Wine Numbers

Whatever you may think of them, wine scores helped make U.S. the world’s top wine consuming country.

The 50-100 points systems pioneered by Robert Parker and Wine Spectator in the 1970s and imitated by pros and amateurs ever since lessened American’s vino trepidation. Every schoolchild knows 90s mean A’s, 80s mean B’s, and so forth.

Situation: Wine neophyte stands baffled at bays of bottles with esoteric labels, some cloyingly clever, others-think German and French wines-apparently deliberately obscure and opaque. Then they see a shelf talker: “Parker 91 points.” Sale!

Well and good if you think myriad nuances of wine can be summed in a single number and believe all bottles of a particular wine are the same and believe your palate is the same as the critic’s palate.

We buy based on wine scores because we welcome any guidance, even imperfect guidance.

It is interesting the system has not leaked into other matters of taste. “This Degas painting of a laundress is solid 89 point effort. That Picasso neo-expressionist work is a disjointed 83, but this cheery Picasso from his rose period is an outstanding 95-pointer and may increase in value with museum age.”

Wine scores are not meaningless. They influence some of my purchases. Also, however, consider other elements.

Ask the wine manager at your wine store. No one knows the inventory better, and they can discuss what you enjoy and tailor your buy to your tastes, maybe push your envelope into exciting new wine territory. They fervently want to hook you up with winners so you will shop them again.

Sometimes there is no knowledgeable person available. Fortunately, today it is difficult to buy something you just can’t drink. It’s hard to buy an Argentine malbec you will not enjoy if you enjoy red wine. It is almost impossible to pour a New Zealand sauvignon blanc you cannot pair with food.

Wine comments at the end of this column and posted on Twitter never include numbers. They reflect wine tasted and found drinkable. Comments are a mix of my palate’s appraisal, the winery’s opinion, and opinions of other wine professionals. Take them for what they are worth to you.

Bottom line: wine always is about total experience. The wine. The people sharing the wine with you. Food paired with the wine. The setting where you enjoy the wine. Numbers are just numbers.

Last round: There are three kinds of wine drinkers. Those who are good at math and those who are not.