~There’s a new book out by Harvard philosopher Michael J. Sandel titled, The Case Against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering.
~It seems that Mr. Sandel is concerned that the human pursuit of perfection may be our undoing. To bolster his argument he cites sports figures taking steroids, parents selecting the sex or health of their unborn, and other such things that he believes threaten the dignity of human beings.
~ Mr. Sandel didn’t cite it, but I can easily see how one other pursuit of perfection fits into his thesis: wine ratings inflation.
~Right now, because of this “perfection” quest, the majority of wines produced in the world are being devalued by being ignored by most critics and much of the press. That is a slam against the dignity of the wines and the dignity of the producers of the wines.
~In my last blog entry, I wrote my feelings about medals that wines receive from competitions. In one of the comments I received about that entry, the poster wondered that since wineries all over the place seem to have all kinds of medals hanging on their walls, what exactly is the value of the medals they’ve won?
~I could be glib with my answer, but I’ll try to do better:

The value of the medals is in the marketing.

~Let’s face it, the general consumer doesn’t know what perfection in wine is or how to identify it—professionals don’t know that either.
~To many, the Gold Medal symbolizes perfection and so, to the press, only those perfect Gold Medal winners are worthy of attention—Silver and Bronze Medals are just a bunch of white noise. Nothing to market there.
~If Gold represents perfection, we have to wonder why someone upped the ante by creating the Double Gold Medal? How can you double up on perfection?

And the more the press blathers about the Double Gold Medal its eventual devaluation will lead to the Triple Gold Medal.

~Numerical ratings inflation may be even more insidious than medal inflation.
~Consumers assume that the people awarding medals are wine professionals who generally know what they are doing. But to many consumers, wine critics who assign scores are more than professionals, more than mere mortals—they are gurus, mini-gods, celebrities. These people surely must know perfection.
~What’s worse, when mini-gods give high scores to wines, the wine producers often become mini-cults. The wines become allocated and expensive—and you should see what happens to the dignity of the consumers who beg for allocated wines at any price…
~As consumers are desensitized to high scores, the scores need to get higher; what used to be a good score pales; 95 becomes the new 90.

Did you know that major wine scoring people usually don’t bother to tell you about a wine that scores below 85 out of 100?

Have you any idea how many wines they aren’t telling you about?

Is 85 out of 100 a bad score? It wasn’t in high school!

~No one can argue that 85 is perfection, so I guess it makes sense not talk about it. But is 95 out of 100 perfect? Of course not, and so the closer to perfect a score can get, the more frenzy that is generated, and the higher the price that can be had for the wine, plus the more important the wine critic becomes to the consumer.
~Talk about inflation: one day, 98 will become the new 95. When that happens  critics will be forced to find wines closer to 100 points.
~What happens after 100 becomes the new 98 is anybody’s guess—maybe a Double 100?
~When it came to identifying premium, top quality, worthwhile wine I used to believe that I knew what I was talking about. After all, I had been consuming wine for decades; I spent hundreds of hours studying wine; I learned how to grow grapes and to make wine; who better to pass judgment on wine?
~What I discovered is that the wine wasn’t really my focus. My focus was that last question, in other words, my focus was me and my heightened sense of my abilities ~How pompous can one get? I had to quickly shoot down my internal inflation. After many years and many situations where wines proved me wrong, I stopped thinking that I knew so much. If only most wine critics could do that.

The link below is a bulletin board thread that you must read. Buried in the thread is a comment by a wine critic that is quite revealing, and it illustrates, I think, where the idea of rating wine has taken consumers as well as critics.

The critic’s comment illustrates beautifully what Mr. Sandel means about the direction in which the pursuit of perfection can take us.

Submit to critics:

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
July, 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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