Living Impressionism - Monet 95 points/Renoir 93 but a "Best Buy"

The white blurs intertwined and wove themselves in and then out of the lights. They could move from absolute stillness to a dazzling, dizzying swirl of energy and grace. The second act of Swan Lake in this winter’s performance by the San Francisco Ballet was like watching a Renoir or Monet come to life.

As the beautiful vision of the dancers floated from the stage the first row leapt to their feet and, like the Olympics, rated the performers with points. Holding up their placards they reduced art to sport. Absurd, right? While such a nightmare is offensive to anyone who cares about beauty this is exactly what we now do with both food and wine. Today wine is about points and food is about Iron Chef TV slap-downs.

Could there be anything more anti-fine dining than turning wine and food into a sport? Yet this is precisely what we have done. As when you watch a ballet or contemplate a painting, fine food and wine should transport you away from the intensity of day-to-day life and inspire your mind to find peace and pleasure. Dinner should be a time to slow down, not a best of three falls.

There are two big lies in the wine world. The first is that price is related to quality and, second, is that point ratings for wines are worth anything. Beside the fact that rating wines with points is an affront to what they were created for (to be part of a meal), they are a lie on on their own turf - statistics. To be meaningful a critic that rates wines on a numerical scale, be that 10, 20 or 100 points, must be able to repeat those results over-and-over in all tasting conditions. Anyone who knows anything about taste and the human condition knows that is a joke. Critics that use points are not only fooling their readers, they’re fooling themselves.

I defy anyone to take this test. We’ll take twenty-five top quality wines of one place and variety and blind taste them over a five day period without the expert tasters knowing the variety or place of origin having them rank the wine using their preferred scale . Each day we’ll open a fresh bottle, then taste the wines in four flights, in each flight changing the order of the wines being tasted. Needless to say, that if these results were analyzed the worthlessness of reviews based on points would be clearly established. If statistical results cannot be repeated they are worthless, which is exactly the value of the point ratings used by the major wine critics.

Not that anyone would listen because while consumers like points as a simple way to make buying choices, wine producers like them even more as a simple way to market their wines. The point is that points are an easy way out for everyone, but most of all it is an easy way out for the big wine publications. After all we should remember their business is not selling wine or helping people to buy better wine. Their business is selling magazines, which is something rating wines on a point scale does better than reliable information ever would. Their readers want it simple and fast so that’s what they give them.

The title of this article jokes about rating Monet 95 points, but giving only 93 to Renoir although he is given a “Best Buy” nod. The real joke of this is that during their own time Monet and Renoir where given very low “points” by the critics. This should remind us all that the creative pleasures of life: dance, music, painting, food and wine among so may others are not so easily reduced into numerical simplicity. The very complexity of these pleasures combined with the intense differences our individual personalities interact to create something that is not possible to quantify or rank on a precise scale.

When you’re experiencing the best, points are pointless.