This post is taken directly from a comment I left on a thread at Paul Gregutt's blog. I loathe to waste words, so I'm reposting it here for anyone who's interested. Feel free to read the entire conversation; it's quite interesting.
Thanks for the thoughtful response. I'm not looking for a flame war, but do like to be cited when I'm quoted.
While I can commiserate with you about being under-appreciated for the good work that you do (which I personally do appreciate; hell, I have a signed copy of your book) I think that in large part the reliance of wine buyers on the 100 point system leads to that very under-appreciation. Frankly, for many people a numeric grade speaks louder than a thousand words of effusive praise.
When you say that "wine drinkers who care enough about the subject to actually purchase and read the trade mags probably don't need scores to decide what they actually want to drink," I must beg to differ. There are gross numbers of consumers who rely almost solely on those numbers, or "won't buy anything less than a 90 point wine." I think that for these people the number itself is an assurance of quality; in their mind it ensures that they are getting the best possible bang for their ever-stretched buck. Not all wine drinkers are this way, but in a world where everyone wants to be savvy but doesn't necessarily have the time to do the research necessary to make an informed decision, the 100-point system offers them a quick and easy way to purchase something that they feel they can have confidence in.
I ramble, but am narrowing in on my point. The 100-point grading system is an exercise in reductionism; it takes all the words of praise, criticism, and thoughtful reflection that a wine writer can put into a review and reduces it to a quantitative analysis of something (wine) that is in essence not quantifiable. When there is careful and considerate reasoning behind the score that might not be so bad, but when a reviewer flies into a region, spends two weeks there, and spits out (no pun intended) 810 reviews as a result, one has to wonder about the quality of the journalism involved.
I am, of course, talking about The Wine Advocate's Jay Miller (whom I was talking about in that original Cayuse review as well). This sort of thing is in my mind not only sloppy journalism, but detrimental to the wine industry in general; many an undeserving 89 point score has led to poor sales for a winery. However, these scores are given undue gravitas by wine collectors globally- Quilceda Creek will forever be known as the 100 point Washington wine.
I don't mean to hijack your blog, but it's a subject to which I've given a lot of thought. I don't necessarily have any answers; the public demands scores, wineries with high scores tout them, retailers and distributors use them to move product, and wine publications get publicity from them. As they say, it is what it is.
There is a (I think natural) backlash to this trend from those who see it as damaging to the industry. Let me point out, however, that not all of us are militant about it, and certainly not all of us are crying "death to critics!"
Or at least, not death to ALL of them.