When it comes to wine ratings and competitions, perhaps the most controversial subject is the 100-point system.
Through the years, many methods have been used to rate wine. The 100-point system came into popular use when renowned wine writer Robert Parker adopted it many years ago. Now when we walk into a wine shop and the proprietor says, "This super-Tuscan scored a 92 in Spectator," we know exactly what that means.
When we began Wine Press Northwest a year ago, we adopted the 100-point system as an accurate way to rate Northwest wines. In that first issue, we rated 45 Washington Merlots and, like Spectator and the rest, published those numbers in big, bold type.
Almost immediately, I heard grumbling and quickly discovered that, generally, wineries really don't care for the 100-point system. At first, I figured it was just those who didn't score well, but to the contrary, some producers who did well in that first tasting also questioned it. As I thought about it, their worries were valid. Many of us know wine lovers who buy by the numbers. I'll admit I have done that. And more than a few restaurants only feature wines that have earned a 90 or better in national publications.
As I studied our Merlot ratings, I saw a lot of wines that scored in the low to mid-80s that were some of my favorites. These were delicious wines I would be proud to serve to family and friends with a good meal.
So Tasting Editor Bob Woehler and I took this feedback to heart in the Fall/Winter issue. We decided to stick with the 100-point system during the judging because of the accuracy it provides, but we wanted to de-emphasize the numbers by using categories consumers would find useful. Therefore, instead of stating one wine scored a 90 and another an 89, we grouped them under the heading of "Outstanding." And the wine that earned an 83? Now, it's rated "Very Good" to emphasize that, according to the judges, it may not be the best wine in the tasting, but it should not be overlooked by anyone who enjoys very good wines.
Is it a perfect system? Probably not. But it allows us to express the tasting panel's feelings without getting hung up on numbers.
Speaking of numbers, you'll read in this issue about the number of French winemakers producing Northwest wines. Our cover story is on how these winemakers from arguably the world's greatest wine-producing region are influencing Northwest styles.
Those of you who know some French might chuckle at my last name. You see, in French, "perdue" means "lost." Same with Spanish, I'm told. And frankly, I live up to my name with some regularity, especially when I'm tooling around in the backroads of wine country. I thought it was just me, but last fall, I discovered I wasn't alone.
The Tri-Cities Visitors & Convention Bureau put together a wine tourism forum to bring together wine producers, hotels, restaurants and other groups that could benefit from increased and improved tourism. The forum was run by Don Anderson, Don Getz and Marc Rheaume of Destination Consultancy Group of Calgary, Alberta. These three guys have been around the world studying tourism, especially as it relates to wine. And they helped those of us in attendance understand what could be done to improve wine tourism, especially in Washington's Columbia, Yakima and Walla Walla valley appellations.
A recurring theme was helpful road signs. Travel around British Columbia's Okanagan Valley and you'll find it difficult to get lost because of the well-marked "Wine Route" and wineries. Same with Oregon's Willamette Valley. But try to find Portteus Winery near Zillah or Canoe Ridge Vineyards in downtown Walla Walla without specific directions and you might run into me instead.
This isn't the wineries' fault. Instead, we need to look to Olympia. Washington lawmakers and officials, especially the state Department of Transportation, could go a long way toward improving wine tourism by letting us put up a few signs. This does not promote drinking and driving. It promotes one of Washington's most delightful products and helps responsible adults find and appreciate them.
So put a few postcards in your glove compartment. And the next time you're lost on the backroads of the Yakima Valley or the Olympic Peninsula, or are fighting traffic trying to turn around because you can't find a Puget Sound winery, jot a note to Transportation Secretary Sid Morrison at P.O. Box 47316, Olympia, WA 98504-7316.
And while you're at it, feel free to contact me, too, and let me know what you think of Wine Press Northwest or Northwest wines in general. My address is P.O. Box 2608, Tri-Cities, WA 99302-2608, my phone number is 509-582-1564, and my e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.