What could a one-through-ten numbering system possibly mean? How many times have you seen a high rating in a wine or restaurant magazine but didn't like the wine? "The critic gave it an 84, but it tasted like kitty litter." Any rating system is subjective, certainly. Worse than that, does one person give consistent ratings over time or to different wines? Well, I try.
Some wine tasters, restaurant critics, and such, rate wines based on some abstraction of "quality." I don't feel that I can judge the quality of a wine in any absolute sense. What I can tell you about is whether I liked it or not, and how much I liked it. What is the true measure of how much I like something? Money, of course. For example, is this wine good enough to drink again? Is it good enough to buy a case of? Is it so bad that I should refuse to accept it in a restaurant? And I assign numbers to those reactions. If I can use the numbers consistently over time, it's a start at being consistent.
Price is, unfortunately, a factor in the ratings, but only a little, and only in the middle of the scale. For instance, the difference between an okay wine and a disappointing wine can sometimes be ten dollars. One's disappointment can be piqued by being overcharged for a mediocre wine. On the other hand, an otherwise mediocre wine for four bucks can be perfectly acceptable. Depends on the situation.
Now, there is the golden tongue vs leaden tongue problem to be dealt with. I have run across some other people whose taste in wines I always agreed with, and others with whom I usually disagree. Back in college, for instance, there was an older French gentleman who ran the liquor store down the road. He had a terrific selection of inexpensive wines from Europe. When he said, "Try this one. This is very good," I did. And it was. I bought tons of wine from him over the years simply because his taste and mine matched in some way. If he liked it, I liked it. Even after I moved away, for years afterward I went back to the store whenever I was in the area.
There are other critics with whom I almost invariably disagree. When I look up my favorite recent picks in, say, The Wine Spectator, I am usually unpleasantly surprised as the low ratings or bad reviews given to some of them. And conversely, when I try some of their highly rated wines, I wonder what could have formed the basis of the rating. I have a few friends like that, too, but only a few. Most of my friends and I seem to agree about what we like and what we want to drink more of. Fortunately, my wife and I almost always agree about what tastes good to us. I think, by the way, that we're actually pretty consistent about rating wines. If we say 7, for instance, there is very likely to be a case in our cellar. If 8, more than one case, even if the price was an outrage. (Fortunately these are really rare in our circles.)
5. Respectable. Don't feel cheated, but don't memorize the name so you can order it again. A reasonable wine given the price and the situation. But not distinguished. If we need another bottle of wine on this occasion, I will look at the wine list again and order something else. Another choice from the wine list should have a fifty-fifty chance of being better than this wine.
6. Good. Distinctly better than okay. If we need another bottle on this occasion, and others feel the same way about it, I will order this one again.
7. Very good. I like this wine. I really, really like this wine. Memorize the label. Go back to the store and buy a case or two tomorrow.
8. Outstanding. I want to drink this wine a lot, and for a long time. Go back to the store and buy several cases right now. If you're in a restaurant, try to buy some of the owner's stock now. When you drink it, be sure to sip and savor every drop.
9. The Best. This wine is an investment. Go back to the store right now and buy all they have. Go to other stores if necessary to buy as much as you can afford. This wine is too good to serve with strongly-flavored food; bread and light cheeses only.
10. The Elixir of the Gods. Yes, really. Bet your business on it. Corner the market in this product and go into business. Mortgage the house to buy as much of this as you can. Hire a media consultant to handle the PR.
5. Respectable. Remember this? Okay but not distinguished, and not worth having more of.
4. Disappointing. Memorize the label so that you never accidentally order it again. If this is in a restaurant, make sure the sommelier knows that you are not pleased with the wine. Or, the next time you're back at the store, mention it to the wine person. If someone offers you another bottle for free, maybe you accept it.
3. Insulting. If in a restaurant, send it back. If you've had this wine before, then it could be that just this one bottle has gone bad. Insist that they open another. If you got the wine in a store, take it back to the store and get a replacement or a refund, depending. If someone in the restaurant or store personally recommended this wine, don't trust that person's judgment again. If they offer you another bottle for free, don't take it.
2. Dangerous. Really awful. Almost no one's taste is so perverse that he or she would like this wine. Consider suing the restaurant, or, at the very least, writing a letter to get the sommelier fired. Or go back to the store and tell them to take it off the shelves. No restaurant or store should stock this swill.
1. Actionable. Chateau Aqua Regia. Call 911. While waiting for them to arrive, watch the wine eat through the glass.
May all your picks be six and up!
All contents copyright (C) 1995,1996,2001 Richard Landau. All rights reserved.