Squabbling about scores and the need to accept evil

I recently posted a comment on Christian Eedes’s website (the only website I know that uses double-spacing between lines, incidentally), regretting his move to a rating system of 100 points, having previously been satisfied with 20. He responded there, as you can see, but I’m continuing the strain of debate (squabble) here.

1-award3Of course, the 20-point system is really a 10-point system for most people, because less than 10 is seldom used. But then it reverts to being a 20-point system because half-points are used. And the 5-star system is really a 10-point system when half-stars are used.

And the 100-point system is really only a 50-point system because a score of 50 or less is unheard of. But it’s rather interesting to note one of Christian’s comments in this regard. He says that a score below 80 is for “rubbish” wine. He’s a long-time taster for the Trophy Wine Show, which claims to be proud of its bronze medallists – wines scoring 70-79. But Christian thinks all the TWS bronze medal-winning wines are rubbish, it seems. I wonder how Michael Fridjhon will react to that position….

It is, as Kwispedor noted in his response on Christian’s website, usual for users of the 100-point system to in fact cluster their scorers very closely. Christian is already evidencing this tendency, which I’ve previously commented on in relation the Americans who rate the Cape Winemakers Guild auction wines. They tend to score nearly everything between 88 and 94, unlike the South African scorers who have found a vastly greater range of quality thatn such a tiny spread implies.

I must also cavil a bit at Christian’s statement that “if South African wine wants to be taken seriously by a global audience, then we need to abide by the conventions that prevail in the market place”. Huh? As a trained philosopher, he should, I think, consider with some embarrassment the illogicality of his claim. The status of South African wine has got nothing to do with how Christian, or any other local critics, chooses to score it – it has to do with the quality of the wine. How could, or should, it be otherwise?

And “prevail”? What Christian means by “the marketplace” must be, primarily, America, because America is where the 100-point system reigns, as far as I know – though I daresay American cultural imperialism is spreading it around the world (with Michael Fridjhon being, I suppose, the prime local agent). Certainly, at least many British scoring systems remain immune to the absurdities of the 100-point system. Including World of Fine Wine, a recondite but important example, and Jancis Robinson’s website, which is surely amongst the most important of international rating places. Decanter, I believe, scores against a 20-point system but translates it into both a 5-star and 100-point rating.

But the real problem is alluded to, I think, with Christian saying that “First, let us accept that the rating of wines is a necessary evil – in a hugely over-traded market, consumers need assistance when it comes to making a purchasing decision.”

Again, firstly, I fear, there is a lack of logical connection. Because consumers seem to need assistance, there is no necessary logical leap to the idea that they need a score, let alone to one according to this system. Art, film and book reviewers, for example, mostly manage without it. The advantage to a consumer of being told that on a particular morning or evening, for a particular person, a wine scored 88 rather than 87 or 89, is not glaringly clear to me. (What is implied by a “hugely over-traded market”, I’m not sure – I suppose it’s the supermarket point of view that the less choice the better.)

Secondly, the idea of a “necessary evil” is deeply problematic, surely. Maybe scoring wines is one, maybe not. Maybe sometimes and not always and everywhere and in all circumstances. Isn’t the real need in this vale of tears to try to limit or avoid evil – certainly to fight against it – rather than to embrace it wholeheartedly in its most egregious manifestations?

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