Wine Rating Systems: Adding Up The Points

wine ratings

If you’ve ever bought wine, chances are that a points system has influenced you somewhere along the way.  Maybe it was a bottle you wouldn’t have otherwise noticed without the endcap display and sign that excitedly read “95 Points!” You’ve surely seen tags added to certain bottlenecks touting “Rated 92 Points by Wine Spectator” as a selling point. Maybe it even enticed you to give a heretofore unknown vineyard a shot at your wine glass.

But what exactly do those 92 of 100 points add up to? And who says 92 points from Wine Spectator will equal YUM on your palate? What if The Wine Advocate says it’s only 88 points? See below for a quick reference guide to the three most popular wine rating systems you’re likely to see in the wine shop. And what they (claim to) mean to you.

The Wine Spectator
Who? Possibly the most recognized magazine name in wine ratings, they’re also the eldest of the three listed here, having been founded in 1976.

What?
They’re a wine and lifestyle publication, publishing 15 biblical-length issues per year, that rate and review not only particular wines, but also gives awards to restaurant wine lists. the magazine includes articles on a myriad of lifestyle topics and events. Think Vogue, but for wine, with glossy full page ads. They also sponsor and organize assorted luxury wine events.

Get To The Point(s):
 From their website, their 100-point scale is:

  • 95-100 Classic: a great wine
  • 90-94 Outstanding: a wine of superior character and style
  • 85-89 Very good: a wine with special qualities
  • 80-84 Good: a solid, well-made wine
  • 75-79 Mediocre: a drinkable wine that may have minor flaws
  • 50-74 Not recommended

The Wine Enthusiast
Who?  This wine and lifestyle magazine is published 14 times a year and is the baby of the bunch, founded in 1988 by a multichannel marketer, The Wine Enthusiast Companies.

What?
As the magazine arm of a bigger wine trade and retail marketer of wine and wine related products, they also host wine and award events. Given how close they are to sales, I don’t know that I would call them completely unbiased, but they certainly are more accessible in language. If WS is Vogue, WE is a bit more Cosmopolitan.

Get To The Point(s):
 Buried in their website pages, this mystic decoder rubric sheds some light:

Our reviewers assign ratings to all wines using the following scale:

  • Classic 98-100: The pinnacle of quality.
  • Superb 94-97: A great achievement.
  • Excellent 90-93: Highly recommended.
  • Very Good 87-89: Often good value; well recommended.
  • Good 83-86: Suitable for everyday consumption; often good value.
  • Acceptable 80-82: Can be employed in casual, less-critical circumstances.
  • Wines receiving a rating below 80 are not reviewed.


(Robert Parker’s) The Wine Advocate

Who?  This worldwide wine newsletter was founded in 1978, to share the reviews and experiences of one Robert Parker, who is very much the Miranda Priestly of wine. However, many reviewers now contribute.

What?
So revered is Parker’s word that the reviews have a direct impact on sales, as evidenced by his review and predictions for the 1982 vintage of Bordeaux. (Google a bottle. Go ahead. And then take a mortgage and buy me one for my birthday! Not your average “value wine”, eh?) Again, this isn’t a magazine, but a bi-monthly newsletter that offers not only printed editions but also online and review access at two levels of membership. Advertising? Never.

Get To The Point(s):
 From the site itself, presumably in Parker’s voice:

The Wine Advocate takes a hard, very critical look at wine since I would prefer to underestimate the wine’s quality than to overestimate it. The numerical ratings are utilized only to enhance and complement the thorough tasting notes, which are my primary means of communicating my judgments to you.

  • 96-100: An extraordinary wine of profound and complex character displaying all the attributes expected of a classic wine of its variety. Wines of this caliber are worth a special effort to find, purchase, and consume.

  • 90 – 95: An outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character. In short, these are terrific wines.

  • 80 – 89: A barely above average to very good wine displaying various degrees of finesse and flavor as well as character with no noticeable flaws.

  • 70 – 79: An average wine with little distinction except that it is a soundly made. In essence, a straightforward, innocuous wine.

  • 60 – 69: A below average wine containing noticeable deficiencies, such as excessive acidity and/or tannin, an absence of flavor, or possibly dirty aromas or flavors.

  • 50 – 59: A wine deemed to be unacceptable.

     

Notice how the scales are close but all slightly different, with one expert even refusing to share a review below 80. (Translation: we don’t want to make anyone truly mad and mess with our sales, so we’re doing as mother advised – we’d rather say nothing at all.) And The Wine Advocate reads more like comments on a thesis than a guide for your average wine buyer. (Congrats to the 70-79 point wines that squeaked by and might yet make something just mediocre of their lives! You 50-69 wines should look into vocational training…)

So who can you trust? Answer: your own palate. Yes, yours. You are the most important critic in your wine journey. Robert Parker’s “barely above average” 80 might be called “good” and “solid” by The Wine Spectator, but it might also be your “outstanding” with 95-100 points!

Want to get serious about finding your likes, loves, and rating additions to your cellar? Start your own tasting log. List all the pertinent details, from vintage and varietal to price paid and date purchased. Create a healthy space for all your tasting notes and write down every hint that comes to mind: cocoa, coffee, moss, red berries, velvet, grass, etc.

Sites like Cellar Tracker can be helpful for digital note collecting or organizing a large collection, but you can also whip out a notebook and handwrite your experiences for a more casual enthusiast. It’s also a fun way to make memories: note the occasion for which you opened the bottle, who might’ve given it to you, and collect everyone’s impressions in their own handwriting!

Buy what you like; repeat buy what you love; don’t get sucked into “ratings.”

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