How Important Are Product Ratings?

Wine and spirits professionals gathered at the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Alumni Event on May 2 to discuss the importance of scores for wine and spirits.

Led by WSET’s International Development Manager, David Wrigley, the panel (pictured atop) featured Lisa Perrotti-Brown, editor in chief of Wine Advocate, Allen Katz, director of spirits education and mixology for Southern-Glazers Wine & Spirits and head distiller/co-founder of New York Distilling Company, and Maggie Campbell, a member of WSET’s Alumni Board and head distiller at Privateer Rum.

More than 50 wine and spirit industry professionals joined the conversation to assess the value of scoring systems in the wine and spirits selection process.

Despite Wine Advocate’s role in the scoring ecosystem, Perrotti-Brown said, “Scores aren’t everything. They only tell you where a wine sits qualitatively amongst a group of its peers, but they tell you nothing about the style of the wine.” For that, she emphasized the importance of reliable and rigorous tasting notes and reviews and valued tools such as WSET’s Systematic Approach to Tasting.

More than 50 wine and spirit industry professionals joined the conversation to assess the value of scoring systems in the wine and spirits selection process.

Nevertheless, according to Perrotti-Brown, the creation of the 100-point system has kick-started “a whole new way of viewing wine as a commodity – as something you can purchase and make money from,” which has in turn had a substantial influence on consumer buying decisions.

On the spirits front, the rating system is younger in its development, according to Katz, who stated that spirits evaluation is a problem. “In many ways, I look up to the wine and beer industry because the evaluation process is wholly honest. While spirits evaluators have the skill set, these qualified experts are, by and large, also paid consultants, many for brands.”

In Katz’s opinion, spirits evaluation bodies need some transparency and disclosure, but feels this will only happen if the industry itself demands it.

In the panel discussion, Perrotti-Brown responded to questions about the rise of crowd-sourced rating entities such as Cellar Tracker and Wine Searcher, and apps like Vivino. “The challenge is that you don’t know who is doing the rating, what qualifications they have or what their agenda might be.”

Perrotti-Brown also flagged a concern about score overkill, which might dilute the value of scoring, and score inflation, which risks their reputation and damages consumer trust.

Ultimately, the WSET panelists all agreed that critics should have non-branded accreditation to ensure trustworthy evaluations.

“It’s an immense challenge to avoid brand influence,” said Katz regarding spirits criticism. WSET prides itself on brand-neutral education in wine, spirits and sake to ensure no conflicts of interest and to guarantee a full breadth of education.

David Wrigley, DipWSET, MW, is WSET international development manager.

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