Wine Scores: Let's Get to the Point(s)

Even though (even thoughhhh)

You need a golden calculator

To divide (to diviiide)...

Sound familiar? I tell ya right now I am feelin' HOT today! For a number of reasons. The first reason is that I bought a new pair of rollerblades and have been rippin' up quiet residential neighbourhoods all over my suburb. The second reason is that sometimes I think of something that makes so much fuckin' sense that I just have to start extrapolating on it in this blog immediately.

I'm back on a familiar topic doing another deep dive inside my grey noodle. That's the brain, for all you sickos out there. Of which I am a proud member.

Points. Point scores. Pointsssss. Oh my god where do I even begin? The thought I just had while blow-drying my hair actually related back to some memes I saw posted by the Feminist News™ on Facebook™ in which some Republicans and whatever-ya-call-'em these days t-r-u-m-p supporters were putting their logical foot in their mouth (again?) by arguing that the government not have any control over their bodies while having simultaneously argued that governments control women's bodies in the category of pro-life vs. pro-choice arguments for what seems like millennia. On top of that, the argument for pro-life movements seems to always be that "every life is valuable", but in this current pandemic climate, the economy trumps people who might be elderly or at risk, and they should be considered "disposable" for the greater good.

Is your blood boiling yet? Good. Because I'm about to start talking about wine.

I liken the above example to people who seemingly cry ad nauseam that "everyone's palate is different" and then proclaiming when they bring a bottle to your house that "everyone was buying it and it got 92 points so it must be good!"

Does anyone else see the irony? So, when you don't feel like getting out of your beautiful comfort zone, then everyone's palate is different. But when you don't want to admit that your lack of willingness to open your mind, listen, and learn something kicks in when you have to purchase wine, well then all of a sudden somebody you've never met and whom you couldn't even picture has an opinion that guarantees that anyone should like a wine. 92 points.

I spent a good portion of a day this week studying the trailer for James Suckling's Masterclass™ on Wine Appreciation. I did this because I am currently working on developing my own course on wine appreciation. I think the Masterclass™ ads are awesome. When one of those ads comes on before I watch the "I Keep Forgettin'" music video for the 789th time, I wish it would go on longer. I had no idea that I was interested in Political Theory and Gymnastics. God, they're good advertisements. Especially the one ABOUT advertising. My word. Breathtaking. And I am being serious, in case there was any confusion.

Anyway, I studied this trailer very carefully. Because I'm trying this thing that I preach about when it comes to wine appreciation called "listening". It's fascinating. Instead of dismissing Mr. Suckling, I recognized that while I may not agree with his approach entirely, my resistance to his charms was probably based in jealousy of the fact that he has a successful career doing what he loves to do and that I am merely at the beginning of uncovering the road to such a place. I also realized that rather than get mad at his methods, I could compliment them by creating my own that covered a different side of the same coin, or bottle, if you will.

Having said all that mushy-feel-good stuff just now, there are a few points (pun initially not intended but intentionally left alone after realization of said pun) that I do take exception to in his trailer.

Actually, I'm probably OK with pretty much everything he says. Except I am disappointed that the points system, and subsequently teaching people about it, features prominently in the trailer.

I don't like the message that this sends, and I do not see how this is useful. The masterclass is supposed to be in wine appreciation. When the points system comes in, it sounds to me like wine judgement. Maybe I am simply too naïve. Maybe the target audience for this masterclass wants to feel like they, too, can be like James Suckling and Robert Parker and appear to be an authority on the subject by passing their judgement on a wine as if it somehow would seem impressive to anyone watching. I think this sells the rampant pretension and social-status mongering that many of my peers in the wine business have been working so hard to break through and develop.

There's zero passion in a score. Zero true value. We are not computers, and we are not calculators. And there are a great deal of wines that simply could never even chart on this points system because the trends in consumer & critical taste and in winemaking during the development of these points systems are so ingrained.

If you're going to score one wine, why wouldn't you score them all? How would you account for a funky, potentially faulted in a clinical sense, but charming AF natural wine that you discovered half a block from the spot it was grown, crushed, fermented, and bottled while you were on vacation or visiting family somewhere? If you were scoring this wine with a number, you couldn't. Because if you followed a traditional system like James Suckling or Jancis Robinson uses, this wine might fail. I've said it before and I'll say it again: where the fuck are all the wines that receive 68 points? I never seem to be able to find even one that scored a 78. Or an 82.

I realize the value judgment of something we taste is inherent in who we are. Rarely do I taste a wine and do not say to myself in some way, albeit internally and esoterically, "it's good". Yes, we can tell the difference between, "I don't like it," and "It's not good," but it gets pretty flimsy, pretty fast.

I also don't like the fact that we're pitching to someone who wants to learn about wine that they can somehow quickly, through taking James Suckling's Masterclass™, and that they're gonna "talk the talk" and "can learn to be pretentious if they want to," as Suckling pitches in this trailer. Talk the talk? Like, appear to be knowledgeable? Talking the talk, in my mind, is one thing and one thing only: speaking honestly. If you are talking to someone about wine, you should not feel like you are on the brink of being discovered by that person. You should not have imposter syndrome, because you don't need to be acting as an imposter. You can just be who you are. Either you nod your head because you are listening or absorbing information, or you say simply, "I am not familiar with that wine or that term." That's talking the talk.

I guess I can see the appeal to a newbie. I guess I was once in that position. I guess I once thought points meant something. Talking the talk. I guess I once tried to do that. The same way I once believed in god and Jesus and the church, and tried to do right by those tenets.

I figured it out for myself in the end. I probably came across as someone who was trying too hard to fit in. Faking it. I wasn't always comfortable enough to ask a question when it seemed like everyone else in the tasting or classroom knew what was being talked about. But I learned to not be afraid. Because I realized that more often than not, I wasn't alone. I also realized that the language we use doesn't always mean something. Sometimes it's just fluff that we say to seem like we know what we're doing.

I think that overselling the points thing, overselling "talking the talk" and selling pretentiousness at all is a problem. I did at one time think these things were cool. And I definitely tried to participate in them to try and fit in. The thing that I was lucky with, is that I had mentors who let me do this on my own time, and didn't chastise me, didn't put me down. They let me figure it out. They let me "fail".

They let me be myself with the wine. And that's where I did most of my learning.

And I think that's how I can compliment what James is doing here. I'll let you be you. I'll let the wine be the wine that it is, not the wine that I think it is or think it should be. We'll put ourselves in front of more bottles. We'll put these bottles in real situations.

We're not going to talk the talk. We're just going to talk. We're not going to walk the walk. But we might go for a walk.

And points? The only point I'm worried about is the one I'm making now.

Let's go from here.

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