Every year many “experts” of the wine world come to Argentina to give their verdicts on our products.
The Chilean, Patricio Tapia came with his guide Descorchados, as did Tim Atkin, who will soon release his review on Argentine wines, whilst the former Wine Spectator, James Suckling has already published his report. The medals awarded by Decanter, the International Wine Challenge, the International Wine and Spirits Competition, the judgments of Luis Gutierrez for Wine Advocate and those of Stephen Tanzer for Vinous – in one of his last tasting sessions – will be announced soon.
After their tastings, those of us who had bad reviews will complain and the beneficiaries will rush to communicate these experts’ opinions to the public. We all look to see if this or that producer has received one more point than us. It looks like that the success or the failure of years of dreams and efforts, of right or wrong decisions, of exposing oneself to climate and nature, of learnings and interpretations, can be defined by the 20 or 30 seconds that the “expert” dedicates to tasting our wine.
Who really does benefit from this system?
It is time therefore to reflect on the usefulness and effectiveness of the scores used to describe the qualities of a wine and to ask whether the disadvantages aren’t greater than the advantages. It is a complex but important and increasingly urgent debate. As the journalist Jamie Goode writes, “I can see a good reason for not using points to score wine, (how can a score even pretend to be a useful summary of the properties of a wine?), but I also understand that wine is very complex and variable, and quite expensive, so it’s a useful shortcut for consumers who don’t get to try before they buy”.
In some markets, (starting with the United States), having good scores is necessary to achieve good sales, especially on supermarket and wine cellar shelves. But in other countries, mainly in Europe, with more education and more tradition in wine, the scores play a really minor role. It seems a time of change is coming. As Goode continues, “there are real problems with points and they aren’t as important as they once were”.
Elaborated to give pleasure through taste and smell, wine is an aesthetic product. An “artistic” object. And, as its essence is to represent knowledge, place and tradition it’s also a cultural product. The industrial idea of transforming wine into a standardized product is a violation of its very nature and therefore its product should not be called “wine”.
Consequently, any scale of scores is also far from being able to understand and express the multidimensionality of a wine, its ability to be diverse and surprising, its evolution in the bottle and its cultural context. Scores are a simplified mechanism where the “expert” assumes a priori that he knows what “perfection” in wines is against which he compares his tastings. He therefore promotes an industrial conceptual scheme, since perfection requires recipes and can’t surprise because it’s already known. Lasting beauty is always imperfect and unpredictable. A perfect wine drunk every day becomes boring and tiresome.
The claim that the palate and the sensations of a critic at the moment of a brief tasting can represent the universal taste of consumers says something bad about all of us: producers, public and critics. It places wine as an object of consumption. Would it be reasonable to score a piece of art?
Awards and medals thus feed a trend towards the standardization of wine communication and its production and system of distribution: they are an attempt to draw common lines in a world where the best things come from the differentiation and uniqueness of each winegrower and the results of their work.
The aim of the scores and medals is, in theory, to guide those who choose to buy a bottle. But in the age of the internet is such a simplification necessary? Ultimately, the individual experience is always unique.
At Chakana we want to make an effort and tell what we do in the most transparent and honest way. Because, as Jamie Goode says, “When you are dealing with really interesting, authentic/natural wines, scores don’t seem to work”.