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NEW YORK, May 14 — Move over Robert Parker. A former Lazard investment banker has created a data-driven fine wine rating system with a wildly ambitious, 1,000-point scale. The just-launched website is now live.
I started out highly dubious that it would be useful in helping wine lovers decide what to buy. The idea of a bottle with a score of 1,000 points seemed like a parody of the 100-point system instituted by Parker, the don of American wine criticism. Even that approach seemed ludicrous to many when first introduced.
Besides, do we really need more wine ratings? For many wine lovers and retailers, the importance of scores has been waning for years—except when it comes to buying Bordeaux and Bordeaux futures.
So I spent a few pre-launch hours perusing Wine-Lister’s site with London-based founder and Chief Executive Officer Ella Lister to discover how Château Haut-Brion, for example, gets to 959 points. What does that mean, exactly, and should anyone care?
Do taste and data correlate?
I was more impressed than I expected to be, but then I’m a wine geek who’s fascinated by wine data.
First of all, the Wine-Lister score reflects more than just a subjective assessment of taste and quality, which is all that the system set up by Parker—and those of other critics—aim to do.
Lister (wine-lister, get it?) likes to call her system “multi-criteria.”
“There are many more objective, measurable factors people use in deciding what wines to buy than just taste,” she said. “I wanted to pull together those disparate bits of information and give buyers a more nuanced, 360-degree, holistic view of a wine, all on one page.”
Château Haut-Brion’s basic score is a distillation of layers of data—the wine’s estimated longevity, its popularity in the marketplace, price, performance at auction, quality level, and the global strength of the brand. All of these are factors, Lister argues, that are important to people when considering whether to buy a bottle.
A long time in the bottle
Lister spent four years developing the idea and lining up wine partners, such as Wine Market Journal, which tracks auction data, to help provide information. She has surveyed merchants and restaurant wine lists and worked with technology experts to come up with algorithms to crunch all the myriad parts into each wine’s single overall score.
So far the site tracks some 2,000 wines, but Lister aims to increase it to about 5,000. We’re talking, of course, about fine wine that sells for at least US$25 (RM100) or so, not weekday bottles or party plonk.
It takes time to grasp all the aspects of the site and figure out how to decipher the somewhat confusing graphs.
I tested out the system. Here’s how it works.
Getting to 848
Take the page for Bordeaux’s Château Beychevelle, which provides its basic rating of 848, information on where the wine is from, the blend of grapes, and age of the vines (30 years).
Clicking the “Quality” tab shows scores of the three partner critics—Jancis Robinson and her team in the UK, Antonio Galloni and his team at Vinous in the US, and Bettane + Desseauve in France. Since two use the 20-point scale while one uses the 100-point scale, Lister and her technical assistants translated those scores into the 1,000-point system, then worked out an average of all three for the Wine-Lister scale.
For the Beychevelle, the score is 750. (Though there are no tasting notes, if you have a subscription to one of the three critics’ sites, you can click through to their wine descriptions.)
Under “Brand,” Beychevelle’s 978 score reflects the wine’s presence in restaurants, its high popularity (based on the number of monthly searches on Wine-Searcher.com), and Lister’s surveys of key merchants worldwide.
Under “Economics,” you’ll find the average price, how much it has increased over the past six months, and whether the wine is frequently traded at auction. All that added up to a score of 915.
Clicking on a vintage such as 2014 gives data for that specific year. The quality rating for 2014, a high of 853, is much better than the one for the 2013 vintage (547!), but both sell for about same price, so 2014 is clearly a much better buy. This is where Wine-Lister really comes in handy.
Not just a score
Among the site’s most useful aspects are its elaborate search functions and being able to hunt for wines according to what most interests you—investment staples, value picks, hidden gems, buzz brands. There were some interesting surprises.
No. 1 on the list of “Investment Staples,” for example, is 2002 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tache, with a score of 991. But Italian icon 2001 Sassicaia, which costs less than a tenth of the price of that La Tache, rates 988. It’s the investment bargain among the top 20 brands on the investment list.
A scan of “Value Picks” turns up the bargain 938-point lush, rich 2010 Castello dei Rampolla Sammarco, a super Tuscan going for only £48 (RM282) a bottle.
Hidden Gems includes 2009 fruit-and-mineral rich Remelluri Rioja Gran Reserva. It has an extremely high-quality score, but the brand is little known.
You can choose the currency tin which the price will be displayed, but be warned: Some listed US prices are lower than you will find in shops.
1,000 Is just 10 100s
So what about that magical 1,000 points? Is this kind of scale really necessary? Lister pointed out that the 100-point ranking used by Parker and many other critics is pretty narrow, with just about all scores ranging from 80 to 100 points.
In case you’re wondering, the top-rated wine on Wine-Lister is Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tache, followed by Petrus.
Lister sees the scores as “snapshots,” valuable tools for “anyone and everyone” who buys wine.
I’m not persuaded. It’s a very handy tool for serious collectors. If you’re a wine obsessive who loves data, or a numbers freak, you’ll find plenty to entertain yourself for an hour or two.
But you have to be pretty committed to wine—and buy lots of it—for this site to make sense.
On the other hand, it only costs £90 a year, the price of a decent cru classe, and a 14-day trial is free. — Bloomberg