In the Wine World We Should Stop Fretting about Objectivity

objectivity2I suppose one of the original justifications for scoring wine was that it would give us a reasonably objective ordering of aesthetic quality. This was always nothing more than a fantasy. A 90-point wine is in some sense better than an 85-point wine. But the question of how “better” should be defined has never been standardized. For instance, Parker’s system was measuring factors such as complexity, intensity, length, ageing potential, etc.  But that scoring system is only weakly codified. He assigned a range of points for the various dimensions he was assessing—color, aroma, flavor and finish, etc.—but he did not precisely specify the relative value of the various criteria within these broad categories. For instance, there was no indication if aromatic intensity was valued more highly than complexity.

Thus, there is ample room for judgment to influence scores, and different wine critics can use different criteria and weigh them differently. There are no enforcement mechanisms to dictate evaluation practices among independent wine critics.

I have nothing against wine scores when used properly but we should get rid of the idea that they have anything to do with objectivity. The relationship between scores and objectivity is just a giant non-sequitur.

The fact that we lack an objective ordering of aesthetic quality does not imply that there are no objective standards for evaluating wine or that all wine tasting is subjective. The fact that there are no objective standards for determining whether Chateau Haut-Brion is better than Chateau Margaux is no different from our inability to settle disputes about whether Miles Davis was better than Coltrane or Picasso better than Cezanne.

I don’t know anyone in the arts who thinks what the world needs is some way of ranking the great painters. Why we obsess about such matters in wine is beyond me.

In wine, music, and painting we can still draw distinctions between the great and the mediocre, and we can provide the objective basis for making that distinction.This is true despite the fact that critics will disagree about the finer points of the wines they are evaluating, and some people will prefer the mediocre to the great.

Disagreement about such matters is not only not a problem—it is an indicator that wine has the depth and complexity to affect different people differently.

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