The concept of rating wine is not without its uses. Certainly in today's market place, there are more wine consumers than ever and more wine producers delivering new bottles to them. Offering some guidance while browsing crowded store shelves or giving a previously anonymous vineyard recognition for good winemaking are some of the benefits of a rating system, but there is a dark side to rating wine - and the 100-point rating scale is the culprit.
The 100-point rating scale has grown into a behemoth that dictates far too much perception in the wine industry. It has the potential to crush the most ambitious of grape. A winemaker can see their business soar when their wines are given a 90 and sour when their wines are given an 89. All it takes is a lower rating to leave a Merlot morose, cause a Cabernet to sour, and force a bottle of Port, in a fit of hopelessness, to end it all by tipping itself over. It has carved such a niche in the industry that even editors of publications like Wine & Spirit and Wine Spectator — who are frustrated by the limitations of the system — are forced to use it to keep their circulation numbers up.
This dissatisfaction with the system from within major players in the industry is peculiar. Winemakers and writers everywhere outwardly admit the system is flawed and often misses the point, yet most are paralyzed by inaction. There are no marches against it. There are no signs protesting its existence. There are no telethons to stop it. In fact, Jesse Jackson has probably never even heard of it. Wine drinkers, winemakers, and wine sellers, whether we realize it or not, all fall victim to the rating scale. It is stunting the potential for the industry and cheating the average wine consumer.
Your Palette is Your Own - and Science Agrees
Wine consumers are often insecure about what constitutes a "good" wine. That, more than anything, has driven the popularity of the system. While it would be righteous to say no one should be told what wines they should and shouldn't like, the reality is science is discovering that taste isn't only dictated by preference - it's actually a matter of genetics. In 2003, Nature Genetics published an article detailing a study performed by researchers at the Weizmann Institute. These researchers discovered 50 odor-detecting receptors that are turned "on" in certain individuals and turned "off" in others. These receptors allow the nose to perceive aromas and then tell the brain how to perceive taste. Thus, a person with certain receptors turned "on" will taste things dramatically different than a person with those receptors turned "off."