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Wine Advice that Nobody Asked For: What’s the Point?

There I was, Monday afternoon around 3pm, fretting about what my motivation would be for the next day’s missive. I walked out to the wine floor, offering assistance here and there, and one person did take me up on my offer. And this time it wasn’t just to reach a bottle on the top shelf; job security is being the tallest person in the building.

The request was for a white blend around thirty dollars, and recently I’ve been leaning into white Chateauneuf-du-Pape to cover that territory. After we talked about the virtues of said wine, a question was posed to me, “I see that some of these wines received points, do the points mean anything?”

And darn it, if that wasn’t the inspiration that I had been looking for, I don’t know what was. I’ve long held opinions about points and wine that I rarely get to express and few people actually want to listen to.

The 100 point wine was popularized by Robert Parker in the 1980s, and he has turned out to be arguably the most influential critic in any field, ever. But more ranting about that another time. A quirk of his point range that I’ve always appreciated is that if a wine is worth reviewing, it starts with 50 points for merely existing. Which means that the man who popularized the 100 point wine inadvertently created the fifty point scale.

So who exactly are these people giving out points and should we listen to them?

Bob Praker, Wine Aardvark, Jim Scruckling, Anotonio Pierogi, Wine Speculator, Randy Rangine’s Firehouse Scoreboard? Of course this begs the question as to whether or not ranking wines numerically even makes sense, but perhaps that’s a longer conversation for later. None of these publications are infallible, in fact they’re each helmed by real live humans with different opinions and tastes. If you do decide to follow points as a guide for purchasing wine, pay attention to who is giving the points as they are not all created equal.

I’m personally fond of Jancis Robinson, and have found Stephen Tanzer’s reviews to be rather useful. But that’s because we have similar tastes. However there’s another critic, we’ll call him JJ Porcelette, who seems to be willing to give out 90+ points to any wine that happens to be liquid. The absolute worst wines that I had last year were some of his 93 point-ers. Does this mean he has bad taste? Maybe, or maybe it just means that we have different tastes. It brings to mind a time in college when I told a friend that I had started dating a girl with great taste in music, and without missing a beat he said, “So you mean she has your taste in music?”

I’m of the opinion that wine is more about dialogue than points, since a 100 point Shiraz will be a poorer pair with sashimi than a “no-point” Gruner Veltliner. But, if you do decide that points are helping in your wine journey, pay keen attention to whose points they are.

-Joe Buchter, Import Wine Buyer

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