Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Scoring Metastasis

Reader ScottS comments that the main problem with Parker and his points is that he's too powerful. He argues that a larger pool of reviewers, each with less power, would lessen the unfortunate market effects of Parker dominance and provide consumers with a more valuable metric for choosing wines.

I think the first is definitely correct. Scoring would be more ambiguous and would develop over time rather than appearing full-formed the day each issue of the Wine Advocate comes out. The crass market responses wouldn't be nearly so overt, and the overall market-driving power of the scores would be reduced because no one score or even compilation of scores would have the authority Parker currently does.

On the other hand, I'm less sure about the second point. When Parker gives a certain score, the consumer knows what it means. Parker has well-defined and well-understood preferences and gives 95's to one sort of wine and 92's to another. Even if you disagree with Parker's metric, a Parker score provides the consumer with information about the wine. A bundle of scores, averaged together, from various reviewers is far less helpful. Who knows what each of their preferences or scoring criteria are.

The fact that I can't accept ScottS's analogy between wine- and movie-reviewing is relevant here. Heavily reviewed movies tend to be mass-market phenomena with large family resemblances. Wines on the other hand differ enormously in very subtle and intricate ways. That, combined with the fact that reliable wine-reviewing requires a certain expertise, makes reliance on average reviews via a movie-esque star system unhelpful.

Of course, there is an enormous market for debased, uninteresting, industrial-style, mass-produced wine--in other words, wine that hardly deserves to be called wine at all--and perhaps the movie approach to reviewing is useful there. But from his comments it doesn't sound like that's the sort of wine ScottS is into, and if that's the sort of wine you're drinking you might as well just drink Smirnoff Ice. If you want to choose between a Lynch-Bages and a Cos de Estournel, conglomerations of reviews aren't going to help you much. The only exception I can think of is in the extremes--if one of them is really out-of-character bad in a particular year.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

not everyone who enjoys wine and wants to drink it can afford the wines to which Parker gives a score of 95, so to say that mass-produced, cheaper wines "hardly deserve to be called wine at all" is perhaps a little unfeeling. there has to be some system of reviewing those wines as well, especially if there's such a demand for them.