What’s Wrong with Panel Wine Scores? Lots

What's Wrong with Panel Wine Scores? Lots

There’s always debate about how useful wine scores are, with the usual pro arguments (easy to understand) and cons (wine is subjective and can’t be trapped in a number). Fair enough. I resisted scoring wines for the first three years that I wrote about wine until I realized that consumers want them.  Plain and simple.

There’s a lot of clutter, information, crowd-sourcing, tweets, Facebook posts, blog entries and other info coming at us these days. Most people don’t want to spend hours analyzing multiple wine reviews to buy a bottle. That’s why scores work: they’re as clear and simple as is the individual who offers them.

People get used to the short-hand of a writer they like; one whose palate lines up with their own. They try wines and find that they like the choices, or they don’t, and follow someone else.



The problem is with panel and group scores. I have to agree with one of my favourite writers, Jancis Robinson, that the most useful assessment of wine comes from a single palate rather than a panel, which drags distinctive wines into the “innocuous middle ground of communal assent.”

On panels or in groups, your chances are far greater that someone will love the wine and someone will hate it. So you end up with a lot of average scores in the middle.

How useful is that?

And if scores are flawed, then in a group, all you’re doing is compounding those errors or hiding them. At least with one person, you’ll learn where the blind spots are. Plus, who wants to spend time triangulating a bunch of different scores? Not the average consumer.

Sure the single palate will hit the extremes of high and low scores, but isn’t that what you want when you’re looking for an opinion? At least then you know how your taste lines up with the writer’s … or doesn’t.

I’m not referring to wine lovers sharing their impressions on social media: that’s fun and it makes wine more accessible. I’m referring to groups of "critics" who complicate the issue of a simple shopping list.

Taste is individual, whether it’s books, music, movies or wine. Can you imagine a book written by a committee? No highs or lows, no recognizable voice: just a middle drone safe from the extremes. Paint all your walls beige.

We don’t drink by commitee, nor do we shop that way. Stand and be counted.



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