Rating wines is a high-stakes game, and for winemakers the scores can be game-changers. A 90-plus rating can lead to sold-out vintages very quickly. But what do those wine scores really mean for the average consumer? And should you care?
Before Robert Parker — arguably the most influential wine critic in the world — introduced his 100-point rating system for wines in 1978, consumers had little to go on when trying to find a decent bottle of wine.
Wine buyers had to rely on retailers pushing the wines they wanted to sell, or on fellow wine drinkers whose tastes and preferences may have been different from their own.
Parker, a former lawyer, found a niche, and today his 100-point prototype has led to similar scoring systems throughout the wine industry. Ratings influence traders and investors, but the most important advantage is consumers are empowered to make independent wine-buying choices without the traders’ influences.
But with more and more wine rating guides popping up, especially on the Internet and blogs, how do you determine which will be the most helpful to you? If ratings are important to you — and to many folks, they are not — take note of the different ratings each time you drink a bottle of wine. You may find your taste preferences are more in line with Wine Spectator’s guide than with Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate or vice versa. Remember, you are the final judge. Relying solely on wine ratings may not be the perfect match for your palate.
Finally, what if a wine is unrated? Does it mean you shouldn’t buy it? With thousands of wines in line to be rated by national publications, most — especially those from smaller or boutique wineries — will not be on the national tasting tables. Learn which wines you like by developing your own taste profile. Look at factors such as the region, producer, style and varietals to learn what you like and then find similar wines to enjoy. In the end, developing your own taste profile may even save you money. Relying on wines with high scores is going to cost more, according to a recent study by the American Association of Wine Economics, which found wine ratings cause market price to rise.
Some local wine clubs even have members score the wines as they taste them. This is another great way to learn what you like and what you don’t. If you are wondering how to go about rating wines, on page 97 we present a look at how the big names do it.
All tastings at the internationally renowned Wine Spectator are conducted “blind.” Tasters are told the type of wine (varietal or region) and vintage. Flawed wines and highly scored wines are retasted. Tasters base their ratings on how the wine will taste when it reaches its peak. If barrel samples are being rated rather than finished wines, that fact is revealed.
Wine Spectator’s 100-Point Scale:
95-100 — Classic; a great wine
90-94 — Outstanding; superior character and style
80-89 — Good to very good; wine with special qualities
70-79 — Average; drinkable wine that may have minor flaws
60-69 — Below average; drinkable but not recommended
50-59 — Poor; undrinkable, not recommended
Wine Enthusiast wine ratings are based on tastings by the magazine’s editors and other qualified panelists, either individually or in a group setting. Tastings are conducted blind or in accordance with accepted industry practices. Price is not a factor in assigning scores to wines, and only wines scoring 80 points or higher are published. When possible, wines considered flawed are retasted. Tasters specialize in particular regions. For instance, a taster whose specialty is France and Germany does not usually rate California wines and vice versa.
Wine Enthusiast Scores:
95-100 — Superb; one of the greats.
90-94 — Excellent, extremely well made and highly recommended.
85-89 — Very good, may offer outstanding value if the price is right.
80-84 — Good, solid wine, suitable for everyday consumption.
The Wine Advocate
Although Robert Parker is the publisher of The Wine Advocate, he is not the only critic for the publication. Many wines are tasted by colleagues, so an “RP” next to a wine’s name means it was rated by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, not necessarily by Parker himself.
Tastings are conducted in peer group, single-blind conditions, meaning the same types of wines are tasted against one another and the wineries’ names are not revealed. Neither price nor the winery’s reputation influences the rating in any way. If tasted several times, the scores represent a cumulative average. Overall, the score assigned to a specific wine reflects the quality of the wine at its best. Parker encourages readers to rely on the score with the written notes rather than the score alone.
The Wine Advocate’s 100-Point Scale:
96-100 — Extraordinary; a classic wine of its variety
90-95 — Outstanding; exceptional complexity and character
80-89 — Barely above average to very good; wine with various degrees of flavor
70-79 — Average; little distinction beyond being soundly made
60-69 — Below average; drinkable, but containing noticeable deficiencies
50-59 — Poor; unacceptable, not recommended