Of course, the system is not without its flaws. What, for example, is the quantifiable difference between an 89 and 90 point wine? Numerically, the threshold is essentially meaningless, but sales and perception wise, the gap is frustratingly important. A $15 MSRP wine with an 89 score? Pedestrian. The same wine with a 90 point score? You'll see end-caps, features, articles, etc.
Wine scores legitimize quality in the eyes of consumers and wine buyers. They externalize preference and give a reputable endorsement for the product inside the bottle.
I find it interesting that despite all of the criticism the point system receives, the wineries in our fine state that are considered the cream of the crop are without exception the very same wineries that consistently receive high scores in the 100-point system. Betz, Gorman, Mark Ryan, Long Shadows, Col Solare, Northstar, and Efeste are all operations that receive outstanding scores year in and year out, across the board (and all happen to be grape customers of ours. Buy their wine, it's fantastic!). My argument is that it's the scores that give these wineries their universal aura of quality. And I'll bet you a hug that a lot of the people who openly dislike the 100 point system will still turn to these wineries as being among the finest in Washington, even if they won't acknowledge that they arrived at that conclusion by taking into consideration their performance in major publications. It would be damn near impossible for most mortals to go out and try multiple wines from every one of Washington's 800+ wineries, so when making broad claims of quality, one might need a little help in the form of scores. And I wouldn't disagree with the conclusions.
But you'll notice that the title of this article is "Wine Judging" and not "Wine Scoring." There is a whole other aspect to judging wine beyond the 100 point system. We get bombarded by requests to participate in "prestigious" and "acclaimed" wine competitions. Bombarded. And I don't know if it does a damned thing. When I post on Facebook that Wine X got a Gold Medal or "Best of Show" at Competition Y, the response is a tepid "congrats." Here's an insight for you: we don't enter these things for our own validation. We enter them in hopes of getting an accolade that will impress someone enough to buy wine. It's not a vanity project, it's a marketing tool. And people don't give a hoot if you've got oodles of Golds/Double Golds/Platinums/Best of Shows/Chairmans Awards. It's the score that counts.
So imagine my amusement when we received a package in the mail from the Amenti Del Vino Wine Competition (a Google search of that name turned up nothing. NOTHING.) yesterday with a bunch of medals, among them a Best of Show for our Sangiovese (does that impress you? Want to buy some?). One of the bronze medals that dropped out of the padded yellow envelope was for our 2010 Botrytised Chenin Blanc, a wine that received no less than a 94 from Paul Gregutt at the Wine Enthusiast. Guess which accolade I am going to use to sell that wine?
It's this very reason why I am going to send Paul Gregutt, Sean Sullivan, and Andy Purdue/Eric Degerman wines in the coming weeks for review. Of course I run the risk of getting a pedestrian rating. If that's the case, I should be able to sell my wines regardless. Nobody has to know about an 86 much in the same way nobody has to know about a Bronze in the Amenti Del Vino Wine Competition (especially if they can't even Google it). But if I do get a nice score, the upside is tremendous, not only in overall perception of the winery but also in the marketability of that particular wine. These are some of the most respected voices in northwest wine, and when they talk, people listen, even if they aren't doing so consciously.
Even though Sean and Andy/Eric don't use the 100 point system, they contribute to/operate well read and well written wine publications, both online and off. The actual review, the 1 paragraph description and justification for the score is really, really valuable, and why these types of submissions will always be more worthwhile than getting a Best of Show award in a padded yellow envelope unannounced.