Back in the Baby Boom 1960s, American oenophile wannabes knew almost nothing about wine.
We bought Mateus Rosé because it came in a cool flask-shaped bottle and might impress dates. We bought Blue Nun because it came in a cool blue bottle and might impress dates. We bought Chianti because it came in a cool wicker basket, was cheap, went with pizza, and might impress dates.
The other stuff, especially from France, flummoxed us even if we could afford it.
Along came Robert Parker, a wine-loving lawyer with a magic palate and a money-in-the-bank gimmick: wine scores.
There is a good case to be made that scores are largely responsible for wine’s astonishing ascendancy in the U.S. Today U.S. wine consumption matches beer—unthinkable 50 years ago.
You may not understand wine, one of creation’s most complex foods, but you understand test scores. You had been to school—back then, you were still in school or just out of it—and you knew what 70 meant and what 96 meant. Robert Parker could tell you how wines from around the world, especially Bordeaux, performed on final exams.
Parker deploys a 50-100 points scale. If it qualifies as wine, it gets 50 points, so his system really is a 50-point scale tarted up to resemble an objective academic test.
Unacceptable: 50-59. Below average: 60-69. Average: 70-79. Very good: 80-89. Outstanding: 90-95. Extraordinary: 96-100.
Given a cheat sheet, we boldly dared to go where we had not gone before at the wine store. Buyers chased scores, wine makers chased scores to satisfy buyers chasing scores, and—ZAP, POW Batman—the wine world exploded with 18-wheelers from California and container ships from elsewhere bringing us more and more wine. And not just wine—good wine, really good wine. Just look at the scores.
Today we enjoy the greatest abundance of well-made, delicious, affordable, quality wine in world history. Thank you, Bob. Thank you.
All that said, what do wine ratings really mean? We visit the wonderful world of wine ratings in following weeks.
• Mateus Rosé. Slightly bubbly, pink, fruity. Sip and appreciate how far you’ve come. $7
• Blue Nun. Now comes in multiple choices, not just the original Liebfraumulch; most made with rivaner and riesling grapes, but now a complete brand; semi-sweet easy-drinkers. $6