Imagine this scene: you host an intimate dinner party for a few friends. The candles are lit, your best starched linen guilds the table and the guests are getting nicely oiled on your killer flirtinis.
Out comes the starter – home made langoustine tortelloni served with a romesco sauce. Your guests eagerly snap photos of the dish from all angles – together with a few selfies for good measure. Eventually the first takes a few mouthfuls before pronouncing “Not bad – the pasta dough was a little too thick, and there’s something bitter in the sauce that shouldn’t be there. Did you burn the onions perhaps? It’s a 6/10 for me”. Now it’s the turn of that nice couple from across the street – “To be honest, we’ve had better pasta from our local takeaway. This is just ordinary. 5/10 – but the presentation was nice so we’ve pinterested it”. Finally, your bestie takes the floor “Dunno what you guys are talking about. This is exceptional. 10/10. I’ve got 5 facebook likes already”
Later, you revise the Christmas card list and stick pins into a few mannequins, as you cry into a nightcap. At least you now have a plethora of advice from food blogger acquaintances about how you can make the perfect tortelloni next time.
Is this so far fetched? With the rise and rise of the smartphone, and the march of social media into every corner of our lives, the desire to rate, review, critique and “share” every waking moment is omnipresent. But when is this appropriate, and when does it simply degenerate into rudeness or irrelevance?
What about wine rating? Chances are if you’re reading this article, you’ve probably registered with at least one of the more popular wine rating sites – Cellar Tracker, Vivino, Drync or perhaps Delectable. The concept is irresistible – rate the wines you drink, never forget an amazing bottle, never make the mistake of buying a terrible one again.
There’s one small problem – the efficacy of such apps is based on the notion that we’re all capable of assigning a useful, objective rating. Even at 3am in the morning when the display on the phone seems to have become inexplicably blurry.
The enjoyment of wine is so contextual, so influenced by external factors that even professionals struggle to be 100% consistent. I have plenty of examples of tasting the same wine but in different countries, with different people or in a different glass, all leading to a different assessment. Not to mention that one man’s poison is another’s nectar.
Vivino’s tagline is “Never Pick Another Bad Wine”, which I think may be slightly unrealistic. After all, there are no good or bad wines – just wines that we like and wines we don’t. Who’s to say whether my Vivino buddies share my taste, or my relentless ability to overrate wines when the company and the atmosphere are good.
Let’s return to the matter of etiquette. What if I attend a dinner party, and my host happens to use the same wine rating app. If I diligently rate all the wines in real time, and they later discover my ratings, won’t they feel just a little bit judged? I think I would, especially if there’s a disconnect between the verbal comments and a cooler, more dispassionate rating: “Ooh, I love the 2013 St. Emilions. Thank you sooooo much for opening this. Mmmmmm!” (2/5. Over extracted & over oaked, yuck).
You could of course post sanitised “crowd pleaser” ratings, to appease your host or fellow guests. Which pretty much defeats the point of rating in the first place. You may as well leave it as a naked un-hashtagged instagram post. And we all know how futile that is.
Then of course there’s the delicate matter of price. “Wow, you’re really treating us tonight. This must cost a… oh wait, its…. $7 at Costco”. As an Englishman, this is of course beyond gauche for me. Some secrets are best kept between you and the till receipt.
I cannot lie – I like using wine rating apps, and even find them useful as an extended aide memoire. But as with everything it comes down to context, and a bit of restraint. Most important is the ability to judge when you’re tasting qualitatively (which might be worth rating), in contrast to just enjoying a drink. Both are perfectly valid, but I’m not going to score how great it was to meet my friends (Bertrand 9/10, Jackie 7/10, Oscar 8/10) over a couple of pints (Double IPA, 3.75 stars). That would just be #silly.