Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Update: Sake Still Don't Need No Stinkin' Scores!

Sake doesn't need numeric scores!

Back in 2013, I saw the writing on the wall, that it was coming, and I ranted that Sake Don't Need No Stinkin' Scores! At that time, I'd seen a few magazines and online Sake reviews that provided numeric scores for Sake, usually on a 100 point scale. However, it was relatively uncommon and seemed to have little to no impact. Then, this past summer, Robert Parker's Wine Advocate published 78 Sake reviews, each with a score, leading to my new Rant: Sake Still Don't Need No Stinkin' Scores!

I wanted to update my Rant, to see what had occurred since the release of the Wine Advocate's scores. Had it lead to increased interest in Sake, or had my own negative scenarios occurred?

Initially, the Sake article was largely ignored on the Wine Advocate forum. No one mentioned the article and it certainly didn't seem to increase any interest in Sake. Over at the Wine Berserkers forum, there was some discussion of the Sake article & reviews, but a fair amount centered on the qualifications of Liwen Hao. It didn't seem to be increasing anyone's interest in Sake. At least initially, the Sake ratings didn't seem to be raising interest in Sake.

A couple weeks after the release of the Sake article and reviews, a potential scandal took front and center as a Japanese exporter, The Taste Of Sake, offered all 78 Sakes that had been reviewed, and only those Sakes. The timing of the website, essentially on the day the reviews were released, seemed more than coincidental and questions were raised about the integrity of the Sake review process. This scandal was then discussed on the Wine Advocate and Wine Berserkers forums, certainly not helping the reputation of Sake. The Wine Advocate started an investigation of the matter, finally posting the results on October 16. The Taste of Sake shut down their website and operations during the investigation period.

Lisa Perrotti-Brown of The Wine Advocate stated: "It is believed that when Liwen Hao asked for extra technical information, the information was misused. Upon our legal counsel’s investigation, Millesimes acknowledged that the failure to maintain the confidentiality of this information was a breakdown in the process, and may have led to the dissemination of the list of sakes prior to posting the tasting notes and scores." She also stated a couple actions that would be taken in future tastings to prevent a repeat of this type of incident. Though there remain a few unanswered questions, the discussion of this matter will likely die down, though when the next Sake reviews are released, there will be added scrutiny as to anyone selling those specific Sakes.

It is also important to note that the importer, The Taste of Sake, quickly raised the prices of the Sake that he was selling. Which is exactly the type of price gouging I was concerned about in my last rant, pricing Sake out of reach of the average consumer. There is little reason that other importers, distributors and retailers won't also raise the prices on highly rated Sakes, keeping them out of the reach of the average consumer. And that won't help raise the popularity of Sake or increase consumption.

Since the release of the Wine Advocate Sake reviews, several articles in newspapers and online publications have generally made brief reference to them. One Sake brewery, Urakasumi Sake Brewery, also highlighted their score on their website, noting "Yamadanishiki Junmai Daiginjo Urakasumi Koshu was selected as one of the great sake and rated 91 points."

The Daily Mail, in the UK, published an article "Japan sake pours overseas as local market dries up" with only a quick mention of the Wine Advocate Sake ratings. The Telegraph, also in UK, published the article After wine, is sake the new drinkable investment?, noting the Sake ratings and discussing their investment potential. Such Sakes aren't for the average consumer, but more for the monied investor, seeing something he might be able to sell for a profit in the future. Jancis Robinson also penned a recent Sake article, mentioning the Sake ratings and alleged scandal.

Recently in Decanter, Anthony Rose penned an article, Sake: A Beginner's Guide & Top Recommendations. There is a brief article on some Sake basics and then 9 reviews, each Sake with scores, ranging from 89-94, on a 100 point system. Thus, they are using a rating system similar to the Wine Advocate. Anthony last wrote a Sake article in Decanter back in November 2008, and there were no Sake ratings then. Could this also be the future of Decanter coverage for Sake? I should note that the article has not received any online comments, potentially indicative of a lack of interest.

The Wine Advocate won't be reviewing any more Sakes this year, though plans to do so in 2017, allegedly covering a "broader range of styles and quality levels." It seems clear that their prior article and reviews didn't significantly raise the profile of Sake, especially with average consumers. Even the Wine Advocate forum posters didn't seem concerned about Sake until a scandal was alleged. The ratings did lead to higher prices for the rated Sakes which isn't good news for the average consumer. I have seen nothing over the last couple months which would change my opinions from my prior Rant.

Let me repeat: Sake doesn't need numeric scores!

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