In pondering how best to characterize the online existence of justwinepoints.com, I kept swinging back and forth between calling it a sham and a scam. Then I decided it is neither. It is just a shame. It is a sad emblem of how far down the much-abused 100-point scale has dragged us all.

I almost don’t want to provide a link to http://www.justwinepoints.com. Or give them ay more attention than they deserve, which as far as I am concerned should extend not one minute beyond this post. But there is some value in shedding light on this ratings-fueled fiasco, so hold your nose and here we go.

Justwinepoints is essentially the online carcass of the defunct print magazine WineX, which I actually used to enjoy for the fresh writing and offbeat editorial approach to wine. But this Web-only remnant has zero editorial content—just points—as in ratings on the 100-point scale, and 100% of the scores are over 90 points.

The scope of wines reviewed is inexplicably narrow (practically all California, with a smattering of lesser-known imports but no geographically named categories). Perhaps in keeping with the numbers-only spirit, justwinepoints is remarkably free of details about how the ab-fab ratings are generated. There are no bios of the judges, or even names. No details of methodology, whether it is done by panels or individuals, blind or non-blind.

Instead, the site offers semi-flippant smidgen of homepage text that begins with “Let’s be honest: The sophistication level of wine enthusiasts who use the 100-point scale far exceeds that of the average, uninitiated consumer.” And closes with: “justwinepoints represents 20 years of research into why and how consumers purchase wine. After examining and categorizing our data, we believe our easy-to-use, risk-free system presents wine reviews exactly the way you want them: by the numbers, and numbers only.”

There is some additional pablum if you click on the “our system” button, including the completely unverifiable claim that “less than 30 percent of the wines we review end up on JustWinePoints.com” and pretzel logic about how “we’ve decided to take a different road and value a wine on what it’s supposed to be.” {Hmm, just like Jancis Robinson?!} I give them credit for one thing, though: they openly state that wineries/marketers whose labels make the justwinepoints grade are entitled to “added value;” in other words they can pay (I have no idea how much $$$, and don’t care) to have a label, a link and/or even {gasp} “a review” added to a worthy wine’s naked number.

It’s a free country, of course. Far be it from me to dicate how others should approach the challenge of assessing wine. If that’s how they roll—with “just” points and pay-for-play—then so be it. But I am entitled to my opinion, too, and I consider justwinepoints to be the wine equivalent a 95-point puppy mill.

Which brings us to the question of legitimacy. Consider what gives any critic, publication or information source its credibility. It’s a loaded question, of course, but at the proverbial end of the day, credibility boils down to the attention that a source’s reviews/editorial coverage merit in the free market of both wine and ideas. In other words: who cares, literally?

I know that I do a lot of wine shopping, wine reading and general wine observation, and I can say without hesitation that I have never seen a “justwinepoints” rating displayed in any print publication, on any blog, or in any retail venue. Never. Nor have I ever heard a press or trade colleague every reference a justwinepoints score verbally. In fact, I would guess that 99% of my wine colleagues do not even know that the site exists.

So, again I ask: just who pays attention to these “just points” scores? Sadly, I think I have the answer: the wineries who submit samples and pay for label images and/or links back to their branded sites. That is the sole basis and full extent of justwinepoints’ legitimacy. As justwinepoints co-founder Jenna Corwin explained via email: “[I]f you google “justwinepoints” (with the ” ” and without) you’ll see all of the shelf talkers, POS materials, etc that wineries have generated. also [sic], all of the labels and links on our site are paid for by the wine brands, so that also validates what we’re doing.”

Naturally, coming on the heels of my critique of the whole issue of wine labels being paid promoitions in the editorial buying guides of two major glossies {See post here: http://tinyurl.com/cobxg8}, it stands to follow that I consider justwinepoints to be laughable. But at least they seem to be at least semi-transparent.

What is really bothering me is the complicity of the wineries. Part of me simply wants to list the wineries who have paid to play here. But to name some and leave others out would be unfair; and I do not want to impugn the wines themselves. If anyone out there is curious, they can click on over to justwinepoints. However, one person does stand out as deserving of further scrutiny here: Michael DeLoach of Hook & Ladder. {Note: members of the DeLoach family are no longer affiliated with the DeLoach wine label, now owned by Boisset.}

In the “our system” area of justwinepoints, there is a little note at the bottom that says “(For a detailed third-party perspective please click here.)” One click {http://www.justwinepoints.com/deloach.htm} brings the reader to a passionate, sprawling defense of justwinepoints that at once bashes bloggers, discredits established magazines and even name-drops major industry players (Constellation – ooooooooh!).

Justwinepoints notes that Michael DeLoach’s essay, written apparently midway through 2007, was reprinted with permission from the website http://beyondwonderful.com. I navigated over there and discovered that Michael is the resident “wine expert” and has authored dozens of other inspired, opinionated, quite readable pieces. Including—just months before “The New Ratings System on the Block: Why justwinepoints Might Just Take Over the World” appeared on BeyondWonderful—a piece entitled “Of Points, Pundits and Profiteers: The Wine Oligarchy that Wags the Dog.” In that essay, Michael DeLoach implores readers to bag points entirely. He closes with:

“Instead, ask your friendly wine merchant to point out his or her favorite wines in the store; personal selections, that haven’t been reviewed. Ask for the underdogs. The values. The undiscovered gems. The wines that other customers seem to come back to. And try to find a wine store that doesn’t display any 100-point wine ratings—trust me, they’re out there. The sooner America gets off the heroin of the 100-point system and its addicts, the better for all wine consumers in terms of choice and value.”

So what gives? Why did Michael DeLoach change his 100-point tune? Perhaps because he has friends at justwinepoints, which had right around that time risen from the ashes of WineX. Friendship may also explain why two Hook & Ladder wines showcased at justwinepoints.com inexplicably include verbiage. Below the label and 98-point score for the 2006 H&L Chardonnay, one sees the words “Da bomb!” And below the 99-point 2005 H&L “Third Alarm” Zinfandel, one sees “Yowza!” Just…words? {Note: those ratings and words are real, not made up for comic effect.}

I am sure these wines are very nice. The DeLoach family is eminently capable of making fine wine, and I fondly recall having enjoyed many excellent Pinots, Chards, Zins and the trailblazing Splendo Blendo that they made under the DeLoach label when they owned it. That is not the point; the point is that Michael’s flip-flop on the 100-point scale rerpresents hypocrisy so huge that it practically deserves its own appellation. Michael is welcome to come here and provide a rationale. For now, however, I would just like to say that I think that his latter essay, like justwinepoints itself, has zero justification in the modern American wine scene.

I encourage the handful of wineries and marketeers who are supporting justwinepoints to just stop now. Stop enabling justwinepoints in particular and numbers in general. Ratings are the problem, not the solution. And all friends of the Grape should embrace Michael DeLoach’s earlier words. Good retailers are the key to any wine lover’s journey of enjoyment, not numbers. This is a point I intend to return to and refine here on The Wine Skewer in coming weeks.