A Washington winery's proposal to do away with the 100-point rating system that's used by leading wine publications has drawn support from importer Kermit Lynch and Michael Mina wine director Rajat Parr, but few Washington wineries have signed the "score revolution manifesto."
Hedges Family Estate's Christophe Hedges, who launched the movement, isn't surprised by his fellow winemakers' reluctance to endorse the proposal. The boutique operations which have sprung up statewide in recent years rely on wine scores to distinguish themselves from their competitors, he says.
"I don't mean to sound like an esoteric, radical asshole, but what I'm talking about is groundbreaking in Washington state," Hedges says.
Hedges would prefer if winemakers touted their wines' authenticity instead of their portfolios of high scores. But in a state where many winemakers don't grow their own grapes, terroir has become less important than "rock star" images and point tallies, he says.
The call to replace quantitative judgments with nuanced criticism has resonated in the Old World: According to Hedges, more of his manifesto's signers hail from Italy than anywhere else.
Hedges isn't the first winemaker to question the value of wine ratings, although his outspokenness has been notable and sustained. The winery doesn't submit its wines for review by publications which use point systems, and Hedges says he'll hold manifesto signers to the same standard.
Wine scores are unlikely to disappear, as Hedges freely admits. But he hopes his manifesto, which has lately drawn attention from the San Francisco Chronicle, will start a conversation about how consumers understand and approach wine.
"It's an education thing," Hedges says. "In America, we always have to hold everybody's hands."
Hedges' quarrel with points is multifaceted. He believes the system gives too much power to critics, leeches the poetry from wine drinking and encourages wine makers to craft their wines in ways that aren't dictated by the grape.
"They're trying to put hedonism in your mouth," Hedges says of winemakers chasing big scores.
Fundamentally, Hedges disagrees with the premise that one wine could be better than another. "Philosophically speaking, there is no good wine or bad wine," he says. While he isn't opposed to discussions of structure and tannins - and considers them critical to wine appreciation - he's more interested in assessing whether a wine represents a certain place and time. Scores often gloss over those considerations, he claims, or accompany probing reviews that most consumers don't bother to read.
Rating system detractors also question how they're supposed to make sense of a one-point difference in wine scores, and wonder how to deal with the notion of an endpoint.
"If we give a wine a 100, what the hell does that mean?," he asks. "It's perfect? Really?"
Hedges says he's been surprised by how much hostility his proposal has generated.
"I've disturbed the hornet's nest," Hedges says. "I didn't realize it would pull at the heartstrings."