Collating top critics' scores, and rating wines out of 1,000, Wine Lister could be the ultimate toy for the wealthy, the time-poor and wine geeks everywhere. Anthony Rose takes a look at the new arrival
'How much should a consumer trust the words of a wine commentator?' One of the questions in this year's Master of Wine exam might equally well have asked 'How much should a consumer trust a wine critic's score?' Ever since Robert M Parker Jr's deus ex Maryland entrance, the 100-point system has become A Thing. So much so that, looking in the rear mirror, it seems odd that no-one had ever thought of it before.
Some critics embrace ratings, some hold their nose at the false promise of objectivity but use them anyway, others pour scorn on what they see as a castration of their powers of imaginative communication. Unpalatably to the nose-holders and scorn-pourers, the 100-point system gives producers the ammunition to price and wine merchants the tools to sell. As for consumers, pour a 90+ wine at dinner and… Respect!
The score combines the ratings of Jancis Robinson MW, Bettane & Desseauve and Antonio Galloni
Bordeaux châteaux may no longer kowtow to the Emperor of Wine, but the widespread adoption of the system has created distortions. Wine merchants still blithely use numbers without an accompanying tasting note. The growth of social media and wine apps has seen a trend towards bunching in an overcrowded pen of ever-higher ratings in an unseemly struggle for the consumer's ear, nose and throat. Just when you thought that score inflation had devalued the coinage, up pops a system rating wines out of, gulp, a thousand points.
Time to take a look at the new arrival…
What is Wine Lister?
Wine Lister is a new website launched this summer which tracks 2,000-odd fine wines, chosen for their quality (high) and price (high). Every wine in the system is given an overall score out of 1,000 and is subdivided into three categories: Quality, Brand and Economics. Each of the three categories also has a rating out of (three gulps) 1,000. In time, the aim is to increase the number of wines tracked to 5,000.
Too many zeros? Bear with us – all will become clear.
Who invented it?
Wine Lister is the brainchild of Ella Lister, former Lazard investment banker-turned wine-investment writer. 'I wasn't quite sure how it would manifest itself,' says Lister, 'but by surveying the wine trade, I started to research the potential criteria that might feed into a single platform that would try to bring together all the relevant pieces of information to offer a comprehensive evaluation tool.' The target audience? 'Collectors, merchants, importers, journalists – anyone with an interest in fine wine'. Sounds slick? Let's see.
How is the 1,000-point system attained?
Teaming up with French wine critic Thierry Desseauve, Lister surveyed key players in fine wine and scoured restaurant wine lists over four years. That's a lot of hot dinners. She also hooked up with potential partners such as Wine Market Journal and Wine-Searcher.
By building up a long list of criteria, she came up with a formula, or – buzzword alert – 'algorithm'. Then she created three linked categories for evaluating a wine: the global presence of the brand, the quality based on critics' scores and the economics of liquidity and value.
Why is 1,000 points better than 100 points?
It's not better but different, obviously. The 1,000-point score doesn't come with tasting notes but combines the ratings of three top critics: Jancis Robinson MW, Bettane & Desseauve and Antonio Galloni (Parker is so yesterday).
So is a bald score sans tasting notes an adequate substitute for a critic's judgment? Lister is aware of the limitation, but for the intended cash-rich, time-poor target audience, the scores give an instant indication of a wine's main strengths.
How do I use it?
Even without calculus, Wine Lister's sleek design and search facility makes it child's play to navigate. Let's see what it has to say on Château de Beaucastel, for instance.
First up it gets a score out of 1,000: 901. Click on quality, brand strength and economics and you get scores for each: 881 for quality (based on the three critics’ scores), 990 for brand (from data about its presence and popularity) and 789 for economics (average price over different periods and how frequently the wine is traded). Scores keep changing to reflect what's going on in the marketplace.
What’s its USP?
The rating system uses the full 1,000 point spectrum. You can drill down to compare each individual vintage of each wine. You can also use the search functions to hunt for four indicators: Investment Staples, Buzz Brands and, of biggest appeal to consumers (and possibly restaurants too), Value Picks and Hidden Gems. Over two-thirds of the list focuses on France, with Bordeaux and Burgundy dominating.
What do current users think?
'I think often I want to see tasting notes,' says Stephen Marcon, a banker based in Hong Kong who buys fine wines for drinking. 'The scoring system seems to be based quite heavily on Galloni and Robinson for scores. And there's no useful link to where you can buy these wines, which to me is key.'
Steve Fletcher, co-owner of the Carroll/Fletcher Gallery in London, searched for a few of his favourite wines. Up came Château de Pibarnon and Domaine Tempier, however there was no sign of Pieropan or Château Montus.
It allows me to marshal varied information – and it appeals to the geek in me
'As the most comprehensive site for analysing wine quality, accessibility and value in one place, it allows me to marshal varied information – and it appeals to the geek in me,' adds wine consultant Nick Emley.
Can I buy wine through it?
Simple answer: no. For all its ingenuity, Wine Lister is not a buying guide or a trading platform but a form guide. It links to sites that require further subscriptions. For a buying guide, CellarTracker offers tasting notes and scores by amateurs and professionals.
If it's a trading platform you're after, Liv-ex is for professionals, while BBX (Berrys' Broking Exchange), is one of several that's aimed at amateurs. Price and stockist information is available on Wine-Searcher for free (Wine Lister links to the basic version), or at $48 (£36) for the Pro Version.
What will it cost me?
The annual subscription fee is £90 and covers the major category scores and data on specific vintages. To suck it and see, opt for a 14-day free trial on Wine Lister's website.