Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the 100-point Scale

December 2006
by Mike Lynch

I love the 100-point scale. Of course, it hasn't always been that way. Years ago, when I wore the hat of a retailer (plaid propeller beanie), I hated the system and the publications that supported it.

"You can't put a number on wine," I shouted at fearful customers as they streamed from my wine shop, clutching their copies of Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator.

"Wine is a living, evolving entity," I barked at my rapidly dwindling clientele. "Wine is not a fixed point in time and space that can be precisely measured. Explaining it requires quantum mechanics, not relativity. Each bottle is a year in the life of the planet; each glass is a grain of sand on a deserted windswept beach in Nova Scotia."

I wiped the foaming saliva from the sides of my mouth, locked the door and began to vacuum my now empty establishment.

My attitude on the 100-point scale started to change soon after I went out of business. I took a PR job for a small group of wineries. I was forced to travel around the country with winemakers, doing tastings with many of the writers and publications I had previously dismissed. Turned out they were all decent, hard-working, professional, skilled tasters. There was nary an Antichrist among them. And when one of my wines received a 90+, I excitedly relayed the news to the marketing and sales departments. My firmly held beliefs on the evils of the system were beginning to waver.

After getting "laid off" for numerous reasons--I was never convicted--I opened my own PR agency. Without easy access to wines at wholesale prices, I soon became a "normal" retail consumer. I started reading Parker,Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Wine & Spirits and various other endorsers of the 100-point scale. In my search for great wines to drink at home, I found myself scouring the reviews of Zinfandel and Syrah (personal favorites), running my ink-stained finger down the column of wines, reading each entry and score, and then stopping when I reached 89.

It was a shock to discover I only had interest in wines that scored 90 or above. My devolution was nearly complete.

The only remaining step was to come out of the wine closet and publicly admit my unnatural love for the 100-point scale. I hosted a dinner party for a small group of friends and colleagues. The invitees included wine insiders I had known and respected for years. I stood up and tapped my glass.

"I have an announcement to make." I drew a deep breath and blurted, "I love the 100-point scale."

There was pandemonium. My friends began to shout at me.

"There is no statistical difference between an 89 and a 90!"

"How can you set a fixed number on something so ephemeral?"

"The 100-point scale and the magazines are responsible for the internationalization of wine. We're losing regionality!"

"The results are meaningless. Nobody drinks 30 different Cabernets with dinner."

"The 100-point scale was designed by unemployed accountants hired by the devil to enslave humanity for all eternity!"

I listened to their protestations and smiled. For the first time in my life I felt clean. That's not to imply that my personal grooming habits were previously lacking. It's just that for years I'd carried this heavy secret on my broad, manly shoulders. But now I was finally free from original sin.

After the hysteria had dwindled, I answered my comrades in a firm and measured voice. "The 100-point scale is the most effective tool we have for marketing wine to the public. It excites consumers. It also forces wineries to produce better wines with fewer flaws. It encourages wine critics to take a stand rather than equivocate. It sets a benchmark, making it easier to compare relative qualities among wines. Yes, we can thank the 100-point system for the internationalization of wine. Finally we can taste real terroir, rather than bad winemaking and unsanitary cellar conditions. The 100-point scale was not created by Satan. It was developed by kind and benevolent scientists to lead mankind out of the thin, under-ripe world of yesterday into the hedonistically rich and unctuous world of tomorrow."

I don't see my old friends much anymore. They don't call, they don't write, they treat me like I'm a born-again life insurance salesman, distributing Amway products on the side. But, truth be told, I've never been happier. I've got a clear conscience, a house full of cats and a cellar full of wines rated between 90 and 100 by Parker, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Wine & Spirits.

(Mike Lynch is a founding partner of Big Bang Communications, a PR/marketing company devoted to the wine industry. His articles and short stories have appeared in Wine & Spirits, Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator. He also co-authored the LynchBob cartoons with famed illustrator/designer Bob Johnson. Mike's hobbies include poodle grooming and puppetry. He can be reached at To comment on this column, e-mail


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