February 2010

What have we to lose?

by Stuart Harrison on February 11, 2010

There’s a lot of controversy today about “scores”, the numerical ratings critics assign individual wines.
For a winery, scores can be a terrifically valuable marketing boost. On the other hand, nothing can be as ego shattering and angst provoking as a fair-to-middling score from one of the major critics. To aggravate matters, consumers have come to rely on a handful of critics for their go-to purchase advice. That puts a lot of influence in the hands (and on the palates) of a very few.

I have a slightly different opinion of ‘scores’ than many of my colleagues. My feeling is that ‘scores’ offer a large potential benefit to individual producers and very little downside. This stems from my belief that the primary influence of ‘scores’ is their ability to mobilize consumers in a positive direction. A wine which receives a “95” from one of the major critics has been given a remarkably powerful endorsement, one that is certain to boost image and fuel demand. A mediocre score has nowhere near the same downward impact. I’ve yet to see a consumer walk into a wine shop with a list of wines that they are not going to buy. The only real effect of a score of “85”, therefore, is its ego deflating capacity. We take the same offense when a teacher delivers a sub-par evaluation regarding one of our children. It’s human nature to be taken aback.

At the end of the day, scores are like medicine. Some are hard to swallow. Some don’t agree with you. Others can make a world of difference.