Wine By the Numbers: Pedogogy or Prestidigitation Whether it be the penchant for “accountability” that pervades our society or simply the human need for assessment, wine by the numbers is currently in vogue. Wherever you turn; The Wine Spectator, The Wine Advocate, The Wall Street Journal, even the local wine shop, the world of wine appears consumed by the numbers. Why? “Insecurity”, whispered the voice of truth. “Acculturation” mumbled the sociologist. “Marketing” added the businessman. And, there you have it. Wine by the numbers somehow assuages our basic insecurity. It provides guidelines for the uninitiated, self-assurance for the devotee and an all pervasive smugness for the wine snob. Unfortunately, what the numbers game doesn’t offer the consumer is the right to choose intelligently, simply because it excludes him or her from the process. Although not always intended to dupe the public, the numerical grading of wines has created a generation of “grade-grubbers”- consumers who must have a good or better grade for their choices, even if they don’t know what the grade means or even agree with the standard of assessment. And this is only the tip of the iceberg, or should we say the “top of the barrel”. Since most of us have grown up with grades, numerical grades no less, we tend to take wine by the numbers for granted. And why shouldn’t we? Grades are part of our culture. An “A” represents excellence, usually defined as somewhere between 90 and 100, while a “B” is good, commonly considered to be between 80 and 90. God forbid a child should bring home a report card with less than a “B” or the consumer should drink a wine with no number let alone a wine with a low number. Horrors! How often have kids lamented the dreaded report card and said “My parents are going to kill me if I don’t get all A’s and B’s”? For better and for worse, grades are an intricate part of our culture, and we love them. They make us feel as if we know where we stand. How can anyone argue with a number? Since numbers play to our fears, what better way is there to sell? Considering that numbers are more than socially acceptable, they’re expected, wine by the numbers is a marketing guru’s dream...and nightmare. In a rush to promote a wine or denigrate the competitions offering, marketing seizes the numbers and highlights their efficacy, usually without explanation and often out of context to the rater’s intentions, but who can argue with a number? Right? Plainly, we at the wine club believe that the numerical rating of a wine is seriously misused at best, and often a hoax at worst, simply because fear, habit and greed frequently play a part in the numbers that you, the consumer, see. Furthermore, numbers detract from the pleasure of drinking and distort the true purpose of wine, “to make glad the heart of man”. In spite of our mistrust of numerical ratings for wine, we acknowledge that evaluating wines is essential to our offering of high quality, appealing selections, and in order to fulfill that purpose, we must use some tools of assessment. Some members of our wine panel even make use of numerical rating sheets to serve as a personal account of the wines they taste, as well as provide an individual yardstick or paradigm by which to compare wines of similar style or type. However, the difference between this personal use of numerical ratings and the wine by the numbers game as practiced by the industry’s critics and publicists is that our use of them remains personal. We do not use numbers to justify or promote our selections, even among ourselves, nor do we foist them on the public as a selling technique. Simply, numerical ratings are only truly valuable to the individual as a measurable means of comparison. Any other use of numerical ratings compromises their integrity. In the interest of education, a personal wine evaluation sheet will be printed in a future newsletter, along with some guidelines for assessment. By doing so, we hope to promote the development of your own individual palate and underscore the inherent complications that arise when wine is reduced to a numerical rating.