Friday, December 7, 2012

Wine, movies and music on the 100-point scale

Earlier this week I wrote about a French wine film, "Tu seras mon fils," that I would give it 3 stars on a 5-star scale. How many points on the 100-point wine scale is that?

It's not an easy question, nor is it irrelevant this time of year. We're all choosing movies to see, buying Christmas presents we haven't heard, and buying wines we haven't tasted.

I'm a big fan of using Metacritic in building my wish list for Santa. Metacritic compiles text reviews from magazines and uses an algorithm to convert them to the 100-point scale. Because I'd rather listen to an 80-point Jack White album than a 90-pointer from Taylor Swift, I read the reviews, which of course you should do with wine, and the algorithm is reasonably good.

Metacritic rates albums from about 60 to 100. Movie critics rate movies from zero to 5 stars. But as we all know, the 100-point scale for wine is really only about 82 to 100.

Is there some factual basis for this?

Wines these days are almost never flawed and undrinkable. At worst, they're unbalanced or dull.

We often complain that a bad movie is unwatchable. But when was the last time you left the theatre early? I'll bet we leave bottles unfinished far more often. Moreover, one man's zero-star movie is another man's "Glen or Glenda," the rare film that has the potential to bring literal meaning to ROFL.

I find bad music the most unbearable of the three -- and yet, Metacritic doesn't go to zero for albums. (Pitchfork does, on the 100-point scale, sometimes with appropriate visuals.)

Anyway, I reviewed movies before I did wine. A 3-star movie, on a 5-star scale, is above average. It's a film that fans of the genre would enjoy, but it's not a crossover; if you don't like romances or action films or whatever, you won't like it. Even for genre fans, it's not going to be one of the best of the year. It's diverting, two hours pleasantly spent.

So where does that sit on a wine scale? Maybe it should be an 80. But in the way the 100-point scale is used today, I'd have to say 88. If it's an 89, that has crossover appeal. If it's an 87, that's probably average for its genre, not above average.

Wow. Just another way of realizing how tightly squeezed we are by the modern 100-point scale. To wit:
5 stars = 97-100
4 1/2 stars =  94-96
4 stars = 91-93
3 1/2 stars = 89-90
3 stars = 88
2 1/2 stars = 85-87
2 stars = 81-84
1 1/2 stars = 80
1 star = 78-79
0 stars = anything lower

That's about right, huh? I mean, "right" in the sense of "that's how we use it," not "that's how it should be."

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Larry Brooks said...

A surprising amount of good scientific work has been done on sensory analysis, which is what reviewing is from a technical point of view. Most of it indicates that we are capable of ranking at best over about a 7 point scale. The common -3 to +3 hedonic scale is the best expression of this. The verbal equivalents are -3 = dislike intensely, -2 = dislike a lot, -1 = dislike somewhat, 0 = don't like or dislike and the positives mirror the negative descriptions. The same body of research indicates that your results are better with trained groups than with individuals. Groups start getting valid at about 12 and plateau at 20.

W. Blake Gray said...

Larry: That's very interesting, thanks for that.

I got accustomed to the 5-star scale, which is really 10 increments. But as you could tell from the way I described using it, film and music critics are (or should be) thinking about more than just like and dislike. Is this a classic; i.e., will it age? Does it have crossover appeal?

I think these questions apply to wine as well.

Larry Brooks said...

Certainly, there are issues of style,typicite of terroir, ageability and any one of a number of other aspects to discuss with a wine, which can be expressed within or outside of the ranking. I've found myself saying more times than I can remember, "I can't stand this wine, but it is excellent for it's type." Still I think a ranking system more intensive or extensive than 7 levels is blowing smoke of one sort or another.

W. Blake Gray said...

Larry: There's another topic entirely -- "I can't stand this wine, but it is excellent for its type." If I don't have to recommend wines like that, I won't. But then I find myself judging in a competition, and I get a wine like this.

Sometimes I think wines that win categories at certain competitions take the hardware even though nobody likes them.

Shane said...

As a wine production professional I usually use a scale from 18-45. Anything at or below 18 is regarded as not fit to make it in any blend above $8. From 19 - 28 would be fit for anything below $15. 29 - 37 is anything below $25 and 38 and above is on a scale above $25. In actuality this is a 50 point scale but I find it hard to score any raw wine above a 45.