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Mutually Assured (scoring) Destruction (shorthand – 99 points!)

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Copyright Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Atkin, Pierre Vincent? I’ve no idea either 😉

As a numerical shorthand, scoring wines has some place when faced with a large list of potentials for your glass. I have never been an advocate of the seemingly self-important, faux-accurate scoring implied by the 100 points system but I accede to this utility.

I do sometimes score – but my 0-2 points system, plus the ‘3 for your favourite’ – a system I use in my blind reports when there are multiple tasters, but that’s something everybody can understand: 0=don’t like, 1=like, 2=would buy, plus your overall favourite =3. But 99 points?

Call me an inadequate taster, but without some initial calibration, the first wine could just as easily for me be 90 points or 91 – well actually not – the problem is that the goal-posts move almost annually. A great wine is always a great wine – those high-lighted by Tim (in Pierre’s ‘happy-post’) are indeed great wines – BUT – 2013 is a very good vintage, but it’s not an outstanding vintage. Those wines in an outstanding vintage should be more than 1 point better, but unfortunately he’s already run out of room…

Are these 99 point wines almost on a par with the greatest ever made? – by definition wines of 100 point perfection – of-course they are not, even if they are very fine indeed, hence, the scores are false! It’s hardly Tim’s fault; with obvious hard work he has slowly transformed from an ‘opinionated’ to ‘a knowledgable’ to (more importantly) an ‘insightful’ writer about burgundy’s wines, but he’s opted to be part of a system of appreciating scores – ‘score-creep’ that’s mandated by only the highest scores being useful for sales or the self-promotion of domaines, i.e. only those who gave the highest scores later seeing their names propagated. From what I’ve seen, this is now endemic for ‘southern-hemisphere’ critics but it is now very obvious in ‘old-world’ critique too. Just compare Burghound’s scores for the 1999 vintage with the same for 2004 (the latter being the least successful vintage since 1994) – his average score in 2004 was higher! Burghound started, to my reading of the situation, perfectly scoring versus the template of what good, very-good, excellent wines should be – let’s say 85, 88 and 90. The trouble for him was that other reviewers went higher. I believe that Burghound was quickly forced to go higher – just my 2 cents of opinion – but it’s symptomatic of the problem as I choose to see it.

I see it often but it’s worth underlining – there are no regional ‘bourgognes’ worth 95 points – actually (in theory!) it is an exceptional grand cru that reaches this zenith – perhaps a dozen young wines in a great vintage might merit 96+ but even the very best – let’s say only for the sake of argument, Romanée-Conti – reaches perfection, and then only in the rarest of vintages and with considerable bottle age. I’m prepared to believe that a few of the (real) 602 bottles of 1945 RC could have be so-described. But 99 points for a wine that’s not yet bottled? I think we all know the answer to that one…

For the record, I also highlighted Pierre’s Bonnes-Mares as a ‘do not miss’ wine in my report, but on that day, it was much more dynamic that the Musigny…

Just for the record, let us try to remember what the 100 point scoring was once supposed to reflect:
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3 responses to “Mutually Assured (scoring) Destruction (shorthand – 99 points!)”

  1. Philip

    Any scoring system that guarantees a wine will get three-quarters of the way up the scale simply by emerging from the bottle as a liquid is flawed.

  2. mike

    You must remember that wines that make it to retail shelves there must be a decent level of wine quality. Discount places that sell old inventory or wines from bank closures would tend to be in the 80 and lower level. So just having a label and cork is not a guarantee of quality.

  3. soastrup

    I could not agree more. The scores on the top domaines reported from other notable publications are increasing and entirely predictable , premier crus typically starting at 89 and grand crus at 92 or so, year in year out. I also noted that many, if not most, 2007’s and 2011’s are better than 1999. Even if we allow for better winemaking tecniques this does not make any sense to me.

Agree? Disagree? Anything you'd like to add?