Find Me


Restaurants & Bars



In Which Professional Wine Writing Turns Into the Jerry Lewis Telethon

The defining characteristics of the waning years of the Jerry Lewis Telethon were outpourings of maudlin emotion and humble self-congratulation by old people belaboring the obvious. In the telethon’s case, it was a bunch of currently-headlining-at-the-Debbie-Reynolds-Theater-in-Branson-Missouri schtickmeisters returning to their Vegas-lounge glory days to remind us all that kids shouldn’t suffer unless it’s on camera to raise money.

In wine writing, the topic of crusade is the 100-point scoring system, sure to get a rise out of…well, people like me. If you search “100-point wine scoring,” Google returns more than 85-million references. Narrow the search to blogs-only and you’ll still get 4.3-million postings, each of them no doubt a cri de coeur in which people serious about wine lament the benighted masses who drink without the benefit of neurosis and access to free portfolio tastings.

Who doesn’t get tired of endlessly debating the value of 100-point scoring systems? Well, for one, David Duman of  The Huffington Post — which sounds a lot like it might be the newspaper Mr. Wilson read in the old Dennis the Menace cartoon strip, which is just another detail reinforcing the old-fartiness of the whole discussion. So by all means, Mr. Duman, we need another 500 words on the subject. And it would be particularly helpful if you used your latest Huffington posting to remind us all that you were on the record against 100-point scales from Day One. Through the breach, as it were, with bayonet fixed to slash away on behalf of conventional wisdom.

Well and good, Mr. Duman, but not in itself a telethon-class achievement. That’s going to require a dead-before-the-needle-left-the-arm overdose of deeply felt overstatement about the fundamental goodness of those with whom one is disagreeing — in this case, the wine intelligentsia’s equivalent of Mel Torme, Steve Heimoff.

So, this (emphasis added):

In the ensuing months, my opinion hasn’t changed but I thought the debate was worth another look…

Let me just break in here to remind you that wine bloggers have decided this debate was “worth another look” 4.3 million times.

In the ensuing months, my opinion hasn’t changed but I thought the debate was worth another look because of a couple of somewhat recent high profile defenses of the system from writers whose work I otherwise admire, including San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonné and freelance writer and Wine Enthusiast west coast editor Steve Heimoff. Both of these men I consider among the most thoughtful and cosmopolitan journalists writing about wine today, so it was discouraging to see their defenses of the system utilizing those same tired arguments used by lesser critics.

Leaving John Bonné out of this, consider Steve Heimoff as “thoughtful and cosmopolitan” while viewing this video, in which a refrigerated and totally professional Heimoff discusses the endlessly-fascinating topic of rating wine.  This is a video I’ve kept secret for years because, like Jerry Lewis Himself, it’s so awesomely bad that it qualifies as a national treasure. I was afraid if I mentioned it out loud Heimoff might come to his senses and get it the hell off the Internet.

Hat tip on this to the Wine Curmudgeon, who retains his respectable position in society in part by convincing me to write about stuff like this so he doesn’t have to.

UPDATE: After watching the video for about the thousandth time, I note that there are roughly a half-dozen jump-cuts, implying that there were parts of the “show” that were edited out because, presumably, they were less interesting than what was left in. My question is: How is that possible?