in the process of creating shelf labels that give our descriptions of the wines to give customers more information (we’ll also list if the wine is organically/sustainably/biodynamically farmed; we’ve had several requests for that), and I’ve been wrestling with whether to include ratings. I originally didn’t want to, but now I’m leaning toward it – like anything else, it’s another piece of information, and we do have some customers who ask about them. The shop’s not about me, after all, it’s about our customers, and some of them happen to like knowing how many points a wine got. For those that don’t care, our descriptions will be the main point of reference, so hopefully everyone will be happy.