Wine ratings can be tricky to understand, as they are based on a 100-point wine rating system.
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If you have flipped through the pages of Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate or Wine Enthusiast, it’s likely that you’ve seen this scale used. But what does it mean? Does a higher score necessarily indicate a higher-quality wine? By what criteria are wines evaluated? Many who see wine ratings online or in a magazine don’t truly know what that number means.
The 100-point rating system, while fundamentally the same across the three wine rating giants, applies in different ways to different wine critics. That is what makes this rating scale so difficult to understand. Consistency isn’t easy to come by, as wine critics all have different palates and will experience each wine differently. It’s for this reason that nobody should act with surprise if they see the same wine rating differently across other sources.
Robert Parker, the famed wine critic, drafted the 100-point system in the 1980s. It is with him that it originated and quickly grew to become the standard by which rated wines measure up.
Learn more about The Importance Of Wine Critics!
The Factors In Wine Ratings
Generally, there are two traits that are key to any well-rated wine. These traits are production quality and typicity. “Production quality” is pretty self-explanatory, but what about “typicity?” Typicity refers to how well the wine represents the region of the world where it is from. That said, there are still numerous other factors that contribute to a wine’s overall score:
- Is it wine? This accounts for 50 out of 100 points.
- How does the wine look? What is its color and overall appearance like? This warrants 5 points.
- What does the wine smell like? Does it have a rich complexity? A wine can score up to 15 points based on bouquet and aroma.
- How’s the flavor? Is it long-lasting? A truly delectable wine can receive up to 20 points.
- Finally, consider the overall quality. This attributes up to 10 of 100 points.
If simply being wine grants the bottle half of its overall points, doesn’t that skew the meaning of these numbers? The answer to this question is “yes.”
The difference of 4 points reflects the critic’s palate, not necessarily the general public’s.
Confusion of Wine Ratings
Though the scale has a maximum of 100 points, it is essentially a 30-point scale between 70 and 100. Have you ever wondered why you never see a wine with a rating of less than 70? Many wines that would rank low on this scale are simply never rated, or their scores are never publicized by the owners. Basically, a score of 70 is nothing to write home about.
Consider this breakdown of what the scoring on the 100-point scale means:
- 60-69 These wines are not recommended.
- 70-79 While these wines have flaws, they have an average “alright” taste.
- 80-84 These wines are above average and taste good.
- 85-90 Wines range from “good” to “very good.”
- 90-94 These are exceptional wines.
- 95-100 A wine with a rating this high is a benchmark example of what a wine of its nature should taste like.
If anything under 60 is not recommended, then that could omit a lot of wines. Many winery owners prefer not to have their wines rated if they feel that it will score unfavorably. However, this does not mean that they produce sub-standard wine. Wine ratings are a reflection of professional wine enthusiasts’ palates. What they might find utterly delectable, someone else may not enjoy as much.
Complexity and production quality are nearly universally graded by wine critics, but that’s where the similarities often end. In the case of 90+ scoring wines, there are critics who enjoy a bolder wine while others enjoy a subtler one. Aside from crafting a wine with a specific critic’s preferences in mind, there’s little that winemakers can do to appeal to every critic.
The world of wine ratings is highly subjective. It’s advisable that one takes their own preferences into account when observing a wine’s score. A 90-point wine isn’t necessarily “better” than an 86-point wine. The difference of 4 points reflects the critic’s palate, not necessarily the general public’s. A different person might enjoy that 86-point wine much more. This is why nobody should treat wine ratings as if they are a definitive benchmark.
Wine ratings can mean a lot when a host is trying to find the top-scoring wine for their elegant dinner party. They can be useful to wine enthusiasts that want to broaden their horizons and experience the best. However, just because a wine has no rating, or scores lower on the scale doesn’t mean that it’s “bad.” If someone enjoys a particular wine, it’s a good wine to them – regardless of the score. So don’t get too hung up on these numbers, especially not if you’re simply looking to find a good-tasting wine.