Hello, my name is Bill, and I’m a Scoreaholic.
This is my first meeting, and I’m really nervous. It’s not you people. No. Not at all. Everyone’s been so supportive. It’s just that, well, I don’t know, I guess I didn’t know how hard it would be to give up scores. It’s really hard. I tried to do it cold turkey, but I couldn’t. There’s too much temptation! I know it’s ruining my life. My wife left me. I lost my job. I’m still not on the Sine Qua Non mailing list. I’m a failure. I know it’s the scores, I know it is, but I can’t stop. I need help. I mean, right now, right this second, I’d kill to see what Tim Fish gave all the new Turley Zinfandels. Yeah, I know! Tim Fish! I’ve hit bottom. It could only be worse if I were Jewish—bottom Fish isn’t kosher.
I wish I’d never started on scores. I knew better. I was happy then. I’d buy a bottle of wine for any old reason. Maybe I just liked the label. Who says you can’t judge a wine by its label? I think you can. There are just a few rules to follow. If there’s anything furry on the label, skip it. So, no Marilyn Merlot. Don’t buy a label with an insulting name, like Bitch or Fat Bastard or Malbec. Ignore a label with orange—the word or the color. These are foolproof rules. Maybe I’d buy a bottle because I’d never heard of the variety and wanted to try something new. It didn’t matter. I almost always enjoyed those wines. But that wasn’t enough for me, I guess. I had to look for more gratification. I discovered scores. It ruined my life. I’ve hit Fish bottom. That’s why I’m here.
I remember the first time I used. I was at Costco and I wanted to buy some wine. I didn’t know then that Costco is one of the biggest pushers. They don’t sell wine, they sell scores. I was browsing their available wines, and I just didn’t know what to buy. Costco has the dullest selection of wines on Earth. They’re the Smooth Jazz of wine merchants. Then I noticed every wine in the place had a score, and a pretty bland one at that, just like Kenny G or Dave Koz. So I just picked the wine with the highest score. 96. And it felt good to buy a 96. Like I was somebody; like I was a guy who knew a lot about buying wine. Yeah, I know, that should have set off all my alarms. But it didn’t. I wasn’t buying wine, I was buying numbers. Costco is running a numbers racket. I bought in that first time, and, you know what, the wine was pretty good. But I knew as I was drinking it, I liked it as much for the 96 as I did for the aroma and texture. If a 96 is this good, what would a 97 taste like? Or a 98? I had to know.
It’s been ten years, and I still don’t know. I’ve tasted a lot of wines that had 98 points, but I still don’t know what 98 tastes like. Except it’s not enough. Is 99 better? It is to Parker, or Laube, or Suckling, but I think they’re just like me. They don’t know either. How could they? Maybe they did once, when they first started. But you give enough 96’s and it’s like repeating a word out loud over and over and over—suddenly you can’t remember what the goddam word means. “96, 96, 96, 96, 96, 96, 96, 96, 96 … what the hell is 96 again?” Like that. Yet even though I know that those guys don’t have a clue what 96 means, I still want a 96! I can’t even drink a 90 anymore. I hate wines with 90 points. Those are wines that are just barely good enough, wines whose heads just made it to the bottom of the roller coaster height requirement, pathetic little wines. Who drinks a 90? I’ll tell you who drinks a 90. Losers, and people who like Viognier, if there’s a difference. I don’t go below 96. I just won’t. It’s degrading. Below 96 it’s not really wine. It’s just filler.
Oh. I’m sorry. I’m sick. I don’t mean any of that. That’s the way Scoreaholics think. And I’m a raging Scoreaholic. I even started giving scores myself. I’m sorry, give me a minute. This is hard…
I hate myself for it, but I started a blog. Yes, I know. I should be ashamed, and I am. I started a blog and I started giving scores! As if I knew about wine, as if my scores had meaning. I’d go to a big tasting and I’d give hundreds of wine scores! Asshole. I was the same as the very wine writers who had destroyed my own passion for wine, walking around a tasting with an iPad mumbling, “8.5 to 9.0, 8.5 to 9.0, 8.5 to 9.0, 8.5 to 9.0…” until it sounded like something out of Lewis Carroll. Fucking gibberish. I thought I was doing it to help people who knew less about wine than I do, but I see now that wasn’t why I was doing it. The truth is, I hated other people, people who ignored scores, people who didn’t know about wine. I hated them! I wanted them to use my scores. I wanted them to suffer my fate, my miserable wine drinking fate, the fate that makes you judge a wine based on a number rather than just not judging it at all. Loving scores is the very death of wine enjoyment, and I wanted everyone who read my blog to lose their love of wine and embrace scores. Like every other addict—I was seeking the company of other addicts. Might as well have joined Wineberserkers—wine’s Skid Row. Most of them will die Scoreaholics.
My wife left me. I spent all our money on mailing lists. I wanted 96, 97, 98, not 38, 24, 36. I got fired right after that. Most of my friends won’t talk to me. Not that I blame them. I’m a jerk, I’m a loser, I’m a Scoreaholic. Help me.
I want to find my way back to wine. But it’s not that easy. Look who I’m telling. You all know. The people who give the scores, and the people who use the scores to sell wine, they’re evil. Sure, they tell you that 92 is a perfectly fine wine, but they know it isn’t! It used to be, back before scores. But not now. Now it’s just a stinking 92. You can’t even say it without a sneer on your face. And 89? Jesus. How much of a failure do you have to be to smell, taste and drink another person’s failure? They may tell you that 92 is fine, but they’re just testing you. The fact that they have to even say it means it isn’t true. It’s like they teach you that the ball going through the hoop is what counts, but then tell you that it’s just fine when the ball hits the front of the rim. And you believe that? You don’t know about scoring.
I don’t know if it’s possible, but I want to go back to drinking wine for pleasure. But how do I avoid scores? I know I have to, I’m a pathetic Scoreaholic. But scores are everywhere. Where there’s wine, there are scores! If I want wine, I have to see scores—in wine shops, online, on wine lists, in advertisements, on stickers on the bottles themselves… I’m a pyromaniac in a fireworks factory. I’ll just want to light one… And then it’s all over.
I know I have a problem. I’m glad I’m here. I want to quit. I will quit. But there are so many others like me out there, people in denial about being Scoreaholics. They’re a sad lot. They really believe scores haven’t ruined the wine business despite all the evidence to the contrary. They don’t believe scores demolish dreams and ruin lives. They live by the score, as I always have. Sadly, they’ll die by the score.
My name is Bill, and I’m a Scoreaholic.
At the very end of January, ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) is having its annual Grand Tasting in San Francisco. “ZAP” is a brilliant acronym—I wonder who thought of it. Especially considering the definition of “zap” is to obliterate. In the past, there were a lot of ZAP attendees who were completely obliterated by the end of the tasting. ZAP was a notorious drunkfest, and those of us in the trade would get in early and leave as soon as the unwashed public was admitted a couple of hours later. In the early years of ZAP, there were a lot of wineries pouring Zinfandel, two or three hundred. But many of them became discouraged by the ugliness of the crowd, I think, and eventually fewer and fewer wineries attended. To their credit, the organizers set out to completely change ZAP, make it more about Zinfandel and less about stupidity. Too many in the crowd were putting the DUI into Dusi. And, judging by last year’s event, they’ve done a remarkable job. While the event had a lot of glitches, it got a lot right, and I think this year’s event will be even better.
It is a great opportunity to taste wines with the legends of Zinfandel—Paul Draper, Joel Peterson, Kent Rosenblum—alongside the younger geniuses of the grape—Mike Officer, Morgan Peterson, Tegan Passalacqua, Jake and Scott Bilbro. I’ve spoken to each of them at a ZAP tasting. It’s a tribute to ZAP that, unlike many tastings devoted to a single variety, the best, most sought-after, the hardest-to-get examples are all available to taste. You can go to all kinds of Pinot Noir events, and there are half a dozen these days, but you’ll never encounter Marcassin or Dehlinger or DuMol or Rhys. At ZAP, you can taste Ridge, Ravenswood, Biale, Limerick Lane, Turley, Bedrock, Carlisle… Holy crap, that’s pretty amazing. That’s the kind of killer lineup you see at a Manson wedding. If you attended a few years ago and were turned off by the crowds and the insobriety, it’s not that way any longer. In the words of legendary Zin fanatic John Lennon, All that I’m saying, is give ZAP a chance. Really, you should go. www.zinfandel.org Tell ‘em the HoseMaster sent you—and look for me at the event. I’ll be the one winemakers are throwing things at.